While playing Crimewave for the Saturn recently, it
surprised me that the coding for this game was done by a single
person; Jim Blackler. By doing the regular google search,I
ended up at the website of the Black Cactus studios
game Warrior Kings battles. After an email session
it soon became apparent that I was dealing with a very experienced
SEGA hardware programmer (and a real nice person, I must add)
. Enjoy this detailed interview!
S.F: Please tell about your
past developments, was Crimewave the only title you
worked on that was planned for release on a SEGA format? Could
you tell us about the other projects? (if any)
I also worked on Prince Of Persia (Megadrive), Bloodshot
(Megadrive/Mega CD) and Theme Park (Mega CD). All
at Domark software. Bloodshot was my own
design, the others were conversions.
S.F: On Prince of persia
; What are the main differences between the Megadrive and
Richard Walker the lead programmer rewrote the entire game
from scratch. The code was rewritten in 68000, we used the
original C as reference. The graphics were mainly retouched
versions of the Mac graphics (they had already been enhanced
for Mac). The levels were rebuilt by playing the original
PC game. I also added some new levels that I designed myself.
Other than that they are pretty similar.
On Bloodshot; Was the game engine written from scratch
for Megadrive hardware?
Yes, the whole thing is written in 68000 entirely by myself.
S.F: Bloodshot is one of
the only 3d games for the Megadrive. How powerful was the
Megadrive when it came to doing 3D games?
Not at all. It is a bodge based on the character-based hardware.
You had about enough characters to uniquely map about a third
of the screen. The ‘polygons’ were inspired by
the Wolfenstein 3D approach, they are all made from vertical
strips. You might notice that the walls are effectively ‘reflected’
about the centre line using the character map. This is so
only half of the walls actually needs to be drawn. I used
a palette effect to disguise the reflection, and sprites for
the ceiling light to further hide it. The rasterisation was
done with about 750K of pre-generated code in order to reduce
the cycle-time per pixel and to draw it all in time. It was
quite an innovative effect in my opinion, and as you say it
is fairly unique to have 3D on the Megadrive.
S.F: Bloodshot was
released in Germany as 'Battle Frenzy' , what was the initial
reason for the name change? What are the differences between
There was a law preventing violent games from being released
in Germany , and the distributor thought the name was too
violent (!). The problem is there could be only one cartridge
image for all territories. You will notice that the language
screen comes first – if you select German the game is
called Battle Frenzy, and other language Bloodshot.
Battle Frenzy was the name in the USA by the way,
as there is a comic book by the name of Bloodshot
in America . There are no other differences if I recall correctly.
S.F: What are the main differences
between the Megadrive and Mega-CD versions of Bloodshot/Battle
The first thing is music. The Megadrive version only had ambient
sounds, the MegaCD version had an excellent soundtrack by
composer Mike Ash. Technically, the Mega CD had much less
main RAM than the ROM of the cart, so I had to adapt the game
to get it in the lower memory. (You can of course load of
the CD but we didn’t have time to do that during the
game, plus we were using the CD for the music). I dropped
the sample rate of the sound effects for instance. I also
redid the levels a bit so that each level was under the target
RAM, so there are fewer types of enemy per level. However
we were able to include an enemy that we hadn’t had
memory to fit on the Megadrive version. The Mega CD had a
faster CPU but because I couldn’t have the great big
block of pre-generated code I had to go to a slower manual
main loop for the renderer, so I think the effect was it was
about the same speed.
S.F: Zero Tolerance
uses a cable for link up gaming, does Bloodshot support this
cable or was it planned? Was there any correspondation between
Accolade and you for the use of it?
Zero Tolerance was of great interest to us during
development as that was the only other Megadrive FPS being
done that we were aware of. I never saw a link cable or had
the SDK. I think my view at the time was that split screen
mode was better for arcade games.
S.F: On Theme park; What
enhancements does the Mega-CD version of Theme park
Music streamed from CD, plus full motion video, plus it’s
a bit quicker because of the
What format was used for the added cut scenes in the Mega-CD
version of Theme park?
We used a custom format done for us by developer Interactive
Studios, now known as Blitz.
S.F: The Mega-CD had an internal
memory function, why wasn't it used for saving? Was the amount
of data too large to fit?
Yes, this was the subject of a heated debate between myself
and producers at Acclaim. I would have loved to have
used the internal memory for saving but I think I only had
about 100K to use and the saves were going to weigh in at
several megabytes. Digital compression wasn’t going
to be effective enough unfortunately.
S.F: Did you also work on
other Megadrive/Mega-CD releases that were cancelled?
Funnily enough no, I was quite lucky there.
of the games Jim worked on
S.F: Could you
tell a little more about Saturn Crimewave, was it
an all new game or a port of an earlier version?
It was an all new game, designed by the team (myself, Joe
Groombridge and David Banner) specifically for the Saturn.
The reason it was on the Saturn is that the devkits were cheaper
so we couldn’t get a PlayStation kit at the time. The
idea was to do an isometric type game with 3D hardware. Because
the perspective was fixed we could pre-render the cars as
sprites (we used 3D Studio). I though that was a neat idea
but everyone was doing full 3D then and the isometric view
was never all that popular. I really liked driving combat
games and large environments which is where the idea for the
streaming continuous environment came from. It is fair to
say the game didn’t come out the way I liked –
the team was too small to do what we wanted. I made a lot
of mistakes on the project.
S.F: One of the main criticisms
Crimewave got was the low frame rate it ran on. Why
Was it a lack of RAM or main processor speed? Does it use
both SH2 processors?
It’s a fair criticism. I made a bad decision to attempt
to stream the graphics from disk without limiting the quantity
of graphics in each sector. I worked for months on trying
to improve the frame rate but I had tied my own hands on the
early decisions. I was really unhappy with the frame rate
and the stalling.
S.F: Crimewave sports a two
player mode which uses split screen, wouldn't the Saturn link-up
cable be something that could've been used to great extend
It would’ve been, unfortunately the view is it wouldn’t
have added enough sales.
The Japanese copy of Crimewave supports the Arcade
racer and Mission stick but wouldn't the analogue pad have
been a better option? What are the other notable differences
between the different versions?
I agree, I didn’t get an analog stick to work with until
we had finished the game. The reason there is a little bit
more in the Japanese version is this one had several months
development over the other versions.
from top left: Prince of Persia (MD/Genesis),
Bloodshot (Mega-CD), Theme park (Mega-CD)
and Crimewave (Saturn)
S.F: Crimewave features
a screen rotation option; a nod at the days of vertical arcade
Absolutely. It was just a silly idea I came up with and implemented,
we left it in the game on a cheat code for fun. I wouldn’t
recommend having your monitor in its side for too long though,
they don’t seem to benefit from it.
S.F: What was working with
the Saturn hardware like for you and which equipment was used
during Crimewave development?
I liked the Saturn but it is a hellishly complicated machine
to work with, with the dual processors and everything. I didn’t
even use the Sega libraries (which was typical of the way
I used to program back then). To be fair though it’s
probably no more complicated than the PS2 to work with but
there was only me working on Crimewave for the most
part. The equipment used was one of the original Saturn devkits
and SNASM if I recall correctly.
S.F: Any tidbits? Artwork,
early screens, missing featuring we should know about?
There’s nothing hidden in the game other than the cheats
which are widely available. Pretty much everything we modeled
made it into the game, apart from a train that I couldn’t
work out how to program in time. The only thing to mention
is the shop fronts in the red light district areas that feature
risqué artwork. The artist Joe Groombridge used to
see how far we could go before they’d tell us to take
it out – and they never did. We did have to take out
a confederate flag on top of a car for the American release
because they thought some people might be offended.
It is worth mentioning that the levels were
made by the artist and designer David Banner on an ordinary
Saturn using a built in level editor. We used to save to a
128K memory cartridge. I toyed with the idea of leaving that
in on a cheat but didn’t.
Which game (out of all projects on SEGA machines) are you
most proud of?
It would have to be Bloodshot because there was so
much innovation in the way it was programmed.
S.F: Tell us about the games
have you worked on since Crimewave, such as Warrior Kings:
Many thanks for your interest. After Crimewave I
designed a game at Eidos but since Crimewave tanked
they didn’t want me to do it, so I left and went to
Sony where I worked on the original This Is Football
(PlayStation), mainly on the physics. I then went to Black
Cactus and worked on Warrior Kings. After that
I had a spell at Climax on a great game called The
Final Option (multi platforms) but the client ran out of money
and the game was cancelled.
S.F: What can we expect from
Jim Blackler in the future? Any next generation console titles
I’ve been working at Criterion on RenderWare since The
Final Option was cancelled. I don’t rule out a
move back into games in the future.
Many, many thanks to Jim for this interview.
For more information on Warrior Kings: Battles
visit Http://www.warriorkingsbattles.com (note
by Segafreak: Website is sadly down now)