NEW LUCASFILM GAMES:
Antic's Sneak Preview--
The Eidolon and Koronis Riftby JACK POWELL, Antic Technical Editor
Here's an Antic sneak preview of the latest Lucas-film Computer Games- two impressive new releases, The Eidolon and Koronis Rift. By the time you read this, they should be available from Epyx Software, 1043 Kiel Court, Sunnyvale, CA 94089. (408) 745-0700.
BEHIND THE SCENES
One sunny summer day, Antic arrived at Lucasfilm's Mann County industrial park and was led through labyrinthian corridors to the Computer Games Division.
On the way, we passed through The Droid Works, a Lucasfilm spin-off company, and glimpsed the state-of-the-art computerized video/film editing machine. Two of the machine's three screens showed Luke Skywalker bending over a dying Yoda.
Twisting up one stairway, down two, and through several corridors we came at last to a room filled with microcomputers and monitors of every shape and type. IBM PCs, Apples, Commodores and-of course-Ataris.
While waiting for the programmers to arrive, our guide Julia McHugh showed us an adjoining room filled with coin-op arcade game machines, including such rarities as The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi featuring the jetbike forest chase. Lucasfilm management cannily offers a creative, meditative oasis from hours of intensive programming-thereby encouraging further creativity.
Exploring an old abandoned house, you come upon a dusty, faded diary belonging to a 19th century crackpot inventor. The diary is stained and difficult to read, but you make out references to a strange machine and many journeys through an alternate world of caverns and monsters. You really don't learn much from the vague, cryptic passages. And the diary ends abruptly and ominously, with a hint that its author never made it back from his last sojourn.
Wandering further, you come upon the machine itself-looking very much like a George Pal creation. Being a reckless, adventuresome sort, you hop into the machine, pressing buttons and throwing levers until, with a click and a whir, you suddenly find yourself in....
A huge maze of gray caverns is where the game really begins. The caverns are generated by fractals and, as you wander, the stalactites and arches move overhead much like the mountains and landscape of Rescue on Fractalus.
As you journey through the caves, you see flickering fireballs and mystical, floating gems. In certain grottoes are statues of odd, mishapen creatures. You draw near one particularly repulsive beast and suddenly it changes color, comes to life and begins pursuing you!
As conceived by Project Leader Charlie Kellner, The Eidolon is a point-of-view fantasy role-playing game with ten levels of complex mazes. Your goal is to find a dragon on each level and figure out how to vanquish it to get to the next level.
Keilner told us that a large part of the game's challenge is figuring out the rules of this strange world. The documentation will be purposely ambiguous-and Antic isn't going to spoil the fun by giving away details.
We can tell you that there are a lot of marvelously animated creatures populating the caverns. And every level contains a different cast of characters. They all have individual intelligences, powers and vulnerabilities. Your job is to figure out how to deal with them.
Project Leader Kellner was responsible for some of the sound and the flight dynamics in Rescue on Fractalus. (See Antic, August 1984.) Before coming to Lucasfilm, he worked at Apple in the Education Department.
He began to realize the real way to educate was with game technology- teaching by computer-created simulations. "After all, a physics lab is nothing more than a simulation, and this can be done on a computer."
He'd always been interested in games, both as a designer and a player. But he didn't have much opportunity to do this at Apple. "I discovered 2 1/2 years ago that George Lucas was starting up a game division and... that was it."
If you've ever been attacked by the Jaggi Monster in Rescue on Fractalus, you've seen the work of Gary Winnick. He is also responsible for the Lucasfilm title logo and the introduction animation in Ballblazer. (See Antic, August 1984.) For The Eidolon, Winnick is in charge of graphics, plus the design and animation of all the creatures.
Winnick began as a commercial artist with an interest in animation and film. "When computers came along, I bought an Atari and started fooling around with it." It wasn't long before he was working at Atari. He and Charlie Kellner became friends, and in a short time Winnick found himself at Lucasfilm. "It all happened real fast."
Kevin Furry is converting the game to the Commodore 64 in parallel development. The original code for The Eidolon is written on a VAX minicomputer before the graphics are separately designed on the two target computers.
Furry developed graphics hardware and software packages for the Mindset computer. "My brother bought a Commodore. Like any programmer, you can't keep your hands off the toy at home."
The fourth member of The Eidolon team is a familiar name to Antic readers: Douglas Crockford, creator of Galahad and the Holy Grail, Burgers! and other games available through the Antic Arcade Catalogl.
Crockford is developing sound and music for The Edidolon. He also developed a technique permitting full screen animation during disk access. This technique is being used in both new games and can be seen in action during the introductions to Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus.
Crockford was invited to the Atari Research division by Chris Crawford, who was impressed with Galahad. Before coming to Lucasfilm, he worked briefly for National Semiconductor.
One of the most fascinating elements in The Eidolon is the huge collection of animated creatures which populate the underground world. Antic was shown the design utility program which makes this new technique possible.
Tentatively named A.C.E. (Animated Cel Editor), the program was written by Charlie Keliner and is used by Gary Winnick to design and animate the creatures. It's based on the classic animation technique where moving parts of a character are inked on transparent cels (short for celluloid sheets). Several layers of cels make up one image which is animated by moving the cels.
To demonstrate this on A.C.E., a dragon was brought to the screen. An ammation window was assigned to each of its main parts-head, wings, tail, etc. When the animation cycle of the neck window was run, the neck snaked around in a circular path. The head-in a separate window-rolled its eyes and opened its mouth. By then attaching the head window to the neck window, the growling head followed the circular path of the neck. In this way, detailed creatures with complex, bit-mapped animation can roam freely about the caverns.
Winnick showed off an A.C.E. rogues gallery of trolls, orcs, and other oddities. The creatures are distinctly cartoon-like and substantially bigger than any seen in previous microcomputer games.
You're a down-and-out techno scavenger in the year 2049, exploring the Koronis Rift. When the Ancients abandoned this mountainous planet, they left behind priceless artifacts of their superior weapons technology. They also left behind a race of mean, trigger-happy saucer people.
If you can collect enough weapon system artifacts-and figure out how to use them-you're a made man. If the saucers get you, you're a dead man.
You travel the fractal landscape of the planet in your surface rover. When you come upon an ancient hulk, you send your droid out to retrieve the weapon system inside. You may be able to put the system to immediate use against those pesky saucers which, even now, are attacking with multi-colored lasers.
After filling your craft with weapon systems, return to your scout craft and run the collected systems by your science droid for instant analysis- assuming he can figure them out!
Noah Falstein is Project Leader and main designer of Koronis Rift, which he describes as a strategy game in an action format. "On a primary level, it's a standard shoot'-em-up. Someone who likes that sort of thing can jump in there, blow up anything that moves and have a good time."
But on another level, Koronis Rift is a multi-layered strategy game where colors and shapes are important clues to the function of the collected weapon systems. A red laser may work fine against a blue saucer, but may be worthless against a yellow one.
Game documentation will contain descriptions of the various planetary cultures and the icons representing them. Since you can identify the race that developed a weapon system by the shape of the hulk, this may give you a clue to its function. Your science droid may be able to help you-or you might just have to try the system and see what it does.
There are many different types of weapon systems with varying properties and power requirements. One may help you past a rough part of the landscape by blowing up a mountain-but will completely drain your shield power!
The landscape of Koronis looks similar to Fractalus, but with higher mountains. A new programming technique blends fractals and GTIA Mode 9 to create an illusion of misty depth much like classic Japanese paintings.
Project leader Noah Falstein began his computer gaming career when a college professor recommended him to the electronics division at Milton Bradley. After 2 1/2 years there- during which every project he worked on was cancelled-he moved on to Williams Electronics in Chicago where he worked on arcade game design. He came to Lucasfilm when Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus were in their final stages of development.
Aric Wilmunder is called the "speed demon" of the Koronis team. Wilmunder is responsible for refining and speeding up the game's routines and designing the explosions and scaling routines for the saucers and droids. He spent 2 1/2 years at Automatic Simulations-now EPYX. Wilmunder also worked for one year with Doug Crockford at Atari Research and another year at Atari's Coin-Op division.
Ron Gilbert is converting the game to the Commodore 64. Prior to Lucasfilm, he was with Human Engineering Software. Additionally, he and Wilmunder have been working on speeding up the frame rates of Koronis to make it more lively for the action gamer..
Gary Winnick of the Eidolon team is also working on Koronis, designing the shapes of the saucers and the artifact hulks.
Doug Crockford is designing sound for both games. When we saw Koronis Rift, a randomly generated snare drum gave the game a military feel. "Charlie needs a dragon that sounds like a walrus, and Noah needs a robot that sounds like a walrus. It saves a lot of time."
Jim St. Louis is an artist as well as a programmer. He's probably best known in the Atari community as the co-creator-with Russ Karas-of the Robot and Rocketship graphics demos released by Atari.
St. Louis also created a robot-the science droid-for Koronis Rift. And his incredibly detailed rocketship animates the title screen of Rescue on Fractalus. Prior to joining Lucasfilm, St. Louis worked on computer graphics at Datamost and Disney T.N.T
As we left the Lucasfilm complex- our eyes blinking in the bright, summer sunlight-we thought about our parting conversation with Steve Arnold, Director of the Games Division.
We had noticed among Lucasfilm personnel much use of the phrase "interactive entertainnient." So we asked what new projects were in the works from the Mann magic factory. Arnold told us that specific projects could not be discussed at this time. He then added, with a cheshire grin, "There are significant new kinds of experiences available for bringing together computer and film..."