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Spellsinger

Spellsinger is an abandoned game developed by our team, Art & Magic, in 1992.

How it all started

When we started Art & Magic in 1992, we wanted to develop the ultimate arcade game. We worked on both the game and the hardware in parallel. Our hardware was soon capable of pumping large quantities of sprites to build environments with an unprecedented sense of depth. We had developed ideas about a game that would exploit these features, Spellsinger was going to be that game.

You can read about the full hardware development story here.

We chose to develop an heroic-fantasy beat'em up, because we liked that kind of game and the universe was very trendy in the late 80's and early 90's (we were fans of Golden Axe). This would alow us to set our imagination free of pretty much any creative constraints.

Unfortunately, as the game was progessing slowly because of a series of unanticipated difficulties, we had to pause the development several times to work on alternative, commercial-friendly games to keep cash flowing into the company. Ultimately, the project was canned because all of our resources were canibalized by those smaller 'side' projects. In the end the game had so much delay that it was rendered obsolete after about three years in the making.

When we presented a working prototype of Spellsinger at an arcade convention in Germany and the next booth was demonstrating Killer Instinct, their game was head and shoulder above ours, both in term of technology and art. This is the time we decided to quit the coin-op industry for good.

A long journey

Franck working on spellsinger prototype on preludeAs we started the development, Yann worked at the same time on the tools. I would create sprite object in DeluxePaint (the PC version) and then export them to our editor. I would then connect to the hardware prototype and edit the object in the map in real-time, a technique way ahead of its time.

Right: Me editing an early version of the Forest level using the prototype hardware 'Prelude' at my home, a few month before we setup Art & Magic offices in Liege.

Some objects required to be split in several 2d slices in order to provide interesting parallax effect. It was a challenge to create those object but at the same time it was fun to be at the forefront of the technology.

In the early days, I as I was working alone, I didn't make any design of the full game. I had this vague idea in my mind of what would ressemble the final game. From there it was just design 'on the go'.

Later however, as we started to have employees, I made a rough level design of the game on paper. Although it was not at the right scale, it would allow us to agree on the scope and the various sections of the game and evaluate the amount of graphic ressources to be created.

As Yves Grolet would develop a new painting tool called E-Motion, we would eventually stop using Deluxe Paint and use exclusively our internal tool. Iwan created some amazing character animation using classic frame by frame drawing techniques on E-Motion.

Level design

Spellsinger level design01

Spellsinger level design02

Spellsinger level design03

The lost world

Spellsinger is the only project we've worked on for which (to this day) almost every source asset has been lost. There are a couple of backup tapes and floppies here and there, but for now I have not been able to restore the majority of the data. The full prototype Roms and Board seem to have disapeared when the remains of Art & Magic moved along with Deltatec to a new building around 1996.

My contribution

I started alone as a technical artist (and cofounder of the company), with Yann taking care of programming both the low level rendering technology and the tools for me to work with. Later Michael Defroyennes and Iwan Scheer would join me to work respectively on environments and character design.

In the final prototype demo (see video at the beginning of the article), the environment work was roughly evenly split between Michael and me. I did parts of the forest (including the waterfall animation), the village, the basements, Spellsinger's den and bridge, and parts of the Witch's castle. Michael did parts of the forest, the bridges section, most of the caves, the misty plain, the village indoors and a lot of 'glue' elements between various sections. Michael and I developed a very similar style, so appart from the two of us, I think nobody could say who did what.

Iwan did all the characters design and animation, and I did most of the characters coloring (later in the project, Thierry Faymonville helped too). Here's a wip frame from a character animation I was able to restore. It features a rough line drawing by Iwan and my wip of cleaning an coloring the frame.

KRULL57KRULL01

 

Story images gallery

I did all static story images (except the one with the floating boat, by Michael) then Iwan drew the characters on top and I did their lighting. Sorry for the poor quality, most images have been captured from a VHS tape.

Screenshot gallery

Reviews and articles

An article about Spellsinger was published in issue 10 of Pix'n Love (French).

Trivia

  • The name 'Spellsinger' was chosen after a painting by Tony Roberts
  • At some point, we thought about the possibility of making the game for the Sega Megadrive console. A feasability study was done by Yann, you can read it here (in French).
  • At one ECTS show, we showed a video of Spellsinger to Phil Harrison (of Sony Computer Entertainment) who immediately said he wanted us (for the upcoming Playstation). Unfortunately, the hardware guys blocked us from going the Playstation route as it would have meant the end of hardware development for them.
  • Some pre-rendered 3d animated elements can be found throughout the game (such as the swinging chandeliers...). These elements were made and animated with 3d studio 4 to explore the possibilities of 3d animation in our games.

Credits

  • Programming: Yann Robert, Yves Grolet
  • Additionnal programming: Marco Hinic, Philippe Zondack
  • Environment art: Michael Defroyennes, Franck Sauer
  • Character design and animation: Iwan Scheer
  • Additionnal art: Thierry Faymonville
  • Hardware design: Deltatec

 

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