The work of many people, my first real project, many lessons learned and things to share.
Qualia Games was founded by Mark Kern, and I came onboard with him to realize our high school dream to create our own game company. While this venture wasn’t successful, it did become the springboard to later opportunities. Based on this game, the entire team was invited to join Blizzard Entertainment after we closed operation, but only Mark took them up on the offer. I went to Tiburon to work as Art Manager on their Playstation version of NCAA Football ’99. I think Mark and I needed a break from each other :-)
This was a real education, fraught with stress and learning-on-the-job. I learned that technical smarts is the least important factor in the success of a group endeavor. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with some of the finest individuals I have ever met:
- Alen Yen: Visual Design, Level Design
- Bretton Wade: Lead Programmer
- Jeremy Biddle: Programmer
- Ray Archie and Lee Vodra: Sound Design, Music
- Dave Seah: Game Design, Interface Design, Art Technical Direction, Support Programming, Support Graphics, Project Lead
- Mark Kern: Visionary and owner, sound engine programming.
Crixa – The Last 2D Shooter
Crixa was originally designed as an in-house test game for the team to get their feet wet. We were fully funded for two years, so we wanted to push out a quick game that would help develop our graphics libraries and smooth out the creative process. However, about a month after hiring our first three employees and signing two-year leases, our funding crashed and disappeared. Holy shit. The year was 1995.
We had to convert Crixa into a product that could land a development deal or die. The web had yet to evolve into a viable marketplace, so Mark put his efforts into contacting possible publishers. We got some interest from (I think) Bungie (then located in Cambridge, Massachussetts if I remember correctly) and Blizzard Entertainment, who had just released WarCraft II, the sequel to their modestly-successful Real-Time Strategy game WarCraft. WarCraft II was their first huge success, and flush with cash they were looking to expand their portfolio with some smaller, quicker-to-develop games. We landed a 10-month development deal, and began to develop Crixa into a more fleshed-out game.
Crixa, as it was originally conceived before all this drama ensued, was a 2D top-down shooter borrowing elements from some of my favorite games: Star Maze on the Apple II was a notable influence. The open-play mechanics of games like Rescue Raiders and Castle Wolfenstein (the original 2D one from Silas Warner) were also a strong influence. We also wanted the smoothness of classic vector games like Rip Off, but with nicer graphics. We dedicated a whole 32 rotations for each ship graphic, which consumed a lot of memory. Remember, at the time there was no hardware sprite scaling in Direct X. I don’t think Direct3D was even around then, 3D acceleration not becoming widespread until 1997 or 1998.
The Expanded Game added mission elements, a “base” you could move around to support your position. Various parts of the levels were connected by a power transfer and switch system, which could be controlled through a “state manager” in our level file.
We created our levels using, of all things, Aldus Freehand. This was artist-accessible, and the exported PostScript output could be parsed into a form that Crixa could load. It was an inspired, if somewhat ungainly, hack. But we didn’t have to create an in-game level editor.
Our last delivery was a 3-level game demonstrating the graphics/physics engine (sweetly done by Bretton, who’s gone on to accomplish great things). We’ll probably put it online again…Jeremy (now in SF) has it almost working on modern systems for both Mac and PC.
Alas, Crixa was deemed not competitive in the marketplace any longer, especially because another game with similar play mechanics had come out. The numbers of the game were not promising, so we were cancelled. Qualia lingered on for a few more months subsisting on contract work, but at the end the company could no longer afford to maintain payroll and we closed. Stressful times. It took years for me to get over it, but it’s a testament to the character of the team that we’re still all friends.