>> Saturday, April 1, 2006
THE LOST RIDE
To continue the line of stories about the last generation CD-i games, the title ‘The Lost Ride’ brings back lots of memories. We all remember the game to be relatively buggy, but the graphics were fantastic and the technique behind the title was nothing short of revolutionary: Seamless Branching (playing different MPEG sequences without any pause between). This was a long story for Philips and had great potential to several software developers wanting to implement this technique in their digital video project. However, it looked like nobody was able to spec out the conditions of seamless branching MPEG sequences eventually, and after Philips shut down every CD-i development house this was handed over to Lost Boys in Amsterdam, 1997.
It’s not like seamless branching wasn’t used in other CD-i titles though. SPC Vision (known from the various colourfull platform and puzzle games on CD-i) experimented the technique in the Main Menu of the Philips Media Encyclopedia (dutch release). However, the guys at Philips were supposed to handle the technique in a seamless way, and the loop in the main menu was meant to be seamless, although neither of the developers was able to get it right.
A famous example using the seamless branching technique is the Kathy Smith’s personal trainer CD-i. It actually allowed a continuous video/audio MPEG stream to be displayed, even though it is made of a multiple of very short clips (about 7 seconds).
Before The Lost Ride was in the pipeline there was Cryo developing a high action racing game called Dead End featuring only full motion video using seamless branching. Little is known about this project but the clips available from preview discs look top-notch! Unfortunately Dead End was cancelled for reasons external to Philips (it was not a Philips project).
Other than these examples I don’t know of any other projects involving the seamless branching technique. To know what happened with the knowledge behind this technique we contacted the developers of The Lost Ride: Lost Boys.
Actually, the connection of Lost Boys to Philips already was well established. They developed the online tools for CD-i and supported various projects from various developers. Their involvements with CD-i started with a service to convert your old VHS tapes to digital MPEG VideoCD discs which was a revolutionary service back in 1993. However, after Philips decided to stop development in CD-i, Lost Boys got the rights and knowledge to use the seamless branching technique in shifted CD-i project coded Lost Ride from 1996. I can easily explain you now why the end product was full of bugs: Lost Boys didn’t have the experience to build upon the existing research, so they could either throw away a lot of work done by Philips or continue on the project which was initiated and funded by Philips in 1996, may it be with little restrictions.
They collaborated with NeoGeo (A small animation studio in Eindhoven) to develop the game. NeoGeo was another known name in the Philips CD-i network, having created lots of animations for Philips and Codim in various CD-i projects developed internally. For example, NeoGeo created the “Morkramia” animations showed at the worldwide Customer Days from Philips in the early ninetees. NeoGeo had its own Games department called Enji Games. It was also based in Eindhoven with only a few people, but with a lot of experience in 3D graphics.
NeoGeo developed their own software tool to create these graphics: Blender. NeoGeo was sold right after they finished Lost Ride to Alatis Patent. Alatis Patent went bankrupt 3 years later… However, the main developer behind the Blender tools started a spin-off project simply called “Blender” (LINK) with the same tool. It is an open source project building upon the engine which was used in the Lost Ride and is still active nowadays.
In the end Enji Games developed the graphics for the Lost Ride and Formula (this was the games department of Lost Boys which is now called Guerilla, part of Sony) compiled an interactive roller coaster using the seamless branching technique. After NeoGeo was sold, Formula had no more intentions (and no experience) in creating 3D games, and went on creating retro styled games for the Nintendo Gameboy. Later on Formula was formed into Lost Boys Games and expanded with another studio to form Guerilla.
The game was a project initiated by Philips Media Publishing Benelux. In 1997 the dutch part of Philips Media Publishing (All that was left of Philips Media at the time) was liberated (!) from Philips Media, starting the new SoftMACHINE Publishing company. Interesting fact is that SoftMACHINE published The Lost Ride in 1998, without any involvement of Philips Media. (It even has the SoftMACHINE logo on the back) The copyright belonged to Philips however because the project was initiated in 1996. That's why Philips remained on the box. It was 'a leftover from the CD-i era which had been under contract with Lost Boys'.
In the end the Lost Ride was published by SoftMACHINE and remained an exclusive release for the Netherlands. Now you know why the title is this rare!
Some movies from the game are still being used in the demo regression tests of Blender which you can download here
If you have any comments about the subject please do not hesitate and drop a line at the CDinteractive Forum .
See you next month!
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