Cheese Chase is a maze arcade game running on a custom board developped and published by Art & Magic (our team), manufactured by Themes (Deltatec) and distributed by NOVA in Europe.
How it all started
Of mice and doors
The development of Stone Ball was now at full speed, I met with an independant game designer (whose name I forgot I'm afraid) in an Arcade Games exhibition in Paris. We talked a lot and he told me about a personnal project he was working on. I found the concept pretty interesting and asked him if he could show us some demo.
A few weeks later, he came to our offices in Belgium with a prototype of the game running on MS-DOS. There was this clever idea about rotating doors in a maze that could be blocked by entities or obstacles on the other side.
We thought it was an interesting game mechanic, and with some improvements and added production values, a game based on this mechanic could have the potential to be turned into a nice arcade game.
Christian, our marketing and business development Director began negociating with the guy, and soon told us we could start working on the game as he was about to reach an agreement with him. We started researching new ideas to expand the concept.
Yann Robert was very busy on Stone Ball, and Yves Grolet had just finished working on our internal painting and animation tool 'E-Motion', Yves would then be the lead programmer on the game. Yves came-up with new game mechanics and developped a special in-game editor to quickly create dozens of levels based on a system of tiles. This was mandatory as the total production time was limited to 6 month (of which only 3 months for the actual software development).
In my art department, we started looking to develop a universe to put the game into. I had comics about funny rats living in a post-apocalyptic world, and I thought rats would be nice baddies for the game, from there came the idea of the mouse and then setting up the maze for it looking for cheese became quite obvious.
We tried to accomodate to this new project by balancing workload between some of the artists. Iwan Scheer would do the character design and animation, Thierry Faymonville would work on the animation cleanup and coloring, while Michael Defroyennes would create the tile-based environments.
This was quite an easy development. No particular difficulties, a reasonably mature technology, simple concepts, and a small scope. However, at about half the development course, we heard the original designer of the concept had an argument with Christian over his implication in the project. To our astonishment, we heard he had been removed completely from the project. We, at the development team, were really feeling bad about this (me first as I was the one who had made this collaboration possible).
We left Christian with the responsibility of the dispute and moved on with the development. It was true our game now had little to do with the original MS-DOS demo we had been shown, but the original mechanic was still there, and the game would simply not have existed without it.
The game got released on time and on budget and we never heard of the original designer.
Only later, when Yves, Yann and I had left Art & Magic to start our new company 'Appeal' we heard the guy had sued Art & Magic for plagiarism. It took him a few years but he finally won the case and was due an important sum of money. All I can say is we, as creative people, were happy the guy finally had his work recognised and paid for, even if it was the hard way. I know how hard it can be for creative people to retain their intellectual property in this industry and this made me smile inside.
Besides leading the art department and working mostly on Spellsinger, I did some additionnal art such as HUD, bonuses, effects, and all the sound effects.
I also co-composed the music (with Christian) and did all the orchestration, arrangements and recording.
Here are the two musics composed for the game. These are actual ROM captures and play at 8 KHz (hence the rather poor sound quality). I still have the original arrangements but it would take quite some times to remap those on modern instruments.
Click to download in MP3 format (276.23kB)
Click to download in MP3 format (221.94kB)
We used E-Motion and our proprietary in-game editor mostly. At one point we started using early versions of Photoshop on some elements (version 2 I think), and the noise effect on the intro screen was done there.
Unlike Stone Ball, there was no need for multiple pseudo 3d views on the characters, so we did not use any 3d software for this production. All animation was hand-drawn.
I used Cubase on a Atari 520 ST to create the musics using Roland U220 and D50 for the sounds.
Game images gallery
Reviews and articles
There is a nice article by Eric Cubizolle in Pix'n Love #13 (French)
Some extra details about the game can be found here: http://www.arcade-museum.com/game_detail.php?game_id=7322
I don't have figures but we heard they were pretty poor. Poorer than Stone Ball. This was all going down now, and we felt the 2D arcade world was dying and our hadware design was also ageing very fast. At that point, we started eying on real-time 3D technologies and alternative markets. But could Art & Magic and Deltatec afford the necessary investment required to move to 3d?
During the academic year 2010-2011, we asked our 2nd grade students @HEAJ to remake (some parts of) Cheese Chase using modern technology. Here's one of them by Coline Turquin:
Lead programming: Yves Grolet
Additional programming: Yann Robert, Philippe Zondack
Environment Art: Michael Defroyennes
Character design, modeling and animation: Iwan Scheer
Character cleanup and coloring: Thierry Faymonville
Art direction, additional art: Franck Sauer
Marketing and quality control: Christian Dutillieux
Game music and sound: Franck Sauer
Hardware design: Deltatec
How to play the game today
You can get a real board quite easily on ebay for between 25 and 50 euros, but youll need a JAMMA cabinet. Alternatively you can build a RGB video cable based on JAMMA specs to connect to a monitor but you'll need a separate power supply (a PC power supply has all the required voltages).
You can play the game on PC (and other platforms) using the excellent software emulator MAME. You can download the ROMs below. There are two versions of the game: for two and four players.