Just over three months ago I set about doing a few interviews to accompany an article about the classic PC game, Crusader: No Remorse, developed by Origin Systems in 1995. Like most of my other articles this article was going to consist of a piece written by me with inter cuts of interviews from some of the developers. However, the more people I contacted the article grew and grew. The original plan wasn’t going to work anymore. With these interviews and my writing it would be far too long. The last thing I’d want is for someone to be put off by the sheer size of the article. So, with that firmly in mind, I give you part one of a two parted article with only an introduction and conclusion from me. I could go on about Crusader for ages as back in the day it meant quite a lot to me. Never had I played a game before that which so successfully creates a living and breathing world and one where you don’t feel as if it ends beyond the four walls that surround you. So, I’ll let these fine people tell you about everything you need to know about this classic PC gaming experience.
Retroplayer- “First off, tell us a little about yourself”
Mark Vittek (Lead Designer, Usecode Programmer, Design, Writing / Dialogue / Story) – “I actually wrote and sold my first video game while I was still in high school. It was on a VIC20 and you had to work in 3.5k of memory. They were challenging days but you learned how to get the best game out of the memory and speed you had to work with. I went to college and nobody taught anything about video games at the time. Programming was geared towards businesses and data bases. Luckily, I was also into shooting and editing video at the time (as I still do today.) Richard Garriott needed a video shot for the first of his massive haunted houses he had at the time. (http://www.britanniamanor.org/bmanor/index.html) I asked him, “Hey, can I get a job at your game company?” He said, “Sure, just apply.” At the time, I thought video game people had to be geniuses so I hadn’t dared to consider applying. I applied the next week and got the job. That taught me a lesson: anyone can get into making videos, you just need to pursue it. And you’ll never get the job if you don’t apply for it…”
Tony Zurovec (Director, Lead Programmer, Game System Programmer) – “I learned to program at an early age but didn’t really hit my stride until I was about 15 or 16. In those days, you didn’t have the plethora of information sources available that you do now. It was as if in order to learn calculus you had to first invent it. I was drawn to games in particular, but also spent a lot of time pursuing various forms of electronic mischief. The most complex game that I developed before my professional career began was for the Amiga. It was an advanced, high-resolution fantasy role playing game called The Deceiver that was inspired by Ultima and that featured some spectacular special effects. I demonstrated it to Origin in 1990 and, three job offers later, I went to work for them. It wasn’t that I was holding out for more money. It was that I had just bought a Toyota MR2 Turbo and I literally couldn’t afford the car payment, rent, and other expenses with their first two offers. The third offer was still $1,000 short of what I had calculated I needed but I wanted the job so badly that I said, “Screw it” and figured that I’d get by somehow. I found out later that pretty much everyone else took the first offer they got and so I wound up making about 15-20% more than the other programmers on my first day there. Dallas Snell, who was Origin’s General Manager at the time, later told me that as soon as they saw the demo they knew that they were going to hire me.”
Andrew Sega (Composer)- “ My name is Andrew Sega, I’m 34, and I’m currently living in Chicago. At the moment, I’m doing web game programming for companies like EA, Armor Games, as well as my own company, Diffusion Games. I am also still active in the music scene, with my band Iris (http://www.myspace.com/iris2) as well as my solo project The Alpha Conspiracy.“
Daniel Gardopee(Composer)- “Well, I started out composing on the piano before using computers and started to get into writing module music around age 13. I quit around 1998 — nowadays I live in northern California and continue to work in the game industry, though not composing music anymore. On the side I’m interested in a lot of other things.. Skateboarding, reading, visiting national parks, playing the drums, programming, etc..”
Kirk Winterrowd(Sound Effects)- ”I had an interest in music and sound effects from an early age and I was always recording my own sounds and playing around with synthesizers and keyboards. Then Star Wars came out when I was in elementary school and I was blown away. Of course the visuals were so much better than anything before it but so were the music and sound effects, so with that and then Battlestar Galactica, I became even more interested in making my own sounds effects and music. I kept playing around with sound effects as I grew up but never really thought about doing anything with it professionally and then when I was in college, I met some people from Origin and after discussing my computer and audio background, I was asked if I wanted to work with them. They did not have an audio department at first, so I started out in tech support and QA, which helped me get a feel for the other games that I was not familiar with. I had played a few of the Ultima series before that and then going through the QA process on a few games allowed me work with the development teams.”
Suzanne Savoy(Actor)- “I’m a native Delawarean, but my family moved to a small town near Montreal when I was five years old. I moved to Texas when I was in my late twenties and decided to become a professional actress after a chance meeting with Helen Hayes, “The First Lady of the American Theatre.” Now I live in New York City (Harlem) where I raised my daughter, and I still make my living doing commercials, voice-overs, a few films and TV shows here and there, and a smattering of live theatre performances. I also perform in clubs around Manhattan with my improv team, “Lascivious Jones.”
Marco Perella(Actor)- “My name is Marco Perella. I am an actor/writer/director/musician living in Austin Texas for the last thirty years. I have acted in about 70 movies and TV shows and hundreds of commercial projects. I have toured with several stage shows and appeared at the Kennedy Center with two different shows. I am also an acting coach and serve as the full-time MC of the Austin Symphony Young People’s Concerts.”
Beverly Garland(Lead Artist, Box Artwork)- “I grew up in Austin, Texas, and was always interested in art, science fiction and fantasy. In my late 20′s, I was pretty lucky to find a career in games right in my home town, at Origin Systems. Leading up to Crusader, I was a 3D modeler and animator. That project was my first shot as an Art Director. I left Origin and art directed a couple more games, but got an injury in my mouse arm that pushed me toward the management side more, and the art production side less. Returning to Origin and then later going to NCsoft, I still worked closely with the art team, as an Art Production Manager on several games, and also as the head of the art department for short time.
In the process of organizing people to make great games, I got really interested in team dynamics and human potential. Now I work as a consultant training game teams to use a development process called Scrum, and also help teach a personal development course called Avatar (r).”
James Matthew Sheffield(Artist)- “I live small. Art is very important to me, thus I dedicate all my resources and energies to creative endeavors. I am most interested in narrative; however instinct and intuition often supersede my conscious efforts. As a result, my art often manifests quite differently than pre-conceived intentions. I used to find this a very hard barrier to work through, but have discovered that it is actually a blessing. Cezanne believed that pre-conception would be the end of him. I completely identify with this and have trained myself to work without pre-conceptions.”
Trey Hermann(Logo Design)- “In short, I am a graphic design and illustrator. From a career perspective I’m doing roughly the same thing now that I was doing while I was with Origin, designing and illustrating. The only difference is now I’ve been doing that for close to 20 years. That and I haven’t been called on to design any games boxes in the last 10 years. When I started with Origin I was still pretty new to the field. Origin was actually only my second job out of college, I was very lucky to have landed that opportunity.
Since leaving Origin in 1999 I have continued to work in the design field, also doing illustration and fine art. With the exception of my fine art efforts, the time I spent at Origin was by far the most creatively wide open environment I’ve ever seen. The bottom line for every project was essentially “make it cool.” With that much room to work it was hard not to have a good time. Now I run my own design and illustration studio, Hermann Design, and though I have a great time working with a variety of clients I still haven’t found anything that can match the sheer creative freedom of the game industry. Of course the trade off is that I haven’t had to work crunch since leaving Origin, so it all balances out. My work these days covers all aspects of design with everything from logos to web sites. I have the opportunity to work with some great clients and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I am very fortunate to have been able to carve out a niche in the design field and even more fortunate to have been able to work at Origin during those heady days.”
Retroplayer- “How did you land your role in Crusader:No Remorse?”
Suzanne Savoy- “I had worked frequently with Steve Hemphill, a producer in Houston. He cast me in commercials and training videos for a large department store. When Steve moved on to work with Origin Systems in Austin, he became a producer on Crusader: No Remorse and recommended me for the role of Major Jo Anne Vargas. “
Marco Perella- “My agent sent me to audition for a part. I read for several different roles and they cast me as Weasel.”
Retroplayer- “Tell us about the creative and artistic process you went through”
Mark Vittek- “It may not be “artistic” but we were going for locations that would give us the most bang for the buck. Literally. We had industrial, military and office sets that had lots of little things to break, shatter or explode. The big push for the environment of the game was to make everything in the level something that you could destroy. Players really seemed to appreciate it. We got many cards and letters from fans saying how they actually had fun seeing how much needless chaos they could create. Since we didn’t try to ration ammo, players would go into a room and shoot the enemy, then unload their weapons on everything else that would break. We were not aiming to be an ultra-violent game, it just made for great stress relief.”
Tony Zurovec- “I always used to describe Crusader as “a game for the microwave generation”. You could progress the storyline – and have loads of fun – whether you played it in increments of hours or minutes. I suspect that I’m not much different than other gamers in that I have a dichotomy about myself. While on occasion I enjoy searching areas and solving puzzles to find hidden treasures, sometimes I get impatient, bored, or I’m simply in a hurry and just want to move forward. Crusader was specifically designed to allow the player to control the pace at which they moved through the game. The designers were tasked with trying to figure out everything the player might logically attempt – and making it possible – rather than the other way around. Every “junction”, as I called situations that could stop the player from moving forward, had multiple solutions. The designers were allowed to reward or punish the player within the context of the game based upon their decisions, but they weren’t allowed to violate the established gameplay conventions simply to make a given puzzle harder. A force field, for example, would always have an accompanying power generator that, if disabled or destroyed, would lower the force field just as effectively as finding and using the appropriate keycard.”
Andrew Sega- “Tony wanted lots of heavy rock music, and I wanted lots of techno. So, we ended up somewhere in the middle :> In general, I would just keep submitting lots of songs, and we’d refine them as appropriate.”
Daniel Gardopee- “It’s been so long it’s hard to remember a lot of things! I believe what happened was that Andrew and I were starting to get known in the US for tracked music, right around the time that Origin was looking for some people to make stuff to show off their new music system (Asylum I think it was called).. I don’t remember a lot about the development, just that we were given names of levels and were supposed to make things based on that mood. I was also really too young to take it as seriously as I should have. To me, the music was forgettable (and it was hard to work in 8 channel MOD format for me), but somehow after all these years people still talk about it and ask me about it.. so I must have not given it enough credit. It’s probably partly due to the game being impressive for its time, and it came about during the growing up years of a lot of people who have a big net presence these days, age-wise.. So it’s probably a combination of nostalgia and it being a bit better than I thought at the time.”
Beverly Garland- “With a background in architecture from college, I paid a lot of attention to the sets and design elements, trying to imagine what people in that time period would be doing stylistically. Since design and fashion are cyclical, I imagined a revival of early-20th century art deco, which would also be reminiscent of Big Brother/Stalinist/socialist architecture. We tried to carry elements of the design period into every detail, from props and character costumes, to the user interface. I also went for as realistic a look as you can get in a low-res 2D game, and opted away from heavily stylized looks like manga, with exaggerated-proportioned characters, etc. This was partly to create a more seamless tie-in between the live-action character scenes and the game world.”
James Matthew Sheffield- “Well…we were very influenced by 1920′s Art Deco design and architecture. I believe that this is evident in Crusader’s art direction.”
Kirk Winterrowd- “When I first saw the preliminary render of the opening sequence with the Crusaders walking down the sewer pipe and getting attacked, I instantly had in idea of the music and sound effects for it. I envisioned not so much a theme, but more of a dark and ominous mood that the sounds would give. I really enjoyed creating that piece and kept that style throughout the rest of the cut scenes. The in-game music was fast paced techno style music that differed from the cut scenes style but I think it fit because it kept the intensity up so I did not mind the difference and I think everyone else agreed. It was a lot of fun creating the sound effects for the in-game action because there were so many neat weapons, force fields, energy beams, machines, and those cool little spyder bots. My imagination got to run wild with a lot of these effects and I had a lot of fun creating them.”
Suzanne Savoy- “Most of what I had done before Crusader was very traditional, generally in the “realistic” realm: Shakespeare, feature film, commercials, and so forth. Being in the heightened world of computer games was all new to me and I wasn’t quite sure what was expected. I had never experienced anything like it before. In spite of the spandex costume, I decided to approach the role of Major Vargas the same way I’d play any other role–very naturalistically–but I seem to recall being encouraged by the director to pump a little more juice into it to give it a kick. I think we were all exploring this new medium and making choices as to whether we felt it was primarily film or cartoon.“
Marco Perella- “The directors and writers told me to have fun with it so I just let the pony ride, so to speak. It wasn’t hard to act weird because I had a ferret on my head. I decided to make the guy borderline demented just because it was cartoonish and fun… I thought it would be fun for the players than if I were a serious character. I was mostly there just to buy weapons from up in the corner of the screen.”
Trey Hermann- “Now that’s a tough question. Not because it was a terribly difficult project, but because it was over 15 years ago (I think) and I honestly can’t remember what the creative direction for the logo was! Jennifer Davis, another one of the Origin designers actually developed the font and I did the illustration for the interior of the letterforms. If memory serves we were trying to capture a combination of concepts, but the overriding aim was to show a sense of the decay and corruption that was eating away at the Crusader world. To that end I took a rather standard looking spaceship panel texture and added liberal doses of rust and flaking metal. For No Regret it was a little easier. Since the battle moved to the moon we went for the logical tie in of a cratered lunar surface. Not terribly creative, but we meant well.”
Retroplayer- ““Did you come up against any obstacles while developing Crusader: No Remorse due to the limited hardware at the time?”
Tony Zurovec- “There were two significant hardware obstacles encountered while developing Crusader.
One issue was the resolution. I absolutely hated the 320×200 x 256 color VGA resolution. I despised it. The huge, blocky 320×200 pixels looked primitive and dated to me. Super VGA (640×480 x 256 colors) was far more appealing, but no one in the industry used that because there hadn’t been a standardized way to access the display memory and in those days you couldn’t refresh the entire screen fast enough to make it workable. The VESA standard solved the first problem, and the second was solved by implementing a camera system that snapped the display at opportune times and utilized a “dirty rectangle” refresh system so that only the parts of the display that changed were updated.
Incidentally, the first and only piece of gameplay advice that I ever got from Richard Garriott about Crusader was that I was making a mistake by taking the game to 640×480. He thought that 320×200 – with the ability to smoothly scroll the screen – was superior. To this day, I still think that doing the game in 320×200 would have decimated its sales. The enhanced graphics were the sales hook needed to catch the attention of gamers, something that the miniscule marketing budget never would have been able to do on its own.
The second technological hurdle faced by Crusader was related to the first. The decision to implement the game in 640×480 resolution meant that the size of the art data would grow significantly. I had wanted to do an enhanced CD-ROM version of Ultima VIII but no one else was interested. Now that I got to call the shots, though, I made the decision to ship Crusader on CD-ROM only. That was very risky at the time because many people only had floppy disk drives and thus I was instantly cutting the potential audience down by a significant factor. In an instant, though, the game went from being incredibly constrained in terms of the amount of art and sound that it could utilize to having more than enough memory to do whatever I wanted. I exploited the storage space of the CD-ROM for all that it was worth. The Silencer got over 2,000 frames of animation. Sixteen orientations (rather than four or eight) were added for combat animations. Hundreds of background objects were added. Several hundred sampled sounds were integrated. The music went from FM synthesis to using digitally sampled custom instruments. The story was told via live-action video rather than simple text. The list of dramatic improvements over anything that shipped on floppy disk went on and on.”
Andrew Sega- “Crusader was pretty advanced for the time, at least from an audio perspective. We were using 8-channel .MOD files, with Jason Ely’s custom music player. If I remember correctly, each track was around 300KB, which let us cram quite a bit of music into a small package. MOD is a strange format to write for, at least for traditional musicians, since it’s really just a glorified sample sequencer. Luckily, I already had a bunch of experience with it (even though I was only barely 20 at the time).”
Daniel Gardopee- “Well, like I said, 8-channel MOD was very limiting (Granted, not as limiting as 4 would have been) — it didn’t support a lot of effects I was used to, and by that time we were already making 16-32 channel songs. I’m pretty sure we had to use 8bit/22khz samples as well.. so all that combined means you’re going to have a certain ‘sound’ which is fairly limiting. It sounds like mods.. it was a period in time where there wasn’t low bitrate compression yet though, so there weren’t a lot of options for a game. Tracked music was a pretty good stopgap between the MIDI of old (where you didn’t even really have control over what instruments people heard, necessarily) and MP3s where you could put whatever you wanted into the game at a reasonable size. I think it was an important step.”
Retroplayer- ““Did you consult any other source material (videogames, movies, music) when developing Crusader: No Remorse?”
Mark Vittek- “There were not many isometric shooters at the time, but I do remember playing a lot of D-Gen (D-Generation) back then. It was more of a puzzle game, but it did have some similarities which what we were trying to archive. Since we were working 80-100 hours a week, we didn’t have time for many activities. But one thing we did make time for and probably had a big influence on the game were the Lazer Tag sessions we had at work. We had an armory of weapons and would take over the whole building at night, even the parts that didn’t belong to our company. I think we finally had to quit playing Lazer Tag when the building got a security company to make us stick to our own areas.”
Tony Zurovec- “I’m the type of person that tends to constantly wonder how something could be made better. When I was younger, I played a lot of Castle Wolfenstein on the Apple II. It was a very simple game but it started the thought process of how I would improve upon the basic idea. Many things that eventually found their way into Crusader were originally envisioned a dozen years earlier. Needless to say, technology needed to evolve a bit before some of the ideas became practical.”
James Matthew Sheffield- “The Star Wars Trilogies, Brazil, Forbidden Planet, Blade Runner and Flash Gordon serials were always topics of reference during production of Crusader.|”
Beverly Garland- “I relied heavily on art deco architecture and graphic design books I picked up at Half-Priced Books. I also drew inspiration from some old-school concept illustrators like Syd Mead. Some people remark that the Crusader’s armor and helmet resemble Boba Fett from Star Wars, but that was not intentional. I made several designs for the Crusader, but the team was really excited and adamant about using that particular helmet visor design when they saw it on one of the drawings. Also, after making a pretty clear style-guide for the art team, I let them loose on designing a lot of their own props and environmental pieces they modeled, so I don’t know if any of them sought out particular source material to aid in their art-making.”
Kirk Winterowd- “I had some pretty good sound libraries to start with but I also created a lot of my own sounds. I also watched some sci-fi movies for inspiration but most of the effects I came up with cam about by just experimenting with sounds that I knew would be a starting point after looking at the art and seeing how the objects worked and interacted in the game. From there I was able to mix different sounds and play around with various effects to achieve the final sound that I wanted. Most of what I did was exactly what the team was looking for but I always appreciated any feedback I got and worked with that to get the sounds that someone else had in mind that was different than my vision. A lot of sounds had to loop since they might continue playing the whole time you were in a room for example, so they had to sound realistic for whatever object they were representing, at least as real as these imaginary objects could, but without being annoying to hear for an extended period of time. While creating the looping sounds for generators and other similar types of machines, I would listen to them for 10-15 minutes while also listening to the in-game music and playing back various laser guns and explosions to see how it all fit together.”
Daniel Gardopee- “Oh yeah, tons.. Portishead, Global communication, Massive attack, The Orb, anything on ninja tune records — I don’t do much anymore but that was the stuff that got my creative juices going back when I was very active.”
Retroplayer- “By 1995 using real life actors in video games for cut scenes wasn’t very commonplace. Do you feel that it works well and perhaps should be used more in video games today?”
Suzanne Savoy- “When I was cast in the project, I was very skeptical. I really didn’t know how the live-action scenes would fly in an animated game. Since then I’ve heard a lot of different reactions to the live scenes in Crusader–it seems a lot of people enjoyed them. Then there were also people who thought they were on the cheesy side, but now they’re often the ones who look back nostalgically at them! I think that when done well, live-action sequences can add a lot of dimension and excitement to a game. I have to admit that some of us in Crusader had a little bit of “computer-game envy” at the time. We were so proud of our project and wanted it to be big with the budding gaming community. Maybe we were a little bit in awe of the “Wing Commander” series . . . mostly because Origin Systems cast a bunch of big-name stars and pumped more money into it! At least, it seemed that way to us . . .”
Marco Perella- “I think it would really enhance the gaming experience if more real actors were mixed in with the computer generated ones. Who wouldn’t rather see Suzanne Savoy in her spandex rather than some computer Babe? I also think the interaction would be made more real.”
Retroplayer- “As part of the videogame composer group Straylight Productions, which you founded alongside Andrew Sega, you composed for games such as Unreal Tournament, Dues Ex, Tyrian and Jazz Jackrabbit 2. Is working within a group such as Starlight Productions make the process of composing more enjoyable and how well did you and Andrew gell as a team?”
Daniel Gardopee- “Well Andrew and I were really just at the very start – he ended up working for Origin pretty soon after the crusader games and wasn’t freelancing anymore. It was cool to work on projects together. I’m not sure we really had it in us at the time to make it into a full-fledged company. When Alex Brandon and I started working together, it started to get more serious, we worked harder at it. All in all, I never really did all that much though. I was in college at the time, which made it quite difficult for me to put as much time in as I would have liked. I was part of some fun things during that period, but I have regrets about how much I was able to really put into it, and I know I could have done a lot better.”
Retroplayer- “You’re known for being part of the groups Iris, Stromkern, you founded The Alpha Conspiracy Project and even started you’re own record label, Diffusion Records. Do you approach composing for videogames any differently to composing regular music?”
Andrew Sega- “Videogames are always a bit different. I like having some sort of visual or mood to compose to, it’s often easier then starting from a blank slate. Also, you get to try some different styles — for example, I did the Aqua Teen Hunger Force game for PS2 and I was doing mostly urban/hip-hop tracks. There are often constraints, whether from the developer’s vision, or the subject matter. But part of the job is to try to get at whatever’s in their head, and put your own particular spin on it.”
End of part 1…part 2 can be found here
The views and opinions expressed by “Retroplayer” do not necessarily express or reflect the views and / or opinions of The Gaming Liberty.