Cybercon III (Third Review)


Title		Cybercon III (Third Review)
Game Type	3D Adventure
Author		Ricardo Pinto / Prog. Andy Beveridge
Players		1
Compatibility	Not AGA but patch available Bert Jahn's WHDLoad page
HD Installable	With patch
Submission	Ricardo Pinto (Celebrity Review)

Review
More than a year ago, Angus Manwaring asked me if I would write something
for his website about my experiences producing games for the Amiga. Work
hassles stopped me from doing so until now. He asked me for a review of
some game that influenced me, but to be perfectly honest, I have never
really played computer games and, as such, they were never much of an
influence on me. My object had always been to produce 'virtual realities'.
At a time when sprite-based machines dominated the market, I, unpopularly,
was driving for 3D based games, reasoning that until we liberated
ourselves from the restrictions of sprites, computer games were never
going to become the artform that they could be. You should understand that
this was back in the ancient past, when an entire game's code had to fit
in 48K and be loaded onto the machine using a cassette tape!?!? I remember
in some magazine interview being depicted as ludicrously pretentious when
I claimed that I believed computer games would be for the 21st Century
what film was to the 20th. I meant every word of it... and still
do.

Anyway, without boring you with endless reminiscences of those remote
times, I will, hopefully with your forbearance, indulge myself by telling
you what led me to eventually rise to the dizzy heights of writing a game
for the Amiga. Having finished a Maths degree, I decided to go to London
to make my fortune ;) This was in 1983. I had not been there more than a
few months when I heard that some crazy half-Swede, half-American was
looking for people who could program to work on a computer game. I had
done next to no programming, but I needed a job and lied. Soon I was
working with Dominic Prior, fresh from getting his First Class Maths
Degree at Oxford. I picked up machine coding in 2 weeks and we began work
on what was going to be Gyron, for the Spectrum. The workload soon made me
get two friends, Mark Wighton and Philip Mochan involved. The four of us,
Torus, worked with our spectrums in a grotty flat in Chelsea overseen by
our chain-smoking boss. Dodgy power-supplies and the variable speeds on
our battery powered tape recorders did not make things easy. Gyron was one
of the first 3D games and as crazy an object as one can imagine.
Everything was meticulously coded. The lack of space on the machine was
such that we sometimes used the black parts of the display memory to run
code. The game was published in 1985 with an associated competition. The
person to win a play-off that was to be held for all those who solved the
central puzzle of the game was to win a Porsche 924... a far greater
reward than any of the four of us ever received.

Exhausted and wanting to make some money, we agreed to convert Elite from
the BBC to the Spectrum and Amstrad. This turned into a bit of a
nightmare. By this time we were getting to use Apricot development
stations that were blessed with a new, miraculous technology: the floppy
disc.

By the time we got through this, our company, Torus, collapsed down to
just Dominic and me. We produced Hive together. This was no masterpiece
and we parted company. Rainbird, our publishers offered me a job as a
Development Manager back in London. During this time I worked with various
programming groups on several games... one of the most memorable being
Star Glider - for which, among other things, I drew a rather dubious
loading screen. We got deeply involved in all our games. I was managing
Realtime and it was at a meeting with them in Leeds that I gave them
Carrier Command. They had superb 3D technology but no ideas for a game. At
a meeting, I provided them with the basic ideas for the game.

I had grown frustrated with my absence from the coalface and when one of
my teams, Andy Beveridge and Adrian Stephens, were getting in trouble with
their Amiga/ST space extravaganza, I baled out of Rainbird and joined
them. The working title of their game was EPT - which they told me stood
for Elite Piss Take... Again, their technology was impressive but they had
been drifting directionless for more than a year. I launched the project
on a new course. The game was to become an elaborate space opera set in a
solar system in which space stations orbited planets and moons - sometimes
several to each and into which you could enter and move through internal
spaces. The player would be able to enter and fly every ship they saw.
Flights between ports were made using cryogenics - during which the player
would duck out of the game world. There was a war going on and sometimes
you would be woken by an alarm because you had, inadvertently, wandered
into a space battle. We had working battles involving many ships which the
player could involve himself in. Space was filled with freighters, liners,
luxurious yachts and battle ships of every size. You could communicate
with other pilots, who appeared as animating faces. You could trade, buy
property, steal ships in space ports, travel across moons from one base to
another using grav-trains. Of course, the whole thing was ludicrously
over-ambitious, but in spite of this, we had much of it working when
Rainbird decided to can it.

This disappointment drove me out of the business for a couple of
years. When I returned it was to save another ailing project. Adrian and
Andy had formed The Assembly Line with Martin Day and John Daley. They had
developed a graphics engine which was capable of generating complex
internal spaces. Again, they had been working for a while but had nothing
more of a game than what appeared to be a conference centre. They asked me
if I could design a game and I came up with Cybercon III. I stretched the
dimensions of the internal spaces as far as their engine would allow -
seeking to create canyons which the player could cross on high flung
bridges and look down into precipitous falls. This world was to be
populated by robots - the limit on the number of polygons that we could
draw and still maintain a decent frame rate precluded anything more
realistic. Cybercon III turned out to be the zenith of what I was to do in
computer games. It pushed the Amiga as far as it would go at the time. It
was a completely coherent 'virtual reality' in which the player could
explore canyons, mazes, could leap in his powered suit from columns, climb
vast shafts, use lifts while all the time fighting wheel tanks, minotaurs,
angels and all the other cybernetic denizens of that realm.

The object of the game was to find and destroy the computer brain for
which the whole complex was nothing more than a defence. During the game,
this brain constructed a special robot, the Annihilator, which used neural
nets to hone its attacks on the player. Cybercon III was, perhaps, too
esoteric. The Assembly Line, of which I was now a member, had still other
commitments before we could progress to new projects. It was another
ongoing project, Stunt Island, for Disney which broke the Assembly Line.
This felt like a tragedy at the time. We had been planning a game called
Qube in which people would fight gladiatorial games within an artificial
environment using all manner of devices, weapons and modes of movement.
This was to have been a multiplayer game played over the then fledgling
internet. It was not to be. The company collapsed, going on to produce the
development system which was used to write games for Sony's Play Station.
Uninterested in this, I left. After working for a tabletop games company
where I wrote my first book, Kryomek, I was tempted back into the games
business to design a game for the Sega Megadrive called Nightmare Circus.
After 14 months of work, the machine was pulled off the market. The game
came out in California on cable and was released in Brazil. Disillusioned,
I turned my back on games and went into writing novels. With The Chosen
and now The Standing Dead, I am developing a new career for myself as a
writer.

(c) Ricardo Pinto 2002



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