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Saturday, April 19, 1997

Connection With...

We recently got a chance to talk to the James Wilson and Nick Newhard, members of the Blood Development Team. Here's what they had to say about their wonderfully successful new game!

  • What is the history of Blood? And how did you all become involved with Blood?
    [Nick Newhard] I had just finished a product for Edmark in late 1993 when I decided to seek out greener pastures to start my own game development team. I connected with Scott Miller at Apogee through a mutual acquaintance. I started working on a fantasy concept to be based on the Build engine with Jason Hall. Apogee was into the idea of starting a development group on the west coast, but the money initially involved was not enough to endorse two people, let alone an entire development team. I decided to continue the concept development alone, and Jason remained at Edmark. Ironically, Jason later left Edmark to start Monolith Productions with a group of ex-Edmark employees.

    Another Apogee team in Dallas was also working on a fantasy concept. We proposed working on a horror game instead, and went back to the drawing board -- this time with enough money to hire an artist. After a rough beginning and a few bumps and bruises, Blood was off to a fair start. By the beginning of 1995 Q Studios had three full-time people working on Blood, and five by 1996. Broad strides were made in advancing the technology in Ken Silverman's Build engine, when we added stacked sectors and Ken added 3D sprites. We knew that adding cut scenes to Blood would be cool and would really polish it off as a quality retail product. Q Studios didn't have the equipment, time or team resources to do that and finish the game in a reasonable time frame. We knew we needed to expand the team to really flesh out the game. We sought out our friends at Monolith, discussed the idea of merging Q Studios with them, and then made it happen. The rest is history.

  • Blood has an interesting and intruiging storyline, how important was a good story and good characters to the Blood team?
    [James Wilson] VERY important! We feel that story goes hand-in-hand with gameplay in giving players that immersive feel that they want in a 3D first person game. We spent a lot of time talking about and refining the story and character so that they weren't just tacked on, or side jokes. The story in Blood doesn't take over the action, but every episode has a goal, and the cutscenes relate to the entire story. Their is even a revelation before taking on the final boss.
  • With all the Doom, Duke, Quake-style games coming on to the market, for instance, myself, I'm real bored with these first-person shooters, many are just the same games with new packaging and some new elements. What did the Blood dev. team, from the VERY beginning, want to include that would make it different? what did you want to include?
    [Nick Newhard] Two things have prevented most 3D action games from becoming hits. First, most of them do not have the right feel for an action game. Most devout Doom deathmatch fans will tell you that the greatest thing about Doom and Doom II was the feel of the game during a deathmatch. We approached Blood not wanting to make a clone, but to make Blood's gameplay superior to the rest of the market. Part of it is in the solid, almost organic feel of the controls, but our arsenal also plays a big role. Not only are our weapons well-balanced, they're also very distinct and versatile. In a typical BloodBath, players will end up using most if not all of the weapons, because each has a different tactical advantage. That sort of intricacy is missing from a lot of other games, where you tend to stick to the most powerful gun.

    On top of that, Blood's physics, graphics, levels, and interactivity are unmatched. We had a tough standard to measure up to, so we put lots of effort into creating an atmospheric, absorbing world full of tricks and traps and even a dose of macabre humor.

  • Blood has been delayed for a while, and has gone through many legal changes, from the shifting of hands from 3D Realms to Monolith, has any of this affected Blood or the development team?
    [James Wilson] Things have only gotten better.
  • Was working with the Build engine difficult? Did it limit you in any aspect? With the Quake engine being TRUE 3D, and people saying that the Build Engine is 2.5D, how do you compare the two. (I know, it's like comparing apples and oranges). Also, how has the use of stacked sectors improved the game?
    [James Wilson] The main comparison is in speed. While our requirements are equivalent to Quake, we used a much higher framerate benchmark than Quake when we defined those requirements. Simply said, Blood runs faster. Working with Build hasn't been difficult, because for the majority of the project Build was the best thing out there. At the end of the day, though, all the true 3D in the world doesn't save Quake from the fact that it is hollow as a game, and merely a shell supported by its technology. Gameplay and content are king, and that's why Duke outsold Quake by a hefty margin.

    The stacked sectors have allowed us to do a lot of things we couldn't have otherwise, and they are nice, but they haven't drastically changed the game. When it gets right down to it, most people don't notice true 3D when they are playing the game, they only notice whether they are having fun. If a game isn't fun all the true 3D and stacked sectors in the world won't make a difference.

  • How does Blood improve upon the gameplay elements of Duke Nukem 3D?
    [James Wilson] In several ways. I'll go through them one by one:

    Movement: Doom players who miss the feel of Doom's movement will LOVE Blood. The feel is lot more solid and controllable than Duke's spastic, no-physics feel. We didn't much care for the stiff feel and lack of control that Duke provided.

    Weapons: Blood's weapons are what all weapons should be: POWERFUL! No extended 20-round, 2-minute shotgun battles, and no weapons that dominate the game. You can kill with pretty much any weapon, and every weapon has it's use.

    Enemies: While Duke's enemies were amusing, they were pretty generic. Our monsters are recognizable entities within a genre, that being horror. zombies that cry out for your brains, cultist's that scream for death in a mystic language, Hellhounds that breathe fire, Disembodied Hands. Our monsters are more intriguing, and more dangerous. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. :)

  • Blood has some of the most unique weapons ever created in a game, where did the ideas for the weapons such as the flare gun and the voodoo doll come from?
    [Nick Newhard] Inspiration for Blood's weapons came from a number of places. flare guns have been used in several movies. For Blood, we wanted a similar weapon felt and looked realistic while not compromising game play. The flare gun itself went through several incarnations. First we bought a modern marine flare pistol; one you would commonly find on a boat. Here is where complete ealism would have compromised the weapon. Marine flare pistols are tiny, orange and look exactly like toys. We considered renting a conventional military flare/grenade launcher. We researched several models, but none of them fit Blood's theme or character. We found the answer to our flare gun dilemna among more historical weapons, just as we had for Blood's Tommy Gun and sawed-off shotgun. There were several antique brass flare pistols used by the Army that looked and felt adequate for Blood. We used these as a model for Blood's flare pistol. The result is something no one would pinpoint as a military weapon, and yet is still based heavily in reality. We added our own ouches to the weapon to increase the carnage level caused by the various firing modes. While there is no real life equivalent to the startburst flare pattern, it ensures that Blood's flare pistol is unique, balanced, and noteworthy in both solo and network play. There are plenty of games where you ignore the "special" weapons because they suck. There is not one weapon in Blood that that can be said about. The thrown TNT is probably the weakest BloodBath weapon, but I have seen scores of "good" players being reamed by Monolith's best players using TNT. To enhance TNT as a weapon, we added TNT Proximity Bombs and TNT Remote Bombs to the retail and registered versions of Blood. These weapons are excellent tools for BloodBath destruction. I suppose I can take credit for the Voodoo Doll concept, but it was Kevin Kilstrom's artwork and the team's suggestions that made the Voodoo Doll a truly great weapon.
  • Well, with the Blood shareware version now released and gamers everywhere are getting their first view on what Blood is, what do you think of the Blood shareware version?
    [Nick Newhard] The highlight of releasing Blood into shareware has been reading all the messages from fans who enjoy Blood, especially those with praise for BloodBath. A lot of people missed the feel of a Doom II deathmatch in recent games. From user comments we know that we have reached our goal. Blood is the only game to date that matches the deathmatch feel, and even surpasses it with unique firepower and high level of interactivity.
  • Is it a true representation of your work?
    [Nick Newhard] Well, it is our work so the answer has to be yes. Is it our best work? That can be answered most effectively by looking at the lives of renowned artists and athletes. None of them were ever satisfied with their first canvas or their first jump. Neither are we. And like them, we intend to surpass this first game Blood many times over.
  • Some gamers have complained that the Blood SW shows nothing new, how are you going to fix that?
    [Nick Newhard] Technology mongers will never be satisfied with good game play. There will always be people who want to jump to the next game engine without savoring the game play. Fortunately they are few and far between or we'd never see great games like Blood, Diablo, Warcraft, or C&C.; Chasing after the latest technology is always a dangerous business. Ultimately, gameplay is what matters, and we are extremely confident in Blood's design. We're sure that people will have a lot of fun playing it, especially when they get their hands on the full version.
  • Is there anything that gamers are missing from the shareware version? What will the retail version hold that are different from the shareware version? new weapons? enemies? gameplay elements?
    [James Wilson] Of course we held back a lot of things!

    Their are 6 new weapons including two variations of the TNT (remote and proximity) which emulate and expand on the trip-wires and pipe bombs of Duke. Other weapons include the flamethrower, tesla cannon (high-speed electrical projectile weapon), life leech (the name says it all), and the infamous voodoo doll!

    Their are several monsters including spiders, the aforementioned disembodied hands and hellhounds, the phantasm, three new bosses, etc. We have more monsters than any other 3D game!

    We've also made several improvements on the AI, as well as many other options as they have been requested by the gaming public. And, of course, LOTS of levels. The final version has 34 EXTRA levels on top of the 8 shareware.

  • Blood features MORE options than Duke3D, was this intended? What options will the full version include?
    [James Wilson] Yes. We feel that the player is king, and they should have control over as many different aspects of the game as possible. We also strived to make sure that while Blood allowed for a lot of diversity, that this wasn't in sacrifice of gameplay. I think we striked a great balance. The full version has equivalent options expanded to fit the new weaponry and features that the full version offers.
  • Name, in your mind, the best feature of Blood, compared to ALL the other first-person shooters around. Also, name the worst feature. =)
    [James Wilson] Many people will say many different things, but I say the weapons. Blood's weapons are extremely powerful, and very balanced. No rocket launcher dominating like in Duke and Quake, and no weak weapons like in Quake. It is hard to define the worst feature since from my viewpoint we've done everything we've wanted to do with Blood. I'm sure techno-mongers will state the engine, and those that prefer Duke-style movement to Doom-style might quote that, but the majority of the people out there like it, and that's all that counts.
  • How was multiplayer emphasized during development? Will Blood feature all the multiplayer capabilities (internet, ipx, modem) that Quake does?
    [James Wilson] Multi-player has been a large focus. Level-wise we set up the first and last levels of each of the four episodes to be primed for two-player bloodbath, and the rest of the levels got a lot of attention for how they played for a greater number of players. We intentionally made these first and last levels smaller so that they would be good for BB, and added more levels to the entire list so that the single player game wouldn't get short-changed (we have 34 levels in our regular four episodes, as opposed to 27-30 in most of 3D action games). We've also included an 8 levels Bloodbath episode with the registered version.

    Blood has the same networking options as Duke did, but we are working on optimizing it for every major on-line service that wants it, and so far they all seem to. At Monolith we are dedicated to getting Blood into every possible venue that players might want to use.

  • Also, why keep with the DOS platform, when so many games are coming out for Windows 95?
    [James Wilson] Basically, the idea of starting Blood development from scratch for Windows95 did not appeal to the team, to Monolith, or to our publisher. There are plenty of great DOS games that function under Windows95. We realize the future is in game development on non-DOS platforms, but in the case of Blood, chose not to throw out years of work to redesign for one platform. We are looking into the feasibility of supporting hardware acceleration at some point after Blood's retail release - this may or may not occur.
  • Are there any plans for an official Blood map editor? A Blood 2? What are your next projects?
    [Nick Newhard] We will release Blood's tools with the retail version of Blood.

    [James Wilson] We've kicked around ideas for Blood 2, and they are exciting ideas, but we have no plans of pursuing them in the immediate future. Most of the Blood team will be turning our efforts towards Monolith's next big cutting edge 3D game. We are still seeking a title for it, but it will use DirectEngine, a true 3D engine with all the bells and whistles of Unreal and twice those of Quake. Oh, and Blood was just a warmup compared to what we intend to do to the gaming scene with this one. Consider this first project as clearing our throats before we truly sing and you'll get the idea! :)

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