ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The 3D Lemmings Companion —

Assuming you count a published book as a book that the publisher paid you to make and that you completed and delivered, my first published book was The 3D Lemmings Companion (1995).

Unless you count a published book as being one that does all that and also ends up on shelves. Then I’ve never published a book.

3d-book-thumb-1

When I was working at Psygnosis, we always had access to games that were in the pipeline.  Some of the most frustrating aspects of this was that you’d see games that were well and truly ahead of the curve, stuff that could have totally changed people’s opinions of what was possible on a PC, and it’d sit for up to a year or two while the Home Office in Liverpool figured out how to market it, at which point the game would plop out into the ether in a sea of now-similar games developed in the interim time. It might even have all the hallmarks of what these other games were and be better (or worse) but it certainly wasn’t first, even though the code had been done forever ago. Citations: Pyrotechnica and Blue Ice, both of which were office curiousities awaiting the go-ahead to enter the wild, but just sat around like the watermelon in Buckaroo Banzai.

It’s funny that this is now the case, but it probably has to be explained to people that 3D graphics, that is, actual calculated three-dimensional interaction presented on a 2-D screen, was not always the province of additional CPUs and cores attached via crazy high-end video cards inside a chassis; in the 1990s this work was being done by the main CPU as well as everything else at once, be it sound, game logic, network interaction and disk transactions. In other words, you had all this work being done by a single CPU and so even vaguely “realistic” 3-D graphics was a miracle. (And then there’s 1983′s I, Robot which had custom math hardware, but that arcade machine was sent from the future.)

So in fact, most of these 3D games were primarily 2-D games with sprites, that is, bitmapped images, presented with scaling that somewhat approximated a 3D feel. 3D Lemmings was one of those games. Once you know that’s the trick, it’s very, very easy to see that a portion of it is 3D blocks and the rest is sprites. (Super Mario 64 also utilized this trick.)

All that said, the game was great. You had all the same gameplay as Lemmings that made that game great, and the camera movement was weird and fun, and because you were sliding around in space with these little guys doing their thing, the whole game was like real-time strategy to the nth degree. The original had this situation too, but the 3D just made it even cooler. I loved this thing.

I now forget what exactly happened that caused me to start making maps of the levels, but I did it and somehow this got back to the developers in England, Clockwork Games. A fax came in which thanked me for the maps I drew, and I was given a hint to the game’s cheat code, a hint which totally fell flat on me: Type in the name of Russia’s Love Machine. “Rah Rah Rasputin” was a huge hit in England and Canada, you see, but not in the US. So it wasn’t until I was at a dance in Toronto a few years later and heard the song that I went “ohhhh” quietly at my table.

When I was asked to join the little start-up that came out of the closure of Psygnosis US in Boston, it was primarily to have me write a full and complete book of 3D Lemmings hints and walkthroughs. And over the next couple of months, I did it, creating a 150 page book.

As a testimony to my youth, I did all the illustrations to demonstrate how you would do the 3D walkthroughs. And here’s where it gets weird.  I did them all in Visio, the 2-D drawing program meant for diagrams, flowcharts and sketches. I basically used triangle and square primitives to construct these maps, of walkthroughs I devised myself, through all the levels. I can’t begin to explain how much work that was, other than to say it was a lot of fucking work.

I finished this book, and it was delivered to Prima Publishing, who would have printed out the book, except the game didn’t go blockbuster, and they decided to pass on it. So my book technically never saw the light of day. But I did finish it!

Sitting somewhere deep in my collection of disks is a copy of that book, with all the diagrams and whatever. Maybe, if I’m lucky, it’ll pop up in my life again and I’ll make it available on here, in this entry. Until then, remember what I learned: you can make a living doing games, especially if you’re willing to shove your face fully into a grindstone for interminable amounts of time.

Wait, that’s a horrible lesson.


Categorised as: computer history | jason his own self

Comments are disabled on this post


One Comment

  1. Manny says:

    I loved that game when I was a teenager. I’m always hoping I’ll come across a modern game that something like it’s style of gameplay.