As I sit here watching someone through Steam Broadcasting run around as a dinosaur in The Isle, I can’t help but notice something that is all too common in this day and age of gaming…
I can remember when Hitman came out for PC and I was amazed and impressed at the Columbian jungle level whereby Agent 47 would walk through the environment and as he walked through plants with big leaves, he would cause them to move as he went through them.
As I watch this gamer run as a dinosaur, the grass is long but it is just a static environmental prop, giving no feedback as the dinosaurs legs go right through it.
Without singling out The Isle – as it is very much still in development and the Unreal Engine – version 4 and for all I know this may actually be possible to do in the engine, this just jarringly reminded me of a time gone by in video gaming history…
Games just used to do more, with less.
Zeewolf was a 3D helicopter shooter game that was unfortunate enough to hit the Amiga at the end of the computers life in 1994. People had started looking to PC for computing and for gaming, most were on SEGA and Nintendo console efforts. The Sony PlayStation didn’t get its release to Europe and the West until 1995.
Zeewolf made quite an impact on release even though sales were lower than they should have been due to Amiga owners shifting to other machines at this point.
It scored well in magazine reviews, but more importantly it was a solid example of great gameplay and visuals ahead of its time. This was a game developed by people who just ‘got it’.
Visually Zeewolf had inspiration from a game called Virus by none other than David Braben of Elite fame. Using a 3D representation of the game world with the camera on the horizontal plane, the helicopter had satisfying physics and would rise and fall causing the viewpoint to rise and fall slightly on the vertical plane.
Most people struggled to control the craft (a spaceship) in Virus with a mouse so opted to use the joystick when playing Zeewolf which made the helicopter easier to control and the pitch and yaw were constrained to limits using the joystick. The real fun was using the mouse in Zeewolf though as you could go inverted and also use the unlimited pitch and yaw to pull off some crazy manoeuvres such as dropping near to ground very quickly and evading enemy fire.
The game world was made up of square tiles which varied in colour eg yellow/green/brown for land and 3 shades of blue for water, and also the ground varied in height. The landscape was rendered to a cut-off point as to allow for a playable framerate and each level was a different map with the player just looping the map if they continued flying in one direction for long enough eg the player clips from the edge of the level to the beginning of the other edge. The objects were flat shaded polygons to represent things such as the helicopter, trees, building, tanks and ships.