In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
Late in the 20th Century, WESTWOOD GAMES advanced movie tie-in evolution into the PC phase -- a game virtually identical to a console -- known as Blade Runner. The PC Blade Runner game was superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the slacker programmers who created it. Blade Runner was used Off-World as a game, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of market shares. After a bloody mutiny by a Virgin Interactive combat team in an Off-world colony, Blade Runner was declared illegal on Earth -- under penalty of death. Special gaming squads -- STEVIL UNITS -- had orders to play, upon detection, any trespassing copies of Blade Runner.
This was not called gaming.
It was called Gamer Obscura.
CARDIFF JUNE, 2010
By rights, Blade Runner should be fondly remembered as a near-perfect example of how you make a movie tie-in game. Instead, Westwood Games’ expansive masterpiece had so much bad luck on release, that it’s been unfairly languishing in the domain of cult appeal ever since.
‘Cult appeal’ is just a nice way of saying ‘nobody bloody played it’.
Movie licences are awful by default. They’re wretched pieces of software constructed out of big money, short deadlines and no common sense; rushed bits of merchandise that never truly represent their cinematic counterparts.
If put into the lap of any other developer at the time, Blade Runner would have missed the point entirely. It probably would have taken the minimal action found in the sci-fi classic and neglected the slow burning investigation and the pondering of humanity. With time to reflect on The Director’s Cut and its newfound appreciation, Westwood struck upon a great approach – they set the game’s plot in tandem with the movie and gave you an outsider to play. You could make your own actions without feeling like you were restricted to being an actor in a movie you had to follow to the letter.
Blade Runner Developer: Westwood Studios Release Info: Published by Virgin in 1997, then re-released on EA Classics during their ‘evil’ era, works perfectly on Vista and you can easily find a copy on eBay!
Set during the movie’s timeline, Ray McCoy is a rookie Blade Runner who finds himself way out of his depth when a routine animal murder investigation turns into a hunt for a suspected Replicant gang, lead by the enigmatic Clovis. As the investigation is sidetracked by the discovery of police corruption, Clovis’ gang commits more terrorist acts against the Tyrell Corporation’s employees; specifically the original Replicant designers. While digging into both cases, McCoy is framed for murder and is forced to go on the run with the help of a fellow Blade Runner named Crystal Steele. Eventually, McCoy has to clear his name and come to a decision about the survival of the Replicants he’s hunting. Oh, there’s also the question of McCoy’s humanity to resolve in the process.
Cue dramatic music...n-nuh-now!
As a game, Blade Runner doesn’t really break the genre mould. It’s essentially a point and click adventure where puzzles are reduced to a bare minimum and it’s the choices you make as an investigator that ultimately changes the direction of the plot.
A majority of the game revolves around you asking questions and following the clues, with moments of tense action set-pieces involved (you know, like the movie obviously). While there’s a linear, progressive arc involved, the game’s additional investigative content and randomisation of characters’ real identities keep the game fresh with each replay.
To aid you in your interrogations, you even get to use the Voight-Kampff machine from the film. The way it works here is that you ask a series of questions in order to provoke emotional responses, without breaking them and terminating the test. It makes sense when you’ve seen the film and here it’s an engaging mini-game of ‘spot the skin job’.
The randomisation element comes into play here since the questions and answers are different every time and you won’t always know for sure about the suspect’s identity. Sometimes it can go undecided if you fail, but that doesn’t necessarily mean game over; it just adds to the prevalent theme of uncertainty as the line between man and machine blur.
For example, in one play-through, you’ll assume Lucy is a Replicant, until there’s a scene where she asks for the Voight-Kampff Test. Several questions later, Lucy turns out to be human and you’ll feel more sympathetic towards the ‘evil’ Replicants (doesn’t stop you ‘retiring’ them if you want though). On the next play-through, she doesn’t take the test, flees and gets gunned down in a scene reminiscent of Deckard ‘retiring’ Zhora. She can be a ‘skin job’ during a time when you’ll assume she’s human again.
Ultimately, the game is constantly provoking you to think about who is what in the dystopia you call home.
Los Angeles circa 2019 is the real star of the movie and it’s no different in the videogame. Familiar locations are lovingly recreated for exploration and expansion, as Westwood went out of their way to create their own little artistic masterpieces with the help of the film’s set designer, Syd Mead (Tron and Alien too). Apparently, Mead did more than just sign off on the artwork; he actually gave critical feedback on the project.
Eat that, Tom "I don't even write my own books anymore" Clancy!
The fact that you wander around just about every movie location, with all that remembered fine detail, adds to the immersion factor rather than cheapen it for a quick reminisce. You could get a decent carbon copy with Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher, but it didn’t have anything close to a recreation of the Bradbury Building or Bryant’s office; the latter is even complete with the same panning camera shot.
It’s just a shame that the characters aren’t made with such care. Westwood created them using Voxel pixels, during a time when everyone was moving on to 3D polygons. In the long distance shots, the characters are as fluid and sharp as the backgrounds, but as they get closer to the screen, they become a blurry mess of limited animations. Still, the drunken vision doesn’t detract from the experience and that’s mostly down to the thought-out script branches and voice acting.
While Blade Runner doesn’t really expand on its counterpart’s themes, it does an excellent job of reiterating them for an interactive generation. McCoy is really likable due to your customisation of questioning and narration; having full control or selecting a preset range of emotions. The minor actors actually give better performances than the famous ones.
Though there might be some biased feelings going on here, since it features Dr. Cuddy from House M.D. when she was younger and probably just as hot.
Either way, a particular highlight is the ‘Harrison Ford hates Sean Young’ range of surly responses. Speaking of Young, she probably puts in the most stilted delivery for a five minute scene since ‘acting robot’ David Duchovny’s finest wooden turn in XIII.
Only a handful of original actors make their reappearances though – Chew, Leon, Rachel, J.F. Sebastian and Tyrell. Apparently, Edward James Olmos and Rutger Hauer couldn’t the find time in their schedules to reprise Gaff and Batty, but I don’t think Hauer would have done it anyway.
The guy is too busy starring in Hobo With A Shotgun and my personal favourite Blind Fury.
What Blade Runner achieved was phenomenal despite its commercial failure. Westwood had the benefit of hindsight and no ‘synergy’ release dates forced upon them. They placed the player in a nostalgic wonderland of sight and sound, while giving them something to think about in the process.
Sadly, it was published in a transitional phase for PC gaming; consoles were in and PCs were out, while the adventure genre was at death’s door. So the recognition it deserved couldn’t be duly served. It’s probably highly unlikely that in this gaming industry, it will ever get a decent reappraisal considering the reputation we’re quick to lavish on movie licensed games. Still, when you get something of this calibre, enjoy it while it lasts and cherish those gaming memories.
‘It’s too bad she won’t live...but then again, who does?’