We recently spoke with Ezra Driesbach and Brian McNeely, co-founders of Lobotomy Software. Of course the company isn't around anymore but Brian and Ezra was kind enough to chat with us about some of their classic games and the Saturn.

Powerslave


"We also talked to SEGA about doing an underwater adventure game for Dreamcast that we were already working on. The work we had done on the underwater game led SEGA to consider us for the Dreamcast version of Ecco, but obviously that never panned out."

"We really wanted to finish Powerslave/Exhumed 2. It was too bad we didn't because it would have been a great game."

Interview - Lobotomy - Part 2
Conducted by: Will Curly

Sega X: Was it ultimately slightly disillusioning putting so much effort into games that fundamentally were not your own?

Brian: Having to go from creating completely original work to doing ports was the most disillusioning part of it. It wasn't as fun or as satisfying or as personal. We were in a situation where we had to sign those contracts out of necessity, not choice. It was just a job that we had to do to keep the company alive. So by the time we started working on Quake and Duke we had already gotten past the fact that we were going to be re-doing someone else's work, and we forced ourselves to just forge ahead and get the job done.

Sega X: People said at time that with Quake and Duke you pushed the Saturn's 3D powers to the limit. Was their more to come? With more time could you have optimised the PowerSlave engine further?

Ezra: At the end there we were using every piece of hardware that machine had. Oh, except for the 68000 in the sound hardware which Sega didn't release documentation for. We could have probably shaved some cycles off here and there but it was pretty much maxed out.

Sega X: Is it true that you had a version of a split-screen 2-player version of Quake running on Playstation?

Ezra: No. We did have Quake running on the PSX, but it wasn't multi-player. It was looking like it was going to be pretty fast though. Too bad it never went anywhere.

Sega X: When you completed Quake, did SEGA approach you to do any other projects? For a while you were rumoured to be doing the House of the Dead port……

Brian: The House of the Dead thing was just a rumor. We were actually talking with SEGA about doing a 3D version of Death Tank for Dreamcast. We even did some conceptual work on it, both art and design. Basically we were trying to figure out how the game could be done in 3D and still retain the same style of game play.

We also talked to SEGA about doing an underwater adventure game for Dreamcast that we were already working on. The work we had done on the underwater game led SEGA to consider us for the Dreamcast version of Ecco, but obviously that never panned out.

Sega X: Powerslave, Duke Nukem, and Quake (Saturn) -- were these financially profitable for the group? How did they sell overall?

Brian: I really don't know how well Duke and Quake sold, because the company disbanded shortly after they were released. Only 12,000 copies of the U.S. Saturn version of Powerslave were manufactured, and they all sold out fairly quickly. The Japanese version of Powerslave, called "1999 resurrection of the Pharaoh" also sold only a handful of copies. By far, the European version "Exhumed" sold the most due in large part to a much larger manufacturing run and better marketing and media coverage. Overall the company made very little profits from Powerslave though, which directly effected the eventual demise of Lobotomy.

Ezra: Lobotomy was basically on the edge of starvation for its entire existence. We were hoping that the high profile Sega ports would pull us out of our hole, but it didn't happen.

Exhumed 2

Sega X: I remember an Exhumed/Powerslave 2 being in the works. Gamefan showed some graphics/art from it. I assume the project has been long cancelled, however I'd like to ask: were the Lobotomy folks 'glad' to move on, or did they really miss the opportunity?

Brian: We really wanted to finish Powerslave/Exhumed 2. It was too bad we didn't because it would have been a great game.

Sega X: What formats were you planning the game for?

Brian: It was mainly going to be a PlayStation game but we had also talked about doing a PC version as well.

Sega X: How far into development was the game?

Brian: We had built a playable PlayStation demo with a test level and a controllable main character when we stopped. We also had several enemy creatures modeled and animated and a fairly complete design document. Overall though we were probably only 10% into development.

Sega X: What was the design brief?

Brian: The game was to take place in a fictional Egyptian past, where the player character was a young Egyptian soldier, possibly even King Ramses before he became King. So in that sense the game could have been called a "prequel."

As far as game play goes, the world was going to be larger in scope than Powerslave with a lot of the same action and adventure qualities like fast play control action and fighting, puzzle solving, heavy atmosphere and mood, etc. We had also planned to incorporate a unique use of the "afterlife" concept that was a staple in Egyptian beliefs.

Sega X: Was it to be a third person game?

Brian: Yes it was. If so, what are your thoughts on 3D camera positioning? Brian: Third person 3D cameras usually work best when they don't make you feel like you are controlling two entities at once, both the character and the camera. To me, if you can't feel the camera as an obstacle in the game world you become more immersed into the game. Games like Metal Gear Solid and Dino Crisis work well because you don't have to worry about controlling the camera, however, they don't give you the freedom of being able to look anywhere you want to. You are restricted to viewing only what the designers want you to see with fixed cameras and cameras on tracks. Free moving camera systems work best when they are used in huge environments that are wide open. Mario 64 is the best example of a controllable camera system I can think of. In games like this, the fewer objects the camera has to run into, the less the game player notices the camera as an object in the world. At the same time though you still have the problem of controlling both the character and the camera as two separate objects throughout the game, which negatively impacts game play when the two aren't working well together.

Ultimately I feel the best use of a 3D camera system in a third person game would be one in which you never have to control the camera in any way at all, but still get to see everything you want to. But that would require the camera to think like the game player on the fly.

Sega X: There was talk of Lobotomy developing some sort of under-water based N64? Any truth in those rumours?

Brian: Yes, we had a playable PlayStation demo of our underwater adventure game and had done quite a bit of conceptual artwork and design work. Ezra also had a cool game engine in the works for the N64 in hopes of possibly developing the game for that platform. The game had the potential to be a great original title with a very unique game world, but unfortunately we didn't have the chance to finish it.

Death Tank

Sega X: How did it all start? Did Ezra just walk in one day and say: 'Hey guys check out this Death Tank game I've made!'?

Ezra: Pretty close. The guys had come up with that nutty team-doll idea so we needed some kind of reward for the players that found them all. For the European version we had included a bonus mode where you could fly around all the levels, but that was pretty lame. Playmates was kind of dragging their feet on the US release, so I had some extra time and I started working on something better. After about a week of semi-secret development, the game was revealed to the whole company at our Halloween party.

Sega X: Was Death Tank designed as a 6+ player game? For me this when the game is at it's best...

Ezra: Yes. We always had a full game at Lobotomy, so we concentrated on making that fun.

Sega X: I assume the game was not always so perfectly balanced?

Ezra: After the party, we started playing DT for a couple hours a day every day. All this playtesting made the game evolve rapidly. We must have spend a few hundred dollars burning new DT CDs. Intensive playtesting is really the reason that the game turned out so well.

Sega X: Were any mysterious weapons removed from the final code of Death Tank Eine?

Ezra: No, I think all the weapons made it in. Oh, except the "Landscaper", a rapid-fire terrain destroying but not tank hurting weapon. That was just too silly.

Sega X: Do you feel that Death Tank Zwei is perfect or are there still some tweaks you'd like to make?

Ezra: There are some rough edges that I wish I'd fixed. In particular, the physics on the rolling mines is terrible. But I can't think of any new things that would really improve the game. That's not to say that I think there are no significant improvements possible; I'm interested to see what those DD Planet guys come up with.

Sega X: Is there a Death Tank 3 floating around in Ezra's mind somewhere?

Ezra: Maybe not DT3, but I think multiplayer games, online or otherwise, is the most exciting area of game development. I've fooled around with a few different new ideas, but nothing has really turned out good yet.

Sega X: Are you aware of SoJ's soon to be released title: Dee Dee Planet?...essentially four-player online Death Tank plus the odd gameplay contrivance.

Ezra: I've seen the screen shots, but I don't know anything else about it. It's cool to see the concept get some mainstream exposure.

Sega X: It seems odd that Death Tank has never hit the PC?

Ezra: Well, there are some serious problems with a PC DT. DT doesn't make a very good network game because of latency problems and hardly anyone has the big pile of gamepad controllers that they'd need to all play locally.

Sega X: Could you give our readers your Lobotomy's top 3 Death Tank strategies of all time?

Ezra:
1. Be really good with missiles and pirate other people's kills.
2. Save your money during the first part of the game and hang back in 2nd or 3th place so that you are not the main target. During the last few rounds buy a big pile of Death's Heads and catapult yourself into the lead. (Warning: some people will get angry when you do this.) 3. Cancel the standings screen before anyone can read it and then lie about who is in the lead.

Sega X: My friends and I have managed to scrape together about 300 bucks...is there any chance of you and Ezra coding up a DC version of Death Tank for us?

Ezra: For 300 bucks? No way. Don't you think Dee Dee Planet will be good?

And Finally...

Sega X: If Lobotomy were still around today what do you think you'd be working on?

Brian: We would probably be working on a next-generation action adventure game heavy in mood and mythology or another crazy mulitplayer game that Ezra designed. Either way I'm sure we would all be having a good time together.

Ezra: I don't know. But whatever it was, we'd be having fun, working our hardest and probably be dirt poor. Thanks for the excuse to reminisce about the old Lobotomy days. Those were good times.

SEGA X would like to express our heart-felt thanks to Brian and Ezra.….We wish you all the luck in the world with your current pursuits (as long as you keep us posted if it's SEGA related, you got our number!).

I'd like to thank all the people from the SEGA X and DCTP forums that helped me compose the questions, especially dachande12, Cafeman and Dural.



 













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