E.Motion is not what you'd call a really standard game. In fact it's a very nonstandard game. Let's join our hosts, the Assembly Line, tor a quick chat about E.Motion and how it was made.
The Assembly Line are John Dale, Andy Beveridge, Martin Day and Adrian Stephens, and although there's not a lot under their collective belt, the boys have individually been behind some winning titles. Martin and John did Impact and Helter Skelter flor Audiogenic and the new SNASM development system for Realtime and Vektor Grafix. Adrian has done all sorts of stuff on the BBC years ago, like Mr EE Killer Gorilla, and Donkey Kong Jnr, but more recently he programmed Interphase for Imageworks. Martin also did the programming for the Bitmap Brothers recent chart smash Xenon 2: Megablast. Andy used to work for MetaComCo, the developers of the AmigaDOS, and later for Rainbird on an untitled project which alas never saw a computer shop shelf.
John Dale is the man who invented E.Motion. Where did such a bizarre idea come from? "My job is to have ideas - I just sit around and have them. There was a little bit of thinking about the fact that there haven't been many games which use the 'Asteroids' type motion. You know: rotate and thrust. But at the same time we thought: 'what can we do that's different to Asteroids'. We had the idea for the ship that rotates and moves and then we thought: 'Well what's it going to do if it 's not going to shoot things? Let's try pushing things around and see what we can do.' And we did."
"You push two different coloured ones together and they become a pod... that's an idea from Joust (an ageing Williams arcade game, which unfortunately only ever made it onto the ST, and even then not very accurately). You know, when you kill a bird it drops an egg? Well, if you don't get the egg it hatches out into another bird. So we kind of borrowed that idea, in as much as you generate pods, and if you don't get the pods they grow into full size balls again. So the idea just got built up, really."
The division of labour was fairly and squarely between John and Adrian who did most of the actual work on the game. Adrian did the programming and John supplied the scenario, defined the 50 levels of E.Motion, and set up the music etc. It was a very time consuming task, as John describes...
"Well it was in two stages. About a month between conception to having a working version, and then about eight months making changes and polishing. Putting things in that people want to see. We did a first version, and that took about three or four weeks on the ST. We sent it off to US Gold, and they liked it but inevitably they wanted stuff altering and they wanted bonus levels, a different title page and PC versions. All that got spread out for months and months. And now we're doing a version for America and that's taking even longer, because they want even weirder changes."
"They don't like the way the ship moved for a start. In the UK version of E.Motion, you move left to rotate left and right to rotate right, and when you hit the button you move. Well, the Americans wanted left and right just the same, but they wanted to push the stick forward to go forward and brake when you pull the stick back."
"It's okay, it sort of works. I don't like it as much as the original but they wanted it. Also they wanted to save the game at any point and resume there. That was a big pain because we had to bring in loads of disk sector read/write routines which weren't in the original. The American version's got this routine so you can just hit a key at any point and it remembers where you got to, so you can come back later and start from there. I think that's a bit of a mistake, because the whole point of games like this is you want to struggle to see the next level, see what colour it is, what layout it is, that kind of thing. By putting this save and restore in, they just make it dead easy. Adrian can do all 50 levels in quarter of an hour anyway, so why you want to save and restore a game that lasts 15 minutes, I don't know."
E.Motion's graphics were the easiest aspect. None of the team specialise in art particularly, so it was nice to come up with a design that just used things like spheres. All the graphics (the spheres and pipes etc) were actually generated on an Archimedes. The team wrote a program that just allows you to tell the Archimedes how many colours you want to use, and it generates spheres to order -all sizes, all colours, according to the information you give it. So you generate them on the Archimedes, take them over to the ST and plug them into the source code.
"The nice thing about that is that on the ST we use 16 colours, on the Amiga we use 32 colours, and on the PC if you' ve got a VGA card we use 256 colours. And it's no more work for us, because we just went back to the Archimedes and said okay, do 16 colour ones now. I think if we'd have had an artist he'd have been most upset, but the Archimedes didn't seem to mind a bit!"
Once they'd got it working on the ST, the Amiga was easy and the screens quite similar, the PC took a bit longer due to differences in display techniques. The hardest thing was defining the 50 levels. They were all typed in by hand!
"You'd type the co-ordinates of a pipe, its colour and its length... there's no construction set or anything, you just sit at the keyboard and type: 'dc.w 50,100,5 color c' then assemble the whole program, go to that level and look to see how it comes out like you meant. More often than not it doesn't and you have to start all over again - now that's time consuming!"
There's a fine line between abstract and obscure - and E.Motion sits very comfortably on it. It's one of the more bizarre games yet seen, but not in terms of gameplay - that's different alright, but it's still pretty clear cut. What's realty weird is the atmosphere generated by the unique graphics and sound. Visually, everything's perfectly simplistic - there's nothing on screen that isn't needed, and the use of lurid colour creates a feel of an unreal fourth dimension'. The sound is more atmospheric still - the music is very New Age, but it's the in-game effects that really do the job: each effect is a different musical note, so it's not uncommon to hear little accidental tunettes during play. And to add to the abstract feel, an extra life is accompanied by a spooky organ fanfare. E.Motion's a work of genius in the gameplay stakes - well up in the Tetris league. It's all down to a fine blend of manual and mental dexterity, and some of the screens are so fiendishly designed they seem impossible - until you accidentally stumble on the way to do it and it all suddenly seems easy. Until the next screen... It's tough - sometimes taking you to the brink of frustration, but never tipping you over it. Simply un-ball-ievable!
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