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Paul Clarke about Atlantis: The Last Resort on CD-i

>> Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's a sad fact, but almost inevitable that the last wave of games on any console are technically superior and criminally overlooked as the next generation of hardware swings into view. Released in 1997 well after many considered CD-i commercially dead, 'Atlantis' proved the black box still had some life left in her. As a first person shooter it surprised many with fast paced action and a nifty 'CD Swap' feature allowing you to play any Music CD through the CD-i whilst hammering away at the game! Requiring little persuasion from Black Moon the chief programmer Paul Clarke describes his time raising Atlantis...

If you work in and around Philips and CD-i then you will uncover a lot of really fantastic people. Philips as a company, and an endeavour like CD-i in particular, attracts and gets the most out of great, talented, people. Johnny is a good example of that, though there are many, many others. Although I left Philips in '99 I still keep in touch with lots of Philips guys, though I had lost touch with the ADS boys. I meet up with the rest of the research group I worked in from Philips Research Labs, Redhill each year. There are lots of great CD-i tech-heads there, though they are working on other things now of course.

Soon after joining Philips Research I developed a Non-Intrusive Real-time Debugger (affectionately known as the NIRD, pronounced "Nerd"). This was a really cool piece of kit and software that allowed us to debug CD-i titles (mostly games) in real-time by snooping the expansion bus of the player and understanding what was going on. So for a while I worked researching the feasibility of doing this, then developing the hardware, on-board software, and PC host software to make the system fly. Then I got into refining it and using it at CD-i title developers in UK, Europe and US - helping high-profile titles get to the market on time. The NIRD became a product from Philips Media that they sold to development houses and used themselves. Through doing this work I got right into the detail of how CD-i worked and it's most intricate levels; for example knowing which memory areas operated fastest, how to make every bus cycle count, etc.

In our spare time, usually friday lunchtimes, we played games. This was considered okay as we were in the Interactive Systems Group of the labs, and understanding what people do in their homes and with what kit was really important. It also fitted with our research work around set-top boxes, digital video recorders, virtual reality user interfaces, artificial intelligence, etc. One of the games we played was of course Doom on the PC, though Philips also bought us each new console as it came out to play with.

I got into creating a few Doom levels with the public domain level editors, and the public specs of these allowed me write a utility to extract Doom graphics out of the WAD files. As a coder interested in putting together and refining game engines, the most frustrating thing is often the rubbish graphics that we can produce. By borrowing the Doom graphics I could make the demo 3D engine look cool too, and this ensured I got some attention from Philips Media. I also wrote a utility to allow me to use the public domain Doom level editors to lay out level designs for my engine, rather than have to write a level design tool. Simple hacked utilities like this meant that I could focus on the tricks I would need to do to get reasonable playable performance (15 - 25 fps) out of the engine, rather than work on graphics, sound or level designers like most game developers have to.

When Philips Media agreed to publish a game, I started working with the ADS boys. I could write a lot about this but Johnny has already said a lot. They were a good bunch of guys, really committed to the art of getting the best game play, graphics and performance possible out of CD-i. It was gut wrenching to see the team pulled apart as we learned that Atlantis would be the last game they produced.

Regarding the DOOM demos I put together, I need to be clear. I wrote my own 3D engine that had a number of tricks / compromises to allow it to run at over 15 fps to get playability right. I'll cover some of these below, but it meant that actually, in terms of game comparison, the Atlantis 3D engine was weaker than ID's Doom predecessor Wolfenstein (ie there is no height element, no stairs, no lifts, etc, just a flat world). At that time the Doom code wasn't public domain, and we would never have been able to get it running fast enough if it had been, so to be clear Doom never ran on CD-i. What we did have was a custom 3D engine allowing you to run around a world filled with Doom graphics, wall textures, yes the baddies, and status bar. That's what Johnny meant. It allowed me to concentrate on the code and produce demo's which looked cool. Years later, when the Doom code was made publically available by Id, we did port it to some experimental Set Top Boxes, and that was really cool. Doom on a big TV with descent speakers was just great.

When we were deciding what to do with my 3D engine, I did discuss with Dave Mac (mentioned by Johnny) about talking to Id about a Wolf3D port. However, we put gameplay first and this meant a number of tricks (yes I'm coming to them) that meant it wouldn't have worked. I did produce a demo of my engine with Wolf3D graphics to illustrate the point but we didn't take it further.

3D Engine: The 3D engine itself is a fairly standard "ray caster" that effectively uses a map data structure as a data source together with the players position and orientation, and produces a data structure across the width of the screen showing for each "column" of the screen the distance to the wall (which drives the height of the wall to render), the texture ID (which directs you to the correct texture bitmap tile to render) and the texture column (which is the vertical slice of the texture tile to render). Yes, it was written in C, optimised to hell, and had assembler inserts in a couple of places. The NIRD was used to validate that every cycle was optimised - but fortunately the C compiler for CD-i used together with the right types of variables (to drive 16-bit or 32-bit data access) produced tight code.

Attack of the N.I.R.D: The ADS team paid tribute to the power of N.I.R.D in this touching credit screen from Arcade Classics. The definition of N.I.R.D is Non-Intrusive Real-time Debugger! Rendering and tricks: This is the area which makes or breaks a game, and where the vast majority of CPU time is spent. The key reason why you can't just port Wolf3D or Doom to CD-i is that the 68070 processor on the CD-i player just can't write full screens made of textures and sprites to the screen fast enough due to simple math around the processor and the amount of video memory required to be accessed, read (textures) and written (video).

Version 1 of the rendering engine worked at about 1 fps, which is clearly unusable. Through experimentation and optimisation I ended up with a solution that gave playable game play above 15fps. To do this we used the two video planes of CD-i. The background plane is used to display the wall textures, plus ceiling, plus floor. We used the power of the CD-i hardware to mirror the ceiling with the floor around the mid-point of the screen. So, you only write the top half of the screen, and the CD-i hardware mirrors it down onto the bottom half of the screen. That means that you are now only rendering half the amount of video memory which takes half the time. We also ran that video plane at half resolution (again assisted by CD-i hardware). So actually, we were rendering just quarter the height of a full video screen, and half the width. The pixel doubling took it back to half height and full width, and the mirroring made it full height and full width.

On levels where we had horizon detail (such as the first level with the monuments in the background), and on others where we graduated the floor or ceiling to give the illusion of light, we changed the palette on a line by line basis, which is something that the CD-i system does in hardware for free from a CPU perspective. The foreground video plane was used for sprites, status bar, etc and ran at full resolution to ensure the baddies, bullets, etc, were as high quality as possible. Optimised renderers were written in assembly code for both background and foreground to get the speed up.

I believe it is these tricks using the video hardware such as pixel doubling, mirroring, palette changing, and transparency between planes that Dave Mac was alluding to in the magazine. They cost no CPU power at all once set up at the start of the level, and reduce the amount of time the CPU needs to spend rendering per frame. However, as the walls are mirrored top to bottom, we could not do games like Wolf3D. The demo we did produced predictably odd swastika's and Hitler wall tiles. Fun, but wasn't going to go anywhere.

Memory: Different memory banks work at different speeds, and in particular the expansion memory on the DV cartridge ran faster than the rest of the memory. We used this carefully for certain things, such as rendering code (run often) and textures (read often during rendering). Monster AI: I wrote a language (Sprite Behaviour Language, or SBL) to express monster AI in, and a compiler to convert it to optimal machine code. This allowed us to express actions as keywords that were easy to read such as look, shoot, move, etc and get a richness of AI.

Sound: A great guy called Chris Thorne wrote all the music and did all the sound FX. I was part of his interview process that brought him and other designers into Philips as we sought to break ground in design around all sorts of home-based technology. You should track him down as he is an interesting guy. We had good video and audio studios at Philips Research and Chris augmented this with additional kit and software that gave him what he needed. There was talk of an audio CD to accompany Atlantis (as with Burn:Cycle [which was debugged with the NIRD]), but it was decided not to follow through with this. Chris did produce a demo, and it was fantastic, but it never got released. I have a copy, but don’t see how I can share due to copyright reasons. Shame, it is really really cool.

Cyber-chute bonus levels: While on holiday in Cyprus, in the middle of game production, I was lying in the sun wondering how to improve the game. All of the levels have orthogonal walls, but the rendering engine itself could render curved walls as all it needed to blit the screen was a data structure of wall texture IDs, distance (to scale the wall), and column number of the texture. Whilst CD-I couldn’t work out these details for a curved world in real-time it struck me that there might be a way of doing this offline for bonus levels. I might have been a bit of a spod then, but even I didn’t take a calculator on holiday. So, in long-hand and a touristy notebook I worked out in long-hand a way to do the bonus chute drops between level themes. Basically I found a way of cramming the “view” of a drop chute at so many positions across it (can’t remember how many) in a real-time stream of data from the CD at so many fps. So, the CD-I can stream 75 2k sectors per second from the CD. Effectively it streamed off all the data the renderer needed to know for so many positions across a drop chute in real-time. You then know the user’s position across the width of the cute, and constrain how this position can move per frame, and you have the means to have an interesting segway level. With my notes in hand I hacked some data and wrote the renderer the day after my leave. I had a clever student working with me (Jain Shah) and got him to write a PC tool to do all the offline tool work to build the real levels and associated data structures, and the scheme worked really well. It works a bit like the really old chute drop games. You’re moving inexorably downwards through a complex shape and have to miss bumping into the walls to gain max points.

The experience: Working on RamRaid (the online version) and the Atlantis were some of the most enjoyable work days of my life. With little design brief the creativity in the team ran free. The ADS guys were crazy guys committed to the art of game design and game play. Paul Reid, mentioned in Johnny’s interview, was a great guy absolutely committed to the team. Andy Morton and Tom Drummond were very odd but amazing game guru’s who were kind enough to accept me into their world. Johnny was amazing, and brought my 3D world on CD-i to life. Fire up your CD-i player, and just look at the graphics that he produced, and enjoy the DV clips that we did with Rak. In particular, look at Johnny’s sprites, and savour their animation frames, especially their death sequences. Every frame is a joy.

In another parallel universe the investment in CD-i and its successors continues and ADS is thriving, with the lads and myself happily hacking things to blow peoples minds, give them a thrill, and make the more technical wonder how we do that.

Many thanks to Paul Clarke for his statement & With KUDOS to Johnny Wood for the fantastic artwork submissions. This is part of The Black Moon Project


Interview with Marty Foulger - Lead Designer on Super Mario's Wacky Worlds

Merijn: Hello Marty, could you tell us about yourself and your career as well as your work for Novalogic.

Marty Foulger: I have a BS degree from Oregon State University in Technical Journalism, with a Minor in Computer Science.

I started my game design career as a writer for Advanced Microcomputer Systems in 1981, but soon developed a talent for game design. I designed games for a variety of platforms, including handheld vacuum-fluorescent games (Reactor & The Ewok Adventure), raster graphics arcade games (Zzyzzyxx & Sprockets), and a proprietary system developed by AMS called the Fantasy Machine. FM eventually morphed into a home laserdisc game playing system (much later to become the Halcyon System by RDI), and it was in 1982-93 that we developed Dragon's Lair, the first laserdisc arcade game. I was one of three game designers.

DL was quite successful, and in 1983 I left AMS to work for Sega Enterprises, the American division of Sega Japan that was developing all of the next generation of arcade laserdisc games. We completed the pre-production phase of a Star Trek laserdisc game, when the arcade laserdisc bubble burst in 1984, and the project was cancelled (an annoying theme in my career). I continued as a game design consultant to Sega until 1985, when the division was sold to Bally-Midway, then finally folded.

In 1987, when the initial CD-i specification was released by Philips, I helped start a company called Tiger Media Inc., that was founded to develop interactive titles for the new CD-i standard. As supervising producer at Tiger, I designed and produced the first CD-i disc manufactured in the US in 1988, a demo disc called "Parties of the Posh and Pampered" (I'll bet you never heard of that one!), but delays in the final CD-i specification pushed pressing of POTPAP into 1989. In 1988 I began production on a title called "The Case of the Cautious Condor", an interactive detective mystery intended for CD-i, but ultimately only published for the Fujitsu FM Towns (an early CD-ROM computer), Commodore CDTV and IBM-PC.

I left Tiger Media in 1990, and became a design consultant to American Interactive Media, the US division of Philips created to produce titles for CD-i. I worked on Hanna-Barbera's Cartoon Carnival, and a prototype of a children's detective title. The VP at Philips I was working for was in charge of all the children's titles, and I found I had little talent and even less interest in the genre, so I left Philips.

In 1991, I joined Novalogic as a game designer, and worked on a cart for the Sega Genesis called "Captain Planet & the Planeteers" a worthless license of a politically correct cartoon series that eschewed violence and practiced earth-friendly crime fighting. Just perfect for video games. In early 1992, I began development on SMWW, which ran until June of 1993. I also contributed to Ultrabots and Comanche: Maximum Overkill and a CD-i adaptation of Novalogic's Wolfpack, a submarine game that was never published.

I left Novalogic in 1993 and became a producer with Paramount Interactive. I was developing games based on Star Trek: Deep Space 9, a driving game based on the TV show Viper, and a basketball game based on the Coach Pat Riley and the New York Knicks (Paramount owned Madison Square Garden). When Viacom bought Paramount in 1994, they consolidated four game development units into one, and Paramount Interactive was no more. Once again, my projects were cancelled. At that point, I retired from game design, and now live in a house overlooking the Kenai River in Alaska, where I can pursue my interests such as fishing and skijoring.

Merijn: What did your role as designer on Super Mario's Wacky World's (SMWW) involve.

Marty Foulger: I produced a complete game specification document based on the outline that had been proposed to Philips. This entailed creating all the worlds, and lands for each one, as well as the mechanism for travel between them. Then I began laying out individual levels on computer drawing package that was marked off in a grid matching the background tiles. The creation of enemies and environments was up to me, and some of the levels went very quickly, while others I slaved over to create game mechanisms that were within the capabilities of CD-i, yet fun, challenging and visually appealing. These designs were output on paper, and handed off to the artists for rendering on a graphics workstation.

I worked closely with Nina Stanley (and I think another artist, Rod Parong, also worked on SMWW) to implement characters and backgrounds that would work with my designs, and I was never disappointed. She is so talented, and always exceeded my expectations. We had a lot of fun creating the various worlds.

After the art was complete, I used a graphics editor John created to set the surface characteristics of all the surfaces in the level, and then John integrated it into his program. I would test each level on a CD-i emulator with a 2 gig hard drive (enormous in those days!). Sometimes we had to massage the background or make some changes to the game mechanisms to fit the physics of John's program, but for the most part, everything worked pretty well together.

Merijn: How were you influenced by Shigeru Miyamoto's Super Mario World (SMW) and in what ways were you going to improve upon the original.

Marty Foulger: Our goal was to clone Nintendo's Super Mario World with new characters and locations, but use the interactivity familiar to SMW gamers. The CD-i hardware imposed some severe limitations, but we identified the core game mechanisms that we thought we could implement, and designed a game around them. We used one of the SMW cheat books that diagrammed all of the levels and mechanisms in the original. Some of them we adapted, and others we created new mechanisms altogether. The improvements over SMW would be more depth and variation in the backgrounds and characters due to the large capacity of the CD, and more flexibility in game music and sound effects that were stored on the disc, rather than synthesized.

Merijn: SMW was a massive game with various sub levels that you could spend countless hours playing and still never fully explore the game. Considering the short supply of staff dedicated to SMWW including one lead programmer, one designer and one artist working on the actual game it must have been a fairly limited production. Were there any plans to hire more staff and expand the depth of the game?

Marty Foulger: I was not involved in management decisions regarding resource allocation, but from my perspective, it appeared that the intent was to produce the title with the smallest expenditure of resources as possible. Philips was spending an enormous amount of money on CD-i titles at that time, and Novalogic used SMWW as a cash cow to fund Comanche and other internal titles that they intended to publish themselves at a greater profit than development-for-hire titles like SMWW. In fairness, they were no different than dozens of other developers that stuck their hat under the Philip's spigot to make some easy cash.

Merijn: The design of SMWW was quite diverse from the Ancient stages of "Greek", "Egypt" and "Aztec" to the outlandish Wacky levels including "Neon City", "Geometropolis" and "Land o' Plaid". How did these designs come to be and where did you get your inspiration for these designs?

Marty Foulger: The concept was for six worlds with different themes. Each world had three lands with a related theme, and each land had several variations with increasing difficulty level. I have forgotten how many total levels were planned, but it was around 60-70. When I came on to the project, there had been some graphic development done on Ancient/Greek, and the proposal to Philips had outlined some other planets, but I expanded it to six broader themes that allowed for more variations. I also designed a puzzle mechanism for transporting between the levels and from one planet to another.

A lot of the ideas came out of thin air, just contemplating the six themes of the planets. For example, Ancient World; I wanted to have three different variations on the ancient ruins theme, but they had to be stylistically unique, and have some individuality from a standpoint of game play and features. I chose Greek, Egyptian and Aztec because each had mechanical elements that could be incorporated into game play, as well as graphic elements that are easily recognized by the gamer. As for Wacky World, I fused my experiences with recreational pharmaceuticals with my devotion to Warner Brother cartoons, and let my imagination run wild. Land o' Plaid is proof of that, right? I also had a lot of input from my fellow team members, who were equally twisted and I welcomed their off-beat and creative input to the design.

Merijn: The prototype was shown at a Classic Gaming Expo last year held in Las Vegas to a select few. The reaction was always shock and excitement as it was never believed such a high quality game could be recreated on the CD-i let alone exist. Do you have any insight into the story lines planned for the game and any plot twists. Were favorite boss encounters like Bowser ever scripted for use in SMWW and maybe a return of Yoshi?

Marty Foulger: Yoshi was discarded early on because of technical limitations. John Brooks worked miracles just getting CD-i to make Mario move like the original, and adding the complications of a running, jumping dino to every level was pushing it too far. We also created our own bosses for each level, but once again, we were limited by the hardware. Usually, instead of an animated character like Bowser, I would use a big mechanical feature, like the giant rolling stone head in Ancient/Aztec (yeah, I know, stone heads were actually an Olmec artifact, but if I didn't mix a few metaphors, what would the game groupies have to chat about decades later?)

As far as the story lines or plot twists, y'know what? I don't even remember what the over-arching goal of the game was, Mario was collecting something, or saving somebody. I have to plead Alzheimer's on that one, one of the details that are lost to history.

Merijn: The early alpha stage prototype of SMWW does stay faithful to SMW and takes care not to destroy the simple addictive nature of the gameplay. An example of a series translated to CD that springs to mind is Sonic in Sonic CD for the Mega/Sega CD, which crammed as much detail in just because they could with the wonders of CD and it really destroyed the basis of the game. Do you believe SMWW could have been a product that lived up to SMW and persuaded fans of Mario to CD-i as presumably Philips desired.

Marty Foulger: We knew that the value of the Mario license lay in the devotion of the fans to the games they knew and loved. Our intent was to use familiar themes and mechanisms combined with creative new environments and characters to create a new game that would appeal to the same fan base. It was not the best use of CD-i, in that the hardware was never intended to produce a sprite-based game; however, we had been charged with the difficult mission of making a Nintendo-style Mario game, and through the incredible technical work of John Brooks (and I think Jerry Bennett did some programming on SMWW, but I may be wrong), it was well on the way to achieving that goal.

Merijn: In the SMWW prototype it is noticeable that a scrolling backdrop is absent. Were any features dropped due to limitations of the CD-i hardware? Examples include using the turtles shell as a weapon and mushroom power ups to give Mario new strengths both lacking from the CD-i prototype.

Marty Foulger: The scrolling background was certainly included in the game spec, and John was working to achieve it. I saw several demos of it in action, but it still had some bugs that had to be addressed, so that's probably why it wasn't on the demo disc. And what Mario title would be acceptable without bouncing turtle shells and mushroom power-ups? They were on the list of things to do, although it was a delicate dance to get everything moving onscreen without over taxing the hardware and causing the graphics to fall apart. We had to carefully script how many moving objects were on screen at one time to avoid problems. Also, we couldn't do the large Mode 7 animations used in the Boss sequences on SMW, so we had to find some CD-i friendly alternatives. We created some multi-segmented Bosses that moved like snakes that worked pretty well.

Merijn: John Brooks the lead programmer on SMWW commented that you had some interesting puzzles and worlds for Mario to explore, could you shed some light on what you were planning.

Marty Foulger: He did? Well then, they must have been really good! Honestly, without my documentation, I don't recall many specific puzzles. There was one in Ancient/Egypt that involved sliding stone blocks inside a pyramid that required the player to time running and jumping to avoid being crushed. Another one in Ancient/Greek was set in the Trojan Horse, which was beautifully rendered by Nina Stanley. We also had some dynamite underwater levels that use CD-i features to create an effective underwater effect. Haunted World had a cool ghost ship, a la the Flying Dutchman, and Jungle World had a huge tree house like in Swiss Family Robinson.

Merijn: Do you know of any specific involvement of Nintendo in the game? Were there any guidelines for gameplay mechanics, use of characters etc? Would you describe Nintendo's role as active or passive in the development of SMW.

Marty Foulger: I have no knowledge of Nintendo's involvement in the game, that would have been between Nintendo and Philips, though I would have thought they would be very interested in maintaining the integrity of the Mario license. We had the Philips producer onsite several times, but I don't recall any Nintendo representatives, nor was I ever advised about changing any characters or game levels.

Merijn: How would you describe the role Philips (the party owning the licence) played in the production of this game. Were Novalogic and Philips in regular contact and if so on what level and what was their involvement?

Marty Foulger: The Philips producer on SMWW was Steve Radosh, and he came to Novalogic several times for milestone reports and to monitor development. Steve was a friend of mine from my Sega days, when we were both game designers there. Novalogic president John Garcia was not pleased that I had such a close relationship with the Philips producer, and it showed every time Steve came to visit. An interesting side note, Steve Radosh is now the Supervising Producer for the TV gameshow, Hollywood Squares, and can be heard whenever host Tom Bergeron appeals to the judge named "Skippy Trebek".

Merijn: Do you know of the circumstances that led to the start of the project and ultimately why it was cancelled?

Marty Foulger: I was not included at the management level at Novalogic, so I can't speak authoritatively to the genesis of SMWW. I know SMWW had already been proposed to Philips when I started at Novalogic. The final proposal was apparently accepted in early 1992, as I began work on it at about that time.

The circumstances around the cancellation of SMWW are less murky. The staff on the project was becoming more and more disillusioned with the low priority the project was receiving. I recall that technical resources (emulators, monitors, systems etc) that were being used on SMWW would be commandeered when ever the producer from another publisher came to check on his project. They would be set up as though they were being used on his project, so that he could see a dog and pony show. It was a shell game to keep the cash flowing in, with the least amount of resources being expended on any one project for an outside publisher.

John Brooks and Nina Stanley both accepted offers from Electronic Arts in spring of 1992, and Jerry Bennett also left for greener pastures (Interplay? Virgin? Brooks would know). I was the only member of the team left, and in June, John Garcia cancelled the project and laid me off. He had little choice; with Nina & John gone, the outlay to bring another team up to speed would have eaten up too much money. I called Steve Radosh at Philips, and he was unaware his project had even been cancelled.

Merijn: There are rumors abound of a link between Super Mario's Wacky Worlds and the CD add-on Philips and Sony were supposed to produce for Nintendo's SNES console. (Which was ultimately cancelled leaving Philips with the Nintendo characters license). Do you have any insight in these rumors whatsoever?

Marty Foulger: Can't help you there, I am unaware of any targeted platform besides the Philips CD-i player.

Merijn: What interesting behind-the-scenes stories or anecdotes can you share with us?

Marty Foulger: What? You want more? In addition to his programming skills, John Brooks was a flipper god on the "Adams Family" pinball game, which we played almost every lunch hour at the fabulous Corbin Bowling Alley on Ventura Boulevard. Nina Stanley's dad is Augustus Owsley Stanley III, Merry Prankster and chemist to the Grateful Dead. I am related to Wendell on Petticoat Junction.

Marty Foulger was interviewed by Merijn

Interview research conducted by Merijn
Interview material scripted by Devin and Merijn


Interview with John Brooks - Lead Programmer on Super Mario's Wacky Worlds

Merijn: Could you describe to us what your job as lead programmer on SMWW entailed?

John Brooks: I primarily programmed the graphics engine, game code and tools. I also worked with the artists and designers to make sure generated data would work in the game engine.

Merijn: The game engine you developed for SMWW was described as pioneering work from a source close to the project. Could you describe why this engine was crucial to the projects development and did you encounter any problems coding for the CD-i?

John Brooks: This project was extremely demanding technically, with problems that I don't believe were solved by others either before or after SMWW. There were 7 critical problem areas in doing a high-quality Mario platform game on CD-i.

1) No tiled graphics or scrolling hardware, which made platform games extremely difficult.
2) No sprite overlay hardware.
3) No audio mixing hardware (combining sounds effects with music).
4) OS-9 made hardware access difficult and caused performance spikes, which interfered with 60hz performance.
5) Sound effect lag due to audio decompression (ADPCM) buffering.
6) Input response lag from the wireless remote.
7) Matching the extremely high quality feel of Super Mario World.

Problems 1, 2 and 3 were overcome with innovative programming solutions, some of which were extensions of work that I had previously done on Rastan Saga (Apple //GS). Problem 4 was minimised by writing low-level OS-9 drivers. Problem 5 was minimised by using 'A stereo' ADPCM mode which had the least latency through the audio chip. Problem 6 was a hardware issue with no known solution. Problem 7 was an on going problem for me. I painstakingly explored, tested and refined the game feel to match that of Super Mario World. Although I only partially implemented them, I was thoroughly impressed by the subtlety and intuitiveness of the Super Mario control, animation and movement models.

Merijn: There was even talk of negotiations with Nintendo to wangle a conversion contract, presumably from the CD-i version of SMWW to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The main negotiating point being your game engine, would you care to elaborate?

John Brooks: I have no information on this.

Merijn: At the time SMWW was being developed, Nintendo were creating an ill fated CD add on unit for the SNES, apparently planned to be cross compatible with the Philips CD-i. Do you have any further insight into the Philips/Nintendo agreement and did SMWW have a role to play in this?

John Brooks: I don't have any definitive information on this. A rumour that was circulating was that in addition to working with Nintendo on the SNES audio chip, SONY was making a SNES CD add-on called the Play Station. At some point, SONY decided to make there own game machine (Play Station X?) instead of a SNES CD add-on. Nintendo then went to Philips for CD techology and in return they licensed their characters for use in CD-i games.

Merijn: How did the project start and what was the nature of the contract between Philips, Nintendo and Novalogic for the development of SMWW?

John Brooks: I do not know. In part it may have been because I had done technically demanding games on other platforms in addition to a previous CD-i game (Jigsaw). Few studios had done CD-i games at that time.

Merijn: Throughout the project did Nintendo have much influence over its development?

John Brooks: Not that I was aware of.

Merijn: What was Philips involvement in the project (if any?).

John Brooks: My primary interaction with Philips was with their technical support group. I don't know the extent of their involvement.

Merijn: Which of the 3 parties involved (Philips, Nintendo and Novalogic) decided to cancel the project in the end, and do you know of the reasons why?

John Brooks: I do not.

Merijn: From experience playing an early prototype of SMWW the similarities to Super Mario World on the SNES is unquestionable even using the same music. Do you have any commnets on this and what was the direction for the project as a whole in the Mario series?

John Brooks: The development team had great admiration for the Super Mario games and wanted to create something that would feel natural to players of Miyamoto's masterpieces. Our design goals were to bring high quality graphics and sound into the Mario world, along with diverse themes and creative gameplay experiences. The huge CD was hundreds of times larger than rom cartridges of that era. The nearly unlimited art and audio content allowed great variety within each level (256 colour bitmapped graphics and high quality audio streamed off of CD), as well as great diversity between levels (6 distinct worlds with 6 levels per world). Marty Foulger, of Dragon's Lair fame, was a prolific designer who created unusual puzzles and worlds for Mario to explore.

Merijn: The prototype version we know is version 0.11. Do you know of any other (later) versions than this particular version?

John Brooks: I do not.

Merijn: Thank-You for your time.

John Brooks: My pleasure.

John Brooks was interviewed by Merijn

Interview research conducted by Merijn
Interview material scripted by Devin and Merijn


Original CD-i cabinets still exist

Philips marketed CD-i heavily, mainly in local video stores and libraries, as movies and reference/educational titles were a big part of the starting CD-i business. Philips gave away lots of these CD-i kiosk systems; a cabinet with built-in TV and CD-i player while the catalogue is presented on shelves underneath it. With a big Philips CD-i print on top of it, these cabinets I saw literally everywhere. They were used in supermarkets so the kids could play Sesame Street while the parents were shopping. They were used in libraries to show of the Compton Encyclopedia. They were used in warehouses to show people the latest entertainment. I loved these cabinets. The top always was above anything else in a store/place, so you could see from far away that a CD-i kiosk was there. After CD-i had gone away, our local video store still kept the cabinet to present other kind of games and videos. He did that for a long time. Apparently, now it is time to move on. This is your last look at this cabinet. Shot on camera to never forget.


Chaos Control: Vivid visuals,passable shooting but easy to finish

Chaos Control is one of the prettiest CD-i titles to look at -- and unlike other beauty-contest CD-i discs, it's also fun to play. The game puts players in the cockpit of a space-fighter, desperately trying to punch through an invasion fleet and... of course... Save The Earth. As flying games goes, Chaos Control is of the ''railroad tracks'' ilk, meaning you fly through the same terrain the same way every time. The ship flies itself, you just have to shoot. Fortunately, that assignment will keep players plenty busy.

As you fly furiously through cityscapes, through space stations, etc., you'll come across alien ships, ''mobile-suits'', tanks, etc., some stationary, some flying. Moving your cursor on to them and pressing the button fires your guns. But to keep things interesting, you can only fire so often before overheating your guns -- as a practical upshot, success depends on making quality shots.

As the alien mecha returns fire, a shield guage on the bottom of the screen diminishes. When it runs out, the game ends. There's no way to replenish it -- no ''1ups'' or recharges to pick up -- short of finishing the entire level. One other thing to watch for: the cursor turns yellow when it's pointed at a friendly object, such as one of your squadron members. Try not to shoot them!

In Chaos, the same alien ships show up in the same places at the same time in every game. That's because of how the game actually works -- the terrain and the alien ships are pre-recorded digital video being unspooled from the disc. The CD-i superimposes a target and the various shots (yours and theirs) on top of this video. When you hit a ship, an explosion and smoke is drawn on top of the ship until it disappears off the screen.

In its execution, Chaos most closely resembles the Namco arcade shooter Starblade, which also offered exactly the same game every time. Starblade gets a point for actually removing exploded ships from the screen, but Chaos gets many more points for being faster, better looking, and generally more fun. (Note to Infogrames, though: if you can animate the explosions, vary their size, and have them track the moving objects, couldn't you have just put computer-animated ships in random locations and opened up the game more? Or is that too Rebel Assault?)

Chaos is also distinguished by a faux-anime storyline that is played out in animated sequences between the action sequences. The heroine who you're playing is ace pilot Jessica Darkhill, whose wingman and One True Love has been killed in an earlier battle with the Kesh Rahn, an alien fleet that's come to conquer the Earth. Jessica must first punch through the front lines to get to a base in Manhattan, destroy a computer virus in a virtual-reality world, then take a prototype ship into space and destroy the alien mothership.

It's nice to give the game a narrative angle like this, and making the hero a woman is an interesting idea. Anime fans will also notice a variety of borrowings from franco-japanese animation. Still, every now and then, the voice acting isn't up to the task, and some of the scenes border on camp. (to some, of course, that makes it even more authentic anime!)

The look of the game elements actually show the title's strongest design skils. The larger Kesh Rahn ships are appropriately creepy, bulbous behemoths with pointed spikes. They're backed up by robot-like mobile-suits, serpentine ''boss'' mecha, etc. The flying is at times claustrophobic, dizzying, and desperate. All of this has been rendered by supercomputer and when replayed in full-motion video, it's a sumptious shoot-em-up.

The game comes from France's Infogrames, who designed last year's feeble Kether. That game's sole highlight was its sweeping flying sequences, an idea developed further here. Having said all that, Chaos Control has two significant game-play flaws that prevent it from achieving true greatness. The first is simply that the level designs don't live up to the potential of the game-engine. The first level, in which you fly past the Statue of Liberty and into the wrecked urban corridors of Manhattan, is easily the best, and even it seems to go on aimlessly near the end.

After that, you fly a ''virtual'' fighter through a computer landscape, to destroy a virus that threatens the attack mission. The real rush of the first level, the sense of flying through a real-world landscape, is obviously lost here. Flying around a circuitboard is too obviously artificial to provide the same rush. The third and fourth levels, in which you fight off aliens around a space station and take on the mother ship, are better. But...

They're just too easy. The first time I finished the second level, I proceeded to destroy the flagship and win the game. This after maybe five or six games, tops. A feeling of victory is great and all, and replaying the first level is still nominally interesting, but a $50 disc shouldn't be beaten so quickly. Ultimately, the best thing about Chaos Control may be that it could open designers' eyes to new kinds of games using the digital video cartridge. Instead of tacking video interruptions onto an otherwise boring game (e.g., Mutant Rampage), Chaos uses the fast-moving video to overcome the difficulty the CD-i would otherwise have animating so many objects and backgrounds. Aside from the obvious use in shooting and flying games, you have to wonder if there are camera crews shooting first-person perspectives for CD-i racing games, adventures, and other kinds of titles. Chaos is a good enough game in its own right, but it could be the start of something even better. (7/10)

[Thanks to Chris Adamson, Devin, Black Moon]


The CD-i page @ Videogameconsolelibrary is ready

>> Sunday, July 24, 2011

Terry posted that he finished his CD-i review/page. In 2008 we let you know the start of the CD-i section at VideogameConsoleLibrary and he has upload a lot of info/stuff about CD-i, including reviews, pictures and a lot of specifications. Visit it here:


Philips discontinued CD-i officially 15 years ago

>> Tuesday, July 5, 2011

15 Years ago Philips announced the plan to close Philips Media and to discontinue CD-i as a platform. Philips mainly was about to stop any content related business. In 1986 Philips Media began its life as American Interactive Media (a combination of the formerly known Delaware and Polymedia). In 1992 the name was changed to Philips Interactive Media Corporation (PIMC), in 1995 it was changed to Philips Media. Every title being produced after may 1995, was showing the new introduction movie of Philips Media (the zooming blue philips logo), replacing the old one (the philips logo changing into a silver disc). In November 1998, the whole Philips Media business was handed over to Infogrames (known nowadays as Atari). Philips owned about 40% of it in 1995.

The process of closing down Philips Media took more than a year. Philips announced it to the press as following: "Philips Media, an operating division of Philips Electronics N.V. based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, today announced that it has signed a letter of intent to transfer its multimedia software publishing and distribution activities to Infogrames Entertainment. Infogrames Entertainment, based in Villeurbanne, France, was already the European leader of interactive publishing and becomes with this transfer of Philips Media's activities, the strongest European entertainment company in interactive publishing an software distribution. The combination of Infogrames Entertainment talents in publishing and development of interactive software titles and Philips Media's strength in European distribution will create a major company in the interactive entertainment industry. Philips Media and Infogrames Entertainment have been partners for many years. They have jointly developed and produced many successful international interactive software titles, such as International Tennis Open, Chaos Control, Asterix, Marco Polo, Shaolin's Road. Philips Media became a major shareholder of Infogrames Entertainment in 1993 and has a seat on the board of Infogrames Entertainment. At the end of 1996, Philips Media has a 13.2% stake in Infogrames Entertainment. After completion of the current agreement, Philips will increase this minority stake in Infogrames Entertainment. Richard de Lange, President & CEO of Philips Media stated: "We are now in a position to align ourselves with another strong European company. We have successfully restructured our US and European publishing organization last year and we have built up our distribution strengths by acquiring Bomico (Germany), Ecudis (France) and Leisuresoft (United Kingdom). This transfer of our assets is a natural extension of a very successful relationship with Infogrames Entertainment, which has matured over the past decade. Philips is pleased to contribute to the creation of a company that will be a major player in the fields of interactive multimedia worldwide." According to Bruno Bonnell, Chairman and CEO of Infogrames Entertainment, "With this transfer Infogrames Entertainment strengthens its unique position in creation and publishing of interactive titles and is able to develop a pan-European distribution strategy. The long and rich relationship with Philips Media taught all of us to work together which is a guarantee of success."


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

  © Interactive Dreams Version 5 by The Black Moon Project 2013

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