>> Sunday, October 14, 2007
You may remember about this deal announced August 1994 between Philips Media and Interplay to develop three games on CD-i, Battle Chess, The Lost Vikings and a third unnamed project. The Black Moon Project came into posession of a prototype for Battle Chess. Following the discovery that the CD-i conversion for Battle Chess actually existed on CD-i in prototype form we at Black Moon have been feverishly writing up an article over the past month gradually piecing together all the resources we could find. This includes some very nice in game screenshots, picture of the prototype disc itself and also some movie clips. We were fortunate enough to find the lead programmer who worked on this project who was willing to submit to a brief interview. Previously available by Black Moon but screaming for a wide audience; Battle Chess was technically very impressive on CD-i! Interactive Dreams collects our favourite bits:
CDi Magazine UK No. 7 : “Interplay to release three games on CDi” - Leading US video games publisher Interplay Productions is to develop and publish three high quality games for CDi. The deal, between Interplay and Philips Media Games, will bring Lost Vikings, Battle Chess and a third (as yet unnamed title) to the CD-i format. They will be distributed by Philips. “This is a terrific endorsement from one of the industry’s finest producers, “ says David McElhatten, president of Philips Media Games. “Interplay’s commitment to publish in the CDi format is yet another significant step in the continuing growth of this publishing platform.”
Lost Vikings, an award-winning puzzle/strategy game is a brain-twisting adventure where players must lead three vikings off a mysterious spaceship back to their homeland in Scandahoovia. The title contains 43 levels and the CDi version will have never seen before Digital Video animation.
Battle Chess brings players of the classic strategy game into the humerous medieval world where the characters jump to life in dramatic 3D animation. The title has 45 minutes of CD quality sound and animated tutorials that teach the player each piece’s movement, history and strategy.
Jeff: "Accent Media was a spinoff of a company I worked for that did computer graphics for television, film, and games. We had done numerous game show television projects and were approached to work on computer game versions of some of those shows. We did several for CD-i including Jeopardy and the Joker’s Wild. From there we did pc and other console game projects until that company closed in 1997 or so. I have continued doing game and television/film projects on my own since then.
Battle Chess was set up to be a quick port to try and get some more mainstream game titles on to CD-i. Interplay at the time was having problems and were not really behind the project. Getting assets and code was pretty difficult and the project was not really well suited to the CD-i machine with its relatively low cpu power. I don’t remember the exact timeframe but we worked on in for quite a few months and got it just about ready to ship. There were some compliance issues and it needed further optimization when the word came down that PIMA (the Santa Monica portion of Philips) was closing down. The project was pretty quickly cancelled.
If I recall correctly, most of the team was on other projects. I did the first pass at getting the game up and running. We had another programmer who worked on the code and a contractor from PIMA helped with low level optimization. There were several artists who worked on asset conversion. But it was a relatively small team. I don’t recall ever seeing the Interplay people. We would get a disc of data (I think it was the 3DO version or perhaps PC). Most of the art assets were converted using our in-house tools.
The main problem was the Battle Chess code had gone through many ports and alterations and was fundamentally based on a public domain chess engine. The code was a mess and thing like memory management (a big issue on CD-i) was handled poorly. The code was not optimized much at all and really played a pretty poor game of chess particularly when you gave it limited time to think. It really just aborted where it was at if you gave it a time limit. A chess engine could have been done well from scratch on the machine, but that engine on that system was tough.
We sent out test masters to have compliance checking and we had a few problems (ui and some hanging crashes). There were issues with the many different configurations of CD-i (always a big issue on the platform). The game wouldn’t play well on one certain model with one memory config for example. Myself and another engineer were set to fly out to the Netherlands to do a optimization pass and fix some last problems on their big simulator or something. I had my passport and ticket and the day of the trip, if I recall right, the project was cancelled. We probably had about two weeks to go before gold master. Not the first or last time that happened for me. But there is always something new to work on. Similar problems happened on the ill-fated Atari-Jaguar, Sega Saturn, 3DO. But that is just part of the business."
So a decade after the first mention of a conversion to CD-i in CD-i Magazine a working prototype of Battle Chess has been found from a specialist collector of the format. Originally purchased from Philips Eindhoven in the Netherlands as a job lot, this prototype was buried under a pile of already commercially released games. It comes on Kodak Writable media typical of the time with version 1.07 and a date of 4/10/96 scribed on the CD which tallies with the time period this game would have been developed. As with previously discovered prototypes from this time like Plunderball, Battle Chess seems to be a fully formed game. Including the Philips CD-i bumper and Interplay logo before entering the title screen where you can even play a tutorial which literally talks you through the basic rules of chess with fully animated pieces. The game offers both 3D animated and a more traditional 2D view which incidently can be changed on the fly mid game if those lengthy animations ever become tiresome. This is a prototype game and as such has some bugs especially in respect to the Artificial Intelligence, it doesn't play a good game of chess. Besides this a few graphical glitches and hangups are all that sets this apart from a fully formed game. It's a base case title and as such doesn't require the extra memory from the Digital Video Cartridge.
Finally, I'll show you some in-game footage, from start to end. In this video, I don't start a game because my 490 happens to crash everytime I do that. Typically on other models including the 370 portable CD-i player it plays without any error. You can see the bugs in the Accent Media bumper but for the rest the game runs flawlessly.
Thanks to Devin, Calypso, Jeff