Monday, February 26, 2018

Adventure Games in 3D with Stereo Jack

While cleaning up my hard drive I came across all the files for Stereo Jack, a graphic adventure follow up to Flight of the Amazon Queen that Steve Stamatiadis and I were developing.

Black Hole (the villain) and Stereo Jack (the hero)

We had designed the entire game down to every single location, character, item and puzzle (I have 2 full ring binders of design docs) - including entire room layouts that Steve had made for every location.

I had even adapted the JOKER game editor we used for Amazon Queen to work in 3D.
JOKER3D - our graphic adventure editor

Ans we had the game playable with some early test locations.

We were very close to having it signed but things didn't work out in the end.

What I found interesting was that we wanted to make the game in 3D and we had to actively pitch the publisher as to why 3D was better than 2D. I thought I'd include the pitch we made in May 1997 to GT Interactive in this blog - as well as the outline of what the game was all about.


Our 3D adventure that never was.


Copyright Steve Stamatiadis and John Passfield © 1996

Stereo Jack is the world’s greatest cyber-hacker. He specializes in data retrieval and no computer is safe from his digital prowess. His home is Silicon City, a sprawling futuristic metropolis where high-technology and computers are a way of life. Free of pollution and covered in lush green parkland it’s the perfect place to live. 

So perfect in fact, that it’s a magnet for the world’s nastiest cyber-villains.

In his latest adventure Jack is pitted against his evil arch nemesis Black Hole. Dedicated to destroying all computer information, Black Hole has hatched a plan so cunning that it could result in the downfall of Silicon City.

Black has discovered a super secret backbone network that links all of Silicon City’s major computer systems. The network was created during the Core Wars to allow Silicon City officials access to their computers in the event of a foreign body taking over the city. After the Core Wars the backbone was left in place but forgotten about. 

The only thing stopping Black Hole becoming the most powerful force in the city is that he is missing the master access key - and only one person stands in his way of obtaining it. Stereo Jack.

Playing Jack, it’s up to you to put a stop to Black Hole’s evil plans!

The adventure spans a number of exciting locations, including:
    • the core zones of Silicon City, information capital of the world
    •, tomorrow’s marine community today
    • derelict tunnels below the illustrious Hawkins University
    • and finally Black Hole’s secret trap ridden base high in the Rocky mountains 
The game also features dozens of highly detailed, futuristic vehicles, all rendered in real time 3D. These include sports cars, police pursuit vehicles, limos, hover trucks and even a gigantic smog sucker.

Full-screen graphics make Stereo Jack leap off the monitor. The cinematic adventure uses a variety of camera angles to create dramatic effects, and seamlessly blends 3D animation to impose a sense of realism in an animated, futuristic setting.

Players are immersed in an incredibly rich and detailed 3D world - they can explore exotic locations looking for clues and interact with the many exciting characters.  Some of these characters however are on Black Hole’s payroll and will do anything to stop you. 

If Jack encounters an adversary he can try and use his brain to find a way around them or use his brawn and confront them. If the player chooses to fight then a combat mode is initiated and the player gets control of Jack's fighting moves.

And here is what we wrote for GTI back in May 1997 to convince them 3D was the way to go.


3D Adventures versus 2D Adventures
Although the new demo is in real time 3D - the game is still an adventure game - not a simple 3D shooter (although we do have action as part of the game play). You still solve puzzles, interact with other characters, carry out conversations with our enhanced dialog system and explore exciting new locations. The story driven aspects of a traditional graphic adventure still exist. The main difference is that the game is now in 3D.

Some Things To Remember
- The demo that you saw used an unoptimised 3D engine with no 3D card support and ran between 10 and 15 frames per second with every thing turned on (multiple characters, transparencies, multiple rooms being drawn simultaneously for the cameras, etc).
- The 3D engine will only get faster and more impressive

The 3D Advantage

Players LOVE 3D games
And more importantly PC Magazines love 3D games.
Take a look at the most successful games (that aren’t Real Time Strategy Games) and you’ll find they’re mostly 3D. In fact, the next generation of strategy games are shaping up to use 3D as well. Tomb Raider, Mario 64, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, etc, are all 3D games. 

As Dave Perry of Shiny Entertainment said “You can do good 2D games in 3D, but you can’t do 3D games in 2D”. As a testament to the future of games - all of Shiny Entertainment’s new titles are full 3D - including the much anticipated Earth Worm Jim 3.

Game worlds are much, much larger
For the same amount of work required to create a single static 2D screen we can create large and completely immersive 3D locations. We can view these locations from a number of different views, we can walk around these locations in real time, and when necessary we can zoom in to show off new parts of these locations. To do this in 2D would require the same location to be re-drawn from a number of different angles - requiring a lot of extra work and time. 

Scaleable Graphics Resolution
Unlike 2D, the graphics resolution of 3D games is scaleable. Imagine nearing the completion of a hires 2D adventure when all of a sudden everyone wants 800x600 in high color. Uh oh - that means the developers have to either bite the bullet and release a graphically outdated game and face the wrath of the PC Game press or discard a whole lot of work and money and begin redoing the graphics. 

3D graphics card support
Using 3D we can take advantage of Direct3D and support 3D graphic cards. This not only ensures that the game has a longer shelf life - but gives the games a level graphical detail that would be hard to achieve in 2D.

Easy to port to next generation consoles
A 3D game is easier to port due to the scaleable attributes of 3D as well as the fact that many of the next generation consoles are designed with real time 3D development in mind.

Models are less complex then pre-rendered graphics
Real time models may be less complex - but they look far more impressive than their 2D counterparts when they are being moved about in 3D space. However, their are two big advantage to using less complex real time 3D models: Building 3D real time models take less time and do not require ultra powerful SG workstations. The result is a saving of time, money and manpower.

Ability to create new and innovative puzzles
Please refer to the New Paradigm section.

Allows us to create cinematic sequences
With a real time 3D game engine we can control the placement of “cameras” to view the action with. This means we can zoom, dolly, pan and push in on characters as the action unfolds. We can cut to a closeup for dramatic effect or move to a long shot to give sense of epic scope to a scene.

All the cool developers are doing 3D only
Sierra are currently doing 3D adventures. It won’t be long before LucasArts jumps on to the bandwagon. To have a competitive edge we need to set the standard now. And 3D is an integral part of that standard.

Shorter development time
Complex 2D images take quite a while to draw. If they’re being pre-rendered then quite a bit of time is taken to build complex models and render. There’s also the problem of animation. Walk cycles and object animations need to be created from a number of different viewing angles - all of which eats up valuable time. With 3D we can create a single walk cycle for a character and view it in real time from any angle. We can also attach other character models to the skeleton of a predefined walk cycle - thus saving ourselves a lot of time re-animating a new character.

Disadvantages of 2D
- Lots of graphics need to be created to build the game world
- 3D models need to be more complex: as a result need faster, powerful rendering machines, more people and of course, more money and time
- Puzzles tend to be restricted to old hackneyed themes
- Just doesn’t look as impressive
- The cost to deliver graphics and animation to rival Monkey Island 3 and Blizzard’s upcoming 2D adventure would be astronomical. Both games are using animation studios.
- Difficult and time consuming to convert to other platforms

In Summary
We feel that a 3D adventure game can still have all the elements that players love about 2D graphic adventures - except now we can layer even more cool game play elements into the game. The game story is enhanced by the fact that we can direct action in a cinematic way. Players are drawn into the game world even more so because of the 3D immersive nature.


Congratulations if you made it this far! 

It would be hard for you to be nostalgic about something that didn't exist - but for me and Steve we poured a lot of time and energy into the game and comic so it was nice to rediscover these old documents.

If anything, it's interesting to see that world of game development that was on the precipice of mainstream 3D games. It was rather exciting to imagine the potential of what it would offer back then.

I'm sad we didn't get to make the game. We produced a smaller follow up 3D adventure called Gruesome Castle afterwards, but it also failed to hit the market. But that's a story for another day.

- Johnno

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