Publisher: Pop Rocket, Inc.
Developer: Pop Rocket, Inc.
Original Release Date: Fourth Quarter 1993
Actual Release Date: November 1995
Vaporware Irritation Factor: 9



There's something very fishy going on at Pop Rocket's Web site. If you check out the press releases, you'll find one called "Sparks Launches Pop Rocket" which announces the creation of Pop Rocket and info on the company's first game, Total Distortion. The press release, dated January 1, 1992, says that "the Macintosh and Windows version will be available in Summer 1995."

Now think about this for a minute. Either Pop Rocket really did have the chutzpah to issue a press release announcing it would take them three and a half years to do their first game, or they went back and changed the date to make it seem like they knew all along when the game would finally be completed. Me, I go for the latter theory - because no one in their right mind would allocate 42 months for the development of one of the most stunningly mediocre "interactive media" products to limp down the Vaporware Highway.

As a matter of fact, I know they must have changed that copy, because I saw the product in person at the Winter CES in January 1993 and five months later at Summer CES - and it was then that Pop Rocket said the game would be released "in the fourth quarter of 1993" (some sources indicate that Joe Sparks, founder of Pop Rocket, originally claimed the game would ship in late 1992). In fact, Pop Rocket never even came close to shipping the game by the fourth quarter of 1994, much less 1993; the game finally made it to retail outlets in early November 1995.


There's not a single thing about Total Distortion that couldn't have been done just as well a year or more earlier.

You might think journalists, after repeated postponements of Total Distortion’s release date, would have been a little gun-shy when it came to considering it for a preview, feature story, or review. But Pop Rocket was able to garner quite a bit of press during Total Distortion's interminable incubation period by sending out "preview" versions of the game along with assurances that the game would be out in just two or three more months. And it wasn't just computer gaming mags that fell for the sweet song of Joe Sparks. In a May 1994 cover story on multimedia entertainment, Business Week featured Pop Rocket prominently, and quoted Sparks as saying that Total Distortion would be out that summer.
In some cases - when a company is developing a new technology, for instance - it's easy to see why a game's release has been pushed back. Not so with Total Distortion: there's not a single thing about it that couldn't have been done just as well a year or more earlier. The premise doesn't bode well in terms of interaction - you're cast as a video producer who's traveled to the "Distortion Dimension" in search of footage to use in music videos - and things pretty much go downhill from there.

Players hyped on the idea of editing real digitized video footage will be disappointed to learn that you don't really work with video per se: the entire game consists of Quicktime animations of so-so quality at best. The voice acting is amateurish and stilted, the writing (especially dialogue) borders on the sophomoric, and gameplay mainly consists of flipping switches and manipulating inventory items. If done with imagination and flair, Total Distortion could have offered an interesting combo of eye and ear candy; instead, it marches in lock-step with all the other stultifyingly average "multimedia games" we've seen over the past few years.