Located a hubcap's throw from the spot where JFK famously sullied the upholstery of his limo, Ritual are situated above a karaoke bar in the shadow of the imposing Dallas skyline, as featured in the title sequence of the soap opera of the same name (that's Dallas, not skyline). The JR Ewing of the operation is Harry Miller, who juggles his multiple duties of CEO, Biz Guy, Secretary and Janitor between sleeping and playing solo games of Tic-Tac-Toe.
Who, how, why?
Harry relates how the company came about: "It started out with five guys at Apogee; Jim Dose, Mark Dochtermann, Michael Hadwin, Robert Atkins and Richard Gray. They all decided to leave for whatever reasons and start a new company, and they were short of a business guy. They also called Tom Mustaine because he had done some really incredible work with Doom. We all came together and got a deal with iD to do their expansion pack, which was fantastic for us because it allowed us to jump straight into a project right away, and gave us money so we could own the company ourselves. It also allowed us to do a project as a team, together in six months, which was really neat because it's one thing to work on something, it's another thing to finish a project by yourselves. That allowed us to do that in a really short period of time and was a really big confidence booster for us."
While working on the Quake pack, the company was based in the house of programmer Jim Dose and artist Michael Hadwin, which, according to Harry, led to some especially unique problems.
"For them it was a bitch. You can imagine, we're already working 15 hours a day, especially with that pack. It was really working non-stop, and everyone else gets to go home and relax whereas these guys can't because that's where they live. They can't go and sit in the living room and watch TV and relax or bring chicks over, that kind of stuff, cos if they do, they gotta share. Things got messy a few times."
Furthermore, the neighbours were understandably confused as to the nature of their business, believing it to be more narcotic than Hipnotic, as Jim Dose explains: "We were shopping around for publishers at the time for our next project which was SiN, and so we'd always have these people in suits coming over with briefcases. And of course Jon Romero would stop by in his MV and he'd be wearing this big overcloak thing and what with his long hair an all, he looked like some kind of rock star or drug dealer." Eventually a local newspaper ran a story revealing what really went on, which in turn led to an immediate eviction order for running a business in a residential area. Doh!
They remained in Dallas though, which makes sense, as Harry says: "There's so much stuff going on in Dallas right now with this industry, especially this genre, it's just the natural place to stay for a while." But surely, in such an incestuous industry, there must be rivalry with the other local developers?
"There's some. A lot of the original guys here worked at Apogee and when they left there was bad blood. With the employees of Apogee - the programmers, level designers -we go out once in a while and have a good time, there's no issues. But the management over there, these guys have a little problem, but generally everyone gets along really well."
Gray as a Lord
Level designer Richard 'Levelord' Gray is slightly less charitable about his former employers: "Everyone at Apogee except for a couple of people have gone somewhere else. No one ever stays there. And there's still bad blood. I wouldn't have bad blood. They're mad at me because I just upped and left, I didn't even give them a day's notice. We left on a Monday and I didn't know about it until the Friday before - so I didn't have much time to make my decision. But I just upped and left; Sunday night, I came in, grabbed my stuff and left. So they're pissed at that, as far as I know that's what they're pissed at. But I am just beyond reproach with them for taking my name off the second Duke Nukem that came out, the 'Atomic pack' whatever, where they added on the fourth episode. But they took my name off all the stuff I'd done, the third episode for the original Duke and about four levels in episode two. Nothing, my name's nowhere on it. You just don't do that, you don't take an artist's name off his artwork cos he's going to work for some other gallery. So, don't ask about Apogee. But everyone else, we get along fine, we go out and party a lot together.
Regular drinking buddies are the nearby Ion Storm, although a recent basketball game tested this friendship to the limits. Harry Miller takes up the story...
Both being very competitive - Ion Storm having three times our size in personnel - they challenged us to a game of basketball, and the winner would have his logo put into the loser's game. They were pretty confident they were going to have Ion Storm in our game. This was after many, many days drinking excessively, I have to admit, but I was part of that as well. Come Saturday morning we're all ready to go and they're looking pretty confident until we bring out our secret weapon, Beau CI don't drink' Anderson, who hadn't been drinking all week because he doesn't drink, he's a Mormon. They were quite surprised that we brought Beau along and not too happy about it. So it was a pretty close game the first half, I think we were ahead by like a point by the first half. But in the second half Beau turned it on and we just crushed them, just stomped on them over and over again. It was pretty cool cos we dressed for the part, we had our like 70s uniforms on, those little short shorts you know, and the knee-high socks and the big jerseys and the great big afros. It was really funny, it was a great game."
The upshot of the Ritual victory is that the SiN logo will now appear in Ion Storm's Daikatana, something Harry relishes. They're not happy about it. But it can't go on in a non-appealing way, it has to look good. We'll see. Apparently Ion Storm supremo, Jon Romero, had no knowledge of the bet. He didn't know anything about it. I don't think he's happy about it. He was kind of curt, but he'll be a good sport. I hear they have to go through him when they make bets now.
It's a safe bet that SiN will be the game to look out for in March 1998. Read about it in next month's Blueprint.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
You think you're pretty cool. You think you know what's going on. In particular, you think you're clued up regarding films, and in fact constantly make references to them in order to make yourself look hard. Well check this out, film boy. Imagine if John Woo directed the next James Bond film, and then somehow got it confused with The Island Of Dr Moreau. And then, of course, he decided to make it into a game rather than a film. It'll never happen, but that convoluted scenario is, in a rather distorted nutshell, the SiN experience. Of sorts.
Naturally, you will by now have played the demo. If you haven't, you're an idiot; we gave you one on our cover CD, and it's also freely available from the Internet. Folly withstanding, you've played the initial bank level to its conclusion, you're quietly impressed, and now you're hankering to know what happens next. Clearly, lots does, the unlikely story panning out into a macabre tale spanning numerous elaborate locations, and encompassing extreme violence, with the obligatory claret all over the shop and a body count in the hundreds.
SiN uses the Quake II engine. And while popular opinion would appear to be in favour of Unreafs aesthetic circus, it's still capable of throwing about some impressive graphical trickery. SiN isn't really about showing off pretty colours though, its strength lies in a permanently evolving storyline wrapped around strong characters, and some particularly impressive levels. Developers Ritual Entertainment know more than a little about level design, having previously knocked out the excellent Quake add-on pack Scourge Of Armagon. With the exception of the charismatic and sage-like Richard 'Levelord' Gray, Ritual are a tight young unit, most of whom live, shit and breathe level design, regularly putting in 18-hour days and largely keeping themselves to themselves. What they lack in social skills though, they make up for in ingenuity and imagination, and thankfully their SiN levels are a vast improvement on their personal hygiene levels.
SiN is a natural progression of the incestuous Dallas development scene initially spawned by 3D Realms' Wolfenstein 3D, which in turn begat Doom, Duke, Quake and so on. Although clearly drawing on numerous influences, the levels in SiN often come across as a latter-day mutant hybrid of Doom and Duke. That's hardly surprising, as these are the games on which the majority of SiNs level designers earned their wings.
Spanning six episodes, SiN incorporates some 35 levels, althouah the game is far from linear, and indeed entire levels can be missed out depending on the your actions. Loosely tagged as Action-Based Outcomes, what this means is that a certain event in one level has a knock-on effect in a later level, which can be either advantageous or detrimental. For instance, shooting out a water pipe on one level will flood certain areas in a further level, including an elevator shaft, thus enabling you to swim down to a secret treats room for some more weapons. Neat. Similarly, natural disasters such as a lava flow can alter the entire geometry of the map. Most levels can be played in at least two ways, and the very first demo level is one such example: shooting out the turrets enables you to make an advantageous rooftop entrance, whereas if the chopper takes too much damage it is forced to land, necessitating a less effective front door assault. This constant branching certainly adds replay value. And although it's hardly a completely different game every time you play it, the nuances certainly encourage you to come back for more.
The sheer variety of levels is particularly impressive, ranging from vast outdoor arenas to claustrophobic underground affairs. All the locations have some meaning as regards the plot, advancements in which are relayed via cut-scenes, SiN conforming to the current trend of using the game engine to relate the tale. This works effectively, and the plot is truly elaborate, encompassing a number of genuinely nasty villains, the very first of whom appears robbing the bank in the first episode. Mancini is his name, and you spend the next three levels chasing him, during which time the arch villain Elexis Sinclaire is seen injecting him with a so-called Mutagen, which then turns him into a Manuman - essentially a nastier (and less green) version of the Incredible Hulk.
This provides the first of several bosses, which pop up intermittently throughout the game and not necessarily at the end of an episode. The levels flow seamlesly into each other, and the game is very much in the mould of an action-adventure film. This is further enhanced by the dynamic music, which kicks in when the action picks up. It's an effective ploy, although some of the tunes may be a little too Crawk' for some tastes - they were, after all, recorded in Seattle by a guy called Zak.
As well as the music, there is also constant chat between the main character, Blade, and his rarely seen sidekick JC, the latter providing information on each mission, ensuring that the objectives are always made clear. This can range from disarming nuclear warheads, to the slightly less breathtaking task of installing a remote modem, which may be pushing the computer motif a little too far. Nevertheless, the technogadgetry all adds to the pseudo James Bond feel, and further geekery is added by hacking into computer consoles to close down systems and so forth.
There are also some fairly straighforward logistical puzzles, as well as the occasional manual dexterity tests such as leaping from ledge to ledge in a Mario style. There is a pure stealth level that involves crawling around on your belly to avoid detection, but in the main SiN is about shooting people in the forehead. Head shots cause roughly eight times the damage of body shots, and this soon becomes evident, with your shooting skills rapidly being honed to perfection. The shooting scenes can be particularly frantic, with numerous characters on screen at once and a healthy dose of bedlam ensuing.
The lead character shows plenty of gung-ho additude, whooping like a child and barking out lines such as I'm gonna make you my bitch. Furthermore, the plot occasionally necessitates the bludgeoning of defenceless women, an act that, bizarrely, sometimes leaves their breasts exposed. Not that games are the sole preserve of angry mysoginists, it's a crucial part of plot development.
But if you can shamelessly overlook such unpleasantness. SiN is ultimately a triumphant game. The plot is genuinely absorbing and the action is largley incessant. Numerous cunning touches are added, such as utilising several parts of the scenery to make things easier. An array of vehicles are also at your disposal, and indeed one level has you permanently astride a buggy while wielding your weapon. There's always something going on, and the ever twisting plot constanly encourages you to make further progress. And, as previously mentioned, you do get to shoot people in the head.
Shooters With Shooters
Some of the everyday people you might meet while living in SiN
Age 31 Occupation
Bio-geneticist, chemist, and head of SinTEK Industries. DISTINGUISHING MARKS Tattoo on right buttock, tattoo around ankle, and naval ring. No relation to boffin Clive - the egghead responsible for the ZX Spectrum and the C5 buggy - Elexls is the arch enemy behind the story of SiN. Bom in the sumptuous suburb of Sal Marinos in the city of Freeport, at the age of two her mother made off and left her in the charge of her father, Dr Thrall Sinclaire. A bright child, by the age of five she had successfully cloned a frog, albeit with the eyes of a human. Following a twisted childhood, she rapidly earned degrees in both chemistry and biology, quickly followed by Masters in each, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry and genetic engineering. She then joined her father at SinTEK Industries, and they quickly rose to the forefront of the medical and scientific community. Their latest breakthrough, Vanity, astonished the world with its apparent ability to stop and almost reverse the aging process. With success assured, Thrall quietly retired from prominence, leaving SinTEK's care in the hands of his capable daughter. Big mistake.
John R. Blade
Age 30 Occupation
Security force Commander, weapons specialist, and head of HARDCORPS. DISTINGUISHING MARKS CHARDCORPS' tattoo on right arm.
Bom in the bustling city of Freeport on June 28,2007, John was a normal child. His father was a police officer for the Freeport City Police Department, and his mother a sector supervisor for the LegionTEK Corporation's chemical research facility. Everything was going fine until the death of his mother in a mysterious fire at the chemical plant. John slowly started to drift away from his father over the coming years, and wandered the streets looking for excitement and adventure, finally hooking up with a group called the Young Masters, whose only purpose In life was self-gratification through the pain of others.
Following six months in a youth rehabilitation facility, John finally decided to get out of gangs and get on with his life. His so-called friends beat him senseless, tied him up and left him locked up in the dark for two days without food or water, finally dragging him along for one last job, In which John's father was fatally wounded. Following years of training in martial arts, weapons and military tactics, John joined the busies.
Age 21 Occupation
Security forces technical specialist, small arms specialist, and head of HARDCORPS Information Services Division. DISTINGUISHING MARKS Glasses, small scar under left ear, star-shaped birthmark on right forearm.
A master hacker of everything digital, at the age of eight JC began to explore the wonderful and frightening world of the Internet, teaching himself the intricate workings of the machines. He learned so quickly that at the age of ten he hacked Into his first supercomputer and crashed the entire system. This incident lead to a full-scale Investigation that landed JC In serious bother, spending six months in a facility for troubled youths. While inside, he vowed never to get caught again.
His life took a turn for the worse on his twelfth birthday when his parents' plane crashed into the ocean on a business trip. JC turned to his best friend, his computer, and lost himself in Its intricate workings Some close friends of the family took him in, and he continued with his hobby, becoming an expert in all manner of computer systems. After dabbling with crime, he was caught breaking into the HARDCORPS server, whereby John Blade made him a unique offer join the busies or get a slap. JC chose the former.
Ritual entertainment? who are they? In the past they've been single-handedly responsible for causing work in the PC bunker to grind to a juddering halt. Under their previous moniker, Hipnotic, they created Scourge of Armagon, the finest Quake add-on known to man (until the recent PainKeep anyway) and cause of many an after-hours multiplayer gunfire-n-gore gala round these parts. Hipnotic added new weapons (such as the cool hammer), new power-ups (that luvverly shield), and best of all, plenty of cool new levels. Not just deathmatch arenas either - the single player maps they produced easily ouX-Quaked Quake itself. These boys know their level design.
So here's the deal with SiN: it's a Windows 95-native first-person shoot 'em up based on a modified version of the Quake engine. Ritual's enhancements include the introduction of eyesoothing 16-bit colour textures, coloured lighting, transparent surfaces ('windows' to the layman), advanced Al (we should see characters operating alarms, ducking and running for cover), and destroyable structures. Serial killers will be delighted by the news that it will be possible to blow individual body parts off the enemy. There's also an 'action' key (a la Doom), enabling the designers to create complex puzzles and scripted level elements.
As if all that wasn't enough, Ritual are also bunging in a proper storyline for free. Recognising that only the select/lucky few (such as us Zone dungeoneers) have the opportunity to indulge in multiplayer fragfests on a regular basis, the team are concentrating on the singleplayer game - which means a continually unfurling storyline replete with cutscenes, and doubtless a surprise twist ending as well.
Finally, SiN will fully support all them thar 3D accelerator cards: a spoogeworthy Open GL version of the game is being developed simultaneously with the main Non-GL release. So, that's the recipe. All we have to do now is wait until we get our hands on the game itself. Then we'll be able to tell you how it measures up against the other 6009 Quake-alikes that are on their way. One thing's for sure - 1998 is going to be a truly gore-sodden year.
SIN on the If you go to a search engine and start hunting around for 'sin', the chances are you're going to come across something rather risque. Anyway, to save you fom all that, here's a list of some handy sites where you can garner your latest SiN news.
Activision's Sin has been a long time coming (it was supposed to be out in March), and therefore has a lot to live up to. But if the one-level demo is any indication, it's going to deliver the first-person shooter goods in a big way.
Sin's already packing a gritty attitude, cool weapons, a great single-player experience, as well as the power and flexibility of the Quake II engine. The environments are ultra-interactive: Shoot down a billboard and it crashes through roofs and fountains, shattering them in turn, while enemies plummet through skylights and slide into battle on ropes. Sin's as exciting as it sounds--and it looks to get more so when the full game with its deep, branching story hits store shelves this fall.
Much anticipated, and intricately scrutinized by critics and fans alike, Sin is sure to carve its own niche in the realm of first-person shooters. What sets it apart from other blasters this season? It'd be a Sin to tell you so soon.
What Screams May Come
First and foremost. Sin succeeds because it closely follows in the footsteps of the grand-daddy of the corridor-shooter genre, Quake II. How closely? You'd swear it was a graphical upgrade or an enhanced mission pack of QII with its balance of great weapons, slick-looking locales, and hardcore trigger-happy action. Although not steeped in the eerie bio-mech corridors of QII (which is odd since the game is definitely diabolical in nature), Sin still manages to showcase some creepy locales, consisting mostly of sinister back-alleys, dangerously secure laboratories, and sterile but tricky office buildings.
You play as Colonel John R. Blade, a vulgar trash-talking cop who wants to know who's putting a dangerous new DNA-altering drug on the street He soon tracks down the person responsible, and readily regrets it Elexis Sindaire, the (ahem) robust villainess of Sin, is a voluptuous and vile vixen who wants to see her army of altered beasts rule the world with her as their queen. Oh, well--a girl's gotta dream.
This Just Sin
Does Sin offer more than the sum of its parts? Does it soar past Quake II to claim the corridor-shooter crown? Not quite. While Sin is unadulterated fun at times, it too closely resembles every other corridor shooter out there; it never breaks the mold or adds anything definitive to the genre. Sin's just your basic drone-killer with below-average A.I. (even on the normal setting, some enemies just stand there and wait to get shot).
But that doesn't mean Sin doesn't thrill the thumbs or tax the noggin--it's a lot better than other recent offerings for the genre. What a Sin--with a litde more work, it could've been the corridor-shooter champ.
- Advise hostages to stay out of your way. if they die, they could screw up your mission.
- Almost every beam in the alley is a pathway-even if it looks like it's a dead end.
- In the construction zone, shoot the beams attached to the crane-they'll fall to the ground, breaking the water valve.
- Blast your way through the vault area (after securing the key from another room), making sure to take out all the enemies on the first floor. When you reach the locked security door, blast the windows and lump inside.
- Stay in the comer of the subway car and wait for the demonic Mancini to drop through the ceiling.
- Stay low In the lab, get to the alarm, and take out the secretary. If she gets to the alarm before you, it's the end of the cyber world as you know it
How can you go wrong using the Quake engine? Sin's fast and smooth with minimal breakup (although its gready present in the first boss), and for the most part, it's a realistically gory splatterfest
Sound Blaster support was missing in the version we played (although this omission was fixed in a patch as we went to press), but even more annoying are the lame voice-overs. How many times can you hear smutty not-so-dever taunts before it starts getting really old?
You'll find crouching is a command you use extensively; Its useful when opening passages, checking for items, and more. Some items aren't automatically added to your inventory (in one room, you have to jump on the desk to grab the item), but gathering items from dead bodies is cool.
Sin looks like Quake II, it plays like Quake II, it smells like Quake II--needless to say. fans of Quake II will love this game. The hi-res graphics and multiple-exit levels will keep players coming back for more.
Sin has everything you'd want in a first-person shooter: seriously hot-rodded Quake technology under the hood, nasty weapons, and 3D accelerated graphics to make you drool. But it also has a few things you wouldn't expect, like a logical, deep backstory and meaningful character interaction. As security expert John Blade, you're tracking the evil biogenetic doings of Elexis Sinclaire, and the actions you take affect how the game unfolds--there are various ways to complete each mission and exit each level. Sin looks to deliver one of the richest shooter experiences yet.