History of Lobotomy Software: Finally Exhumed


Uploaded by SegaFanbois on 09.11.2012

Transcript:
Many of us have a particular favorite developer or maybe even publishing house,
though more likely an individual designer,
and we tend to acknowledge them because they did
something great that really stood out as being something unique and spectacular
(well most of the time anyway)
Though most games generally fall into obscurity,
throughout history there have been some that didn't
quite deserve to be overlooked for various reasons.
This could include issues with the game's limited
advertising budget,
or because they happened to be up against some
multimillion dollar blockbuster movie tie-in
which would go on to dominate the gaming charts.
It could be that they messed up by wasting their budget on some ill-conceived marketing drive,
or because the game was developed
for a failing platform,
thereby guaranteeing it would never get the recognition
it truly deserved.
It might even have been because some game reviewer was having a particularly bad day at the office
and decided to give an unfair review,
or simply because people were not willing to give it the
time of day, as was often
the case in the wake of Doom and its many clones.
There are many reasons why great games can and sadly
have been ignored throughout our gaming history.
And while almost all of these share one thing in common; that they were commercial failures,
some have in time, gained enough of a cult status and
subsequently the respect that was long overdue.
Indeed the likes of Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation
Network and Wii's Virtual Console, have really helped
in this particular area.
However there are a few genuine classics out there that
haven't been so lucky, and which continue to remain in
relative obscurity.
Though it would have been nice to explore the definition
of what makes a videogame 'great' in the first place,
it would be a lot easier to go by the story of the company I'm about to go into,
because after all, if it was that easy to identify gaming greatness,
we'd be seeing hundreds of them every single month.
This is a very special tribute to one such developer who has sadly been ignored,
and who I felt rightly deserved a proper homage
that's been way overdue (in fact 20 years overdue) as their 20th anniversary is in January 2013;
part of the reason for this video.
Not only did I want to understand the perspective of the few who, like myself, continue to think so highly of them,
but to make other gamers mindful that the odd couple of gaming gems have and will manage to somehow slip past our radars undetected,
regardless of how knowledgeable we think we are on the subject.
That company was known as Lobotomy Software and they were in some people's eyes, the Treasure development house of the West.
Now you may be asking yourself: well what do I mean by that?
Well Treasure as you may or may not know, is a
Japanese developer that continues to have a dedicated
following
(affectionately known as the Treasure fanbois) because of their original and often wacky game ideas,
as well as in the past, being able to do amazing things on machines that were never thought possible at the time.
The now defunct Lobotomy Software, much like Looking Glass Studios in fact,
were the Western equivalent of what Treasure continues to represent for a number of gamers today,
for what Lobotomy managed to achieve, especially on a console as difficult to develop for as the Sega Saturn
and in the limited amount of time that they had at their disposal,
can only be described as not only a marvel of engineering, but also a marvel of resource and time management.
So welcome and thank you for joining me on this wonderful journey as we finally uncover (or should I say exhume)
this development studio that was so far ahead of its time, they would actually prove the likes of John Carmack wrong.
[Crowd Shock Sound]
But before we go into that, let's take an interesting look at where it started all those years ago.
It was 1992 -Redmond Seattle,
and Nintendo of America employees Paul Lange, Dane Emerson, Brian Anderson, Scott Perras and Brian McNeely,
having grown tired of working for their respective Nintendo divisions which meant that they had no realistic chance of ever
actually developing a game for themselves, decided to leave for pastures new.
And so by teaming up with former employees of Manley and Associates Jeff Blazier and John Yuill
as well as relative newcomers Kevin Chung and Kurt Pfeifer,
Lobotomy Software Incorporation was formed on January 13th 1993.
Though they initially worked out of Lange's apartment living off their $401 thousand dollar savings
and one credit card,
they were still a stone's throw away from Microsoft's and indeed, Nintendo of America's headquarters.
Initially the team started out creating a few demos and
conversions for the SNES that, as luck would have it,
would eventually help to get their feet through the door,
the first a boxing demo called Joe Louis Boxing, was
similar to the classic PunchOut!!,
and another being a comic-style pinball game called Pigball where you played a pig with a jetpack and hover boots that doubled as a pinball
and the last being a side scrolling demo where the player controlled a hippie in massive bell-bottom pants.
Yeees.
In the summer of 1993 and in desperate need of a publishing house, Lobotomy ventured to the CES Show in Las Vegas to shop around for one,
and even though initial interest in their demos seemed promising,
unfortunately the majority of publishers wanted to see more of their work before they committed.
By early 1994, a year after they had formed and still with no major contract to speak of, the team,
as enthusiastic as they were, were fast running out of money
and knew they wouldn't be able to survive much longer if their demos continued to be overlooked.
However just as they were about to throw in the towel, their fortunes began to improve as work came in from two major contracts;
one with Crystal Dynamics to convert The Horde over to
the SNES though which, like their previous endeavors,
never saw the light of day,
and the other from Microsoft to develop interactive
applications for Microsoft Bob,
Microsoft Soccer for Windows
and a series of mini-games for Microsoft's Magic School
Bus - Lost in the Solar System.
But somehow this still wasn't enough for a team eager to showcase their new found freedom from creative constraint,
for it was after all the main reason why they were founded in the first place.
The team wanted to go about making their first original in-house title.
That title, a first person shooter as it would turn out, would later become known as PowerSlave,
though it had originally gone by its working title of Ruins: Return of the Gods.
Now Lobotomy had been (amongst other things
including testing Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure
for the 16bit consoles),
working on an RPG game that was similar in style to
Ultima Underworld in the hopes of securing a contract
with Apogee Software,
but it was actually Apogee themselves who approached Lobotomy with the idea to making a first person shooter.
Taking this feedback on board, Lobotomy began work on a new Ruins design demo using Ken Silverman's Build Engine,
after which Apogee contracted them to create the PC version as an early showcase for the Build Engine.
Apogee Software originally intended to have the game published under their spin-off company 3D Realms,
but this idea was later scrapped altogether because a little over a year after Lobotomy started work on Ruins,
the rights were eventually sold to Playmates Interactive who, like Apogee before them,
were pleased enough to offer them contracts to further develop the game for the PC and Playstation formats.
As it turns out, Lobotomy were quite fortunate it seemed at the time, because Playmates happened to be on the lookout for strong development talent
to compliment their marketing and distribution strength,
as well as their recent decision to try and become the number 1 selling CD-ROM-based media publisher.
Indeed Playmates' other collaborations included working with companies like Adrenalin Entertainment and German-based Softgold Computerspiele.
It was also planned that Lobotomy would develop a title based on the Mutant Chronicles series,
a collectible card game that had, at the time, been licensed by Target Games but which was later acquired by Paradox Entertainment,
and this was in order to compliment Playmate's other
published game Doom Troopers: Mutant Chronicles on
the Genesis and Super Nintendo.
The title Lobotomy were supposed to create was
Mutant Chronicles: The Mortificator, which according to
freelance designer Maurice Molyneaux
in the Italian edition of Doomzine magazine, was supposed to be a Doom clone with a custom-made 3D engine.
As it transpires this custom-made 3D engine was to have been created almost entirely by Lobotomy's John Yuill (formerly of Manley and Associates)
but which in turn had to be compatible with the Build Engine, so that they could easily create PowerSlave and The Mortificator for Windows,
but under their new publishing house. Understandably as the new publisher, Playmates didn't want to waste any more time and money on the project,
due to the fact Lobotomy had already spent well over a year creating the game for Apogee Software,
but by expecting Yuill to create such an engine would (according to some members of Lobotomy)
have required him to achieve what Ken Silverman and John Carmack managed to do as programmers many times over.
And perhaps because of this not so insignificant issue, The Mortificator was dropped by Playmates early on,
leaving Maurice Molyneaux in the lurch where even today he's never received a formal explanation,
though what it did do was to give Lobotomy an added opportunity to experiment with graphics engines and world editing tools.
And regardless of these early setbacks, with a renewed interest in their work,
and a much needed boost not only from Playmates Interactive and Microsoft,
but also from BMG Interactive to publish PowerSlave for the European and Japanese markets,
they were finally able to hire around 10 more talented team members (including Ezra Dreisbach himself in October 1995),
and thus Lobotomy Software were finally able to do what they did best:
create awesome games.
To further complicate matters slightly before we move on, the PowerSlave name was changed upon its release to different territories.
For instance in Europe, PowerSlave was known as Exhumed
and in Japan it was known as 1999: Return of the Pharaoh, or Seireiki 1999: Pharaoh no Fukkatsu to give its proper name.
Also and contrary to popular belief after they left
Apogee and dropped Ruins as their title,
the first name that was picked to replace it was actually Exhumed, but because this proved unpopular with some members,
it was changed (by process of an office vote) to PowerSlave for the North American market only.
Also contrary to popular belief, the name PowerSlave, had nothing to do with the Iron Maiden Album of the same name.
Wanting the Egyptian theme set by its Ruins predecessor to be as authentic as possible,
the team frequented the local libraries to conduct research and to watch documentaries,
for they wanted the items and locations to be based on actual Egyptian legends.
For instance the water-breathing Sobek Mask was based on the Egyptian God Sobek who was often associated with crocodiles and the Nile River,
while Karnak, which acted as a central hub to the player in the console versions and one of the later levels on the PC game,
was based on the Karnak Complex in Egypt.
PowerSlave's story is set in an area around the ancient Egyptian city of Karnak in the late 20th century.
The city has been seized by unknown forces, with a special crack team of hardened soldiers sent to the valley of Karnak
to uncover the source of the trouble
However on the journey there, the player's helicopter is shot down killing everyone on board except, yeah you guessed it - the hero.
It is up to the player to save Karnak and the world, battling hordes of evil creatures including mummies,
Anubis soldiers,
scorpions and evil spirits along the way.
The player's course of action is directed by the spirit of King Ramses, whose mummy was exhumed from its tomb by these creatures.
Now the great thing about all three versions was they were each different in their own particular way,
though there were a greater number of similarities
between the console versions, due primarily to them
sharing the SlaveDriver graphics engine;
an engine which had been singlehandedly
built by Ezra Dreisbach from scratch
and later used to convert PowerSlave
over to the Playstation together
wih Quake and Duke Nukem 3D over to the Saturn.
PowerSlave on the PC on the other hand was very much your typical Doom clone in that it was a fairly straightforward corridor shooter,
and as mentioned earlier, ran on a very early version of
the Build Engine; an engine that would later become
synonymous with Duke Nukem 3D.
During this period, a number of
developers wanted to utilize the Build engine
in their games:
Also, given that most first person shooters were
centered on the PC platform only to be then lazily
ported over to the consoles,
Lobotomy saw an opportunity to create one designed
specifically with consoles in mind and even if they
shared the same name.
The team knew that this would be a huge gamble to take, especially for a company with their first major contract,
but because they had always adopted the view to 'raising the ante in game development' they saw it as a risk worth taking.
Which leads us to the first of many reasons why Lobotomy are still held in such high regard even today;
and that's for defying the odds of what console first person shooter games were capable of doing at the time in 1996;
remembering that this was before both Rage Software's
atrocious conversion of Saturn Doom in early 97,
and the release of the seminal GoldenEye on the N64
in the fall of 97.
You'd be forgiven for thinking, like most people tended
to do back then and sadly,
what they continue to do even today (I've tested this on my friends in recent years),
that PowerSlave is a straight forward Doom-clone - what some would proclaim as 'Doom in Egypt',
but the console versions were so much more than that, with the closest comparison being Metroid
and to an even greater extent, Metroid Prime on the Gamecube.
During their adventures players would come across permanent power-ups, or what PowerSlave referred to
as artifacts dotted about the various stages,
and these included items like the Horus Feather that enabled players to levitate,
to the Sandals of Ikumptet that, much like the High Jumps in Castlevania Symphony of the Night
and Metroid,
granted a much more powerful jump technique.
All of this would take place within a framework of non-linear level progression,
because players could either tackle the next level or travel to previous stages via the main map,
thereby allowing them to experiment with their new found abilities in the hope of opening up newer sections.
Not only did this encourage a greater level of exploration that had rarely if ever been seen before in a FPS game,
but PowerSlave also featured, much like the Zelda series in fact, RPG elements as well
in the form of Ankhs that permanently added additional life bars to the player's health.
PowerSlave on the consoles was actually as much about the management of the player's resources such as ammo and health pickups,
as it was about adventuring and shooting elements.
After enemies were killed a health orb or an ammo orb of
varying size had a chance of dropping, but with the
exception of the grenades on the Saturn version,
players only knew roughly how many shots they had left
due to ammo and health being represented by bars.
Because of this, players very often encountered the problem of which weapon they would need to replenish depending on the situation,
together with the size of orb in which to use, for larger ones replenished more but had the potential to be wasted.
Another difference for the console versions was that the
SlaveDriver afforded players a fully 3 dimensional
playing field
as opposed to the 2.5D Build Engine employed by the
PC version,
and it was only until Metroid Prime came out, that audiences began to appreciate that games played from a first person perspective,
didn't necessarily have to adhere to typical FPS gameplay.
Difficult jumps that required dexterous styles of play and instant death laser fields while slowly levitating
were all possible to negotiate from a first person perspective.
It also made players realize that adventure elements
were possible in a genre that had (at the time) been
dominated by strip levels
where the player simply moved from one point to the next killing everything in sight,
and where the ability to really traverse the landscape
became an afterthought.
PowerSlave introduced a different perspective to the integrated platforming elements found in Tomb Raider,
which had been released a week earlier, and to this very day it could be argued that there still hasn't been a game that's managed to pass off
as being as much a platformer as it is a first person shooter.
The reason for this was primarily down to its handling dynamic, which was so in tune with its perspective (especially in combination with the Saturn pad),
that players became at one with their surroundings and could even pivot on platform edges such was the level of control offered.
We also have to take in mind that Lobotomy had accomplished all this not so much in spite of the limitations of both the Saturn and Playstation controllers
or even the technical limitations of those machines,
but rather, because of it.
And while Metroid Prime remains the best known three-
dimensional homage to Gunpei Yokoi's original
series template,
PowerSlave had basically beaten Nintendo at their own game by some 6 years.
The only difference being of course, that Lobotomy did so to virtually non-existent acclaim.
But this isn't a criticism of games that would later follow, but part of a whole host of reasons why Lobotomy deserved so much more than they ended up getting.
To get some idea why Lobotomy are respected by certain players, we ought to really examine PowerSlave a lot more closely,
for this is the one key game that will help to explain everything.
At the start of their Playmates contract, the team had
originally tried to port the entire Build Engine
version of Ruins
directly over to the Saturn and Playstation consoles, but thankfully they discovered that this was impossible to do.
Now I say thankfully because had they somehow accomplished this,
then the SlaveDriver graphics engine that would go on
to define Lobotomy's work would never have
even existed,
and the console versions would simply have remained
a simple yet fun Egyptian-themed corridor shooter.
But what gave Lobotomy the edge was in the contributions of the team as a close and well-oiled working unit,
for instance with the likes of David Lawson creating the
windows-based BREW world editing tool,
Paul Schrieber creating PeepShow,
a tool for the animations,
Jeff Blazier developing his own editor for
object placement and ambient lighting
and Kevin Chung creating the art and design concepts.
With all these elements as well as those of the other staff members whose contributions were just as crucial, they then began to put the world together.
And what this effectively meant was that they had a much faster turnaround when it came to converting not only current,
but also future content on the Saturn and later (they
hoped) the Playstation formats.
Teams were split into various small groups with everyone lending their support in all areas of that particular game's development;
for example, even though Ezra was the main
programmer for the Saturn version, he also worked on
the design elements as well as boss AI,
and, once the Saturn version was completed, would
later join Jeff Blazier who was the chief programmer on
the Playstation and PC versions.
The music and sound effects on the other hand (which
was to many players the icing on a perfectly baked cake)
were the creation of Scott Branston, the team's sound
engineer, who apart from helping out in testing,
created some of the most hauntingly beautiful tracks
ever composed for a videogame.
They had done everything they could possibly do to streamline their operations given their circumstances, and their future seemed secured.
But it wasn't just their ability to work efficiently that made such a difference,
but the astonishingly high quality of the work they managed to do in such a small amount of time,
for you'd normally expect that when resources are stretched as they were, there would be some misgivings with the finished product,
but that was hardly the case, especially for the console versions.
For a start the Saturn wasn't even known for its 3D capabilities, with many people thinking it was simply a glorified Genesis or Mega Drive,
yet PowerSlave went some way to address that perception, because not only did the Saturn version feature the best lighting out of all three,
but it was also the most fluid thanks to it higher framerate:
It was this approach that would enable Lobotomy Software to do extraordinary things on a Saturn system
that John Carmack believed would never be able to
handle a Quake conversion.
But by the end of 97 they would accomplish this seemingly impossible task in spite of the fact that Ezra Dreisbach viewed the Saturn hardware as:
What they would eventually achieve would become even more prominent due to a leaked admission,
that 5 developers had tried and failed to port the original Quake over to the Playstation,
which was supposed to have been much more adept at 3D,
This in turn led to Sony cancelling all conversions and therefore any association with the original Quake altogether,
because of the humiliation brought about by Lobotomy Software and more importantly Sega.
Sony had undoubtedly grown tired of playing second
fiddle to Lobotomy's Saturn conversions,
and so instead tried to go one better by contracting HammerHead to convert Quake 2 over to the Playstation some 2 years later,
but this was only after they had developed the first
generation of the Playstation Performance Analyzer
originally developed for Gran Turismo so that
developers could utilize as much of the
Playstation's processing power as possible.
Not only had Lobotomy been able to achieve this incredible feat, but without the need for such tools.
But what was greater still, was that Lobotomy managed to release 3 different versions of PowerSlave
on 3 different formats to the three major gaming territories of North America, Japan and Europe,
to successfully convert Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, with Saturn Quake having to be built from the ground up,
as well as a near 100% complete version of that game on the Playstation, as well as (parts of) their planned sequel PowerSlave2
all in the space of
wait for it
just 2 years.
And these were not merely ports thrown together, but
with respect to the consoles
and especially the Saturn games,
games that are still regarded by some, as the best on
that particular format:
All of this would never have been possible were it not for the close-knit culture the Lobotomy team had somehow managed to forge for themselves:
Furthermore, though it's common knowledge that smaller development teams in this day and age are just not feasible anymore,
Lobotomy very much epitomized that rarely seen sense of camaraderie and connectedness which is far easier to identify within smaller groups:
The results of which spoke for themselves, for
PowerSlave on the Saturn was one of the first games to
utilize the vertical bomb jump technique
which worked in a similar way to the rocket jump in Quake released just a couple of months prior,
where the player could jump higher by launching some sort of explosive at their feet.
It was actually the music and sound engineer Scott
Branston who accidentally stumbled upon this as he
was trying to reach a higher ledge;
something none of the team had noticed even after a
year of developing the game.
This would lead to a trait that Lobotomy would later
become known for,
and that was their in-game secrets and Easter eggs.
Indeed as one fan described it: "[they] just gave and
gave and gave again"
for after accidentally discovering the bomb jump and with less than 3 weeks before the game was set for release,
they would hide the infamous Lobotomy Team Dolls (or what the Japanese would term Lobo Tommy Dolls) throughout the various stages:
The idea for the dolls originated because of their desire to cater for the casual and hardcore player,
by rewarding those who took it upon themselves to push a little harder but without affecting the flow of the main game;
similar to the Elder Scrolls series and its many side quests the player can occupy themselves with while not tackling the main storyline quest.
Now each doll was a mini Egyptian sarcophagus that had the 23 faces of the team members superimposed on to them, and which the player then had to find.
On the Saturn version you would sometimes find 2 dolls on one level and nothing on the next,
whereas for the Playstation version there was a doll hidden on every single stage.
And the reason why they're affectionately known as the 'infamous team dolls' was because some of them were so difficult to reach
that you'd often find yourself ripping your hair out
literally.
This was no better demonstrated than though the laser field which is, without a doubt and still to this very day,
one of the most painful and most difficult experiences you will ever encounter within a videogame;
though being on a similar scale to Demon's Souls as it was, most players carried on regardless because it was that good.
I should mention however that on the Playstation version instead of lasers they had blue mini fireballs of death
that were almost as hard to negotiate as the Saturn version, though because the Saturn's lasers were constant it was slightly more of a challenge.
Those who actually went through the ordeal of finding every single doll would inadvertently become part of an elite group of gamers
(some of whom you may find commenting about the subject on the various internet forums even today),
simply because the task was so hard yet remained relatively unknown throughout the gaming world
After they came up with idea of the team dolls and while Playmates dragged their feet with the U.S release,
Ezra decided to work on a secret project unbeknownst to everyone else,
and after about a week of development away from prying eyes, his game was finally revealed at the company's Halloween party.
What he unveiled was a game called Death Tank.
Now Death Tank accommodated up to 7 players, where each controlled a miniature tank that could fire various forms of over-arching projectiles
onto the other tanks all the while carving out the landscape,
and this was included free to anyone crazy enough to hunt down every one of those Lobotomy Team Dolls.
The difference with this to say Team 17's Worms, was
that Death Tank was in real-time, and because of this,
had the potential to be as frantic
as Saturn Bomberman when it came to 32bit
multiplayer gaming.
Saturn Bomberman by the way, catered for 10 players
and was often regarded as one of the best multiplayer
experiences at the time
but which you had to pay for the privilege.
The team would officially conduct intensive play testing on Death Tank for a couple of hours every single day,
identifying its many nuances, improving the weaponry and ironing out issues,
which in turn helped to mould Death Tank into the great game it is and continues to be.
Unfortunately Death Tank was only available on the Sega Saturn due to Ezra having worked primarily on that version,
and wasn't included in the European versions of Exhumed, but to make amends after a big uproar instigated by the Official UK Sega Saturn Magazine,
Lobotomy in typical fashion, included a newer and updated version in their later port of Duke Nukem 3D called Death Tank Zwei.
The great thing about the setup for that version was not only could players have access to it on Duke Nukem 3D
if they had a previous save from either Exhumed or their later conversion of Quake,
but they could also access it on Quake with just a save file from Exhumed;
a lovely touch that would go on to delight the few Saturn owners at the time who had never seen that sort of feature before.
Further to this in February 2009, Ezra had the
opportunity to create a remake of Death Tank for Xbox
Live Arcade, where in honor of the team it stated:
a dedication to the great times the original team had together.
But the memorable freebies didn't end there either, because on the Saturn version once players saved over their previous completed save game,
they unlocked Lobo-Flight mode
which then allowed a second playthrough but with the ability to fly through the levels.
Now if you completed the laser field maze second time round in this mode then you can (even today) officially classify yourself as a videogaming god,
because it was virtually impossible thanks to the 100% control you had over altitude second time round.
The Playstation version differed slightly in that players could acquire new techniques after collecting a set number of dolls,
such as after 10 they would acquire the Dolphin Mode which enabled faster swimming,
and after 14 dolls, Vulture Mode (which was similar to Saturn's Lobo-Flight), whereby they could fly about the place.
And even though the Playstation didn't feature any reward for collecting the dolls other than those mentioned,
Jeff Blazier had been working on a Playstation-only version of Death Tank based on Asteroids,
as well as other unlockable secrets for their planned sequel - PowerSlave2.
Unfortunately as you'll find out, things didn't quite work out.
But all of these highlighted one of the most endearing things about Lobotomy as a company, as a team and as a group;
not only had they tried to go about adding worthwhile content and arguably the best 32bit multiplayer console game free,
but the joy of finding out that it was engineered by gamers for gamers, was what really stood out for a lot of people:
Now we've concentrated slightly more on the
Saturn version simply because it wasn't supposed to
be able to produce the quality of 3D graphics
Lobotomy ended up wringing out of the machine,
but it should be noted that they'd never specifically gone out with the intention of being associated with Sega; rather they were merely convenient bedfellows.
Having said that, it would be interesting to look at the
other versions in a little more detail for as stated earlier,
they were different in their own particular way.
Firstly, apart from PowerSlave on the PC having totally different levels due to its graphics engine, it also had a fairly basic magic system
where players could cast certain spells such as being able to illuminate dark areas.
Strangely enough, PowerSlave on the PC also featured a third person perspective players could use either in or out of combat,
something that wasn't available on the other versions.
Another major difference with PC PowerSlave was that like most other games, weapons had their own particular ammo
whereas on the consoles, the silver orbs replenished any weapon the player happened to have out when picked up.
This factor partly justified the PC version's label as a Doom-clone, as the management and juggling of weapons and health drops
found in the console versions basically made it a no-brainer.
Grenades on the Saturn and Playstation were represented by the Amun mine that detonated upon impact,
whereas on the PC it was your typical hand grenade with an in-built timer.
The interface was radically different too, with the HUD showing oxygen levels, the number of keys
(represented by the symbols required to open the corresponding doors),
and a magic and health meter represented by the red and blue liquid-filled containers either side of the screen.
I mentioned that there were also RPG-like elements thanks to the red and gold ankhs dotted about the stages that increased the player's life bar by one,
but for the PC this was instead changed to an added life or credit which the player acquired by collecting some creepy looking old man.
Why I don't know
Also because of the limitations of the Build Engine, it was far more difficult to implement rooms over other rooms,
though Shadow Warrior and Blood found various ways to circumvent this.
With the console versions, because they were fully 3D worlds as in Quake but populated by 2D sprites, this wasn't much of an issue.
The biggest drawback however was the ridiculously slow speed of the default strafe ability together the player having to use the alt key
as well as the directional keys in order to do so at full speed,
further compounded by the inability to customize the controls on the PC version.
The game was structured differently too, because it took a standard approach to level progression moving from one to the next,
and even though players could visit previous stages, they still couldn't advance until they'd completed the next level in the sequence.
Unique to this particular version, players could also transform into a mummy in order to use enemy attacks,
and also featured a greater number of death animations both for the player as well as the bosses.
PowerSlave on the PC was also a lot more tongue in cheek, and this was obviously owing to the shared heritage of Apogee Software's Duke Nukem 3D
and the same engines they used.
The differences between the console versions were
subtle in the majority of cases, though quite significant
in others,
though while PowerSlave on the Playstation had sharper graphics and higher resolution textures,
the animations and frame rates were not as high as on the Saturn.
Both versions proved slightly more difficult in different areas as well, for instance generally speaking and like the PC game,
the Playstation version had a lot more enemies on-screen at any one time and fewer ankh life bars for them to pick up,
which in turn made the game a lot more challenging from the offset.
The Saturn version on the other hand didn't allow the player to have access to bonuses like Dolphin or Vulture modes until they had completed the game
(and indeed Dolphin Mode wasn't even available on the Saturn version),
and players had a much slower standard swimming
speed that made Sunken Palace (which as the name
suggests a level almost entirely based underwater),
a complete and utter nightmare.
PowerSlave's aiming was similar to games like Duke Nukem 3D and Doom and more or less every 1st person shooter before it
where you didn't really have to adjust your Y axis in order to hit the enemy
you just needed to point in their general direction to score a shot,
but on the Playstation there was an annoying feature where against the killer wasps, you simply had to point your weapon up every single time
regardless of how far away you were, in order to hit them.
The Playstation version was also slightly more annoying because it was harder for players to register their shots on target.
On the Saturn version the enemies would flash white to
allow the player to register the shot, but this was harder
to tell on the Playstation game.
The orbs that replenished health and ammo, stayed floating exactly where you killed them on the Saturn version,
whereas on the Playstation they would sink back down
to earth thanks to gravity.
Water effects were better animated on the Playstation
version as well, because of the Saturn's inability to
render alpha transparency effects,
though the player could exit water only after having built up speed beforehand. On the Saturn players could jump out of water whenever they wanted to.
Unfortunately in the Playstation version the bomb jump technique wasn't implemented due to variations of the SlaveDriver engine used,
and the red spiders in the Saturn and PC games were changed to blue scorpions thanks to Sony Computer Entertainment America,
who at the time wanted their game to at least have one obvious difference.
Though there are many more differences that you
should really discover for yourselves, in effect, there
were 3 unique versions of the same game
that wouldn't have been possible in the time frame, had they not allocated resources in the way they did
and if there was ever a reason to play PowerSlave or Exhumed even today, it should be for this fact alone.
Now you'd think that by having both a small team and a
sense that their future was secure due to their
proprietary graphics engine,
they would find it easy to get to where they wanted to go - to get contracts right?
Wrong.
So where did it all go wrong?
While it was to be expected that only a handful of 1999: Seireiki no Fukkatsu would sell in Japan,
this was followed by the realization that only 12,000 copies of Saturn PowerSlave were manufactured in their home territory of the U.S,
and this was mainly due to both Sega of America and Playmates themselves overlooking and failing to market the game as a high profile title.
In contrast to that, by far the best-selling, was the
European versions of Exhumed which was not only
down to their larger advertising budget
and marketing from Sega Europe as a first party title,
but also because of the added media coverage and
larger manufacturing run.
Very soon after the release of PowerSlave, Sega
secured the rights to create Saturn ports of Duke
Nukem 3D and Quake.
Unbelievably, they had originally commissioned two other developers to do the conversions,
but luckily Sega had the foresight to pull the plug early on their lacklustre efforts
Some evidence by the way, suggests that one of the
developers was Rebellion - the guys behind Aliens
versus Predator,
with other sources stating the second unnamed
developer was Rage Software, the guys who created
the worst port of Doom in the series' history.
Anyway it was around about this time that in light of what Lobotomy had achieved with the Saturn's hardware (especially from the UK press),
it eventually came to the attention of Sega themselves, and so with that they decided to give them the contracts.
Talking about its European coverage, the furore surrounding PowerSlave's or in this case Exhumed's coverage in Europe
was mainly due to the efforts of one particular magazine.
The Official UK Sega Saturn Magazine (or SSM)
became avid supporters of Lobotomy,
though this wasn't always the case, for it had taken one
of the magazine's contributors Daniel Jevons to
convince then editor Richard Leadbetter,
not to take the unfair "Doom-clone" at face value:
What Sega Saturn Magazine did was to bring the game out into the open in Europe by forcing the hand of their
competitors like the Official UK Playstation Magazine,
and indeed its publisher Future Publishing,
who ended up feeling compelled enough to want to be
part of the Exhumed bandwagon that had been created.
Lobotomy were said to be so grateful to Richard for the
stance his magazine took, that he was included within
the credits of both Duke Nukem and Quake.
But it was ultimately the pay check at the end of the month that would matter most to Lobotomy,
for apart from having secured the contracts for Saturn Quake and Duke Nukem,
they believed they had a good chance of grabbing the rights to the Playstation versions as well,
by using their proven Slave Driver graphics engine to create the seamless conversion.
Duke Nukem 3D had been released on the PC around 9
months prior to Saturn PowerSlave,
though the Build engine heritage was pretty obvious to most people, as demonstrated in this American magazine advert.
More importantly, the team had learned from the issues they had earlier encountered when trying to
transfer Ruins over to the consoles,
by getting straight to work on building Duke from the ground up,
and while they knew that creating PC ports wasn't what they had originally envisioned for themselves,
they hoped it would be enough to tie them over until something better came along.
Also the fact they already knew the ins and outs of the Saturn hardware,
meant that they could concentrate on streamlining and improving other aspects of their work,
such as finding ways to import basic level data
components onto BREW, but which nevertheless
required a great deal of work to accomplish.
In fact the team had worked so hard to get the project on the road (as they had done with PowerSlave),
that Ezra had for instance together with his team, completed most of the hard coding in under 10 weeks,
all the while the other half worked on Saturn Quake.
Their Duke Nukem 3D conversion was and still is regarded as the best console version of the game at the time,
because Lobotomy had once again showcased what the Saturn as a console was capable of doing in the right hands.
They also answered the criticisms that PowerSlave didn't feature a multiplayer mode (on the Saturn at least),
by allowing owners to connect over the internet for online death matches via the Saturn's NetLink add-on,
with Duke Nukem 3D being one of the only games available here in the West that was NetLink enabled.
The graphics and light sourcing found in PowerSlave
were further enhanced,
while the game remained true to the original; even down
to the naughty bits which Sega had specifically asked to
be retained in the conversion.
Quake on the other hand was completely built from the ground up
though with a few obvious drawbacks including a lower resolution,
weapons constituting 2D sprites instead of polygons
and differences to the enemy models due to the Saturn's inability to draw triangles.
But despite this and like Duke Nukem, it was regarded as the best version
where only Quake 64; which suffered from blur-o-vision graphics that were typical of N64 games at the time, was the only competition.
While they were working on the other two games, Lobotomy announced what they claimed was 'another project',
which would later transpire as being a sequel to PowerSlave.
PowerSlave 2 was rumored to be similar to Tomb Raider in that it was a third person perspective game but retained the Egyptian theme set by the original,
though more importantly perhaps was the fact that it was supposed to be a Playstation and PC exclusive.
And although PowerSlave 2 was inspired by Tomb Raider, in typical Lobotomy fashion,
the game was supposed to have featured a revolutionary engine that would this time take full advantage of the Playstation's native hardware,
and even featured 3D geometry sets that would have allowed the geometry density to be a lot higher
and landscape topography to be more varied than those found in Tomb Raider.
However very soon after Duke Nukem and Quake shipped Lobotomy would close its doors, taking with it to an early grave any hopes of a planned sequel.
Sadly and at the time of writing, these pictures (taken from an article written by U.S Game Fan magazine)
are the only ones that are known to exist of that particular game.
While their enthusiasm and quest for perfection never wavered, they were ultimately doomed from the start,
for despite the relative success of Duke Nukem and Quake,
it proved to be the final blow in what would turn out to have been terminal issues
that had plagued Lobotomy since the very start of their venture.
So where did it really all go wrong?
Well the first reason stems from the fact that much to the surprise of those who knew what they were capable of doing,
their Playstation port of Quake was never picked up by any publisher (and indeed a version on the system was never ever released)
even though they had more or less ported the entire game over thanks to SlaveDriver.
The stark reality for the team was that they had been developing for a console that had already lost its grip to the 32bit market,
and worse still was that by having done so, they had possibly isolated themselves from the likes of Sony and Nintendo
who, because of Lobotomy's seemingly close relationship with Sega
and their astounding results that had no doubt sent shockwaves through the Sony and Nintendo North American Headquarters,
possibly saw them as a kind of Sega 1.5 party developer and therefore a threat.
The term 1.5 Party developer by the way, was a categorization that became popular with Sega at the time (and also during the Dreamcast's lifetime)
to describe development studios which had been chosen specifically by them to have extremely close ties both in terms of the tools and facilities
they would provide, as well as to a lesser extent, financing, but who remained however independent studios.
A typical example of such a developer was the now defunct Bizarre Creations, the guys who created F1 '97
and later the Project Gotham Racing series.
Another possible reason for their downfall was because it was released at a time when console first person shooters
were never even taken seriously until GoldenEye,
and because even though the PC version of PowerSlave was the last to be released commercially,
it had nevertheless been under scrutiny for a lot longer than the console versions
due to its previous affiliation with Apogee Software as evidenced here by the news group transcripts:
Sadly the PC version of PowerSlave (which was arguably in a much better position to showcase the game) turned out to be so poor
compared to its competition (especially when it came to its control scheme),
that it merely reinforced the Doom-clone stereotype.
As mentioned earlier, the PC was the go-to format when it came to this genre of game,
and sadly the expert opinions (which initially came from these experienced PC gamers)
were based on that particular version instead of the much more sophisticated console versions,
and while Lobotomy had accomplished their goal of creating an FPS game specifically with consoles in mind,
not only were they too far ahead of their time, but thanks to the PC iteration it was ultimately doomed from the start.
Had they perhaps changed the name of the console versions and disassociated it from the PC title entirely, it might well have been a different story.
And while it might be easy nowadays to turn around and claim that
this in itself couldn't have been enough to discredit the
console versions had they been good enough
to begin with,
we have to constantly remind ourselves again, that first
person shooters on consoles before 1997,
was just unheard of
as people were unwilling to even contemplate such a
thing until (as mentioned earlier) the seminal release of
GoldenEye a year later.
We also cannot discount the influence of the famous lady herself - Miss Lara Croft.
Yes
Tomb Raider had made its debut on the Sega Saturn
just one week earlier than PowerSlave,
and this undoubtedly had an effect on the sales of
Lobotomy's game,
because there had been (in the build up before its
release) a lot of attention on Tomb Raider since it
debuted as a tech demo for 3Dfx.
But of course who could be blamed for releasing the
game a week after Tomb Raider
but Lobotomy's publisher Playmates Interactive Entertainment or PIE.
Because Lobotomy never felt that they had the full support from their North American publisher,
this is without a doubt one of the biggest factors when considering why and where it all went so terribly wrong.
What's so interesting is that unbeknownst to Lobotomy, PIE (a division of Hong Kong-based Playmates Toys Ltd)
were themselves as a group going through a number of what would later become (for their gaming arm at least) catastrophic issues.
Back in 1994, Playmates had considerable success with
Dave Perry's Earthworm Jim,
but sadly, this still hadn't been enough to pull them out of the red,
having already suffered a $195 million drop in toy sales that same year,
which would then continue on into 1995 the following
year, with a net loss of $12.6 million and $95.59 million
into the red.
However in early September 1996, just a month before the release of PowerSlave in the U.S,
Playmate's struggles were further exacerbated by the start of what would become a bitter ongoing family feud between Thomas Chan Chun-hoo
and Albert Chan Chu-Wai, two sons of Playmates founder Chan Tai-Ho.
Because of this fallout and after numerous court cases in Hong Kong and elsewhere
that's so far spanned over 12 years
and which has since become known within legal circles as the 'Waddington Ltd versus Chan Chun Hoo Thomas and Others' case,
Playmate's image at that time became severely tarnished which in turn had a negative effect on the company's already suffering share price.
And while the company would eventually return to profitability by Nov 1996 (thanks mainly to the movie Space Jam),
it had come about too late to save PowerSlave which had sadly already been released just one month prior.
In fact soon after they published MDK in 1997 (their last
major title in North America),
the PIE brand, though in continual use internally, and sometimes used interchangeably with their Playmates Toys Ltd division
up until the early 2000s, had actually ceased to publish any new games since 1998.
What this indicates is that the troubles Playmates had suffered in the lead-up to PowerSlave's release,
invariably had an effect not only on the future showing of every Playmates published game,
but more importantly, what would become the ineffectual marketing of PowerSlave in North America.
Not only was this reinforced by the convenient departure of the-then PIE president Richard Sallis, who had not only been on the Board of Directors
but had also been part of the management for 11 years before his resignation,
but the success of the game in Europe which compared to the U.S market was a lot smaller by comparison.
Another reason may have been down to how the company operated.
In reality they had been working on a knife's edge since the very beginning in the hope that they would one day get the break that they needed,
but because that break never came the company ended up chronically falling short on its payroll,
thereby gradually getting deeper into debt and owing more and more money to the employees.
This in turn would prove too much for some members of the team, who ended up leaving at different stages and for various reasons
including founders Scott Perras (who left quite early on),
Dane Emerson midway through PowerSlave's development,
Brian Anderson and later Jason Wiggin who understandably was forced to leave upon not receiving a regular pay check.
Which leads us to yet another devastating admission: that Lobotomy had in their desperate attempt to secure work,
ended up underbidding the contracts for Duke Nukem 3D and Quake:
You may be thinking to yourself, well if the staff were not getting a regular pay check each month then,
how was it possible for them to have created 3 games?
The simple answer is that they weren't getting paid at all:
Perhaps the most upsetting part was that because they were such a young company (though with a proven heritage behind them),
and because many of them used Lobotomy as their first break and so were eager therefore to impress,
they somehow lost track of where everything was headed. When asked about his motivation, he believed it was:
It's funny that from this perspective we ought to really look at PowerSlave, Exhumed and their conversions as ugly ducklings:
or absolutely beautiful mistakes
where under normal circumstances or in 99.9% of cases, they would never have even seen the light of day.
But hopefully as you'll already have found out, Lobotomy were anything but normal because they had been, since the very start,
built on a set of very unlikely combinations that only Frankenstein could ever have come up with,
having combined Nintendo's design and quality control procedures on a Sony and Sega console,
Manley and Associate's technical knowhow with the sheer enthusiasm of their new recruits,
all brought together within the type of working environment most companies could only ever dream of.
And if you thought things couldn't get any stranger, well, you'd be wrong because it does.
As a testament to the actual quality of their work, because Japan was the only territory where the Sega Saturn sold in any decent numbers
and even after it was dead and buried over here in the West,
there was a mini resurgence where in Japan, Japanese gamers began to appreciate and to praise PowerSlave for what it was.
And while first person shooters may not have been to their particular liking as a genre, the same couldn't be said for Death Tank,
that secret gem of a game that the Japanese had had very little exposure to both because of 1999's poor initial sales, and of course because of its genre.
But when you take a step back, you begin to realize that Death Tank was always the perfect type of game for the Japanese market to begin with,
and so it found a loyal Japanese following where (for instance) some Japanese websites examine Death Tank
far more intricately and in far more detail than you'd ever find here in the West.
And greater still are the online accolades you can still find today, where a few Japanese reviewers and bloggers
lavish praise upon what they believed was a "very high quality finished Lobotomy masterpiece".
And so what we can ascertain from all of this is that despite their faults (many of which were beyond their control)
as well as their subsequent commercial failure,
the team may continue to hold their head up high because they at least succeeded where it had and always will matter most when it comes to videogames;
they created titles that were not only fun and enjoyable and playable, but have stood the test of time
like only great games can.
Lobotomy was a rare breed in having demonstrated what studios are capable of doing, when afforded freedom of any kind of constraint
whether that be creative constraint, business constraint or financial constraint; things that ultimately always hamper a game's development,
as well offering an interesting look into what can be
achieved by the strength of a developer's internal culture alone.
Because of this I think it's about time we popped that
cork and began to savor the now vintage brew
(no pun intended),
so as others can experience its many delights.