Romero is the only boss who actively encourages you to abuse him. When we deathmatch, we're calling each other "butt" (a stream of invective follows. The salty stream of language continues for at least another two minutes) and "arse licker".
We're speaking down the dog and bone to one of the ten-strong Ion Storm team currently working on Daikatana. "The funniest is when Romero plays Shawn Greene (ex-id bloke, now coder on the project). The amount of abuse is so funny. If Romero loses, he'll break something. He smashed this keyboard up the other day. I swear to god - the carpet still has little keys all over it. Shawn has this mouse that Romero broke hanging up in his office like a trophy."
The Ion Storm office is in the Texas Commerce Tower, a rather large building with a hole in it. Sixty people - sixty loving, caring gamers - live here in holy matrimony with their projects. The office is blissfully quiet, all bar "the muffled thuds of rocket jumps and the sound of imperial troops being denied reinforcements".
"If you wanted to, you could totally spend your time playing deathmatch here - and get paid for it," says Andre Sverre Kvernmo, one of the level designers on Daikatana. "Most games take place after 6pm so that people can be a bit productive. The biz section play among themselves because they're scared of us." Daikatana literally means "big sword" in Japanese. It's magic. Look, here's the plot to prove it...
The year is 2455AD. Way way back in the 21st century, Tetsuo discovered the cure for Aids and as a result became really rich. He built himself a fortress, but continued to be interested in adventure, and especially in an ancient sword - Daikatana - which is supposed to have magic and timetravelling powers. After years of searching, he discovers the sword during an archaeological dig on Mount Fujiama and Toshiro and his assistant, Jarred Benedict, start researching its magic powers. Unfortunately, Toshiro has been somewhat lax in his interview technique and has employed a power-mad sociopath as a lab assistant. He swiftly lops the aged scientist's head off, claims the Daikatana for his own, and whips back in time to steal the formula for the Aids cure and become fabulously wealthy. Both you and your luscious Japanese friend, Mikiko, were experimenting with a time-stasis bubble at the precise moment history changed, and step out to find everything has changed. Toshiro is dead. The Daikatana is gone. And history has been changed. Jarred is now the inventor of the Aids cure. And it's his fortress you're standing in.
So, in the first episode, you, Mikiko, and SuperFly Johnson (a "big thick dude" you find in the dungeons) storm the Fortress, aiming to steal the Daikatana and set history right again. Once you've got the sword, you aim to go back to 2030AD and kill Jarred Benedict as he appears. Unfortunately though, there's a bit of a balls up.
The wrong switch gets flicked and the trio end up in 2030BC. Stuck in Ancient Greece and pissed off. So the gist of episode two concerns finding more energy for the sword. But then when you teleport into episode three, you find yourself in 560AD, the Dark Ages. Doh! Not enough power. But finally in episode four, you get to 2030AD, and after much chopping and severing of limbs, have a showdown with Jarred. But then there's "a surprise ending and shit".
As Any Quake Buff Will Tell you, the key ingredient to any 30 shoot 'em up is the levels. You can chuck in as many wazzy graphics as you like, jam in a wealth of juicy Satanic imagery, big steaming weapons, and then top the whole lot off with a 3D engine that would make God Himself say, "Hmmm, that's pretty realistic. I might use that engine on my next project." But if you don't have credible, exciting, good-looking and playable levels, you might as well hang up your game-designing trousers and sell yourself down the docks.
To that end, at the start of the Daikatana project, Mister Romero set about gathering himself a set of highly talented level artistes to form his core team. And where, you may ask, did he recruit this talent? Not from an agency or by advertising, but via the Internet. As you are probably all aware, the on-line amateur level designing community, spawned originally from Doom and then Quake, is huge. Romero already knew who he wanted, so he simply went out and got them.
"He just told us to pack our bags," recalls John 'Dr Sleep' Anderson, who's working on Daikatana's Greek era levels. "I said, 'When? Next week?', and he replied: 'No, now!' Two days later I was in Dallas, staying at Romero's house."
Only a year ago, Dr Sleep and his fellow level designers, Norwegian Sverre Andre Kvernmo, Matt 'DaBug' Hooper and Steve Ruscoe, were all doing their nine-to-five jobs during the day only to then live alternate lives in the evenings - namely slamming together Quake levels. Hooper is famous for one achievement in particular - producing DaSkull, the first custom-designed Quake level. So what? you might say. Well, the thing is Hooper didn't use an editor or a graphics package - he used a text editor.
"Everyone went crazy - they thought I was joking. There were no editors available, but I had some graph paper and sketched it out. I didn't think it was a big deal, but then once it came out, suddenly I was a celebrity. Some people still won't believe that it took me just a week and a half." The other members of the team have similar stories to tell. Dr Sleep was picked up by Epic to work on early versions of Unreal and then made his pilgrimage to Dallas. Sverre Kvernmo used to live in the UK (regular readers of may remember articles about his talents) before being snapped up by iD to do the Master Levels for Doom.
And now, three years on since they were all wandering Knee Deep In The Dead, here they all are in the Ion Storm madhouse working steadily but surely on Daikatana's timetravelling episodes.
Sverre is currently working on a virtual scale-model of Alcatraz for the final San Francisco time zone. You can take a little tour of the cells or the showers, and then go outside to the watchtower which, we've been assured, will collapse noisily and pleasurably at the end of the level. Every little detail is now in place: the mottled staircases, the gruesome sewer system, rows of blinking fluorescent lights, the fear of sodomy. It's taken Sverre a month's work to get to this stage. "I really didn't see this career coming at all," he says.
"I've been playing games for years and years, and it's really amazing that I'm here at all. I wanted to be an architect or do art, and this is dead in the middle between the two."
Most of the levels are on the verge of completion. Matt Hooper's medieval environments, with their caverns and fields and wooden houses, are now finished. Steve's futuristic first episode opener has only a few nips and tucks to go. And Sleep's glorious Greek project - half Ray Harryhausen, half Up Pompeii - is looking both shiny and excellent. There's still a little way to go, however.
"We've got the Quake 2 code dump now," explains Sleep, "which means we now have to go back and implement the new features it gives us. Most important of all is the coloured lighting, but also the face count."
Face count? "Yeah, when you're designing levels, you're fighting this limitation all the time," says Hooper. "Put simply, with basic Quake you can only have about 350 polygons or faces in the view. With Daikatana we're pushing for 500 to 600 faces. One monster has around 500 polys, so in any one view, you can only have as many polygons as there are on one monster." Consequently, the boys don't have free licence to create vastly intricate ballrooms and rock structures. Every new feature in their levels is a fight between aesthetic quality and whether it will run well on Joe Schmoe's Pentium 133 - a fight that often results in some heartbreaking sacrifices. "You've got to fight that and yet still remain creative," says Kvernmo. "I have these cool rocks on one of my levels that look so realistic. But the face count was too high; it was slowing the frame rate down, even on my Pentium II. So in the end they had to go."
If you harbour desires about designing levels (and let's face it, we all do), you may think these boys are not only both lucky and privileged, but that Romero also fuels them with cookies and high-end machines to keep them going. The reality however, is that most of the designers, for example, have scorned iD's own level designer and use a shareware level editor called BSP instead. "It's the best," says Hooper. "There's nothing you can't do with it."
So readers, what's to stop you? If you're thinking of delving into level design, remember it's doesn't only involve stringing a couple of rooms together. It takes an average of four weeks to build a good-sized Quake map. Starting from scratch with maybe a half-formed idea in their heads or a graph-paper sketch, these boys painstakingly piece together their rusted dungeons, toxic waste depots and bombed-out warehouses. They carefully choose the frayed wallpaper. They place and position flickering lights to create swathes of shadow or alluring traps. They move objects, enemies and weapons to optimum positions. They pace your progress so you don't get bored, too scared or too lost. They design secret areas to further titillate your brain on return visits. They may start you off in a pretty room and then gradually unveil the rest of the level and break it around you. Or they may just start you off smack in the middle of an earthquake and pepper your escape route with oubliettes, broken elevators and crumbling floors.
Then they play it over and over again, a zillion times, until it pleases them and scares the merry hell out of you.
Only then is it close to being finished. Got that?
As John Romero's "dream game" nears completion, the gang at ION Storm is kicking into overdrive. Wielding the Daikatana, a magical, timetraveling samurai sword, you'll venture from the Dark Ages to ancient Greece and on to a futuristic San Francisco, setting history straight along the way. Using id's Quake II engine, Daikatana will feature 64 monsters, 32 weapons, and 33 original songs throughout four worlds, each with its own enemies, textures, and architecture. Throw in some RPG elements and two sidekicks (each with their own A.I.), and you've got the makings of a cutting-edge game with a real cutting edge.
While Ion Storm has taken its well-publicized time to complete Daikatana, the PC gaming world has evolved. The deathmatch demo of John Romeros timetraveling shooter featured fast weapons and action, but the two playable maps (future visions of San Francisco and Kyoto) pale next to Half-Life's detailed environments and Sin's gritty urbanscapes. At this stage, the game looked and played like the Quake II conversion it is. Gamers can only hope that the finished products single-player mode will be as inventive and engaging as Ion Storm's promised it will be.
Kage Mishima has stolen the Daikatana, an ancient Japanese sword possessed of amazing mystical power. With it, he has returned to the past and changed the course of the future, setting himself up as the ruler of planet Earth. The only hope for the planet lies in the hands of Hiro Miyamoto, descendent of the weapons master that originally forged the Daikatana. He’ll battle through four time periods in search of the Daikatana so that he might kick some medieval butt, and fix the future.
A sword that travels through time. Sidekicks with breast implants. Names like ‘Superfly Johnson.’ Worst of all, a main character named Hero. (They can get away with it because he’s Japanese, and you can spell it Hiro.) ‘Tis a hard thing to reduce me to a gibbering madman, but the sheer amount of cliche in this game has done it.
Daikatana, one of the latest releases from Ion Storm, tells the story of one man and his four year journey to create a game that fell just short of purchasability. The brainchild of John Romero, of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom fame, Daikatana uses a modified version of the Quake II engine to bring us a cinematic and violent glimpse at a fictional dark future. Unfortunately, this game is neither fun to play, nor much to look at. Let me explain.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The first thing that will hit you is the simple and rather adolescent approach to gameplay. Using a control system that mimics the earliest First Person Shooter (FPS) games, all you really need to do to play this game is know how to jump, shoot, and run. There aren’t even any inventory items to really worry about, as you’re pretty much limited to pickup items and seven different weapons.
At the main screen, you’ll find an interface that, while designed adequately, is an eyesore. The color scheme used by the designers relies on a heavy amount of black and brown, with a healthy dash of poorly animated buttons. Combine that with a ‘Loading’ screen that counts from one to one hundred, with an audible click every time it advances a percentage, and you’ve got an interface that may just convince you to stop playing.
With three out of three strikes in the gameplay department, things aren’t looking too hot for Daikatana so far. Most of the action involves running, jumping, and shooting. Now, I’m not saying that these things aren’t staples of the FPS genre, but given the advances we’ve had in the last couple of years, Daikatana could be much more interactive than it is. A level that can be finished by simplistic puzzles like blowing up a power generator or flipping a switch are welcome in their simplicity, but they shouldn’t take up the majority of gameplay.
Before you start thinking that there isn’t anything worth purchasing about Daikatana, you might want to take a look at the graphics.
Starting out, the game is built on the Quake II engine, which has a proven track record for providing a good graphics base. Daikatana hasn’t changed most of the features of the engine, rather they’ve focused making the features of the world very different. Gone are the smooth steel panels you’d expect to find in such a game. Instead, they’ve been replaced by a serious amount of focus on outdoor, open air areas, complete with flora and fauna.
Another strong point for the graphics is the enemy design. Although there exists a wide variety in enemy quality, it is quite clear that Ion Storm has designed these creatures with strangeness in mind. Elaborate techno-organic creatures and a good sense of scale help to bring these nightmares to life, and a skeletal animation system allows them to move in a slightly realistic way.
Since nothing about this game has been handled truly well, I’ve got to knock the graphics as well. While they aren’t as dated as a game like, say, System Shock 2 (nowadays at least), they definitely don’t innovate the technology at all. That, combined with the mind numbing overuse of primary colors will quickly dissuade you from believing that these graphics have any good points to them at all. But before you give up and quit because the entire level you’re on is in shades of green, try pressing on, and get to the next area, to see all of the shades of red!
Nothing new or interesting, although Daikatana has a remarkably miscast number of voice actors. For instance, the main character, Hiro, may be Japanese, but he sounds like an irate leather clad biker. Other than that, the audio isn’t going one of Daikatana’s weakpoints... unless of course, you choose to play the cyber-mosquito sounds over and over again.
Minimum: Pentium 233MHz, 32MB RAM, 200MB HD Space, 4X CD-ROM, 4MB OpenGL Video Card, DirectX Compatible Sound Card, Windows 95/98/NT/2000, Keyboard and Mouse.
Reviewed On: AMD K6/2 400MHz, 64MB RAM, Diamond Viper V770 Ultra, Creative Labs Soundblaster AWE 64, 24x Creative Labs CD-ROM, and a Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro.
The first term that comes to mind is steaming pile of cow dung. However, upon further review, Daikatana does have some redeeming features. It has some decent graphics and a few of the levels don’t overuse one particular color. In the end, Daikatana was a painful game to play. Although it wasn’t absolutely horrible (if you want to see horrible, check out Blaze & Blade: Eternal Quest), a buggy engine combined with poor gameplay only makes for one thing. Daikatana is just shy of purchasability.
The PC version of Daikatana has been a hot topic of more debate, and the subject of more game industry scandal than just about any other game in history. For those of you not up on your PC games political history, Daikatana was initially to be the first game released by Ion Storm...the company set up by ex-iD software design guru John Romero. After numerous delays and staff changes (with the odd scandal thrown in) the game still isn't out and is more than a year late.
Kemco has picked up the N64 rights to the Quake-like 3D blaster and may well have its version out before the real thing. It's a very ambitious first-person shooter with multiple characters and some cool dynamic environments. Travel through time, killing bad guys and marvelling at the graphics. No release date is set yet.