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4/7/2010 11:28:41 AM - Origin of a Crusader
Origin of a Crusader
By Tony Zurovec
March 27, 2010
In March 1994 I began work on my own series of games while I was at Origin Systems (which was owned by Electronic Arts) - Crusader: No Remorse and Crusader: No Regret. Sixteen years later, I'm still on occasion asked to answer various questions about that game. The Crusader series was developed on a tight budget but wound up, against all odds, becoming a significant critical and commercial success. The series won Action-Adventure Game of the Year awards from several major gaming publications, including industry leader Computer Gaming World (CGW.) The games dominated CGW's Readers' Choice Poll, knocking the legendary Doom from the #1 spot and holding it for almost a year. I don't know how many people that liked the game ever saw the official guide (published by Origin along with the game in September 1995), and thus I reprint here my notes from that book.
- TZ (originally posted on 3/27/2010 9:50:13 AM)
Origin's Official Guide to Crusader: No Remorse
Published September 1995
Tony Zurovec - Project Leader
When asked where the original idea for Crusader: No Remorse came from – what the inspiration was, what the philosophy of the game is – people often find the answer somewhat amusing. Sometime around 1980 I found myself playing a game for the Apple II called Castle Wolfenstein. It was an overhead third-person action game that was immensely fun to play. In the years since, few games using such a perspective have advanced the basic genre much…usually, the technology employed is rudimentary at best, the graphics are often primitive, the number of weapons and enemies is extremely limited, the types of puzzles are too simplistic, etc.. Crusader takes the third-person overhead action game to the next level.
In real life, there is rarely only one way to solve a particular dilemma. A game, by definition an interactive experience, should provide ample opportunity for the player to formulate his own solutions to problems, to take what the designer has placed before him and use it to his advantage. Multiple solutions to the puzzles the player would encounter during the game were therefore a major design focus. This made the designers’ jobs much more difficult, but the player’s experience will hopefully prove to be much more enjoyable as a result. It forced the designers to think of the entire game as the player would and to provide for the myriad solutions the player may attempt. A big benefit of this sort of design is that when the player has so many different building blocks available at his disposal, he can frequently concoct valid solutions to encountered problems in ways that even the designers did not realize. Intelligence can be a much more powerful weapon than brute strength and the items within the game allow for radically different combat strategies. Whether you choose to fight with your fists or your brain, or avoid the fight at all, is usually a choice left to the player.
Environment and Plot
Another focus of the game was to create an exceptionally detailed environment that was not only fully functional but that would also accurately depict a damaged state. The level of realism involved in the damage objects acquire during battles makes the firefights in Crusader much more visually exciting. This required a large investment from both the art and implementation teams, but the game was greatly enhanced by it.
The unobtrusive plot that ties the various missions together also provides the player with his motivations. This helps prevent the game from becoming a pure shoot-em-up and provides an opportunity for the player to purchase the supplies he can afford and find out how the story is progressing. The intent was that this small amount of interaction with other characters in the story would allow this primarily action game to have a little more depth than it otherwise would. Instead of simply presenting the player with fifteen straight missions, you continue to find out how the battle against the Consortium is progressing, why you need to accomplish your assigned tasks, and what new developments are taking place, all of which help contribute to keeping the game exciting from the beginning to the end.
The fiction was always meant to be a political statement. Growing up in an age where government corruption is common, waste is rampant, and inefficient self-serving bureaucracies are everywhere, I believe a good number of people my age share a somewhat similar cynical view of the future and of the government itself. To say that I and many others of my generation are disenchanted with the current political regime is certainly an understatement. The Consortium is actually a fictional derivative of the currently existing European Economic Community. The premise was that this trade-regulating body was formed by the various nations of the world to serve as an arbiter in the frequent trade disputes amongst various nations, somewhat similar to the currently existing World Trade Organization. Over time, the Consortium’s word came to be unofficial law since countries disagreeing with its decisions faced stiff trade sanctions from the other member nations who would comply. This, I think, is reminiscent of most such events…the power is ultimately derived from the people, but the tremendous amount of momentum of the system convinces the people that there is no hope of changing the system, and thus they become unwilling enforcers of the policy. Eventually, over the course of almost two centuries, this organization grew into an enormous bureaucracy directly accountable to no one. A few lost liberties here, a few there – most people could find neither the time nor the patience to combat the system on a full-time basis. At this point, the ruling party obviously finds it in their best interests to prevent any dissent, since the situation is so precarious. Make an example out of a few, and the rest will usually fall into line. This militaristic attitude towards its own citizens finally polarized some of the citizens of the world to form the Resistance.
There is much duality in the player’s alter-ego. The distance maintained between him and the player is intentional. He is the quiet, brooding figure that never tips his hand to what he is thinking. Above all else, he is resolved to action, not rhetoric. What exactly motivates him is never spelled out directly to the player. Everything that a story establishes does not have to be an absolute or known in its entirety. This, much like poetry, enables the fiction to be interpreted in slightly different ways and can make a story much more interesting. The player does not always understand exactly why something in the game has occurred or the specific background of an event. The Crusader’s past as an Enforcer of the very ideals against which he now struggles provides ample opportunity for conjecture on what his motivations are, but they are never solidified. Perhaps morality prompted the Crusader to question his loyalties and defect to the Resistance. Revenge may be his only inspiration after the Consortium killed his colleagues. The irony of the situation is that one of the government’s own “creations” could prove to be a greater enemy than the rebellious populace. The end result is that this Silencer, this absolute enforcer of government policies, has now decided to help overthrow the very government that he previously fought for with his life. It is never revealed whether or not he was genetically bred – the few comments about the origin of Silencers are always vague and inconclusive. Hoffman, the stereotypical mad scientist, questions his worth due to his “fatal flaw.” Since Hoffman is now designing genetically-bred, unquestioning, emotionless humanoids, that leaves several possibilities in the interpretation of his speech. Establishing a fictional universe wherein the player’s interpretation contributes as much as the writer’s makes the story much more exciting, and draws the player in much more than a straightforward story where everything is spelled out for him. The player should not always be a passive participant to the story, but an active and willing contributor to its actual interpretation.
The game turned out to be very similar to what was originally conceived. The incredible artwork is the most visual aspect of the game, and it was in pursuit of this type of excellence that Super VGA was always considered a requirement for the game. If I never see another 320x200 game it will be too soon – it’s just a good thing we don’t pay the artists by the pixel. To prevent the artwork from becoming visually repetitive after an extended amount of time, five different types of terrain were envisioned. Some of the terrain types were detailed more extensively than the others, although I believe we maintained an excellent level of quality throughout. The animation details were considered an important part of the game, as were the various methods of movement, specifically for allowing the player more flexibility in his combat maneuvers. The wide assortment of weapons and usable items in the game were considered necessary in order to allow the player to accomplish his objectives in different ways. The digital sound system was a last minute type of technology. It was far superior to the Sound Blaster’s FM synthesis, so we got all of the music rewritten to take advantage of this new development. As a result, even the lowest end sound cards can produce phenomenal sound.
There were, unfortunately, some things that had to be cut due to time constraints. The monitors in the rebel base can be used to watch small bits of the news in between your missions, but I wish that we had been able to film the wide variety of satirical commercials that the team wanted to do. There were a number of traps and puzzles that, for one reason or another, could not be accomplished within the game’s tight schedule. The original plan of having interactive conversations with the characters in the bar had to be cut due to the extremely tight schedule. Several enemy robots and soldiers had to be eliminated as well. Time must be the greatest enemy of creativity. In retrospect, I wish that we had been able to have more flicks between the action sequences. These are a tremendous help in placing the player into the fiction of the game. The video overlays for the live action video also turned out to be a very nice feature, although I wish that we had used them to greater advantage. The mission briefings, video mail, and camera views could all have benefited greatly from the addition of more graphic overlays.
Assuming that we have the good fortune to be able to create a sequel to this game, space exploration will be a major design point. The game takes place 200 years in the future specifically so that having a fair level of space technology available would seem realistic. A game that combined the intricate detail of Crusader with the exploration of outer space would make an excellent game. Multiplayer options will also find their way into any future Crusader designs. You would have the capability to carry out missions together, work against each other, or even purchase a robot and have your friend control it. The video sequences would follow a branching structure so that we could allow the story to progress according to how the player was doing in his missions, or even according to which missions he chose to undertake, much more frequently than we were able to do this time. A polygonal terrain system would be used so that we could avoid both the limitations of not being able to see behind walls and the massive memory hit for so many bit-mapped frames of art. Light sourcing will be a great addition – you will be able to knock out the lights in a room and plunge the room into darkness, where you may have an advantage over the enemy since you’re wearing infrared imaging goggles. The visual quality of the game will remain top quality. Character animation may become polygonal as well, although keeping the same level of detail as we currently have (using bitmaps) would not be possible. If so, we would try to compensate by having much more realistic motions for the characters, as well as a wider variety. Ultimately, I hope that we get to make this game – because I really want to play it.