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Nightfall: When First-Person Shooters Meet Adventure Games
March 23rd, 1999

Gary: Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Randy: You're not making any sense, man.

Gary: Your lack of faith is disturbing.

Randy: Dude, knock it off. It's column time.

Gary: Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.

Randy: Sorry, folks, but Gary is a little overwhelmed by the trailer to The Phantom Menace and the fact that it is QuickTime 3.0 only. Steve Jobs and company have another coup on their hands.

On the other hand, Gary's been talking like that for four days.

Gary: Aren't you a little short for a …Stormtrooper? …You big furry oaf…

Randy: Sorry man, it's for your own good. (loud slap)

Gary: Wheew! I needed that.

(Another loud slap)

Gary: Hey, I said…

(Slap)

Gary: Hey! I'm back, man.

Randy: Sorry, the last two were for my own good.

Gary: Man, that was weird. Artoo was there. Leah was there. Chewie was there. You weren't there.

Randy: And you'll have to wait until May 19th to be there, ya knob. Now stop sleeping to Earsaver in the Intensor chair and help me write this article.

Gary: You got it, because this week we start our two-part look at Altor Systems first game title Nightfall.

Randy: This week we check out the killer new engine the kids over at Altor Systems have cooked up. And next week we take a peek at the game itself and also we'll play around with the included level editor Altor packs into every crunchy sweet box of Nightfall goodness.

Gary: You know Randy, I don't want to brag, (once again), about our unusual ability to predict the future but, not one day after we wrote our game fusion article we got a message from the good folks at Altor Systems. They told us in very excited tones and with lots of very flamboyant gestures, or at least as much as one can discern from an e-mail, that their company felt exactly like we did. They also thought gaming needed to be expanded, or rather evolved. Why had first person shooters gotten all the press while adventure games were passing into the Myst of yesteryears lost oldies but goodies.

Randy: Altor then told us about their project called Nightfall. A 3D engine built for first person adventure games.

This looked exactly like the kind of thing we were talking about. Taking technology from one type of genre and blending it with elements from other types to create a new experience. And it is a new experience. The style is similar to a first person shooter except much more fluid and leisurely. In fact even when you are running your speed is, a slow jog at best. But that's the idea. It's not about combat, it's about discovery and exploration.

Gary: This game represents a new direction for the adventure game genre. QuickTime VR and similar technologies have worked hard to try and bridge the gap between the 3D worlds of today's hottest games and the pre-rendered pictures from the typical adventure game worlds. Sometimes, as with titles like the Journeyman Series 3: Legacy of Time, this kind of technology worked. But you were still limited in your movements, allowed to go only where the game allowed you to.

Randy: But what if you could have the freedom of movement that a first person shooter gave you, but you could still have the clarity of image that pre-rendered art and VR technologies gave you, combined with the ability to have external controls like a map or inventory.

Gary: Did we just condone a game having an inventory? Man, we are getting soft in our old age.

Randy: And, an engine that could drive all of this and maintain an interactive world full of puzzles.

Then you would have a game like Nightfall.

Gary: As game makers ourselves we have watched the adventure game market hit a steady decline in the number of titles that make it to the shelves each year. Game publishers all want fast 3D shootem' up games because, "That's what everybody's making." So each year the market gets just a little smaller for adventure game fans and game makers.

Randy: However with technologies like Nightfall's real-time 3D engine, adventure games have a chance to finally grow again into what everyone hoped they would be back in the early nineties. Nightfall's engine is still in it's new born infancy right now, but already Altor Systems has produced an incredible product in the engine design alone.

Gary: Boy I'll say. The Nightfall engine produces crisp highly detailed textures even at relatively close distances and supports atmospheric and lighting effects, like fog and halos. While it will run in software mode only it dragged noticeably on both our test G3 233Mhz mini tower and on Randy's Umax s900 with a 220mhz G3 upgrade. However with the hardware support enabled the visuals were truly stunning. Smooth motion and pans with no hang-ups.

We did notice what appeared to be a bug with the hardware support though. The game has a few inventory items that sit just below the main viewing area. Access to the map, your journal, a small stone throwing device and a small bag for carrying one item at a time are all housed here. However when we turned on the hardware acceleration with Randy's MacMagic VooDoo 1 card the inventory would not show. We attributed this to the fact that VooDoo 1 can only support 3D in full screen mode. Therefore the 2D sprites in the inventory area did not display.

Randy: But fear not 3D fans. Our further test revealed that Gary's G3 PowerBook 266, Gamey, handled the inventory and 3D acceleration just fine. This is because ATI's Rage Pro chipset and later ATI chipsets support 2D and 3D acceleration simultaneously. Unfortunately our new Rage 128 card is still currently on back order, but we can't wait to try Nightfall out with that. (Come on Small Dog Electronics, get that puppy here! No pun intended Don.)

Gary: One of the most interesting elements in the Nightfall engine to me is the ability to interact with 3D objects in the world with your mouse. Instead of just pushing or shoving objects, Nightfall's engine let's players actually grab and use items. Real 3D items, mind you, not cheesy looking 2D sprites. Items can be used over and over again and exchanged for different items at any time. Not just when a certain puzzle is solved.

Randy: In addition to interacting with items the player can let items interact with them too. Immobile objects can be used to hang on to or climb on, while certain mobile objects can lift you or carry you to other areas. Altor worked hard to make a completely free environment for players to create their own solutions in.

Gary: And of course the engine also supports full stereo sound with directional panning for immersive soundscapes.

Randy: And how about those game controls Gary?

Gary: Why, yes Randy, let's talk about those controls. I thought you'd never ask.

Randy: I almost didn't, but you made me promise I would before you bought the ham and vodka pizza last night.

Gary: All right, here's my beef with the Nightfall engine. Mind you this engine is brand new so certain kinks are expected. In this case the navigation controls could use some refinement. First, we could find no way to customize the controls. As the default setting the mouse allows you to drive most of the time while the arrow keys let you walk in straight lines or turn while you are holding something with the mouse. This setup worked fine at our desktop machines but on our PowerBooks we had to keep crossing our hands to reach the arrow keys and keep our right hands on the trackpad. Awkward to say the least.

While Altor Systems has put considerable effort into simplifying Nightfall's interface, the mouse based steering was often erratic and unpredictable. At times we would be walking along smoothly and we would slide the mouse gently to the left to turn. However we sometimes flew into dizzying spins. A little finesse in the steering controls and a way to customize the controls would be a welcome upgrade.

Randy: But enough of this esoteric under the hood stuff. Let's get to playing Nightfall and also with the included editors.

Gary: Let's go my man. We'll see everybody next week for part two in the Nightfall sage.

Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.

The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.

You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .


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