How Colony Wars Came To Be
September 28, 2011 Page 3 of 3
Colony Wars was developed so long ago. What did the process even look like? "All of the lighting on the large ships was pre-computed using a PC based tool that I wrote which, back then, was run from DOS," said Roberts. "All of the model images were captured from this tool. We also used this tool to control how the ships fragmented when destroyed and where the docking bays, engines, etc. were for each ship."
Being one of the earliest 3D home consoles, the PlayStation had limitations. Developers had to work around them -- creatively. "The first and foremost challenge on PS1 was contending with the relative lack of features in the poly rasteriser that we take for granted today (namely perspective correction, clipping and depth buffering)," said Roberts.
"This meant that large polygons would warp and vanish when they got too close to the camera, and triangles tended to sort badly because of the very coarse depth ordering mechanism. The only practical solution was to detect large polygons and subdivide them when they get too close, but this can have a drastic effect on performance. Some of the ships in Colony Wars are massive, and you can get very close, so this got a lot of attention," said Roberts.
Ellis recollected playing with the cards Sony's hardware dealt. "As with any gaming platform, the task was to get as much out of what you had. The programmers did an amazing job employing cutting edge game tech, such as streaming and asynchronous loading.
"They also built the first content creation tool that I ever used, which was a 3D mission editor. The programmers and artists also developed a system for texture sharing which maximized the amount of memory we had remaining for special FX."
While most console gamers were in awe of the transition from 2D, there was competitive tension between PC the original PlayStation. "At the time, 3D cards were just arriving for the PC, and we were determined to have FX that matched anything that they were doin -- even though they had more memory and some features that the PS1 didn't have. Chris Roberts did an incredible job coding in assembly language in order to produce some stunning results," said Ellis.
"I remember being at trade shows such as E3 and ECTS, and people would enquire about creating OEM versions of the game for their particular brand of 3D card," Ellis said.
Though Colony Wars may not have been the PlayStation's biggest hit, it does seem to be beloved by its fans. Why hasn't it been revived -- at least on PlayStation Network as a classic download? "Products are only developed if there's a perceivable demand for them, and I think this genre of game went into decline at the turn of the millennium," said Roberts. "There was a brief resurgence with the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but I think this was very brand-specific – it did not produce a new flurry of space combat games or really renew general interest in the genre.
"There have been some attempts to resurrect the space flight/combat genre (including some very pretty ones such as the X series by Egosoft) and Flavien Brebion's Infinity Engine is looking interesting too, but right now it's difficult to see anyone investing heavily in these types of games. Whether we'll ever see another Colony Wars game, I don't know, but I'd certainly be interested in working on it if Sony ever made that decision. With the capabilities of modern consoles I think we could make something pretty special," said Roberts.
Ellis echoes the sentiment. "I don't know. Once every couple of years I hear a rumor of a new Colony Wars game being in production, and I get really excited. But, unfortunately, nothing ever materializes. I'd love to play, or even develop, a new Colony Wars game some day."
Whether or not Colony Wars ever comes back, it was a narrative and technical milestone for the original PlayStation. Tim Wright is currently working with indie developers through the Indie Music Incubator Support Scheme. Chris Roberts and Mike Ellis are still working on projects with Sony. However, Colony Wars is not one of them.
I feel lucky to have learned this much about a game that is so dear to me -- but perhaps it's better that the game functions in my memory as a means of inspiration rather than reappears.
Page 3 of 3