Rising stars? In the deep troll-filled forests of Scandinavia (and we're obviously resorting to horrific national stereotypes here), there's a number of very talented game development teams emerging. Companies such as Remedy (developers of the very promising Max Payne for 3D Realms) and Housemarque (exhibiting some amazing game engines on the 3DFX stand at this year's E3).
Fit to be rated alongside these two teams are Digital Illusions, formerly famous for the Pinball Dreams/Fantasies/Illusions flipper trilogy on the Amiga and PC. They're now garnering a great deal of praise for their excellent Playstation/PC futuristic racer, Motorhead, which is being released by Gremlin Interactive in Europe and, judging by its presence at E3, by Fox Interactive in the United States.
We caught up with their CEO, Fredrik Liliegren, for a chat about Motorhead, 3D engines, and what they've been eating around the office.
When did "Motorhead" start its development, and what goals did you set out to accomplish with it? (what type of game was it 'meant' to be?)
"Motorhead" was started in May 1996 for the Playstation. In July 1996 the PC version was started. What we wanted to do was to give both the Playstation and PC market a real arcade-like racer, and, in our view, the essence of that is the feeling of SPEED. We really wanted to do the fastest racer (in framerate and feeling of speed) ever on these machines. That meant 50/60 fps on Playstation (never done before!) and equally impressive rates on PC.
How many people worked on the title? Did you find that having a small core of people helped focus, or was more people concentrating on small parts of the game a better option?
We started out with 8 people on the project, and ended it with 20. It was a growth process, both in terms of adding the PC format as well as hiring new people to the company, and as the only product the company was working on was "Motorhead", they all got to work on "Motorhead". But we had different set of people working on different areas. 2 guys did the 3D on PC, 2 guys the 3D on PSX, 2 guys physics and collision. etc. The graphics artists basically did one track per 3 people.
Today we see each platform as its own game, and try to not have teams bigger than 8 people focusing on one platform. But a lot of code and graphics get shared among the platforms for each project. So, even though the project might have 20 people working on it, we tend to look at it as 3-5 people in this area and this many in this area, etc, each of them focusing on their part of the overall picture.
From your background in essentially 2D pinball games, was it tricky to suddenly start working with 3D engines, real-time coloured lighting, and so on?
No, not really. It is always a learning process, obviously, but if you know your maths and know how to code 'good' code, it's all about reading and planning and prototyping and understanding what you need and what you can do with the technology within the development timeframe. It is easier on the Playstation where you know the hardware is the same than on the PC. A lot of people have asked us how we, on our first ever 3D engine on Playstation and PC, can be so good. Well the answer is we do not make any mistakes, we only do what is needed and do it in the most efficient way. Quite simple, really.
One thing "Motorhead" perhaps has in common with "Extreme-G" on the N64 is the obvious influences taken from Psynosis' "Wipeout" series of games. Were you ever worried that it was difficult to get away from "Wipeout" stylings if you're making a futuristic racing game? What other racing games influenced you?
Yes, we were influenced by a lot of games, "Wipeout" included, but also "Daytona" and "Sega Rally" (arcade versions). But we did not set out to do "Wipeout" on wheels. We wanted to have a really fast arcade racer that felt good to play.
The game engine used in "Motorhead" is impressively fast and slick - do you have any plans for further games using it?
Yes, we will use the foundation of the "Motorhead" engine in future games, but we will most likely also soon (depending on what projects we do) write a whole new one using the latest technology.
What are the most difficult things, graphically, about authoring a Playstation racing game?
Memory restrictions! You have to be very careful about texture sizes and amount of polygons used.
Did you ever consider getting "Ace Of Spades" by the band Motorhead as the theme tune to the game, as many magazines have suggested? :)
Yes, but it did not work out.
Scandinavia is beginning to look like a new hotbed of excellent development teams, judging by the emergence of companies such as Remedy, Housemarque, and yourselves. Why this sudden emergence of good teams? Or have they been there for a long time, and just not been noticed?
I think that Scandinavia has always had really good programmers and graphics artists, as we had a very thriving Amiga community. Most of the people are finishing college, etc, and have now started using their talent in the industry instead of for free. I think we will show the rest of the world a lot of things over the next few years - we do not really have a history in the industry but we learn fast! So look out!
What do you think about the newly announced Sega Dreamcast? Do you think it has the strength to challenge Sony and Nintendo?
The Sega machine is an excellent piece of hardware, no doubt about that. Sega also seem to have learned that you need a good development environment to be able to develop good games. But we need to see if they can get the into the mindset of the Sony generation, the 20-25 year old casual gamesplayer with money. Will they think that the Sega machine is sexier, or just stick with the Sony machine until the Playstation 2 comes along in 2000? Who knows, but I'll buy one, because it will be a gamers' machine!
Is it possible to run a successful development team a long way away from your publishers? Has this been a problem at all?
We are self-financed, after completing a IPO and getting a stock listing here in sweden during March this year. We've got about $3 million in the bank, so we can pretty much do whatever we want for the next 2 years, which gives us very good leverage against the publishers - they know we will not go away due to financial reasons, thus they are more likely to work with us, even though we are further away. So no I do not see the distance as a problem - we've always had too many offers anyway.
Can you reveal any of your plans for future games? Any hints?
It will be better than "Motorhead", it will be for PC and Playstation and possibly other machines. I can't say more than that, apart from the code name for the game - TNBT (The Next Big Thing)!
Finally, what's the favourite games/music/snacks currently hanging around the Digital Illusions offices? :)
A lot of us have been playing "Starcraft" a lot lately. We have 4- or 5 guys that still log a few hours of internet "Quake" a week too. Music-wise, I think the Madonna CD is a big favourite,. and food-wise - it's ice cream time now!