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


"No, not specifically [when speaking on Sega development] We had already been developing the PC version of Powerslave/Exhumed for about a year when we signed our contracts with Playmates Interactive and BMG to develop the game for the PlayStation and Saturn platforms."

"The company lived from milestone to milestone and never managed to get ahead. There were a lot of poor business decisions made and a lot of missed paychecks, and I was amazed that we all stuck together as long as we did."

Interview - Lobotomy - Part 1
Conducted by: Will Curly

Before we get on with interview let me turn the tables for a moment and ask you - the scholarly yet unabashedly attractive SEGA X reader - a question? If SEGA X were a game, which game would it be?? (answers on a postcard: leadfoetus@yahoo.com). I'd say: Shen Mue. Think about it…..an extraordinarily good-looking cast of characters and most importantly that fusion between cutting-edge conceptions and old-skool regressions……In light of this, let me take you make to the days when men were men, women were women and SEGA fans were a rare and stoic breed. Back in the day these boys ruled the roost, knocking out Saturn games that defied belief left, right and centre. Big conversions of Quake and Duke Nukem made the Saturn sweat blood while Exhumed showed the kind of ingenuity that made you sit up and take notice…..And then there was Death Tank, but ain't even gonna' start on that one! LOBOTOMY SOFTWARE Inc.: you know them, you respect them, you wish they were still together……..SEGA X is proud to present Brian McNeely and Ezra Dreisbach (co-founders of Lobotomy and all round great guys)…..Take it away boys!

Sega X: How did you guys start out?

Brian: We started the company in 1993. There were four of us initially and we had all been working together at Nintendo of America for about four years when we decided to break away and start Lobotomy.

The first two years were very difficult. We were living off of savings and working out of an apartment for a few months on our first project called "Joe Louis Boxing." It was a SNES boxing game based on the career of Joe Louis. I still have the demo and every now and then I'll look at it for a good laugh. We shopped it around at the '93 CES show in Vegas, and most of the publishers we met with saw potential in our work but wanted to "see more." At the very least we managed to get our name out there and make some new contacts.

Shortly after we managed to secure a small office space and we spent the next year developing various playable SNES demos, including a pinball game called "Pigball." The player character was a fat little round pig with a jetpack and hover boots who doubled as the pinball. We also made a side scrolling demo using a hippie with flapping wide leg pants as the main character. I really have no idea where that concept was going. Anyway, we were running out of money so we started testing games for various publishers to bring in some extra money, but it just wasn't enough to keep us above water.

In early 1994 we almost threw in the towel. We were broke and discouraged. We had been spending a couple of months putting together a first person demo using the BUILD engine in hopes of signing a contract with Apogee. Luckily they liked what we had done and we signed on with them to develop the PC version of Powerslave. At the same time we signed two other contracts. One was for Microsoft Soccer for Windows. The other was to port "The Horde" from PC to SNES. We finally had enough money to hire some new people so we brought in about 10 guys and the Lobotomy Fraternity was born.

Sega X: Was there always an interest in SEGA hardware?

Brian: No, not specifically. We had already been developing the PC version of Powerslave/Exhumed for about a year when we signed our contracts with Playmates Interactive and BMG to develop the game for the PlayStation and Saturn platforms. We were always interested in developing the game for a home console system, but we didn't necessarily lean toward one over another.

Sega X: Exactly what happened to bring about the break-up of Lobotomy?

Brian: The company lived from milestone to milestone and never managed to get ahead. There were a lot of poor business decisions made and a lot of missed paychecks, and I was amazed that we all stuck together as long as we did. No one wanted to leave because we had so much fun working together and we were really passionate about our work. Eventually though, we all had to leave out of financial necessity.

Sega X: Where are the former members now?

Brian: Boss Game Studios, Snowblind Studios, N-Space, Gas Powered Games, EA, Cavedog, Crave, and some are unaccounted for.

PowerSlave

Sega X: What sequence of events led up to the decision to develop PowerSlave for Saturn?

In today's industry it's hard to imagine anyone taking a gamble like that……

Brian: Originally we set out to just port the PC version of Powerslave over to the PlayStation and Saturn platforms. But back then first person shooters were pretty much exclusive to the PC platform, and any ports that made it over to a console platform were never designed specifically for consoles to begin with. So we had an opportunity to provide the PlayStation and Saturn markets with a decent first person action-adventure game that was to be designed specifically for those platforms, not a port. There were several changes I wanted to implement in the game that would cater to the console gaming market and give them a completely original game, so I re-designed the entire game with that in mind. It was a gamble but luckily it worked out in the end.

Sega X: At what point in the process was the Egyptian aesthetic decided upon?

Brian: Very early on we started designing an RPG game with an Egyptian theme that played more like Ultima Underworld, which was popular at the time. When Apogee approached us with the opportunity to make a first person action game we immediately knew that it had to utilize an Egyptian theme. We had always been very interested in using an Egyptian theme as a game premise. Player's are used to fighting aliens and zombies in games.

Sega X: Was Egyptian imagery and legend used to put the player ill-at-ease with his surroundings?

Brian: We knew that by incorporating the Egyptian theme we could create a game that was more unique in the way that it looked and felt than other first person games. Egyptian mythology is full of great material for enemies and environments, and we definitely wanted to use those elements in a way that would make the game player feel like they were in a strange and threatening place. Mainly we wanted to build a game world that was more vibrant and intriguing than other games available at the time.

Sega X: How much research was done into the Egyptian legends?

Brian: We did quite a bit of research to ensure that the Egyptian influence was authentic. Most of the items and most of the locations in the game have meaning based on actual Egyptian legends. For example, the "Sobek Mask" that allows you to breathe underwater is named after the Egyptian god "Sobek" who is portrayed in Egyptian mythology as having amphibious properties, so the name of the artifact actually has authenticity. The entire game is full of things like this. Not incredibly deep, but at least meaningful in some way or another.

Sega X: PowerSlave worked through a gradual build up of atmosphere rather than a reliance on shock moments. Would you agree?

Brian: Yes. The distribution of new powers, new weaponry, new puzzles, new enemies, and new locations to the player established a pace and rhythm in the game that was meant to slowly build up to a big finish. It was very important to me that the game player gradually unfolded the game world, experiencing a variety of atmospheric effects along the way that utilized a lot of contrast, different color schemes, lighting, times of day, music, and different styles of terrain and architecture. It was also important that the player always had a clear goal in front of them at all times, and that by accomplishing those goals they were rewarded with a permanent new skill, like being able to jump twice as high or levitate. This made the next goal more interesting to reach and gave the player a good sense of accomplishment as well.

Sega X: The power-up system is unique and adds a real dose of strategy to the proceedings. How did you decide upon such an unusual system?

Brian: At the time, first person games lacked in adventure elements, and they were also very linear. They were mostly made up of walking around killing everything in front of you, looking for the next key to open the next door leading to the next level. In some of them you couldn't even jump. Others let you jump up about 2 inches. I hated being restricted like that and feeling like I was stuck to the ground. Also, nothing was being done with character development in first person games other than a few temporary power ups here and there and the ability to get better weaponry. All of this motivated me to make Powerslave different by exaggerating the physical characteristics of the player character and incorporating a feeling of freedom and loftiness. Things like allowing the player to jump 20 feet into the air, float down slowly from jumps, and levitate. These abilities allowed us to create game play scenarios that required a more dexterous style of play and that also used the terrain more as an obstacle.

Sega X: PoweSlave tended to hold back on the big Doom-esque 'blood-bath' type battles, was this a conscious decision or at the time were you unable to display enough enemies at once?

Brian: It was a combination of both. Even though we were limited to displaying only a certain amount of enemies on screen I don't think we would have cluttered the game with hordes of enemies if we could have. A lot of personality is taken away from an enemy when he is stuck in a pile with ten other enemies that look and act exactly the same as he does. However, we used lesser enemies like the spiders in packs to create a few "blood bath" moments here and there to break up the pace of the game a bit.

Sega X: Was PowerSlave always a first person game? In the wake of Tomb Raider it's hard to imagine anyone producing an adventure game not in the third person.

Brian: It was always a first person game. We started developing Powerslave well before third person 3D games became popular, so it wasn't an issue.

Sega X: Did you want the player to feel as if she was 'actually there' rather than prescribing a character to associate with?

Brian: I mostly wanted the players to feel like they were actually the main character more than forcing a fictional personality on them. That is why the main character never speaks in the game. I didn't want to take away from the experience by using ridiculous one-liners. Unfortunately those were in the PC version instead.

Sega X: What were the pro's and cons of Saturn programming, vs. PSX programming, from the team's perspective.

Ezra: The Saturn is pretty quirky, and there are a lot of different bits in it to fool with. This makes it kind of fun, but it also makes it kind of frustrating. The PSX is faster, cleaner and the market is bigger. Those are pretty strong advantages.

Sega X: How come the Saturn version had spiders and the Playstation version had Scorpions?

Brian: That was a Sony of America decision. They wanted at least one element in the game to be different from the Saturn version, so we decided to change one enemy.

Sega X: Were SEGA genuinely surprised by the quality of PowerSlave?

Brian: SEGA of Europe liked the game enough to publish it as a first party title in Europe, which helped boost the game's popularity in the European market. However, both SEGA of America and Playmates Interactive overlooked the game for the most part and it wasn't marketed as a high profile title. Only about 12,000 copies of the Saturn version of Powerslave were manufactured for the U.S. market! Needless to say that was pretty disappointing for us. On the brighter side though, without Powerslave we would have never acquired our contracts for the Quake and Duke ports, both of which were first party Sega titles.

Sega X: Apart from Death Tank what games were the team playing while creating PowerSlave?

Brian: We played a lot of Quake Deathmatch, some Bomberman battles, and a little bit of Warcraft and Command and Conquer. But Death Tank was the king of the office. We played about twice a day for almost a year and a half and we never tired of it.

Sega X: When was the 'Team Dolls' idea concocted? I think most people saw it as a satisfying nod towards the highly skilled, hardcore SEGA gamers out there.

Brian: Throughout development we had always wanted to give the game player a lot of secrets and rewards to uncover that didn't necessarily impact the main flow of the game and also made the game world feel even bigger and more mysterious. We wanted to accommodate both the casual game player and the hardcore game player by giving them secrets that could be stumbled upon by accident or uncovered by thoroughly exploring each area. It was never set in stone that we would include these secret areas in the game until the game was almost done.

We were testing a nearly complete version of the game and our sound engineer discovered the "bomb boost" technique while he was trying to get up to a high ledge that was out of normal jumping reach. He looked straight down at the ground, jumped, and threw an Amun Bomb to boost himself up to the ledge. We had been developing the game for almost a year and never even knew this was possible! This immediately led to more discussions about building secret areas throughout the game that would require the bomb boost and other tricky techniques to uncover. We decided to go ahead and build them into the game at the last minute and use the Team Dolls as the rewards for uncovering them.

Duke and Quake

Sega X: I hear that you were not the first people to be approached by SEGA to convert these titles?

Brian: Yes there were other developers considered for the job, but in the end SEGA chose us because of our experience developing the Saturn version of Powerslave and our technology.

Ezra: I think some other developer was actually working on Saturn Quake for awhile before us.

Sega X: The UK Sega Saturn magazine was behind you all the way, did their support have any effect on SEGA's eventual decision to use you?

Brian: All of the positive press we received from the UK helped improve our reputation in the industry, which in turn helped us acquire our Duke and Quake contracts. Their influence definitely helped us in many ways.

Sega X: Were you aware of just how much coverage Lobotomy was getting in the aforementioned magazine?

Brian: They were really good about sending us the issues that contained Lobotomy information, so fortunately we had the chance to see most of the coverage we were getting.

Sega X: Do you appreciate the level design and gameplay of Duke Nukem? It is a very different game to PowerSlave.

Brian: What I appreciate most about the Duke Nukem design is the amount of interaction between the character and the environment. They did a great job with those details and I think it really helped pull the game player into the game. I also like all of the extra surprises and humor scattered around the levels.

Sega X: In Quake's case you must have felt an overwhelming urge to tweak the one-player game?

Brian: I think ID was very clear about not making any major design changes in the game, so it was never even considered.

Sega X: If you could have made one radical gameplay change to each game, what would it have been?

Ezra: This isn't a gameplay change, but it would have been nice if the Quake art wasn't so green and brown dominated. Those colors really didn't translate well to TV display.

Brian: I always thought the single player Quake game was kind of boring. After the first couple of levels I didn't feel motivated to keep playing because there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for all of it other than to get to the next level. I would have added a strong story element that clarifies who you are, what your objective is, where you are, what time period you are in, and why you need to reach the end of the game.

Want More? Click here to read about Exhumed 2, Death Tank, and more.



 













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Design and graphics copyright 1999 NT Design. Sega X is in no way affiliated with Sega of America, Japan or Europe. Content copyright 1999 Sega X. All Rights Reserved.
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