The following is an interview with the late Looking Glass Technologies, taken from Gamebytes. Thanks go to Shadowcat for sending this to us.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LOOKING GLASS TECHNOLOGIES
by Daniel Starr

Looking Glass Technologies is the company that developed for Origin Ultima
Underworld I and II, still (among other things) the only first-person
indoor games with true 3D -- you can actually look up and down (imagine!).
After an 18-month hiatus, they will soon be releasing through Origin the
spiritual successor to the Underworld games, System Shock.

This interview is with Doug Church of LGT, with notes added later from
other team members. Explanations of the accompanying System Shock screen
shots are attached to the end of the interview.

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GB: So how was System Shock conceived?

DC: Many moons ago, after Ultima Underworld II, we decided first, that we
had done too many dungeon games, and second, we wanted to concentrate on
making a really immersive 3-D world that you can interact with.

System Shock is the result. In the game, you wake up from a rejuvenation
sleep to find that the space station's been taken over by the central AI,
SHODAN, who is scheming while mutants and armed robots patrol the station,
and you have to find out what's gone wrong and fix things. And along the
way you have combat, puzzles, exploration...

It's a first-person, smooth-motion 3-D game, similar in that respect to
Underworld. But System Shock has a true 6-D viewing engine, meaning that
you can look absolutely anywhere, fully up and down and sideways and all,
unlike UW where that capability was very limited; and we have an amazing
new physics system with all kinds of effects; and we've created tons of
cool objects and structures to play with... the emphasis is on giving you
a feeling of being there, in this rich, exciting, active environment you
can work with.

GB: So this is not a straight shoot-em-up like Id's Doom?

DC: Hey, we made it to question two before mentioning Doom! System Shock
is different in many ways, in fact almost all. It's really more an
outgrowth of Ultima Underworld than anything else, without as much of the
"Joe sends you to Bob" conversation-based quests, and instead pushed more
towards action. But the real focus is on creating a world in which to
immerse the player.

Of course, there is plenty of action in System Shock. For a while all the
code that was running was basic running around and shooting and getting to
the next station level, and everybody was having lots of fun just doing
that, so you can play it that way. But System Shock isn't about continuous
combat so much as continuous tension, where we try to keep you wired and
wondering what's around the corner... we want to suprise the players while
we scare them, and give them plenty of things to play with too.

By contrast, Doom is a very focused action game: run around, get the
powerups, win the combat, solve the level. When writing a game like Doom
you want an outrageously playable combat system and powerup system, and in
Doom's case those two elements work all but perfectly; the folks at Id did
a great job, as usual.

GB: So what are you proud of in System Shock? What makes it great to
play?

DC: The immersive environment. Trying to set up a world which looks unique
and interesting, which begs you to look around the corner, or down into the
chasm, or up toward the cathedral-like ceiling. We've always felt that
first person games are maximally atmospheric, and in System Shock we are
pushing that in as many ways as we can.

If you want atmosphere in a game, things have to look real, and they also
have to *feel* real. So in addition to the 3-D physical environment, we
have a plot that goes beyond "bad things have happened, go and kill
everyone." There are mystery elements, as you go through the space station
and unravel what actually happened. There are log messages and email
messages from the past and the present that you read during the game, and
we've tried to make them more than "you must pull lever N" and instead make
them feel as though they came from and are going to someone real.

On one level, for instance, you'll read log messages from members of the
human resistance to each other about how they're going to try to break
through the blast door and attempt to reach the next level. And then as you
approach the blast door, you start encountering all these bodies, and just
in front of the door there's this ring of corpses. So you say "Wow, this
is where the last resistance got wiped out... what's on the other side of
this door?" And then you open the door and there's a group of deadly
warbots. When you're done, on one side of the door there's a ring of human
bodies, but on the other side there's a pile of broken robots, where you've
just taken out the forces that destroyed the last humans on the colony.
And not every player will notice that, but the ones that do will get an
immense kick out of it. So we have that kind of atmosphere and context to
the things you do in the game.

Of course, all the atmosphere in the world won't be as fun for the player
unless there are also ways to interact with the environment, and ways in
which the environment 'goes out of its way' to interact with the player.
So we've made places where you want to wait for the patrol robot to go by
and then sprint through behind it; or a room you enter and the door slams
shut behind you with a clang, and then SHODAN appears on the wall monitors
in front of you and announces he's caught on to you, and then side doors
open and robots stream out gunning for you.

We have graphics and text files that scroll across monitor screens, and
puzzles where you have to watch what's on several screens, or where the AI
that's taking over the station seizes control of a display and you have to
cut off its access so you can see what the screen is displaying. There are
locked doors where you can either look for a way around, or find the access
card that opens the door, or rip off the casings on the panel and try to
rewire it.

And of course there are 3-D puzzles all over the place -- first-person
systems are really good at presenting scenarios where you can see where you
want to go but have to figure out how to get there. We have things like a
chasm that you can see the door on the other side of, and you have to go up
to the gun turret to extend the force bridge across it. And then you go
down to the bridge and sprint across it while these mutants dive at you...
so you have some really intense 3-D moments going on, not just generic room
A with monster X.

Then there are also lots of objects you can pick up and play with. There
are lots of different weapon types to use on different things -- magpulse
weapons that only affect robots, and needle guns that will bounce off of
robots but which are great against mutants. We also have weapons which
fire slow projectiles, which are fun to shoot even in a big empty room.
There are also neurowares you can graft on to do strange things to your
body and movement - -
 jump jets that give you limited flying ability, a 360 ware that gives you
3-D views to the sides and behind, a targeting ware that tells you how much
damage you are doing to a creature...but we should probably leave a *few*
surprises!

So System Shock is an action-intensive 3-D game, but the real focus is on
making the 3-D world really immersive and interactive, "you are there", and
that's the goal which motivates these really cool things in the game.

GB: So what can you tell us about the programming in System Shock? You
said it was a "6-D" viewing engine, for example -- what does that refer
to?

DC: Well, generally perceived reality has three dimensions for motion,
where you're located, and three for orientation, where you're looking. In
all the indoor textured games that we've ever seen, the game really has
just three or four total dimensions: two or three for position, and one
for orientation. You can't tilt your head or look up or down in these
games, you just see straight ahead in the direction you're heading --
that's the one-dimensional orientation. That does allow all sorts of
coding hacks to improve the speed of the game. We try and write 6D
engines, because we want the game to be as realistic as possible: the
player can look up and down, or have a view that isn't totally flat, or
tilt the head, or whatever, but that does make things tougher from the
coding end.

GB: How much does doing the true 6-D engine cost you in frame rate?

DC: It varies greatly depending on the scene. Going down a simple corridor
where the walls aren't too outrageously sloped and the lighting is fairly
under control, it doesn't cost too much at all. When things get very
complex, things can slow down 10-50% or so when compared to a well written
"traditional" flat view renderer. As far as I've seen, Doom is easily the
fastest of the flat view smooth motion games out there (and the best
looking too), and that is about the performance we are seeing compared to
it. So they both run fast on a local bus 66 and pretty darn slow on a 25SX
without local bus. Compared to the slower first person flat games, our 6D
engine is about 20-100% faster, depending on which game in particular you
look at.

Of course, you want as many frames of animation per second as you can get,
although above 24 you really don't care anymore. My feeling is that 12 to
15 frames per second gives you a nice, smooth sense of motion. We would
like it to run in that range on target machines -- it's not a problem for
most local bus 486's right now, but machines without local bus video have
fundamental problems putting pixels on the screen.

So we've got all kinds of ideas to get the speed up to where we want it on,
say, a non-local bus 486/33 machine in full-screen mode. I've got a 486/33
with really slow video on my desk -- I figure if I had a Pentium I wouldn't
want to get the frame rate up badly enough -- and in a simple scene I get
that sort of frame rate pretty comfortably, but going to someplace
complicated drops it to 6 or 9 at the moment, which I want to improve. So
we've been working with all kinds of ideas for optimization.

On the other hand, the true 3-D orientation lets us do all kinds of cool
things with scenes and motion. For example, when you run in real life your
head naturally dips forward a bit. So in the game, when you run your view
tilts a bit down, and it comes back up when you stop. And when you fire a
big gun, the recoil will knock your head back about 5 to 10 degrees for a
moment. You can lean forward or back, look up or down. You can crouch,
jump, lean around corners or climb the walls. When you get hit in combat
you get knocked around. All these kinds of things help make it real.

Then there are a couple of levels we built that are hundreds of feet tall.
It's pretty scary to be in full screen mode on a two-foot wide catwalk,
looking down into a hundred-foot abyss, watching these bird-mutant things
slowly circle around down there. And then there are the flight bays, these
giant hangars that you'll get to ... I don't want to spoil the surprise
about what you find there, but it's cool. There's the gun turret where you
look down a hundred feet at the two ledges on either side of the chasm, and
you pull the lever and you can watch this transparent force bridge extend
from each ledge to bridge this vast abyss... so there are some really great
vistas that the engine lets us give you.

GB: What else are you proud of in the programming?

DC: We have an outrageously good physics system. For another LookingGlass
game, the project leader is a guy who punted working on his PhD in high-
energy physics to come write games, and damn, does he know his physics! So
he wrote a physics system for that game which is far more sophisticated
than what you would normally use for an indoor game, but since we had this
cool modeling system we decided to put it in our other games as well. In
System Shock, that gives us an amazingly realistic model of how your body
moves and what you see as a result of your motion.

GB: How is the model set up?

DC: Well, the physics system actually has a number of models which we use.
The player has the most complex model used in System Shock. Initially we
were planning on using our full 12-jointed biped model, which we are using
for a game to be released later this year. We simplified it but kept the
essentials, such as a separate head on the body, and so on. So when the
physics system runs, many of the effects that would normally have to be
hardcoded in just happen automatically. For instance, the head tilts
forward when you start to run, and jerks back a bit when you stop. If you
run in a tight circle, you lean a bit towards the center. When you run into
a wall, or are hit by a bullet, or run into by an enemy, your head is
knocked in the direction opposite the hit, with proportion to mass and
velocity of the objects involved, and so on. Thus we are getting a big
bundle of effects automatically that normally would have to be hardcoded in
one by one. And since this is all in our core physics library, as time
goes on we can write bigger and better models, which allow even more
interaction with each other and the world.

In System Shock, our physics system also allows us (and the player) to do
all sorts of fun, wacky things. You can climb walls (though it takes lots
of energy), move hand over hand on the ceiling, jump in and out of repulsor
lifts, and so on, and it all works together and consistently. We even
designed a "motionware" as one of the neuroware grafts in the game -- it
turns your body into a skateboard, so you move as if you were on wheels.
Then we put in some areas where there are steep ramps. If you're moving
like a human, you don't carry much momentum, so if you're going downhill
you can't go too much faster than straight walking, and going uphill at
speed is hard. But if you have the skateboardware turned on you can zoom
down one ramp and then up the next at really high speeds --

GB: That must look amazingly cool --

DC: Definitely. So we have those kinds of things, puzzles and whatnot,
that take advantage of our physics engine.

We also have true local lighting, real pools of light from spotlights or
whatever. In most other indoor games you either have strip lighting -- if
you look at a wall or floor or ceiling you'll see that the light levels are
all laid out in constant strips -- or just one light source at the player
(like Underworld had). We've actually put in real localized smooth 3-
dimensional lighting effects for System Shock, which allows us to create
very creepy and striking scenes.

GB: So where is System Shock in the development process right now?

DC: It's in Alpha test. The plot's almost entirely implemented, we're
finishing up the features, but the actual levels are only about 60-70% done
because we still have to tweak the placement of creatures and objects and
things for balance. We have about three or four testers on it right now.
It will probably be done mid-April, and then be on shelves soon after,
depending in part on various marketing issues.

GB: Marketing issues...?

DC: Well, for starters, do you release it in the US first and Europe later,
in which case you get lots of piracy because Europeans want it but can't
buy it, or do you hold the US packages to release them simultaneously? And
do you release CD-ROM and floppy at the same time, or not?

GB: How will the CD-ROM version differ from the floppy version?

DC: We're still finalizing that in our contract with Origin. It will
probably include real digitized music instead of Sound Blaster FM
synthesized music. We'll put back in the 30-40 megabytes of cut scenes
that we had to cut to 3-4 MB to fit on your hard drive in the floppy
version... our artist did these tons of cool cut scenes and rendering in 3D
Studio that we had to pare for the floppy release. We can also go to
spoken log messages instead of just printed text, and so on.

GB: So what do you want to do with the engine for the next project?

DC: Well, there are three obvious things that we'd like to add to the
engine. First, there's Super VGA. We already have the System Shock
renderer running at a good rate in SVGA on the Pentium without any
optimizations, and wow, does 640x480 look a lot better than 320x200! But
we don't have time to do that right for the published version.

The second thing would be finally to go to texture-mapped polygons for
creatures instead of bitmaps --

GB: As in Origin's upcoming Bioforge?

DC: Yeah, although of course we don't want to prescript the motion, as done
in BioForge or Sega's VirtuaFighting -- we want to have our physics system
drive creature body positions in real time based on the player's actions
and the world, just like everything else.

Actually, that's one reason we did so much work in modeling the creatures
and so on with 3D Studio for System Shock, because we harbored the secret
hope we would be able to implement the texture-mapped polygon animations by
ship time. Sad to say, schedules dashed that particular hope! -- but for
the next product we'd like to do that.

The third thing would be to go to an arbitrary polygon mesh for drawing
structures. System Shock still displays surfaces using tiles [small blocks
of predrawn graphics], although we can place them at arbitrary angles and
locations and parametrize them to get some really outrageous structures.
In fact, the design team did a brilliant job of exploiting the renderer.
We wrote the engine from scratch for System Shock, but we knew we had time
pressure, and I was thinking "Gee, this is too bad, I wish we had another
six months" so that the engine would support completely arbitrary surfaces
instead of being tile based. Once the designers got their hands on it,
though, they started creating some amazing stuff.

The game looks very sci-fi, like you're in some futuristic high-tech place,
not just in a generic building somewhere. The design team has crafted
things with it that look totally different from other first-person games
out there. You look at some of the scenes they built, and, well, I wrote
the renderer, and at first glace even I couldn't see how they did them!
And when I figured it out, I said "Gosh, I never thought anyone would even
try that", because they got some really neat effects, but of course they
did that by abusing the engine as much as possible, you know, "Let's put
two transparent doors here, one behind the other, and beyond that a doubly
sloped lit corridor..." So now we have to find ways to keep the frame rate
smooth, but it looks really cool.

Anyway, those three things -- Super VGA, texture-mapped polygon creatures,
and arbitrary polygon mesh surfaces -- are the obvious things to add to the
graphics engine. It depends on what our project schedule looks like -- if
Origin comes to us and asks us for a sequel as soon as possible, then we'll
probably add in whichever feature of the three we think is coolest, and if
they ask for something really cool to be out a year from now we'll put in
all three.

GB: Do these 3D graphics accelerators coming into the market -- 3GA, the
OpenGL cards, and so on -- make a difference in your plans?

DC: Well, we're both psyched about them and unpsyched. We're psyched
because anything that makes graphics faster makes our lives fundamentally
easier. We are currently killing ourselves to get good frame rates when we
could be doing much more interesting and creative things. If Intel comes
out with a chip that actually does multiplies and divides in real time, or
if one of these 3D cards becomes enough of a standard to write for, we can
blow players' minds with that kind of power.

On the other hand, it's been a real pain getting specifications from the
manufacturers on the cards, and actually most of the cards seem to be doing
mostly flat shading, which is great only as long as you don't want texture
maps -- which we do -- and even the ideas we've heard for texture-mapping
cards are linear maps only, which can be worked around if you don't look up
or down, but otherwise breaks pretty painfully. So these cards aren't
fundamentally what we would want -- which is fine, the world doesn't
revolve around us, but then we have these gotchas to work around. But
we're still actively trying to get these cards in-house, because we
certainly hope we can do something with them. The new 3d graphics cards
will really become a big factor when they support nice texture mapping and
lighting models, as we hope they will in the future.

Another good thing is that the operating systems companies are finally
writing fast graphics routines so that you can actually play these games
under Windows or whatever, in a window, in a reasonable manner. That's not
going to happen any week soon, but eventually, with OS/2 and the new
versions of Windows, it's coming.

The one hardware thing that I personally would kill for, though, is a set
of goggles, like the system Forte was showing at CES. Our programs with
these 6-D engines fundamentally do not want to operate on a monitor and be
controlled by a mouse, but with a head-tracking system so that you can look
up in the game just by looking up with your head, and so forth. So we
would absolutely love to have those be a success. We are trying hard to
get early copies of the goggles and get our stuff running on them.

GB: How about 3DO, Saturn and the other high-end console systems coming
out now or in the near future? Is LookingGlass likely to program any
conversions or new products for them, or is their hardware also not suited
to what you want to do?

DC: Well, most of the new 32 bit boxes have texture mappers of some flavor
or other on board, but mostly linear ones. However, some do have either
simple DSP or simple single-op ASIC type devices to do fast math of a
particular type, so writing real texture mappers in software using those
auxiliary processors should be possible. But most also have slow CD-ROM
drives, and only a small amount of memory, much of which is the kernel and
the video memory. So although we have some game ideas which we can make
fly on the 3DO and so on fairly easily, for the newest round of stuff we
are doing, they aren't particularly well suited. Part of that is because
our new games were designed for PC, though, and we certainly have looked at
several console machines fairly seriously, and have some internal designs
for some projects which are suited for particular machines.

GB: What is the makeup of LookingGlass these days -- how many people do
you have doing programming, design, and so on?

DC: Well, we have a couple of co-presidents, several marketing/sales
consultants, an office manager ... 7 in-house artists, 3 in-house
designers, 12 in-house programmers, several part-time musicians when they
aren't off playing in their band -- 3 members of Tribe, albums _Abort_ and
_Sleeper_ out on Slash/WarnerBrothers, they are way cool, go check them
out... several playtesters, and 5 or 6 out of house consultants (artists
and programmers). Since we've previously just been a developer, publishing
games through other companies (i.e. Origin), we haven't needed an arm for
marketing, sales, PR and so forth. But as we move toward publishing and
marketing our products ourselves, we'll need to hire those resources. And
we will obviously grow by adding product development people to do more
projects as well.

GB: An industry question: why does a company like LookingGlass publish
its games through another company like Origin?

DC: Because publishing a game takes a whole lot of money. To print up 40,
000 manuals and 40,000 boxes and 400,000 disks for System Shock and
distribute them ourselves, we'd need a couple million dollars, which is
more than we've ever spent on all of our projects. And Origin has
marketing and sales and distribution people, so if you give them the game
they can actually get it on store shelves. Another important part of what
Origin provides are people like Warren Spector (our producer on Underworlds
I and II as well as System Shock), people who are really good, competent
guys that know their stuff. And basically Origin has X million dollars in
the bank, and Electronic Arts [Origin's parent company] has tens of
millions of dollars, so they can make the distribution happen.

That's the relationship between a publisher and a developer -- sure, the
publisher is going to make ten times as much money, but they're fronting
that much of the money, too. Origin and LookingGlass have a mutually
beneficial relationship, and it's the kind of relationship that makes the
industry work. We'd need to take out a giant loan to publish ourselves,
not to mention that you don't get any money in advance when you're
publishing it yourself, so it really eats up the cash on hand... so it's
really tough financially to self-publish.

What's more, retailers will give a company a really hard time about
stocking your game if you don't have a reputation as a trustworthy
distributor. For example, when Origin first started self-publishing,
retailers didn't want to place orders for any of their games. And Origin
said, "Hey, you know us, we did Ultimas I through IV, we just published
them through other companies." And the retailers said "We don't care about
how well you write games -- we care about your ability to be a good
distributor, to get the product we order to us on time, to cut a deal that
if we order so many we get free Federal Express shipping, to be there to
take our returns," etc. So for the first year or so when you self-publish,
even if the game is great no retailer knows who you are, and even if people
are clamoring for the game it does no good if they can't find it on the
shelves. So that's why we started work with Origin.

GB: So what does LookingGlass have planned for future games?

DC: Well, we've wanted for a while to do a continuous indoor/outdoor first
person game, and System Shock was a testbed for a lot of the initial ideas
on the indoor part, and we have another project which is the playground for
the outdoor part. It is coming along well, and we should actually be able
to talk about it early summer or so. One of the joys of working as a
developer is that you never get to talk about anything...

GB: What kind of graphics is it using?

DC: In the foreground you have lit, textured polygons, and in the back you
have these strips of pixels rendered as groups, which Novalogic might call
voxels -- but what we would call voxels does really mean something in
formal computer graphics and this isn't it, although it is similar to what
Comanche does in that they both look quite good in the distance. This is
also the game the 12-jointed biped model is for, where we hope to get our
textured animated physics-driven people walking around from.

GB: Anything else?

DC: The absolutely perfect aerobatic flight simulator --

GB: Like Disney's Stunt Island, only more so?

DC: MUCH more so. It focuses completely on the experience of flying, the
feel of being in a real plane. This is where our new physics system comes
from, and the model is incredibly good. People who come in who've never
flown make the exact mistakes that first-time pilots do. Pilots who come
in find the planes work just the way they expect them to. We had one of
the best aerobatic pilots in the world here and she could recognize her
plane just by the airflow diagram over the wing.

The game also has fully textured, 3-D, continuous terrain, with height
changes everywhere --

GB: So this will be the first airplane simulator where the ground
actually looks like the ground instead of colored triangles?

DC: Yes. It looks, hey, really f---ing good. It looks really really really
good. And it's already comfortably faster than Microsoft Flight Simulator.
At full screen on a Pentium, 640x480 is maybe 7 frames per second, 320x200
is 16 frames per second, so we need a lot of work to get the speed where we
want it. But it's already much faster than anything that even tries to do
that level of detail. We've got a huge map of Aspen in memory that you fly
over with tons of real data rendered.

But the point is that this is so good that people we bring in who've never
seen computer graphics look at it and say "Oh, yeah, of course that's a
flight simulator" -- they don't notice anything missing! Which is the goal
in simulations: you've achieved total victory when no one notices how much
work you've done. So it works pretty damn well.

GB: Marketing it is probably going to be a pain?

DC: Tell me about it. It's not an F-16 combat game, because fundamentally
we think shooting these dots on the horizon with FF missiles is really
boring. And it's not a Microsoft Flight Simulator type product where you
take off, fly some set course and land. So it's not quite like anything on
the market right now, and there have been many late nights figuring out how
to sell this product.

On the other hand, we have the very strong advantage that pretty much
everyone I've ever seen come into this building, whether they've been a
candidate for office manager, or a pilot, or a hardcore computer gamer, or
someone who hates computers, or other companies' execs, have sat down and
started playing with this flight simulator until they were basically told
to stop. And that's a really good sign. We plan to self-publish it late
this year, and if it does as well as we think it will, we'll be quite
happy.

GB: So what's further down the road for LookingGlass?

DC: Of course it depends a lot on how well these current projects do. One
thing we're sure of is that we want to do simulations. They might be
flight simulations, or ground combat simulations, or whatever, but
simulations have always been our forte. And now that we have this
spectacular physics engine, we want to flaunt it as much as possible!
Combining that physics with our high-end rendering will allow us to keep
pushing the envelope in terms of immersive and interactive enviroments to
role-play in -- our games will look and feel real, and be even more fun to
play.

Of course, there is a reason that even six months from now, there will
still only be three indoor games that let you actually look up and down,
and all three by us: true 3-D is really a pain to code! By Christmas maybe
Origin's Bounty Hunter and Id's 3-D sequel to Doom will come out, but
that's not a lot of products. There is a lot of time spent fighting the
basic technology and not doing all the great things we know we can do with
the game and the engine. Even now we're coming up with great features we
could easily put into System Shock, but if we did we'd have to start
testing all over again, and at some point you have to call it done and get
it finished. That's a big drawback of designing the basic technology and
the game at the same time.

On the other hand, one reason that System Shock will be the first game from
us in almost 18 months is that we've completely overhauled the way we
develop code. Now we have libraries for the core rendering and physics
engines. Our hope is that within six to eight months from now, we'll
finally reach the stage where game designers can take some libraries of
fairly complete technology, and design from the ground up a game that
utilizes the full potential of the technology.

Assuming that happens and that self-publishing works out for us, then we're
really psyched because we have more great game ideas than we'll ever have
time to do! We have something like 20 products we want to do in the next
18 months, which of course is impossible... follow-ons to the flight sim
product, and sequels to System Shock or Underworld III with Origin, or
maybe a similar engine but very different game published ourselves, and a
bizarre-physics sideways scrolling puzzle game -- that's a fun little
project we've talked about as opposed to these ten-plus man-year games. We
don't want to get locked into doing a " ---- Commander" type huge project
every N months... Also, network technology is catching up, so we may get
out a few of our old large-scale network game proposals and see if we can
make it happen.

But we do want to keep doing simulations, especially these immersive
roleplaying realities and amazingly accurate pure simulations. We had an
in-house seminar a while ago from the head designer on Ultima Underworld
II, now back in school becoming a playwright, on "what computer games are
good for". He pointed out that computer games are fundamentally not suited
for telling stories like a book or a movie, because your main character --
the player -- doesn't know what he's supposed to do! So if you try to make
the game "tell a story", you end up with the player spending two hours
clicking on different parts of the scene, trying to figure out what will
make something happen, instead of advancing the plot.

His point was that computer games are best at giving the user a sense of
place. "You are there" in an environment with real atmosphere. Because if
you artificially limit users, you frustrate them. So instead you want to
put users fully into the environment and let them do whatever they want,
you immerse them, and then the you make the excitement come from how the
environment responds to their actions. So computer games are fundamentally
about putting the player into really exciting environments... What we're
trying to do at LookingGlass is push the limits in designing great
environments and fully immersing the player in them.

GB: Here's hoping for smashing success. Thanks for your time... can't
wait to see the finished games!

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Daniel Starr for Game Bytes Magazine.
All rights reserved.

[Screen shots:]

Player is firing at a security-1 bot. His targeting ware gives him damage
feedback on the effectiveness of his shots. Also, by using the 360-degree
neural hardware, the player is also given a 3-D view of the area directly
behind him.

Player is engaged in battle with a hostile robot...he is using a magpulse
weapon that fires green energy-projectiles. The display on the right shows
information on the enemy, while the one on the left shows the weapon in use
and remaining ammo. The player is leaning to avoid fire, which is why the
3-D view is tilted in this scene -- note the lean-meter at the top center.

Player is standing on a balcony looking out onto a flight hangar. Avian
mutants circle around the bay. Down below is a control panel for operating
force bridges, one of which can be seen high up in the distance.

A cyborg warrior confronts the player on a narrow catwalk which stretches
through a diamond-shaped access corridor. Armed only with a mini-pistol,
you might be in trouble!





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