Doom has one hell of a lot to answer for. Up until two years ago (yes, it's that long now) we'd get the odd 3D game here and there, but generally we'd see quite a variety of games appearing on the pc. Point-and-click adventures were always up there in the popularity stakes, but with the exception of products from LucasArts and Sierra, we don't see as many as we used to. Oh no. Now everything is set in a 3D virtual environment and involves you blowing the crap out of everything. Just think of the products we've seen in the last year - every other bloody one of 'em is a Doom rip-off; Guns, 3D backdrops and objects that look like cardboard cut-outs. I'm not knocking the Uberlord of pc games, but I just think it's time for a change.
Solid man, solid
And thank God it's finally happening. Normality Inc. from Gremlin Interactive has the potential to go down in history as one of those "turning point" games. By mixing the quirkiness and interactivity of a point-and-click adventure with a true 3D "beyond-Doom"graphics engine and a huge injection of typically British humour the Gremlin chaps have managed to come up with something which is possibly one of the best products the company has ever produced.
At the bottom of the whole thing is the graphics engine. The game itself I'll come onto later, but in this first bit I want to tell you all about the visuals, as they really are rather special. As with all fancy new graphics engines, this one has a name - the rather unimaginatively, but functionally titled True3D. It's special for a variety of reasons, but to the old-boys of gaming, one of the most interesting aspects about it is that it was developed by industry stalwart, Tony Crowther. Remember him? Back in the old days of the Commodore 64 and & the Amiga, you couldn't pick up a magazine without reading ' about some product or other that he'd worked on. Who remembers Monty Mole or what about Captive? Coming back to you now, is it? In the past few years, though, we haven't really heard that much about him. That, it would seem, is because he's been spending his time developing building clever 3D systems.
Whereas Doom and all its pretenders comprise of a texture-mapped polygon-based background with sprite-based objects for anything that isn't the floor, walls or ceiling; True3D has, er, "true 3D" objects. Pieces of furniture, for example, are modelled as texture-mapped polygons, and you can walk all around them and move them about, too. Even walls have a certain solidity about them. Most impressively, though, the people that you meet will also look "solid", and this is aided still further by the fact that all of the animation throughout the game has been done with the aid of Gremlin's motion capture studio (which we covered last month in our preview of the company's forthcoming Actua Soccer). So, it would be fairly accurate to describe this game as, er, "solid".
What Is normal, anyway?
Set some years in the future, the game sees you playing the part of an unusual young chap who refuses to conform to the normality policy that the authorities of Neutropolis (the city where you live) have enforced. The authorities are actually so adamant about everyone behaving in, what they consider, a "normal' manner, by sitting indoors and watching tv all day, that they even have big, scary coppers called Norm-troopers. The game actually begins just after you've been caught for acting abnormally (the mind boggles) and you find youi'self trapped in your flat (cue Vic Reeves song) with a couple of troopers outside your door.
From here on your goal is to get out of the flat and address the apathy of the city. By employing your skills as a day-dreamer, you have to go out into the city, track down an underground subversive group and attempt to inject some oomph back into the populace.
The means by which you actually perform this, involve all of the skills that you would normally employ in a standard point-and-click adventure. You walk around collecting objects and solving puzzles to help you out of various different situations. The only real difference is the viewpoint and the way in which you control the thing. Rather than simply clicking your way through an environment, you can control your character's movements Doom style with the keyboard, and interact with the environment by simply clicking on objects and hotspots around the screen. It all works remarkably well and could well alter the way we see this sort of adventure game in future.
Although not due for release until late November, the developers at Gremlin are keen to impress upon us that the game structure itself is already finished. The only changes that are to be made now are cosmetic. The characters that wander around the 3D environment have yet to rendered. There are a few cut scenes to be 3D studio'd up and then there's just the sound. Ah, yes, the sound. The plans for this appear as though it's all going to be rather special as well.
Just like all of the current "old-fashioned" pointy-clicky games, Normality Inc. will be a full talkie with all of the characters played by various voice actors. As we go to press there are no plans for anyone famous to be used, but this is yet to be confirmed. On top of this, a band from Sheffield will be recording music specifically for the bits of the game that take place in a night club and this will also be used as a backing track for other parts of the action. Apparently they're a bunch of lads that one of the programmer knows, but with a name like Crackers and Asthma" they are likely to get at least "15 mins of fame."
Every time you perform a particularly significant task, you are rewarded with a brief FMV sequence (of which there are allegedly over 100), which shows the hero of the game performing said task. Big deal. What makes these particularly special though, is that not only have they been rendered up in the usual manner using a 3D Studio/Silicon Graphics sort of thing, but the animation has been motion captured. Making use of what is soon to become Gremlin's infamous motion-capture facility, the main character of the game moves in an incredibly realistic manner. The scenes where you see him rooting around the back of a sofa or jumping out of a window are of a considerably higher quality than the normal, boring rendered cut-scenes that we see in most CD-based games these days.
Flash graphics mode
Just to be a bit different, and to ensure that the graphics in Normality Inc. look as good as possible, they are actually presented in a custom graphics mode. Although initially developed to run in both 320x200 and 640x480 modes, the developers decided that the game didn't run smoothly enough on lower spec systems in top resolution. So as a compromise the game now runs in 320x400, which not only looks incredibly crisp, but it also means that the game can run at a very impressive frame rate.
Those of you with a eye for this sort of thing may have noticed a similar graphics mode employed in SSI's Ravenloft series of RPG's.
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode