Lunatik is a cancelled shoot ‘em up that was in development around 1997 by Pure Entertainment, planned to be published by Eidos for Playstation, Sega Saturn and PC. The team wanted to develop something similar to a 3D Defender, while showcasing their gorgeous (at the time) 3D engine, featuring dozens of enemies on screens, high number of polygons and detailed textures.
Unfortunately gameplay was not as fun as they hoped for: the project needed more time to be improved, but Eidos did not want to invest any more money into it. In the end Pure Entertainment reworked Lunatik as some kind of ATI Graphic Cards tech demo, and this version was released in limited quantities in ATI bundles. We can assume this ATI Edition was much different from what the team had originally conceived for Lunatik. As we can read on Sega-Saturn.net:
“But ultimately the project failed because the original concept (3D Defender) was next to impossible to do really well. We tried many different gameplay mechanisms to make it work, and none were working. Ultimately we ran out of time to make it work and Eidos cancelled the project. The game did get a limited release for the PC. It was bundled with graphics cards as a graphics showcase, but the game itself was poor.”
We were also be able to gather some early PR text shared when Eidos were promoting the game to gaming magazines and websites:
“Little known London-based Pure Entertainment is the developer behind the project. They are striving to update the genre with a true 3D engine, giving the player full freedom of movement within Lunatik’s 3D world. LUNATIK is a 3D Shoot ‘Em Up, drawing on the addictive gameplay aspects of classics such as Defender and Zaxxon for inspiration, and merging them with a uniquely dramatic look and feel, the combination of which has never been seen before.
Drawn with strong Manga cartoon influences, the 3D real-time graphics have paved the way for an unusual ‘above and behind’ perspective, which will be backed by some in-house techno tunes.
Lunatik will sport eighteen levels, a barrage of Armageddon-like weaponry (including a heat seeker), power ups galore, shields, cloaking devices to collect and bosses that appear at designated times throughout the game.
One interesting touch is the boss timer. Each of the 18 levels features a construction area, where the enemies are busy building a boss monster. If you fail to complete the mission before the timer ticks down, the boss monster is built, and immediately comes looking for you. Gameplay is very much a case of fire or be fired upon, and if you do succeed then the nastier and smarter the AI of the bad guys gets.
The game itself has 8 large levels, each one being a man made ‘moon’ orbiting the decaying relic that was once Earth. All out war is occurring between 7 of the Corporation Dominated Moons and one other, Nu Earth 3, an indomitable civilization holding out against everything the Corporate armies can throw at them. Your mission? Quite simply, wipe the floor with the enemy.”
Footage from the released ATI Tech Demo (Thanks to Liqmatrix!):
Forwarded onto you the press where the game is described by the team as being like G-Police on Acid and the team talk of the game being converted to the Sega Dreamcast in a mere 2 days, just to test the hardware, no plans for it being a commercial release.
I still have my CD of the game. It’s the one included with an ATI card. If you’d like a copy, can do! I loved the game bc the graphics were very nice indeed.
Personally, I think the ATI release is rather fun. Not to be insulting to the developers, but I think it could have been a solid budget release on the consoles. I discovered this title from this website (thanks again Unseen64) as I had never heard of it. Picked a copy up on Ebay and tried it on Windows 7. It almost works (crashes to the desktop when the game starts even with dgVoodoo2) so I have been playing it on my vintage Win9x system without issue. I will say this game needs a controller as keyboard controls just don’t cut it for me.
The PC version was the ‘lead’ system, written by two of the co-founders, and I came in a bit later to build the PS1 engine and help take their PC gameplay code and map it over to the PS1. By the end of the project I’d optimised the graphics engine so much that it was pushing out more polygons than Sony said their machine could do. I was doing concurrency on a machine that couldn’t do concurrency; It even had real-time lighting and a 3D sound system, which at the time wasn’t really seen or heard (Picture 8 was a screenshot taken by me to test the dynamic lighting, hence the glow in the middle).
Even so, the PC version (with the early graphics cards) had so much more power on hand, so it was always a battle to keep up. This was especially problematic for the Saturn dev, who was struggling to keep up with the PS1 never mind the PC.
Everything written here about the problems with the gameplay is spot on. We started off with full freedom of movement, then put the game on rails (a 2D map over the cities, so you’d still move up and down, but only based on the height-map – this meant enemies and you were on the same level) – it wasn’t a great solution. Ultimately, the game needed more constraints, but it was designed early on to be constraint-free. There was no way back really.
It was a real shame (and pretty gutting for me, as it was my first job in the industry). The co-founders who were driving that part of the project really should have done some gameplay ‘proofs of concept’ earlier on. Instead it was very much a technology arms race at the start. This got us lots of press, because it did look slick – I seem to remember that Edge did a 5 page spread declaring this to be the best game since sliced bread. Of course, the game didn’t exist at that point!
Thanks Paul for all the behind the scenes info. How far along was the PS1 and Saturn versions before it was cancelled, percentage wise, would you estimate? Of course I have to ask, do you have any footage of the PS1 version? The gameplay is fairly basic on the PC version, but I find it to have a nice arcade quality to it. The Blade Runner style atmosphere really makes the game imo.
The Saturn was dead in the water very early. I don’t have a perfect memory, but I seem to remember it being dropped way before the whole project was canned by Eidos. The PS1 version was pretty much keeping up with the PC version, but when the project was cancelled, everything was put into hibernation and the team moved on to other projects. Then when the opportunity came along to put it out as a graphics demo for the PC there was a bit more effort put into building levels and stuff – obviously that extra effort was never ‘back-ported’ to the PS1 version.
The games industry at that point was very much a ‘cottage industry’, a lot of amateur project managers, leaders, etc. many of whom came from the 2D era of games, and when the PS1 came along they were out of their depth. The team sizes were bigger, the games more complex, etc.
Much of my early time in the industry was working on titles that had similar issues to the ones we had on Lunatik. But a lot of those titles ended up getting additional funding to finish them, and they succeeded (some more than others). I suspect with an extra year of funding then this game could have been turned around, but it would have required a real step back by the team and a period of reflection.
Defender was one of my favourite games growing up. So the idea of making a 3D Defender really appealed to me, but the constraints and (to a certain degree) the predictability of Defender is what made it fun. It’s hard to create that in a free roaming world.
The style and look of the game was always something I though was pretty cool (The Blade Runner style, for sure). We had problems getting the feeling of scale right, especially with the low-resolution textures. Interestingly one of the artists who worked on the title is Gavin Rothery, who went on be the co-creator of the film Moon (where he did all the conceptual design), and has just directed a new film Archive which has his design skills all of the set. He’s also obsessed with Blade Runner – and when in art college wrote several dissertations about the meaning of the film :)
Sent some new press and screens over.
Early build released by the devleoper:
Wow! Very cool find by the dev and nice of them to release. Thanks for sharing.