by Scott LeGrand

In the Beginning

  • On September 23rd, 1993, my roommate (who I believe Bill thinks was Doug Engel) and I were invited by Bill Rehbock to come up to Glendale, California to see the very first video games running on the Atari Jaguar. Besides playing a really crude edition of Checkered Flag, we pitched a space combat game called "Singularity" which we indicated could better be called Star Raiders 2000. Bill told us that the name was already taken, but that he'd get back to us. One month later, we met Tom Harker across the Internet and he agreed to act as our interface to Atari and I conned^H^H^Hvinced my wife (then fiancee) Stephanie to write the soundtrack. In November, I drove and Tom flew to Santa Cruz and we met for the very first time. Tom was here to trade away the 8 bit line of ICD tools for a cool 1950s monster mobile. The next day we drove up to Sunnyvale, navigated our way to 1190 Borregas avenue and played Tempest 2000 and Cybermorph for the first time.

    Big time! We're on our way and making it...

  • We walked away that day with a very early prototype of Aliens vs. Predator, along with a deal for 2 development systems. By then the game had been renamed to "Star Battle", in honor of a game I had written on a high school mainframe back in 1980 about which I still get email now and then. On December 24, we received our first alpine board in dysfunctional condition in a Fedex box. After several frantic phone calls, we were sent a second, functional alpine board and Doug kept the first in order get medieval upon it with a soldering iron. Within a week, we both had working development systems and the evolution of the game that became BattleSphere began. The kicker is that since there was no backing of any sort for this game, we would have to develop it entirely in our spare time while maintaining full-time day jobs. Our advice: Don't do this. Our original estimates were that we could have the entire game coded in 12-18 months. Bzzzzt! Wrong! We had yet to encounter the black hole that was Atari developer support, as well as a myriad of inexplicable bugs and random flaky development tools.

    They like us, they really like us!

  • 6 months later, we showed off the very first demo of the polygon engine at SCES '94. The demo makes an appearance in the AEO SCES '94 Video, for those of you collecting BattleSphere Trivia and anyone there could see we ought to have sued the pants off of Nintendo over the N64 logo, but of course, they must have thought of the thing first, they're Nintendo. Things went well, but I wish it had been a playable demo by that time, but c'est la vie, we were just getting introduced to some of the many jaguar hardware bugs and part-time development already sucked. Six months later at WCES '95, there was sound, the first pass at the music engine, primitive collision detection, and a simple game involving rescuing animated astronauts. The game was now called "BattleSphere". This is really starting to take too long, isn't it?

    Trouble ahead, trouble behind...

  • 5 months after that, BattleSphere had its last trade showing at the very first E3. This was the first place we ever demonstrated networked dogfighting. It was a resounding success and numerous professional aviators commented on the quality of our flight engine compared to what they could play on the PC and other systems. This demo almost never happened, because a insiduous bug in the hardware forced some last minute rewriting practically on the show floor. Of course, the real star of E3 was the Playstation unveiling, but we were happy with our reception. After all, at this point, the fat lady was clearing her throat for her Atarian anthem.

    They said we were daft to build a castle in the swamp!

  • At this point, we realized we were behind schedule. I decided to take 3 months off and Doug took a month's worth of accumulated vacation time off from work and go full time on game development. From July through September, BattleSphere became my one and only obsession. In that time, we went from a primitive dogfight engine to networkable deathmatching with the infamous subsumption architecture AI. A fun footnote here is that but 2 days after we got the AI marginally running, a mysterious request came from Atari for a demo. We sent it off, only to find out later that they secretly put the badly behind Battlesphere head to head with the completed Space War 2000 in a focus group. Guess who won and who got cancelled? This pattern repeated itself in October when Atari demanded working networking code from us on a Friday, to be provided by the following Monday, for incorporation into Iron Soldier II or it wouldn't have networking. Ah, the fun final days of Atari. However, we now had a solid demo for showing off to potential backers of a PC or PSX edition and the search for a future past Atari began.

    Is there life after death?

  • Although we knew at this point that Atari was pining for the fjords, we decided that BattleSphere was not enough of a game to actually release the thing (in retrospect, this was a BIG BIG BIG mistake). So now, we commenced development of the play modes. Atari died in January, 1996 and the Gauntlet play mode first appeared in March of that year. It was soon followed by the BattleSphere and training play modes, and that took us into early 1997 since we still didn't have any funding for a PC version, despite a one year search leading to 10 or so pitches with big publishers who just couldn't grok the networking, the 3D, the jaguar, or some random combination of the above (or possibly our failure to closely resemble the current trendy genre). In March of 1997, I quit my science career, leaving behind 8 years of dedicated research. It was painful and we once again considered releasing BattleSphere at that point. However, we faced the concorde fallacy that we had already put too much time into the thing so why not make the Alone Against the Empires play mode and call it a day. This play mode was completed by October of 1997, and there's nothing like it on any other platform. And that's when the playtesting began. It's oh so much fun to put a game into beta when you have no money. Thankfully, a dedicated crew of playtesters put their own free hours into the thing and now, 8 months later, BattleSphere is finished.

    And on day 1745, God said "Ship it already!"

  • Oh, you thought this was the end of the story? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Silly you, now we have to get the sucker encrypted and produced so it will actually run on other people's jaguars. But, it will happen. And when some twit naysayer tells you it won't, just remember how many times they said we'd never finish the thing.

  • May your urine be fresh and frothy!

    Scott Le Grand
    Doug Engel
    Stephanie Wukovitz
    Tom Harker

    Team "The Mess that is BattleSphere"

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