Subscribe to:

The Kiwi's TaleWitchBlasterDerelict Blow Stuff Up

Reflections on Firestart

Project Firestart, the game I produced for the 2006 Retro Remakes competition has been out for two months now, and in one more month it'll be judged against the dozens of other games that were also entered into the competition. I think it’s about time I write out some thoughts on the making of the game, as well as the reaction from the gaming community.

It was in the middle of July that I discovered that, the best site for finding brand spanking new remakes of old classic games, were having another competition for Best Remake. I immediately decided to have a crack at it, and even signed up for the competition before I had thought of a game to remake. I went through several different ideas before finally settling on doing Project Firestart.

The original Project Firestart was a game in the survival horror genre (predating Resident Evil by about a decade) and itself was inspired by 1970s and 1980s sci-fi horror movies. Set on a research station deep in space, your character has been assigned to find out why contact was lost, and predictably you find out they've all been eaten by man made mutants. At least in comparison to other games of the time, it featured beautiful graphics, smooth animations and in-depth gameplay. Project Firestart was one of the many games in desperate need of a remake, and I thought that I would be the one who could pull it off.

I talked about this with a mate, Mark, and he was enthusiastic about it so he decided to help me. Over the next two and a half months we worked away on the game, I focused on the code (it was programmed in Blitz Basic 3D) and Mark focused on the models. We had decided to remake it in 3D as a first person shooter, figuring that would be the way the game would be made if it was made today, and also because the gameplay seemed natural to translate into an FPS. It wasn't until we were getting close to the deadline that we realised exactly how in over our heads we were - infact I was really stupid for thinking I could give justice to such a great game and redevelop it in only ten weeks as a first person shooter, despite the fact I had a full time job and Mark had a full time course - however I put my heart and soul into the game and somehow managed to finish it in time for the competition. Today it still stands as the only game i've completed and released.

The game had plenty of problems however, and it failed to reach up to the lofty expectations I had for it. All of the voice acting in the game was scrapped and replaced with subtitles. We ran out of time to create the monsters, which we had intended to model from scratch, so I ended up taking a premade Zombie and painting it green to use as a substitute. Naturally it looked awful, one person commented that it looked like a Mutant teddy bear. We found out too late that we couldn’t use the brilliantly designed levels Mark had made in 3D Studio Max, so in the last two weeks I recreated every level from scratch in Cartography Shop at a much lower level of quality. It didn't help that I didn't have the time to pick and use a wider variety of textures either. Having a limited number of beta testers and not enough time for them to test it was a real pain. And of course there was the bug. 'The' bug. The one where the game would sometimes crash (more so on some computers) in the middle of a game and exit out to windows. Usually Blitz Basic 3D is very good with finding bugs in its debugging utility, but it didn't even hint at what could be the problem here, and I could never nail it down. Maybe it was simply a poor use of memory and polygon count that kept killing it.

I expected reviews of the game to be largely average or mediocre. I was somewhat surprised to find out exactly how varied they were, some proclaimed it as the greatest game they've played from the competition, others said that it was terrible. There was very little middle ground at all. Some praised the terrifying atmosphere of the game, others said it didn't have an atmosphere at all. Some said it held up well compared to the original, others said it was unworthy of being compared. Some said they never saw a bug in the game, others said it was too bugged to be playable. The game was sometimes compared (usually negatively) to System Shock 2 and DooM 3, I never felt this was fair as me and Mark were just a two man team with zero budget working in a tight time frame, plus we had never intended to remake those games anyway (akin to complaining a remake of Pong is not as fun as Rockstar's table tennis). There were also some comments about lacking features, such as an invert mouse switch. All in all however the positive comments outweighed the negative ones, and several people went so far as to post messages to me to thank me and tell me how much they had enjoyed my game.

My personal view on the game is it is actually pretty good, as far as remakes go (some remakes, particularly competition remakes, are bloody awful). Its fun and has some intense moments, particularly when you're protecting survivors, playing on Nightmare mode or running low on ammo. It has a wide range of difficulty levels, which should keep beginners right through to experts satisfied. Graphically it is a mixed bag, some of it looks awful, other parts look okay, and the guns in particular look really cool. The sound is pretty good, especially the creepy techno song I used in it. The bugs are a real nuisance for some people. It isn't a long game, but it is a compulsive one with that 'one more try' feeling that can keep you up until 3am. Controls are as easy as can possibly be in a first person shooter, defying the horribly complex configurations of most FPS games by implementing a system that relies entirely on the mouse and a couple of keystrokes. It isn’t nearly as fun as original (for fans of the original at least) but it is a fine distraction in its own right.

The single greatest achievement of the Remake is the fact that it has introduced gamers to the original game, and made them fans of it, which is a worthy achievement of any remake and this alone made it worth making. An enhanced version of Project Firestart will come out next year with some, if not all of the problems with this version corrected, plus a lot more content and gameplay. If you haven't played my game yet then it may be worth having a look at if you're a fan of First Person Shooters.




Download from Retro Remakes site (includes screenshots)

Review of the original game (with instructions on how to play it on a PC)