Blade Runner (1997 video game)
Original cover art
|Publisher(s)||Virgin Interactive Entertainment|
|Release date(s)||October 31, 1997|
Blade Runner is a 1997 point-and-click adventure game developed by Westwood Studios and published by Virgin Interactive Entertainment for Microsoft Windows. Rather than re-tell the 1982 Blade Runner film, the developers of the game created a different story set in the same universe, which serves as a side story to the events of the film, with both narratives running parallel to one another.
The player assumes the role of "Blade Runner" Ray McCoy, who must hunt down a group of replicants (bioengineered beings designed to look like humans) in 2019 Los Angeles. As the events of game take place at the same time as the events of the film, several of the film's characters appear in the game, with the original actors returning to voice them. Although the film's main character, Rick Deckard, only appears fleetingly in a non-speaking role in the game, he is referred to multiple times, and his activities from the film are mentioned by non-player characters. Other parallels with the film include the in-game reproduction of several prominent locations, buildings, and scenes.
Blade Runner was advertised as "the first real time 3D adventure game," since it was the first adventure game to use both 3D character rendering and a game world which progressed in real-time (as opposed to waiting for player actions to progress the game world). Unlike many games of its time, which used polygon-based renderers exploiting 3D accelerators, Westwood opted for their own software-based renderer using voxel technology (called "voxel plus").
Blade Runner is a point-and-click game, meaning that the virtual world is navigated, explored, and manipulated using the mouse; the player does this from a third-person perspective. Blade Runner 's main focus is detective work rather than puzzles, and the gameplay consists largely of searching for evidence and questioning suspects. Searching for clues is a major aspect of the game; the player must solve a number of compulsory puzzles and find a number of clues in order for the storyline to progress. Clues are found by searching crime scenes, and come in the form of items, photographs, interviews, or unusual markings. The player can also use the ESPER system, a high-density computer with a very powerful three-dimensional resolution capacity: it enables them to enhance photos and to find further crucial information.
While combat is not a primary aspect of Blade Runner, it is occasionally necessary. The only weapon available to the player is Ray's standard issue police pistol, which may be loaded with various types of ammunition. Collected evidence is stored in McCoy's Knowledge Integration Assistant (KIA), where it is organized for easy reference. One of the KIA's functions is the Crime Scene Panel, which lists the various crime scenes along with known suspects and related clues. There are also occasions when the player will carry out a Voight-Kampff test on suspected replicants; when the true nature of the subject is determined, the test ends automatically. The player must then decide what course of action to take based on the results, with the decision influencing the rest of the storyline.
The game runs in non-linear "real-time", meaning that as McCoy investigates and gathers clues, the computer controlled AI characters are doing the same, completing their own objectives. It is up to the player to decide how McCoy will react in different situations, such as whether to interrogate or simply talk to characters, how aggressive to be in his questioning, how much empathy to show etc.; each reaction will affect the storyline differently.
The game is set in Los Angeles, in November 2019, shortly after the beginning of the film.
The protagonist, Ray McCoy, is a rookie Blade Runner under the command of Lieutenant Guzza. True to the film, the environment is dystopian and heavily-polluted. McCoy is tasked with tracking down a group of replicants, who are suspected of murdering animals — a crime nearly as heinous as murdering humans, since most animal species are extinct, and real specimens are exceedingly rare. He investigates a number of crime scenes, employing various techniques typical of detectives to gather information. The game emphasizes the concept of choice on the part of the player; key among these is the option of 'retiring' every last replicant, or letting them escape.
During his investigations, McCoy encounters a black market gun runner who assists rogue replicants by providing them with weapons. Soon afterwards, he is framed for the murder of a civilian by the crooked Lieutenant Guzza, who considers him dangerous to his illicit business at the police station. Forced into hiding, McCoy explores the dark, decrepit underworld of LA, and makes contact with the replicant twins Luther and Lance, former genetic designers for the Tyrell Corporation, who are now working to extend their own lifespans, as well as those of all other replicants. From them, McCoy receives a detailed report containing evidence of Guzza's corruption. He uses this information to blackmail Guzza and force him to set his falsified record straight. The two men meet in the city sewers for the exchange, where Guzza is wounded by replicant gunfire. At this point, the player must decide to either run away or finish the lieutenant off.
There are thirteen endings, influenced by the player's actions throughout the game. These endings are variations on three major themes; the player can believe McCoy is human, and hunt down the replicants; be persuaded that he's a replicant himself, and side with them against the other Blade Runners; or stay neutral, and flee the city, either alone or with some of the other characters.
Links to film
The game's script writers, David Yorkin and David Leary, produced a story that takes place at the same time as the film and also features some of the same characters. Also included in the game are landmarks from the film, such as the dominating Tyrell Corporation pyramid structures, the Bradbury Building, and the LAPD's cylindrical skyscraper.
When the game begins, Deckard has already been sent off on his own assignment, and although McCoy and Deckard never actually meet, so as to remain consistent with the film's plot, the player will encounter numerous references to Deckard's activities. For example, when visiting the Tyrell building, Rachael mentions that she has already spoken to another Blade Runner and Tyrell himself tells McCoy, "as I explained to Mr. Deckard earlier, I've given the Nexus 6 a past." Another example is one of Izo's pictures, taken at Animoid Row, which shows Deckard in the background. Additionally, while searching the Yukon hotel, McCoy discovers Det. Holden's badge and Guzza questions how Deckard missed it, going on to say, "Deckard, he feels too much, ya' know? He's too far along that curve."
- Ray McCoy (voiced by Mark Benninghofen) is the game's protagonist and a rookie Blade Runner. McCoy lives in an apartment building with his pet dog, Maggie, for whom he shows a great deal of affection. McCoy wears a light brown lounge suit, a dark tie and a brown trench coat. He uses a standard issue .45 blaster as his sidearm.
- Crystal Steele (Lisa Edelstein) is one of the most effective police officers in the Blade Runner unit. She is an excellent markswoman and regularly participates in undercover work. She refers to replicants as "skin-jobs" and is very much in favour of their extermination. Her attitude towards McCoy at the opening of the game is playful, with a considerable amount of condescension towards the rookie, who she refers to as "Slim". Her fate in the game is ultimately tied to the player's actions; she can either die (killed by the player or in an explosion set up by the replicant Sadik) or survive and pair up with McCoy as he gains the rank of "full Blade Runner" following the 'retirement' of Clovis, the rogue replicants' leader.
- Gaff (Javier Grajed; credited as Victor Gardell) is a character originally presented in the film (where he was played by Edward James Olmos). He is a competent and older veteran cop who appears at various intervals to give McCoy advice, as he sees the younger cop as inexperienced and thus unpredictable.
- Lieutenant Edison Guzza (Jeff Garlin) is the boorish, overweight superior to McCoy, and in overall command of the Blade Runner unit following Captain Bryant's sick leave. Guzza is rather unkempt and asocial, remaining in Bryant's office for most of the game's duration. It is revealed later in the game that Guzza is corrupt, and has been assisting Clovis and the other replicants in an effort to prevent them from revealing evidence of his illegal activities.
- Clovis (Mark Rolston) is the leader of the renegade replicants. Clovis is a man of mystery — on one hand, he appears as a peaceful, highly educated man, eloquent and elegant, on the other he is a sometimes ruthless killer, capable of inhuman acts of aggression.
- Lucy Devlin (Pauley Perrette) is a 14-year-old girl who worked at the pet store that is attacked by the replicants in the opening scene of the game. Although suspected as a replicant herself, she is seen by McCoy as a crucial witness to the crime.
Original cast members from the film returning for cameo appearances include Sean Young as Rachael, Brion James as Leon Kowalski, James Hong as Hannibal Chew, Joe Turkel as Eldon Tyrell, and William Sanderson as J.F. Sebastian.
In the summer of 1995, Virgin Interactive Entertainment acquired the license to produce a Blade Runner game for PC. The game design was ambitious for the available technology of the time. In contrast to other games at that time, the game engine (which included backgrounds that were pre-rendered and models calculated in 3D), did not require or use hardware 3D graphics accelerators. Game designers, David Leary and James Walls, achieved this through a self-developed technology based on voxels (pixels with width, height and depth), which they called "Voxel Plus".
"When we told Intel that we were doing a 640x480, 65,000 color game that emulates true color, with a 16-bit Z-buffer and six channel CD-quality audio, they said you can't—the PCI bus can't support it...we hadn't even mentioned the 750,000 polygons for the characters yet."
Instead of just having one voxel, dozens of rotating voxels were used in the shape and depth of the actual polygon model data, making it true real-time 3D without requiring 3D hardware. In layman's terms, it was piecing together flat "picture panels", and then rotating and positioning them in 3D-space, thereby giving the illusion of a 3D object.
However, the technology had some shortcomings. A powerful processor was required since the engine relied on the processor doing all the work of creating the 3D models. Since processor power at that time was limited, the 3D models looked quite rough in-game due to the low amount of voxels used to display them; had the number of voxels been raised to increase the detail, the game would have become too slow to play. With the level of detail Westwood settled on, the game ran at a minimum of 15 FPS on slow systems.
The film's original soundtrack could not be secured for the game so Westwood brought in Frank Klepacki to recreate the tone of the score. He re-recorded the Blade Runner soundtrack as well as creating original tracks in the style of the film.
In the Science Fiction Weekly review, Peter Suciu awarded the game an A+, claiming the "computer-generated setting of Blade Runner is simply one of the best to arrive on computer desktops", and calling it "an outstandingly enjoyable adventure simulation." Game Revolution's Marke Cooke stated that the game "is one of the best adventure games out there," and gave it an A−. Chris Pickering, in his 2006 review for Adventure Gamers, praised the game for its "glorious aesthetics, intriguing storyline, and well implemented controls," giving it 4.5 stars out of 5. RPGFan gave the game an overall rating of 93%, praising its best pre-rendered backgrounds, with "rain, spotlights, Spinners or blimps advertising off-world vacations. The crisp images never fail to dazzle." Although the review pointed out that the graphics can become a "tad blurry and pixilated" close up, it was argued that "this doesn't detract too much from these otherwise stunning visuals."
In his review for PC Zone Paul Presley gave the game a score of 8.8 out of 10, stating that "the story is strong and intelligent enough to compensate for the problems I have with the technical side of the game," and "while I'd argue that the challenge could have been a lot higher, it's by no means an easy game and the urge to keep playing is there. The multiple ending factor also helps." The game was rated 3.5 out of 5 at Quandary, where Rosemary Young pointed out that "though some aspects of Blade Runner aren't all that sophisticated, it is worth considering for fans of 'hard-edged' crime/science fiction." In his GameSpot review, Ron Dulin gave the game a score of 6 out of 10, calling it "an interesting mood piece, built upon some very detailed graphic work and an interesting premise—but somewhere along the production line, someone forgot to include a game." Duncan Harris emphasised, in his 2007 Computer and Video Games article "Blade Runner: A classic revisited", that "critics may have been divided over the means by which you got there: a logical trail of clues, many of which were less the result of detective work than blind luck and idle exploration [...] but you couldn't deny that here, for once, was a movie tie-in which put the movie first, dismissing thoughts of its own genre and letting the subject dictate the design. With its insular thinking, it's something the games industry all too rarely sees."
Blade Runner won the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences' first annual Interactive Achievement Award in the category "Computer Adventure Game of the Year", and was also nominated in "Outstanding Achievement in Art/Graphics". It was also nominated for "Best Adventure Game" of 1997 in the PC Gamer awards in 1998, but lost out to The Curse of Monkey Island.
Sales of the game were in excess of one million.
Although there have been many requests from fans to have Blade Runner re-released via Steam or GOG.com, Westwood co-founder Louis Castle stated in a 2015 interview that the original source code and assets were lost when Westwood moved its studio from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, thus making a re-release or a HD-remaster impossible. The Blade Runner Partnership and Electronic Arts currently own the rights to the game.
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