Unreal is an action adventure game for the Amiga computer developped by Ordilogic (our group) and published in 1990 by Ubisoft. The game features two distinct parts, one being a 2D side-scroller beat'em up/platformer, the othe being a pseudo 3D arcade game with zooming sprites.
Click to download in MP3 format (10.98MB)
The main title image is based on the 1976 fantasy painting by Tim White called 'Lord of the Spiders' that is also used on the box cover. Although I started with a scan of the original painting, the digitizer I had was only capable of producing grayscale images. In order to reproduce the piece in full color I had to devise a useable palette and repaint most of the elements (such as the background city and the foreground plants.
One of the key aspect of Unreal was it basically contained two different games in a single package. We were fans of both beat'em up adventures such as 'Rastan Saga' and arcade flying games such as 'Galaxy Force' and it's not difficult to see how these two titles inspired our game.
The second ending screen was a hint at what a sequel could have been if it had been developed, a sci-fi game with 3D sequences.
How it all started
From 1988 to 1989, my daily job at Ubisoft was to work on 8 bits projects such as Iron Lord for the Commodore 64 with Yves Grolet, Marc Albinet and the rest of the C64 dev team. We were starting to get tired of the old machine, and at home, during our spare time, we were trying things on the more recent beast, the Amiga.
Right: My workspace in my appartment in Redon (a small town near Ubisoft's offices), 1989. Gotta love the pic on the wall lol. You see that Amiga 2000 behind me, it is still up and running in my current workspace.
Yann Robert was programmer at the accounting department at Ubisoft. He wanted to move to the games development department and to prove he was a skilled programmer who could handle the trickeries of games development, he had started a port of Skateball, another Ubisoft game of the time, to the C64 in his spare time.
We were impressed and were proud to have him join our group. We decided the four of us (Yves, Marc, Yann and I) would work together on a new game for the Amiga.
Yves had some ideas for making fast zooming sprite routines, and Yann was thinking about a way to build a smooth scroller with objects you could place anywhere on the screen (as opposed to the more traditionnal tile approach). We decided Marc would do the art for Yves' 3D part, and I would do the art for Yann's 2D part.
Working on the game after a full day at work proved to be a very difficult and energy consuming process. At some point we realized it would not be possible to do all the game that way, we were too slow, and we went to see Ubisoft to show them the prototype. We agreed it would be impractical to work in the studio and that it would be better if we were independant. Ubisoft agreed to publish the game once finished. We all resigned and went back home, wich meant Belgium for me.
Back to belgium
At the time, Belgium law required you to be 21 to start a business. I was only 19. So the first thing for me was to go see the juge of the Commercial Court so I could be emacipated. Then, I became a freelance artist.
While working on Unreal, we were being paid on a per milestone basis, on royalty advances. We would send the version for testing to Ubisoft and they would send us a report such as this one (in french). Yeah you read that one right, our tester was Serge Hascoet, a very nice guy now Chief Creative Officer at the top management of Ubisoft.
We tried to see each other as much as possible with the members of the team, but the communication in the early 90s was not as easy as it is now . No internet, no hi-speed trains. I had received a 2400 bauds modem from Ubisoft to transmit data to and from Yann, but at some point we felt it was too much pain, Yann settled in a room in my parent's house to improve the development process as the game was nearing to an end.
When the game finally shipped in 1990, we had already started working on our next Amiga project.
The de-facto painting tool at the time on Amiga was of course the excellent Deluxe Paint II (and later III):
Unfortunately, there was no tablet (that I knew of) available for the Amiga, so I had to learn how to paint with a mouse.
I mainly worked on the 2D part of the game. I did some extra artwork such as the dragon animation, HUD, one sky image, and the flying castle animation for the 3D level. All other art for the 3D levels was done by Marc Albinet. Marc did also a few monsters for the 2D part. We also had Francois Deon, another artist who did a few enemies to help us as well.
The way I worked was to first get some documentation from books, paintings or magazines (no internet at the time). I also took some reference photographs in order to get a sense of composition and proportions and to provide some inspiration. Here are some pictures of Yann posing for me in natural environments:
I would then sketch some quick concept on paper, either of a full level or of some individual objects.
To produce the assets and edit the levels, I would fist create a page with graphics elements such as these:
Then I would launch Unreal Editor (yeah it existed 10 years before the 'other' Unreal Editor) in another task, thanks to the Amiga multitasking abilities, and capture objects from DPaint to send them to the editor. From there I could place each object individually and compose the 3 screens wide levels.
Here's some notes I found about the use of the editor for those interested: Unreal_Editor
Concept sketches gallery
As you can see in the concept sketch gallery below, I tend not to spend too much time on concepts as I know technical constraint will force me to change shape/color arrangements anyways. I prefer spending my time on the actual asset instead of doing pretty concepts that will not be used otherwise.
Forest level elements gallery
Snow level elements gallery
Castle level elements gallery
Ink drawings gallery
This gallery contains ink drawings I did for the game's manual, with some extra drawings that were never published.
Full game video
Reviews and articles
Hall of Light (includes many reviews and magazine scans)
Scans of Joystick Unreal review and front page (PDF) (fr) with a nice pic of the young me :)
There's an excellent article about Unreal (in French) by Eric Cubizolle in Pix'n Love #11 featuring Marc Albinet and Thomas Landspurg (programmer of the vectorball intro of the game).
There is another nice article by David Taddei in his book '101 Jeux Amiga' (french) : http://101jeuxamiga.fr/
Nominated for the Gen d'Or for best visuals. 95%
Megastar (Joystick). 93%
Zero Hero (Zero Ten) 90%
CU Screen Star (CU Amiga) 87%
TGM Star Player (The Games Machine) 86%
Advertising and special features
There was a lot of advertising in magazines, some featured detacheable mini-posters.
About 20k on Amiga. I don't have figures for the Atari ST and PC versions.
- When the game shipped, we were contated by the French magazine Generation4 saying that we were nominated for the Gen D'or award for best art. We were thus invited to the ceremony at the Grand Rex in Paris, followed by a premiere of the Arachnophobia movie, followed by a party at the famous club Chez Regine. Although we didn't get the award (there were two other contenders), it was an incredible experience and the party was just insane.
- We almost got killed when we went with Marco, Ubisoft's producer on the project, in the UK to see the programmer responsible for the ST conversion of the game. Marco was a very innatentive driver and completely forgot they were driving left in the country.
- I was not aware, not until many years later, there had been a PC (DOS) conversion of the game. Needless to say we did not see a cent neither from the ST nor from the DOS version.
- When I did the sound effects for the game, the only sound I couldn't find was the mosquito/fly one. I ended up synthesizing one with my Roland D50. If you listen carefully, you can tell this is not the real deal.
- To promote the game in europe, we would go to the ECTS (European Computer Trade Show) in London. There was this nice tradition to place a sticker on visitors as they were going through each booth. At the end of the show, it was to the one who had the most stickers on his jacket. I created this sticker for Unreal:
- The game was often cited as the 'Shadow of the Beast' killer. Well, hum we were young and stupid, and we never managed to sell as much as they did but it was fun nevertheless.
Programming: Yves Grolet, Yann Robert
Art: Marc Albinet, Franck Sauer
Music: Maniacs of Noise
Sound Effects: Franck Sauer
Additionnal programming: Gilles Delmotte, Michel Jansens, Thomas Landspurg
Additionnal art: Francois Deon
Story: Jean-Luc Wilgaut
Testing: Serge Hascoet
Ordilogic team photoshoot gallery
This is from a photoshoot session we did in Namur in 1990 with the Ordilogic team: Marc Albinet, Yves Grolet, Yann Robert and me. Don't we look like the next boys band of the 90's :P
How to play the game today
If you don't own a real Amiga, the best is to play it on the WINUAE emulator.