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Creature Shock on CD-i

>> Monday, May 1, 2006

If you have followed the updates on The Black Moon Project you didn’t miss the cheat codes we gave you about Creature Shock a while ago. Quite exclusive they were as nobody was aware of these CD-i cheats! When only recently we talked with the original CD-i coder of Creature Shock a lot of interesting facts about this game showed up. It’s time to share.

Argonaut Software was under a publishing agreement with Virgin Interactive Entertainment. Argonaut was an independent developer so they always used to use publishers to take their products to the market. When Virgin was contracted a 3 cd-I game deal, a Creature Shock conversion was on top of that list.

The CD-i project was assigned to only one person: Martin Piper. Creature Shock was the first game he completed after he joined Argonaut. 11 Years later, in October 2004, Argonaut had to close its doors because they ran out of money.

To get the ball rolling we only had to citate the back of the CD-i boxart: “It took Argonaut three years to cram this Double CD full of stunningly rendered 3D environments….” Three years? What happened there?

“You are right, the more than three years development time indicates there were problems.

The biggest and first problem was trying to fit a PC game that used a lot of virtual memory onto a console with much less memory. For this in implemented a cached compressed file system to allow me to read in data, even while MPEG was playing, to allow me to render lots of frames of different sprites if required or have access to lots of data whenever I needed it.

The second was the difference in processing speed compared between the PC and CD-i versions, with CD-i being much slower in terms of processing and very much slower in terms of memory bandwidth. Luckily the most intensive part was the motion video which (thank God!) the CD-i had extra hardware to deal with that problem. The next most CPU/memory intensive part were the sprites. On the PC 2D graphics are generally stored as pixel data and memory copied onto the frame buffer. On the CD-i this wouldn't work because the CPU and memory were too slow to keep on copying all this memory around, even using dirty rectangles didn't help much. So the 2D scaled and non-scaled sprites used a special technique called binary compiling to make sure they were drawn at a good speed on the CD-i. This involves taking the pixel data and passing it through a tool which generates 680xx machine code. The resulting machine code stores the exact minimum amount of pixel data required to the frame buffer without needing to do all the wasteful memory copying.

The third problem were the tools supplied with the development kit because Creature Shock used a lot of small video clips. Unfortunately I tried using the standard tools to create the CD and quickly found we ran out of space due to the tools adding two seconds of blank data between each clip. So I had to create my own tools that would reduce this gap to a couple of sectors and change my MPEG playback code to emulate the gap in the CD data instead. This worked because the CD-i allowed the incoming CD data to be accessed through a ring buffer. That said it was a miracle Creature Shock didn't use more CDs than it did!

Another problem was the asset data processes. We had many gigabytes of raw data to convert to MPEG video streams and I remember we were sending out many CDs to Philips to get them encoded. These days gigabytes of data doesn't seem like much but back then the biggest hard drive in the building was only two gigabytes and weighed like a huge brick!

The problem that took the longest to resolve was a small hardware bug that was found in some MPEG cards for some revisions of the CD-i hardware. I remember one time a couple of Philips engineers came over with their hardware debugging kit and after a while we eventually found the problem. In the end I worked around the bug by detecting the failure and resetting the hardware.

The 3D interactive bits had to be cut, there was no way the Cd-i was ever going to render that in real time. So we actually created some extra MPEG assets for the CD-i version to fill in the gaps in the story....

I also remember having early discussions with some technical people at Philips about custom access to the MPEG hardware. I wanted to use the DSP chip (by standards back then it was fast!) to draw my own dynamically generated graphics and possibly even 3D. But as you probably know with the MPEG hardware changing so much there wasn't an easy way to guarantee hardware access at that level from the CD-i....

There was a possibility the game got cancelled as well when I first calculated the game video data wouldn't fit on 2 CDs, but that problem got solved. Since the team was small (and cheap) the project was able to keep going for years. I don't think it ever broke even though”

When reading this list of problems, didn’t the whole CD-i create bad blood in you?

“Not at all, I actually loved working on the little machine because in some ways it reminded me of my old Amiga programming days. You see, I'm the typical games programmer. I was born in 1973 and by the age of eight I was starting to programme the family computer, a ZX81. By the time I was 16 I had completed my first commercial game for the Commodore 64 and was already selling software libraries and technical articles to magazines. I got my lucky break at Argonaut when an employee spotted my work at a computer show in London. He said "write off to here we'll interview you." I got the job and then moved across the country, leaving home was tough as it was my first time away from my parents. But I loved the work, imagine a load of other people who have the same interest in programming as I have. This working environment proved to be a great learning experience and when the CD-i project started my knowledge of 680xx meant I was picked to do the job. The rest, as they say, is history. “

Another Argonaut game on cd-I release lists, was Alien Odyssey. Do you know if this game ever was in development?

”It would have been nice to use the engine for CD-i Alien Odyssey but that conversion project didn't really start. I actually started the Sega Saturn conversion but that was also cancelled after a month, we had a new bigger project to work on. I assume this was why Argonaut/Virgin moved away from CD-i because technology wise it was being eclipsed by the newer consoles from Sega, Sony and Nintendo. To stay in the race Philips needed a much newer machine, but they didn't deliver. History is littered with the cases of old consoles.”

Who else was responsible for the CD-i development at Argonaut?

“I was the conversion programmer and Paul Saunders was the asset controller who organised the rendering and compression of the MPEG assets. That was the team. (only two people!) The PC version had a larger team, but the CD-i version just used the PC assets as much as possible.”

Ofcourse, we highly thank Martin for his contribution and especially his work on Creature Shock which is easily one of the best games available on CD-i.

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Games 0-F

3rd Degree - PF Magic
7th Guest, The - Philips Freeland Studios
Accelerator - SPC/Vision
Adventure of the Space Ship Beagle, The - Denshi Media Services
Affaire Morlov, L' - Titus
Alfapet - Adatek
Alice in Wonderland - Spinnaker
Alien Gate - SPC Vision
Alien Odyssee - Argonaut
Aliens Interactive CD-i - Dark Vision Interactive
Ange et le Demon, L' - Smart Move
Apprentice, The - SPC Vision
Apprentice 2, The - Marvin's Revenge - SPC Vision
Arcade Classics - Philips ADS / Namco
Asterix - Caesar’s Challenge - Infogrames
Atlantis - The Last Resort - PRL Redhill (Philips ADS)
Axis and Allies - CapDisc
Backgammon - CapDisc
Battle Chess - Accent Media (for Interplay)
Battleship - CapDisc
Big Bang Show - Infogrames
BMP Puzzle - Circle (for ZYX)
Brain Dead 13 - Readysoft
Burn:Cycle - Trip Media
Caesar's World of Boxing - Philips POV
Caesar's World of Gambling - CD-I Systems
Cartoon Academy - Bits Corporation
CD-i mit der Maus - SPC Vision
CD Shoot - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Change Angels Kick-off - HMO
Chaos Control - Infogrames
Christmas Country - Creative Media
Christmas Country - The Lost Levels - Creative Media
Christmas Crisis - DIMA
Clue - 3T Productions
Clue 2 - The mysteries continue - 3T Productions
Connect Four - CapDisc
Creature Shock - Argonaut (for Virgin)
Crime Patrol - CapDisc
Crow, The - Philips POV
Cyber Soldier Sharaku - Japan Interactive media
Dame was Loaded, The - Beam Software
Dark Castle - Philips POV
Dead End - Cryo
Defender of the Crown - Philips POV
Deja Vu - Icom Simulations
Deja Vu 2: Lost in Las Vegas - Icom Simulations
Demolition Man - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Demon Driver - Haiku Studios
Discworld - Teeny Weeny Games
Dimo's Quest - SPC Vision
Domino - Wigant Interactive Media
Down in the Dumps - Haiku Studios
Dragon's Lair - Superclub / INTL CDI
Dragon's Lair 2- Time Warp - Superclub / INTL CDI
Drug wars - Crime Patrol II - CapDisc
Dungeons & Dragons - PF Magic
Earth Command - Visionary Media
Effacer - CapDisc
Escape from Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Evidence - Microids
Falco & Donjon & The Sword of Inoxybur - BMi / Zephyr Studio
Family Games I - DIMA
Family Games II - Junk Food Jive - DIMA
Felix the Cat - Philips Sidewalk Studio
Flashback - Delphine/Tiertex (for US Gold)
Flinstones Wacky Inventions - Philips Funhouse
Fort Boyard: The Challenge - Microids
Frog Feast - Rastersoft

CD-i Games Index G-M

Go - CapDisc
Golden Oldies - SPC Vision
Golden Oldies II - SPC Vision
Golgo 13 - Japan Interactive Media
Great day at the races, A - CD-I Racing, Dove Films, Total Vision
Guignols de l'Info, Les - Canal+ Multimedia / INTL CDI
Heart of Darkness - Amazing Studio (for Virgin)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The - Philips Kaleidoscope
Holland Casino CD-i - HMO
Hotel Mario - Philips Fantasy Factory
Inca - Coktel Vision
Inca 2 - Coktel Vision
International Tennis Open - Infogrames
Jack Sprite vs. The Crimson Ghost - PF Magic
Jeopardy - Accent Media
Jigsaw - Novalogic
Joe Guard - DIMA
John Dark: Psychic Eye - CapDisc
Joker's Wild!, The - Accent Media
Joker's Wild Jr., The - Accent Media
Kether - Infogrames
Kingdom - The far reaches - CapDisc
Kingdom 2 - Shadoan - CapDisc
Labyrinth of Crete - Philips Funhouse
Laser Lords - Spinnaker
Last Bounty Hunter, The - CapDisc
Legend of the Fort - Microids
Lemmings - DMA Design / Psygnosis
Lettergreep - Wigant Interactive Media
Lingo - SPC Vision
Link - The faces of evil - Animation Magic
Lion King, The - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Litil Divil - Gremlin Graphics
Litil Divil 2: Limbo Years - Gremlin Graphics
Lords of the rising sun - Philips POV
Lost Eden - Cryo (for Virgin)
Lost Ride, The - Formula (Lost Boys)
Lucky Luke - The video game - SPC Vision
Mad Dog McCree - CapDisc
Mad Dog McCree II: The lost gold - CapDisc
Magic Eraser - Circle (for ZYX)
Mah-Jong - Japan Interactive Media
Making the Grade - 3T Productions
Man Before Man - Cryo
Marco Polo - Infogrames
Mario Takes America - CIGAM
Master Labyrinth - AVM AG/HQ
Mega Maze - CapDisc
Memory Works, The - Compact Disc Incorporated
Merlin's Apprentice - Philips Funhouse
Microcosm - Philips Freeland Studios
Micro Machines - Codemasters
Monty Python's Invasion from the Planet Skyron - Daedalus CD-i Productions
Mutant Rampage - Body Slam - Animation Magic
Myst - Sunsoft (for Cyan)
Mystic Midway - Rest in pieces - Philips POV
Mystic Midway 2 - Phantom Express - Philips POV

Compact Disc Interactive

Compact Disc Interactive

Games N-Z

Name that tune - Philips Fantasy Factory
New Day - Bits Corporation
NFL Hall of Fame Football - Philips POV
Othello - HMO
Pac Panic - Philips ADS / Namco
Palm Springs Open - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Pool - SPC Vision
Pinball - CapDisc
Plunderball - ISG Productions
Power Hitter - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Power Match - Two's Company
Pursue - BEPL
Pyramid Adventures - Compact Disc Incorporated
RAMRaid - PRL Redhill
Return To Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Riddle of the Maze, The - Fathom Pictures
Riqa - Bits Corporation
Rise of the Robots - Mirage Technologies
Sargon Chess - Spinnaker
Scotland Yard Interactive - AVM AG/HQ
Secret Mission - Microids
Secret Name of Ra, The
Shaolin's Road - Infogrames
Skate Dude - Viridis
Smurfen, De - De Telesmurf - Infogrames
Solar Crusade - Infogrames
Solitaire - BEPL
Space Ace - Superclub / INTL CDI
Space Ranger - Studio Interactive
Special Operations Squadron - SPC Vision
Sport Freaks - SPC Vision
Star Trek - Philips POV
Star Wars: Rebel Assault - LucasArts
Steel Machine - SPC Vision
Striker Pro - Rage
Strip Poker Live - Greenpig Production
Strip Poker Pro - Interactive Pictures
Super Fighter - The Super Fighter Team / C&E
Super Mario's Wacky Worlds - NovaLogic
Surf City - Philips Sidewalk Studios
Tangram - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Taco's Toyroom Troopers - Creative Media
Tankdoodle - Creative Media
Tetris - Philips POV
Tetsuo Gaiden - Creative Media
Text Tiles
Thieves' World - Electronic Arts
Tic-tac-toe - BEPL
Tox Runner - ISG Productions
Treasures of Oz - Philips Kaleidoscope
Ultra CD-i Soccer - Krisalis
Uncover featuring Tatjana - SPC Vision
Uninvited - Icom Simulations
Video Speedway - ISG Productions
Vinnie the Pinguin - Pandemonium Labs
Voyeur - Philips POV
Voyeur 2 - Philips POV
Whack-a-Bubble - Creative Media
What's it worth - Marshall Cavendish Multimedia / Spice
Who shot Johnny Rock? - CapDisc
Wordplay - BEPL
World Cup Golf - US Gold
Zaak Sam, De - Toneelschool NL
Zelda - The wand of Gamelon - Animation Magic
Zelda's Adventure - Viridis
Zenith - Radarsoft
Zombie Dinos From The Planet Zeltoid - Philips POV

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