Crush! Ltd, the Newbury, Berkshire-based games developer temporarily owned by Creative Insights Inc, will ship its first multimedia game this month. But the company’s fortunes could have been very different. Until June of this year Crush! had been part of Creative Insights Europe Ltd, the European subsidiary of Singapore company Creative Technology Ltd. The European […]
Crush! Ltd, the Newbury, Berkshire-based games developer temporarily owned by Creative Insights Inc, will ship its first multimedia game this month. But the company’s fortunes could have been very different. Until June of this year Crush! had been part of Creative Insights Europe Ltd, the European subsidiary of Singapore company Creative Technology Ltd. The European subsidiary folded in July, one month after Crush!’s managing director, Jon Dean had engineered a buy-back of the UK business (CI No 2,698). The US business was bought by games company Accolade Inc of San Jose. Dean says he had no prior knowledge of Creative Insight Europe’s impending collapse and that the buy-back was simply down to his own pig-headedness. We wanted to stay in the games market, they wanted to scrap it and go into computer toys, so we got out. His pig-headedness has paid off. Dean salvaged games development work discarded by Creative Insights Europe and has used it to develop the company’s first CD-ROM game, Mortal Coil. A second title, using the same engine and based on the film Die Hard is due in November. The fortunes of Creative Insights Europe look decidedly bleak.
Officially the company says that it is seeking re-organisation rather than liquidation. The computer toys it developed and planned to launch this month look unlikely to appear this year unless they are taken up by Creative Labs Inc, US offshoot of its Singapore backer. The toys, though amusing, are targeted at a very specific market. The first offerings include a plug-in keyboard and touchpad drum kit each with accompanying tutorials to teach would-be musicians to play the piano and drums using a multimedia personal computer instead of an instrument, and on-screen gimmicks that are a more elaborate version of a word processor’s delete function. Click on Latrina Throne and watch you words flush down the pan or use TNT to just plain blow them up. In the light of the first offerings, it is hard to work out the rationale behind the company’s move away from computer games. Dean believes that his decision to stick with computer software has enabled the company to develop a new genre of computer games, that are both innovative in format and content. The games have a multi-threaded story line dictated by the character you chose to play. Opt to play Candy and you will face a different set of challenges than if you choose to be Dredd, Peach or Dan, although all characters reach the same conclusion. The storyline is told through video clips of up to two minutes which lead to six missions, a mixture of shoot ’em ups and puzzles. Each player must solve all six to win the game. The storyline for Mortal Coil goes something like this: four undercover agents work for a government-funded agency called Mortal Coil, their mission is to save the planet from aliens and to conquer space. But the plot then breaks into different threads depending on which character the player decides to be, although all storylines end with the same conclusion.
By Krishna Roy
While writing the story and planning characters and their strategies, Dean says he studied the emotionally manipulative tactics employed in blockbuster movies to make players empathise with their character and hence make the game more interactive. A player does not have to play the same character throughout but can click on another character and face a different set of challenges. The game starts with Candy in the shower, annoyed because she has been interrupted by her commander calling up on her videophone. Players can then click on the videophone and witness the commander’s astonishment at seeing his scantily-clad dripping wet employee. Dean makes no apologies for the fact the game is out to give its male-dominanted audience vicarious thrills. In fact he i s targeting the game at former cartridge game addicts that used to play games where cute little characters jumped, punched and kicked and now want a more sophisticated multimedia game on CD-ROM that they can play at home on their hig
hly prized multimedia machines. Technically, Mortal Coil is not that different from other CD-ROM games. It is built around a core engine, the Crush Core Application engine written in C. We have tried to make the core engine as platform-independent as possible so we don’t have to keep doing major code re-writes to get it to work on different platforms. The company uses off-the-shelf graphics packages, mainly Autodesk Inc’s 3D Studio and AutoCAD on a Silicon Graphics Inc Indy workstation to produce the games graphics. Additional graphics that can’t be done in these packages are then written by in-house programmers. The sound effects are produced on a wave table synthesiser, recorded onto a Digital Audio Tape then converted into wave or MIDI format on a 66MHz 80486 personal computer with a 32-bit sound board. The company also uses pre-compiled CD-ROM sound libraries such Wave Studio, Sonic ScrewDriver and Wave for Windows. Mortal Coil will ship on CD-ROM initially but the company will produce a version for Sony Corp’s PSX and Sega Enterprises Ltd 32-bit games consoles this autumn. It is also looking to produce another version for Silicon Graphics Indy workstations as the graphics look better on faster machines, say Dean. Crush has licensed the CD-ROM version to Vic Tokai, the software subsidiary of Tokai Co in Japan, and is now looking for publishers for the Sony and Sega versions. Dean believes his background as a consultant for independent games developers has made him wise to possible ruses within the software publishing industry. Publishers can exert an unreasonable influence on the content of the game, they want tried and tested formulae, we wanted to do something a bit different. However, Dean admits the publishing deal is vital to fund the game’s development. He is currently looking for a publisher for his second Die Hard title before the last lines of code are written to ensure there is a market and distribution channel for the game before it is completed.
Mortal Coil will ship for around ú35 and Dean expects sales will reach 100,000 units on CD-ROM alone in the first year. Aside from its two games, Crush has developed a Windows tool kit for producing CD-ROM singles which its has licensed to Leeds-based production company Cogent Productions Ltd (CI No 2,698). Dean says the tool kit, which was initially developed as a means for an unknown band to get a recording contract, is a relatively cheap way to produce a video and promo package to show a record company, though revenues from the licensing deal with Cogent are likely to be more sporadic than those from its two games titles. Dean is now planning to expand the company and plans to hire another 25 staff in the forthcoming year bring the level up to 40, with expansion of sales, marketing and distribution channels being his top priority. Dean admits the company’s rewon independence is not necessarily ideal for a small software developer with high development costs and he is now seeking financial backing from one or two companies in a related field although he says that recent experiences have made him wary of potential investors. I don’t want to change the name outside the door in 12 months time, he said.