Interview - Lobotomy - Part
Conducted by: Will Curly
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: email@example.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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
X: Was there always an interest in SEGA hardware?
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.
X: Exactly what happened to bring about the break-up of
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
X: Where are the former members now?
Boss Game Studios, Snowblind Studios, N-Space, Gas Powered
Games, EA, Cavedog, Crave, and some are unaccounted for.
X: What sequence of events led up to the decision to develop
PowerSlave for Saturn?
today's industry it's hard to imagine anyone taking a gamble like
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.
X: At what point in the process was the Egyptian aesthetic
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
X: What were the pro's and cons of Saturn programming, vs. PSX
programming, from the team's perspective.
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.
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
X: Were SEGA genuinely surprised by the quality of
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.
X: Apart from Death Tank what games were the team playing while
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.
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.
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
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
Duke and Quake
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.
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
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.
X: Were you aware of just how much coverage Lobotomy was getting
in the aforementioned magazine?
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.
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.
X: In Quake's case you must have felt an overwhelming urge to
tweak the one-player game?
I think ID was very clear about not making any major design
changes in the game, so it was never even considered.
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
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
Want More? Click
here to read about Exhumed 2, Death Tank, and