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How Colony Wars Came To Be
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How Colony Wars Came To Be

September 28, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

While Wright experimented with Sony PlayStation's sound limitations, others were thinking about different sorts of constraints. Mike Ellis was the original writer and lead designer of both Colony Wars and Colony Wars: Vengeance. I asked Ellis a number of questions revolving around the risk of making a science-fiction space shooter on an unproven console. What was it like releasing a game of this magnitude during a time when fighting games, arcade racers and role playing games ruled?

Ellis stated, "Around the time that Colony Wars was just a concept, the market was flooded with racing and fighting games. 3D had come to home consoles, and so everyone seemed to be concentrating on bringing the arcade experience of games like Ridge Racer and Tekken to the home."

Ellis had to pitch the idea of bringing a genre of games more prevalent on PC to console gamers -- a very different audience. There was no blueprint for success.

"The members of our team were looking to make something different, and so I pitched a space game. There had been space games before -- in fact, some very good ones.

"However, I believed that most of them felt a little slow and ponderous. They were more like flight sims set in space, and didn't capture the fantasy of the high speed, intense dog fights seen in movies such as Star Wars and even Top Gun. Delivering the essence of that fantasy was to be our number one goal," said Ellis.

Luckily for Ellis, the Psygnosis team fully supported the idea. "The team embraced the concept, and I counted myself very fortunate. We were able to put a demo together and pitch it to management, who gave the project the green light and additional resources." What would follow would be the building of a franchise based just as much on story as it was on play mechanics.

"Throughout production, our team was very interested in experimenting with non-linear progression, and telling a story with multiple outcomes. I personally wanted to tell a story that broke away from the standard good vs. evil convention, and focused more on two factions that were forced together to fight over what remained of dwindling resources. There was no right or wrong, just two very hungry animals," said Ellis.

The introduction of planetary missions mixed with space combat gave the player a feeling that they were a part of something both personal and huge. I wanted to know more about the nuts and bolts of how Ellis' idea became a game.

Ellis and Burcombe lead me in the direction of lead programmer, Chris Roberts. "I came into the Colony Wars team straight after finishing Wipeout 2097 (which was the first title I worked on for SCEE / Psygnosis). My role on Wipeout was engine and effects, so I slotted straight into the same position on the Colony Wars team," said Roberts.

"I worked on both of the original titles at Liverpool. The third episode was created by the Leeds studio, who took the code from the original two games and further improved it to make Red Sun. My work on the first two titles was primarily focused on the in-game graphics and effects.

"This included pretty much everything outside of the front-end: mesh drawing code, star field, nebula, planet and worm hole effects, jump gates, weapons, explosions, cockpit / HUD. Some nice effects (such as the big ship laser beams and the nice engine effects in CW1) were programmed by 'guest' graphics programmers on the team, who wanted to contribute their own ideas to the look of the game (in this case Mike Anthony and Ben John)."

The visual leap between the first and second game in the series was striking, as Roberts explained: "Colony Wars: Vengeance had some notable rendering additions, such as the large planet backgrounds, planet surface missions, wormholes, etc. Also we had a lot more bespoke craft behaviors, such as the asteroid gun, space 'fish', and the League all-terrain vehicle (spider thing). The spider was actually a little disappointing in the final game, because we had to speed up its motion (it was taking too long to move around). This was a shame because the animation was a lot more realistic at its original speed."

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