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volume 1, issue 36

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

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Acknowledgments: A lot of people deserve thanks for this article...Jason "loonyboi" Bergman took a moment to thank them all.

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Inside Raven Software:
the definitive history (part three)

By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Yep, that's right, Spectre was to be Raven's own 3D, massively multiplayer engine. And from the way the programmers describe it, it was a hefty one at that. "[Spectre] did not contain any BSP [information] at all. It was all portal-based," explained Gil Gribb, whose main project at the time was Spectre. "It also had the ability [to create] 'instant rooms.' So rather than each level being made as an individual, you could make rooms and corridors and things like that and string them all together. Other features it had were related to scalability, whereby if we wanted to take this to a massively multiplayer setting, all the data structures were designed so that what isn't here doesn't effect you at all, and it doesn't bog down the server. The approach that Spectre took is that the server basically would know the limited range of the player, and consider sending down only things that were close by him."

While no game was ever really slated to use the Spectre engine, the programmers were envisioning a sort of Ultima Online style game. "That was kind of what we were thinking it would be like, it would be like that with this huge persistent world." James Monroe recalled, "things had to be network-friendly. It wouldn't be quite the same as a first person game that required lots of special visuals in your face." As for the perspective, that wasn't really set in stone. "It was both…it was first person, it was third person…you could do anything." Perhaps Spectre's biggest technological jump, however, was its use of 3Dstudio Max as its editor. "Anything that Max could do [Spectre could do]. It had specular highlighting, bump mapping, colored lighting, animated colored lighting, fog." But with all these features, you'd expect all kinds of software and hardware limitations. "I surprised Gil one time when I ran it on [Windows] NT," Monroe told me. That may not seem like a big deal, but you have to understand something - Spectre used DirectX for its visuals, not OpenGL. And…DirectX isn't supported by Windows NT. "So I ran it, and it opened up in emulation mode. It was in a small window, and I was like, 'that's odd…it runs!' I didn't expect the emulation to work at all, it actually ran at 10 frames per second on my test machine, a Pentium 133. I was getting 30 frames per second using DirectX."

Spectre's main goal, at least for the programmers, was an interesting one. "Our design goal [from the beginning] was to take away all restrictions from the artists. That's what I spend a lot of my time doing, is explaining to the artists, 'you can do this, you can do this, don't do this because it effects the surface cache.' So the idea was to build a system that could handle everything dynamically, and the designers could just do whatever they wanted."

Unfortunately, Spectre wasn't meant to be. Shortly after Raven's merger with Activision, work stopped on the engine. Brian Raffel explained, "Activision was saying, 'we didn't pick you up because of your technology, we picked you up for your content, your art, design, and your innovations within the technology.' So we thought we could better use Gil for things inside the game, which helped a lot for Heretic II. We were trying to focus." Don't worry…some of the technology behind Spectre has been moved into other Raven projects, including Heretic II, and their current project, Soldier of Fortune benefits greatly from the GHOUL modeling system, which grew out of Spectre's ashes.

So with Spectre canned, Hexen II on the shelves, work began on Heretic II, which was to be (horror of horrors!) a third person action game. "After Hexen II, we wanted to continue with the Heretic/Hexen franchise," explained Pat Lipo. "Hexen II was pushing into a sort of RPG direction, so there was a desire to go back to the pure action, arcade kind of stuff that Heretic had. With perhaps one character, we could focus on a large array of weapons…so we kind of started with that thought, and almost immediately the third person [idea] came into the mix."


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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Rowan Crawford. This article is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it...or we'll peck your eyes out.