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GDC Video: Making the Atari coin-op classic Crystal Castles
April 3, 2013 | By GDC Vault Staff

April 3, 2013 | By GDC Vault Staff
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    3 comments
More: Console/PC, Programming, Design, Production, Video



Courtesy of the GDC Vault, Franz Lanzinger's hour-long GDC 2013 lecture is now free and features a postmortem of Atari arcade game Crystal Castles with an unplugged session of Lanzinger himself playing the game's music live.

The music that was so recognizable in-game was because Atari then had no system in place to license music. That didn't stop Lanzinger from giving a live piano jam session at GDC, featuring OST snippets that were borrowed from Beethovan and Tschaikovsky.

Afterward, Lanzinger reflected on what he felt went right and wrong with the game itself. He was satisfied with the level warp system, non-violent but exciting gameplay, and trackball controls.

However, he admitted those controls also limited the sales of the game. He also lamented not writing a cohesive storyline and not preserving code from early field tests, which were regrettably lost forever.

He later shared his relationship with Atari. He recalled being against programming in joystick controls in the game home release. He also had to write a long essay about why his game needed to have an ending, which was against the grain for arcade games at the time.

Lastly, the other original team members behind Crystal Castles joined the stage for a special Q&A wrapping up a memorable, 60-minute postmortem at GDC 2013.

Session Name: Classic Game Postmortem: Crystal Castles

Speaker(s): Franz Lanzinger

Company Name(s): Actual Entertainment, Inc.

Track / Format: Design

Overview: Why was Atari coin-op so successful at creating dozens of original and highly influential games in just a few years, many that still sell today? In this 30-year anniversary classic postmortem Franz Lanzinger, the original programmer and designer, will analyze, review, and spill the secrets of Atari's classic arcade game, Crystal Castles. Featuring Bentley Bear picking up gems and getting chased by trees and bees, Crystal Castles broke ground as a fast-paced, yet nonviolent, 3D isometric game.

It was Atari's first arcade character game with an ending and included an ingenious secret warp system. Franz, also a professional pianist, will perform the music on his stage piano with the audience getting a live, close-up view. The talk will feature rare documents, sketches, photos, videos, and even actual 6502 code from the heyday of Atari coin-op, defiantly known as "Coin-op, the real Atari."

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent GDC events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers. Those who purchased All Access passes to events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC China already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscriptions via a GDC Vault inquiry form.

Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can find out more here. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins.

Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more new content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from other events like GDC China and GDC 2013. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Tech.


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Comments


Zack Wood
profile image
I saw this game in a skate-a-round growing up, and even though I never played it, the visuals stuck with me. I wondered what it was called to this day- now I know! For some reason, the visuals really do it for me as an artist. I guess I just love simplicity and isometric graphics.

Joe Cain
profile image
I might be going a bit overboard here, but I was there for this talk and loved every minute of it. Of course, it didn't hurt that I've worked with Franz and maintained a friendship with him (and other members of the team at Actual Entertainment) for many years, but I would have been just as into what he had to say anyway because I was a HUGE fan of the original arcade game back when I was growing up. That glowing trackball and the unique look of the mazes just sucked me in, and I never forgot about it. In fact, I now own both a stand-up *and* cocktail version of the game at home. ;)

Fast forward 13 years from the first time I saw that game and imagine my surprise when, while working for Atari in the mid-90s, I end up getting a phone call from Franz, who was trying to get the rights back to do a modern version of Crystal Castles - it's not often you get a chance to speak directly to someone who created one of your favorite games! I can still remember the feeling of awe I had, and I wasn't even having the discussion face-to-face! Of course, there were other people behind the game and I'm glad that I was able to hear more about them and their involvement in the project, too. I don't know what I did to deserve the honor of being in that position, but I'm just thankful I was able to be in the right place at the right time to make (and maintain) that connection.

At the end of his talk, I'm the first person to ask a question and I forgot to say something there, so I'll say it here:

Thanks for taking a chance on a kid with a dream, Franz. I might not have made it in the industry today if you hadn't, and I owe you a debt of gratitude that I hope to be able to repay someday. ;)

Joe Cain
profile image
I might be going a bit overboard here, but I was there for this talk and loved every minute of it. Of course, it didn't hurt that I've worked with Franz and maintained a friendship with him (and other members of the team at Actual Entertainment) for many years, but I would have been just as into what he had to say anyway because I was a HUGE fan of the original arcade game back when I was growing up. That glowing trackball and the unique look of the mazes just sucked me in, and I never forgot about it. In fact, I now own both a stand-up *and* cocktail version of the game at home. ;)

Fast forward 13 years from the first time I saw that game and imagine my surprise when, while working for Atari in the mid-90s, I end up getting a phone call from Franz, who was trying to get the rights back to do a modern version of Crystal Castles - it's not often you get a chance to speak directly to someone who created one of your favorite games! I can still remember the feeling of awe I had, and I wasn't even having the discussion face-to-face! Of course, there were other people behind the game and I'm glad that I was able to hear more about them and their involvement in the project, too. I don't know what I did to deserve the honor of being in that position, but I'm just thankful I was able to be in the right place at the right time to make (and maintain) that connection.

At the end of his talk, I'm the first person to ask a question and I forgot to say something there, so I'll say it here:

Thanks for taking a chance on a kid with a dream, Franz. I might not have made it in the industry today if you hadn't, and I owe you a debt of gratitude that I hope to be able to repay someday. ;)


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