Let's say you've just completed 12 years working at Loral, a major defense contractor now owned by Lockheed. You've been a lead designer on some big-time simulators, namely the M-1 tank, Apache Helicopter, several other aircraft, ground vehicles, and infantry units. Plus you played a major role in the creation of what has been called the ultimate "god" game, SIMNET. For the non-cognoscenti, that's a massively multiuser, real-time, full-scale battlefield sim that links hundreds of players worldwide on high-speed T1 lines (sorry, you have to enlist to play). Gulf War commanders say their experience on SIMNET made the real thing a walk in the park.
Having accomplished all that, now what? "Have some fun," says Brian Soderberg, cofounder of Zipper Interactive. In mid-1995, he convinced a dozen fellow Loral programmers and artists to join him in a new game development company. "I thought it would be more fun to do games with the same technology," Soderberg says. He supplemented his corps with a few game designers from the likes of Electronic Arts and aimed for the bleeding edge. Their first game, DeathDrome, could have been a contender, but its publisher, Viacom Interactive, took a dive moments before the game's Christmas '96 release. That futuristic motorcycle action/arcade game was the first title to exploit MMX, and it was Heat.Net's premier offering. However DeathDrome ended up in relative obscurity on the Windows 95 sampler CD.
Undaunted, Zipper approached Viacom subsidiary, Virgin Interactive, with another idea. How about a futuristic, war, action game? Virgin could think of no better development team to create it.
"From the start at Zipper we always wanted to make a fun, action-oriented wargame," says company president and cofounder Jim Bosler. "We set Recoil in the future to give us more liberty in terms of being able to add some Hollywood physics and effects to maximize the fun."
What they ended up with is a first/third-person shooter with an amazingly agile and versatile tank as its centerpiece. That Battle Force Tank, or BFT (has a familiar ring?), can transform into an amphibious vehicle, a hovercraft, and a submersible, plus it can jump off ledges and over obstacles like a motocross bike.
As in most 3D shooters, the back story is nearly irrelevant. Says Virgin Interactive's producer Ron Fortier facetiously, "We wanted to do something really innovative so machines are taking over the world and you're the only hope." But there is a nifty twist. You've been contacted from the future by three computer hacker renegades who urge you to remotely control their BFT from your PC.
You begin simply enough, on a beach. Your first task is to disable a force field generator then fight your way past enemies shooting at you from a ridge. The key there is to alter the terrain: blow up an overhang and use it as a ramp. Just about everything in Recoil can be deformed to your advantage or disadvantage. Blast craters for extra cover, shoot holes in walls to spy through, or blow up dams to fill a lake to access a distant shore. Strategic puzzle solving plays an important role in Recoil's 30 single-player missions.
Zipper's proprietary 3D scaleable graphics engine, GameZ, is Recoil's centerpiece. It lets this game run on just about any PC by adjusting graphics density and features. Plus it fully exploits hardware acceleration but doesn't require a 3D card. The scenery on the game's six distinctive worlds is surprisingly detailed and includes ice and falling snow, lava, quicksand, and translucent lakes. Distant objects don't simply pop into view, and tall objects such as landmarks are always visible above the horizon. Lower-level terrain and objects gradually fade in from the altitude-based fog making it easier to maintain your orientation and obviating the need for a compass or radar.
"Duke and Quake are primarily halls and walls," says Soderberg. "In Recoil you'll see plenty of wide-open terrain with lots of differentiation and buildings you can blow up or explore."
The weaponry is also a cut above the rest. As you gain experience you'll eventually pick up 18 weapons including a sonic burst cannon that kills with sound, an electric arc saber with multiple arcs to kill multiple enemies, lasers that can ricochet around blind corners, and lock-on and camera-guided missiles (use the latter for reconnaissance to see what's over the next hill). Of course, you can skip all the hi-tech gear and simply shove your opponent over a cliff. Those opponents will tap into 20 different AIs. Is that vehicle driving off ahead of you running for cover or drawing you into an ambush?
Seven multiplayer maps will cover all bases plus offer something unique to 3D action shooters: a race course. Take on fellow BFT drivers in fast-paced demolition derby action. Not only can you shoot your opponents (leaving them momentarily disabled), but you can blast a few craters or drop explosive mines as obstacles.
Despite Zipper's roots in serious military sims, Recoil promises to be loads of fun. "There'll be lots of naked women and Easter eggs," says Bosler. Just kidding.