>> Monday, January 5, 2009
Alien Gate, Steel Machine, The Apprentice, Dimo’s Quest, Lucky Luke, Accelerator, all these great CD-i games came from one and the same company: SPC/Vision. Its history started with Alien Gate, which blew away the Philips people, who were used to seeing titles like Compton’s Encyclopdia. After this the company has created a major history in the CD-i world, leaving the business with a lot of gems and secrets. In this article we will reveal some of what may be called one of the best software companies CD-i has known.
Note: It has sometimes been suggested that SPC was in some way related to Lost Boys; this is not in fact true and the companies were actually competitors as you will find out below. In the streamers of Alien Gate it says “lost boys development”, but this was an internal joke of the developers and did not refer to the Lost Boys company.
Special Operations Squadron
In 1993 SPC demo’d the game ‘Special Operations Squadron’ which was one of the very first titles using seamless MPEG branching. A similar engine was later used in The Lost Ride. When the first digital video cartridge was available, it was very hard (and very expensive) to code this function. It turned out more than 50% of the processor was ‘wasted’ by seamless playing of MPEG video’s. So little power would be available to actually create a game.
In the evaluation back to Philips, SPC was opting a video-maze as one of the remaining possibilities, but it had to be rendered fully digital to make that happen (Special Operations Squadron was using ‘live footage’ from stock). As this was too expensive for the budget envisioned at the time, the project was killed. When Philips was shifting this idea over to Lost Boys in 1996 to create ‘The Lost Ride’, one can imagine the disappointment of the SPC crew!
One of the big projects SPC got their hands on, was to create an encyclopedia for the Dutch market. Using their own experience, this title was the very first market title using seamless MPEG branching (namely the video loop in the main menu). Unfortunately, the video house didn’t manage to edit the footage into a completely seamless loop, so now the loops appear to have a little pause between them, even though the underlying MPEG video is actually running seamlessly!
The encyclopedia software was first designed with a fancy “roll” effect for page turning. Philips at first wanted to cut it entirely, but ultimately they agreed to the current “slide” effect. “ However, several test codes were added so every version can still be seen! There are also other codes to color-code hyperlinks and control screen dimming and font selection.
All test codes are sequences of digits that must be entered from the main menu screen. Consider the main menu boxes numbered like a telephone keypad as pictured:
To enter a test code digit, press button 2 when the cursor is on the appropriate box (this will also activate/deactivate the control bar). When a test code is complete, you will hear a click sound. Here are some of the available test codes:
5 5 Reset most of the test features
1 9 3 7 1 Use vertical slide effect (default)
1 9 3 7 2 Use cut effect (never actually used)
1 9 3 7 3 Use vertical roll effect (used in v0.7)
1 9 3 7 4 Do not color-code hyperlinks (default)
1 9 3 7 5 Color-code hyperlinks dark blue
1 9 3 7 6 Color-code hyperlinks according to type
1 9 3 7 7 Toggle dim time between 10 min / 5 sec / 1 min
1 9 3 7 8 Toggle between underline / light font / text font
Although Lost Boys developed the consumer cd-i websurfing tools, it was SPC who prototyped the idea. Their first version did not support graphics but half of the Philips Media crew were eagerly using the demo disc on the SPC modem-account. However, when it had to be developed for the commercial market, Lost Boys was again signed to develop it. Another dead end for the mighty SPC crew!
This disc contains a simple text-only WWW browser that connects to the Internet using SLIP over a serial line connected to a modem. Although the disc was set up to use NLnet, there is nothing NLnet-specific on the disc except some configuration information.
The CD-i Internet Demonstration disc can still be used today, as shown by the photographs (see the Links below for more information). Instead of a modem, a direct connection to a PC running RedHat Linux was used. The disc supports the CD-i KeyControl keyboard although it didn’t even exist at the time! The demo disc was originally intended to be used with a professional CD-i keyboard, but those were extremely rare even in those days.