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"Then, finally, Panasonic came out with its CD-i player and "Jigsaw" wouldn't run on it"

>> Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Silas Warner talked about his CD-i work on Jigsaw, Super Mario's Wacky Worlds and Wolfpack at Novalogic 1992-1993: I came to CD-i work across the country: I had just been laid off from Amiga and Atari work at Microprose and drove across the USA (on Route 66 and its successors) in seven days. Since my previous work had been with the 68000, it was not hard to adjust to the crippled 68000 used in the CD-i. Also, like the Amiga, the CD-i had a "display list" video structure in which every scan line was specified.

The software architecture of the CD-i, in contrast, was wonderfully simple and elegant. The operating system was called OS9, and had the distinction that every program was relocatable, both code and data. The A6 register was used to point at the program data segment: thus multiple copies of the code could run each with different data.

Like any new design, there were bugs and glitches. The most noticeable one was that the scan line interrupt, normally the highest priority interrupt in the system, was overridden by the interrupt for the remote control stick. In practice, this meant that if you used a scan line interrupt to change video modes, the display scan line would jump up and down whenever the joysitck was moved. This required quite a bit of ingenuity to overcome, and a method was worked out at the CD-i development conference in the spring of 1992. A separate process was run in the computer at highest priority, which only had the task of running scan line interrupts. This highest-priority process would override the mouse processing interrupt, making scan interrupts stable. This kind of "patch" was an example of the kind of flexible programming that OS9 made possible.

Other glitches were more serious. The most serious problems were in the area of audio. Since the CD-i machine was based on a CD player, the gold standard in audio, the CD-i's designers felt that the CD should be sufficient for all audio. In addition, a number of modes of ADPCM audio compression made it possible to place up to 16 interleaved audio streams on a single track of a CD, or to play a CD track with many audio streams from memory. But the designers forgot was any method to mix sounds. Even a simple mouse click had to be recorded in a studio, according to CD-quality specifications including $9,000 digitizing boards with gold-plated cables, to 16-bit quality, then the CD music interrupted to play the click (for only one track could be played at a time!)

Once again, the programming brain trust went into action and figured out a massive software package that at least allowed two ADPCM tracks to be played at once. A software compressor decompressed two audio tracks at once, and averaged them from stereo to mono. Then one was placed on the left channel of the rotating audio buffer and the other on the right channel. Finally the stereo option was turned off, in order to mix the two channels. For all its ingenuity, the programming trick turned out to be the Achilles heel of the CD-i, as we will see.

My employer was Novalogic, then located in the southwest corner of Woodland Hills in an industrial park on the former Warner Bros backlot. The company was mainly a contract programming house, building games designed by clients. Our CDi title, "Jigsaw", had been completely designed and specified by Sony. It was not an exciting game: it was designed to be soothing, even boring. New Age music played while the player switched identically-shaped pieces of an esthetically beautiful picture until all were in place. The market seemed to be older families who sat around the television even when there was nothing to watch. John Brooks had originally been the lead programmer on the project: I was brought in to assist when Brooks became stretched too thin.

Other projects were going on, of course. The greatest excitement at Novalogic was about a tie-in game to a Disney movie at the time, "The Rocketeer". For most of my time at Novalogic, the Rocketeer's costume and rocket backpack sat in a corner of my office.

As "Jigsaw" wore on, the main problems we faced were not the game. The obstacles thrown in our way were primarily Sony's ridiculous requirements for disc quality. For instance, that mouse click. It couldn't be a syntheric beep; it had to be recorded in a recording studio, to 16-bit quality! We fudged that by taking our 8-bit beep, resampling it to a higher rate, flanging and echoing it, then resampling it back with quadratic interpolation to the 44,100-Hz CD rate. The interpolation introduced low-level noise, which filled in the lower 8 bits and satisfied the censors. Another example: the entire game, sound, video and data, had to be placed on the disk TWICE. I still have a test disk sent from Sony, on which a quarter-inch square of nail polish had been placed to completely obliterate several CD tracks. The game was required to play perfectly even with this flaw: as the software would detect the flaw and switch to an alternate track!

As time wore on, "Jigsaw" came closer to completion. The only work on the program was complying with the Sony quality assurance department's fussy little nits -- a single scan line in a single picture being too rough in texture, for instance. All had to be "corrected" somehow, even if it meant doubling the size of some display programs. While this went on, however, we had time to experiment with the CD-i. For instance, Novalogic had one in-house-designed game, a submarine simulation called "Wolfpack", and I began a quick-and-dirty CD-i conversion with an eye to adding "bells and whistles" such as part-screen movie clips.

Two weeks before the opening deadline, two things were apparent. One was that "Jigsaw" would ship with the new produce, despite Sony's QA department continuing to discover new "bugs". The other was that the consumer electronics market was collapsing, the victim of a nationwide recsesion. Then came the blow. Up until now, Sony players were the only model on which we could test our products. Then, finally, Panasonic came out with its companion model -- and "Jigsaw" wouldn't run on it.

The culprit was that elaborate sound mixing system. The software decompressor had to load in the aectora of sound data in a precise timing sequence into the two rotating sound buffers used for memory playback. But the Panasonic player had THREE rotating sound buffers, throwing all timing off. The problem wasn't just ours: every title that had more than one sound playing produced garble on the Panasonic player. Two weeks before its release, half the supply of CD-i players in the world had to be scrapped and redesigned!

The premiere came, and CD-i displays were prominently unveiled in prestigious department and electronics stores thoughout the nation. Many of them were running "jigsaw", because nothing else was available to run. And the public resoundingly ignored them. At the same time, Atari and Nintendo were publicly consigning thousands of game cartridges to landfill. The year's recession that followed buried the CD-i -- and "Jigsaw".

But one postscript remained. Novalogic was seeking work from Nintendo: we had already produced one Nintendo cartridge. A Nintendo sales executive came up with the idea that maybe simple Nintendo titles could play on the CD-i. I suspect he was thinking of some kind of adapter to plug a Nintendo cartridge into a CD slot! But it set off a frantic race at Novalogic. The project was to put a popular Nintendo game, "Super Mario World" onto a CD-i disk.

The characters were pirated from a video feed, the level maps drawn off on paper, and John Brooks and I prepared to put in 24-hour days for two weeks. At the end of that time, we had a little bit of one level done -- enough to display at an upcoming Nintendo developer meeting. The disk was burned at 4 am on Friday morning for an 8 am meeting.

The effect was just what was expected. Nintendo marveled and applauded the marvelous job we had done in two weeks, then killed the idea. The CD-i wasn't selling. The project was over, and I went looking for new work. I quickly found it across town, at Virgin Games in Irvine. But that was the end of my CD-i work.

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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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