By Al Giovetti November, 1992
Rex Nebular's Producer and Designer Matt Gruson Interview
Alfred C. Giovetti (AG): We have with us today, Matt Gruson, Designer and Producer of a bran new graphic animated adventure game from Microprose, Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender. Thanks for being with us and sharing with us this great information on a brand new game.
Matt Gruson (MG): Thanks for having me here Al. Microprose and the newly formed adventure games group appreciate the time to talk with your audience.
AG: What can you tell us about the animation?
MG: We use a form of rotoscoping where we film actual actors and digitize the film. We use a special process to filter the video noise, but we leave enough of the original video for the resulting animation to be realistic, more realistic than the other animated graphic adventures. We further enhance the process by a custom contrasting and analysis program. The result is not a pasty as Martian Memorandum, and not as jerky as King's Quest 6. The look is quite good when compared to Sierra and Accolade.
Microprose uses a special vieo imaging processing system, which is a part of the MADS or Microprose Adventure Development System, a program designed to help develop our games.
AG: What about the parser for the game?
MG: We use a sentence constructor, not a text parser, which constructs a sentence. For example, the first part may be the phrase "at the end of the sea monster." The next phrase would be "he eats you." Or you could substitute "stuff him with chickens." It is all rather simple.
AG: If you say so. What about the background art?
MG: Microsoft has a staff of professional painters headed by Ken Nishiuye who has the painters, paint the scanned images. The whole process is similar to animation processing. We process the pictures quickly and then need the artists to touch up the scanned images. We also perform color correction since the scans can often give us colors that are just a bit unreal.
AG: Can you tell us what you do with the colors?
MG: We put more colors on screen at the same time than other games by optimizing the palette. We put as many as 256 actual different and distinct colors on the screen at one time. We use a palette management system that has more logical colors on screen at the same time than any other company.
AG: Tell me something about the resolution.
MG: We use 320x200 pixel resolution or standard VGA which requires four times as much man power and uses up less size on the hard drive than say 640x400 resolution. Background and foreground animation are synchronized so that they work together to give a blended picture.
AG: What about Jeff Brigg's music score?
MG: Many music themes were composed by our on-board composer. The music does not sound like a barnyard animal theme like other music, ours is digitized and fully orchestrated. The music is more mood enhancing and more interesting than the normal squeeks. We consider the music an important part of the game. The background music varies enough so that it will not become repetitive and annoying. So that even though the music does not have a volume control within the software, we feel you will not be compelled to turn it down or off, which you can do from within the software.
It takes wave shapes to make real music. The better sound cards, such as Roland, Sound Blaster, Pro Audio Spectrum, and Gravis 16-bit cards support our music. The music does not work as well on the Ad Lib card because it supports fewer voices than the other cards we support.
There are many background themes for people, places, things and actions in the game. There are five background music scores alone that are themed to different locations in the game. There are dozens of variations on the five basic themes to keep the game player interested and the mood set by the music.
Music transitions were well done in the game. We mixed pieces of music from one music theme into the other so that the transition is via a blending of the two pieces of music. The music fades well from one sound into another.
AG: What about digital speech in the game?
MG: We used a new process to enhance clarity of the human speech sequence that is in the game, which is composed of over a megabyte of audio track which is over one minute of human speech blended with animation.
AG: Tell us something about the game log.
MG: The game log was written by Steve Meretzky, the Infocom game designer with the bent sense of humor. The log is a narritive record of the game up to a point, not an automatic not taking device.
AG: Tell us about the sound effects?
MG: There are numerous digital sound effects including an enormous squash which is used when a large female character squashes Rex, splats, thuds, squeeks, and a very special dull, wet thud noise. We have an entire sound effects library for the game sounds.
We created the sound effects with a Foley sound effects crew, just like in the movies. You will see the most Foley work and sound effects as accompanyment to the opening and closing animations.
AG: Tell us about game utilities, save games, sound volume, sound on and off toggle, and other things.
MG: There is no sound volume, but you can toggle the sound on or off separately for sound effects and music, if needed. There is room for 100 save games without the need for setting up additional save game direcories. The game pauses when you enter ghte utility menu. There is no need to automap since each separate section of the game is small enough to know how to get around. There is no automatic note taker. The memory requirements do not require a boot disk since only 575 KB of free RAM out of 640 KB total RAM is needed. The game takes up 12 MB of hard disk space and ships on nine 3.5 inch high density diskettes. We use a compression routine so that if you use Stacker you will need 24 MB of hard disk space, because the file is almost fully compressed and stacker can not improve on the compression.
AG: The Cosmic Gender Bender seems to have an adult theme, can the whole family enjoy the game?
MG: The game is not recommended for the whole family in the naughty mode, but in nice mode even the children can enjoy the game. We tried to make the many gruesome death scenes funny and not gross and there is only one sex scene.
AG: What about the plot?
MG: The log has a basic run down of the plot, and since it was written by Steve Meretsky, it is worth the read. Basically, Rex retrieves a vase from a planet filled with men hating women. One of the nice plot twists involves a role reversal with women, where Rex becomes Roxanne by having to go into the Gender Bender to solve certain puzzles.
AG: Are there any interesting characters that Rex meets on his adventure?
MG: I particularly liked the Buddy Beast that Rex meets in the womens enclave.
AG: Are there any secrets we should know?
MG: Run the credits all the way through to the end and you will get a new option in the game. Try it. Also read the many quotes on the game from the designers in the credits.
AG: Adventure games are often only as good as the setting or environment that we explore, what about it?
MG: There are several different possible endings, some kill off the hero and others are successful at varying levels. In the best ending, you forget to install the target module gives one ending. In another ending you foget to repair the windscreen on the ship and you are decompressed. The decompression ending is the most popular and entertaining.
AG: What about the future?
MG: We have two more animated graphic adventures in the works an we are looking forward to them. One is a thriller (Return of the Phantom) which is being designed by Raymond Benson who worked on Ultima VII. The other game is phantasy based (Dragonsphere), a swords and magic intense, deep game, design adventure. Rex Nebular II is already in the works. (Unfortunately, Rex Nebular II was never finished or released. - Ed.)
AG: Tell us something about the puzzles.
MG: The puzzles are object oriented. There are no word puzzles, no logic puzzles, and no "twitch" puzzles. We have done away with the arcade, real-time, joystick puzzles, as well.
AG: Obligatory Arcade Sequences in graphic animated adventures are bad. Rise of the Dragon by Dynamix had optional arcade sequences, but no one has ever done this but them. This would be great since most of us either love or hate the manditory arcade sequences. Most of us who hate them get stuck on them. What about hints?
MG: The puzzles are connected to the plot and the surroundings within the game. You need to look around to get the idea of how to solve the puzzles. Also there are three levels of play with better hints in the easy mode and more obscure hints in the hard mode. In the trapping rotunda, in hard mode, leaves are on the trap making it more difficult to see and avoid. There is another trap with a purple monster. The purple monster only eats fish. To get the monster to eat the special hamburger, you must put the hamburger in the fish.
As the plot progresses the puzzles get more difficult. There is a hint book which is not a walkthrough but a continuation of the log that comes with the game. The hints are cryptic, keyword style but do not supply specific answers.
AG: To bad you did not see fit to use a Covert Action-like note taker in the game. Who should buy Rex Nebular?
MG: We recommend the game for anyone over 8 years old that want to play games, and like a challenge. We did not design Rex Nebular for people who play adventure games, but even for those who have never played an adventure game. We like to say that knowledge of basic english is required. We also wanted to appeal to the experienced gamer by putting in the hard and intermediate levels of difficulty.
AG: What was your overall design philosophy?
MG: The designers notes in the manual should help people get a grip on this. We wanted this game to be fun to play like the Infocom games that Steve Meretzky designed. We wanted the game to go beyond the basic text adventure such as Planetfall with advanced design, rich background, and a good graphic animated adventure interface. We wanted the game to be playable and easily controlled by mouse and keyboard. Most of all we wanted advanced, intermediate, and easy mode to appeal to all levels of players and increase the game play.
AG: I have to know, did you guys purposely pick a female actor for Roxanne who looked like Roberta Williams?
MG: I never thought of it, but Roxanne does look like Roberta. The actress we used is Vicki Ford, a prfessional model. I will have to tell Ken Nisahiuye about the resemblance. He will be tickled since he picked the actress and he used to work with Roberta.
AG: Thanks for being with us, and we hope you will come back again and talk to us about your next project.
MG: Thanks, Al, I hope you learned a lot about Rex and the Gender Bender, bye.
AG: Thanks for watching and keep on gaming.