Retrogamer by day, amateur game developer by night - Johnny L. de Alba, known in gaming circles as Arkonviox, has been a gamer all his life. His first console was the Atari 2600, which he still owns and manages to play from time to time. If he isn't gaming, he's making games as he remembers them best; Side scrolling and in the 8-bit style.
Johnny writes articles for a variety of websites on varied topics such as pirated and homebrew games for obsolete consoles, game development, and Ecco the Dolphin. For his latest articles visit his Retrogaming and Ecco the Dolphin website Arkonviox.com.
An echo of the past, as Ed Annunziata counts down the final few minutes of his Kick Starter campaign, The Big Blue. Did anyone in the gaming community know what this was all about? Did The Big Blue fail because of a lack of real content? Was it a video game, trading cards, or a virtual reality experience? Or all of the above? To answer these questions we need to dig deeper into why Ed Annunziata would bother launching a Kick Starter project in the first place.
Most of Ed Annunziata's success lies in a forgotten gem of the past called Ecco the Dolphin. Released initially for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Ecco the Dolphin centers around a dolphin protagonist who has to save his family from the alien Vortex. In a world where humans are long gone, cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) live in an undisturbed world of sunken ships, ancient city runes, and the many dangers that accompany underwater life. Crystal glyphs scatter the sea, making up puzzles that must be solved in order to progress through each level. At one point our hero Ecco, must access a time machine to travel back to prehistoric times, to face greater dangers than what is dealt with in the present. Ecco the Dolphin is about exploration, as he navigates past under water volcanoes, or through the frozen waters of the north. It's a great game based off an original idea, unfortunately for Ed Annunziata, he doesn't own the rights.
Who is Ed Annunziata anyways? He is a game developer who created the story behind Ecco the Dolphin. Had Ecco the Dolphin not been a hugely successful title, it wouldn't have spawned a sequel; Ecco 2: The Tides of Time. In fact, another Ecco the Dolphin was released for the ailed Sega Dreamcast, and later ported to the PlayStation 2. Titled Ecco, Defender of the Future, it was unlike it's 16-bit predecessor as the player could now explore a new world in 3 dimensions. Ecco, Defender of the Future is the brainchild of author David Brin – known for the Uplift series. Ed Annunziata would play no role with Ecco, Defender of the Future.
If Ed Annunziata created Ecco the Dolphin, than why doesn't he own the rights? Who owns Ecco the Dolphin? The answer is the very same company who brought to you Sonic the Hedgehog - Sega. If Sega has no plans to release a new Ecco the Dolphin, why would they need to continue holding on to the rights? Why can't they just license the game out to a 3rd party who is willing to risk developing a new game. Whatever the reason Sega has, Ed would desperately try and fail at winning over the executives in charge. Ed would move on to KickStarter, taking an old idea and giving it new life. What would Ed call his crazy idea? The Big Blue.
The Big Blue borrows many ideas from Ecco the Dolphin, including being based in a world where humans are mostly extinct. The world of the Big Blue hints at possibly being the same world Ecco the Dolphin is from, as cetaceans inhibit many of the tactics Ecco had used to navigate his own world. For example there are a group of cetaceans called the Archeologists, who use sonar to uncover ancient ruins. Their greatest tool is a song used to shatter stone that allows them to explore places they would otherwise be unable to cross. Song plays an important role for how cetaceans communicate. Through song, dolphins and whales can not only communicate, they can transmit images of a place or object – like a memory transfer. Special songs used to transfer memories are reminiscent of the Sega CD Ecco the Dolphin movie - where others communicate with Ecco through their memories. The role of memory transferring songs grows significant as the player progresses through the world of The Big Blue.
Who is the protagonist?
According to the Big Blue's Project website, the protagonist is You, but “You” could mean a lot of different things. The Big Blue is about exploration, which upon a first impression makes it nothing more than a glorified ocean simulator. The Big Blue is a game where You, the player, chooses creatures with whom you'll use to populate your own sea. The player will be able to control any creature out of his or her sea, including controlling more than one creature at any given time. Collecting creatures, and breeding them determines how fast the player progresses. This means certain creatures will have certain functions that will be vital to solving puzzles found throughout the game. Solving puzzles will not only allow the player to progress through parts of the game world but also serve with revealing more about the story behind this world.
Who is the antagonist.
Humans at one time existed in the world of the Big Blue. In the wake of their extinction remains the waste they left behind in the form of plastic. Nature, unable to breakdown this matter calls upon small microbes called Gyre-forms, which fuse with the plastic to become something new. These Gyre-forms are a threat to the planet, similar to the producers of the matter they consume. A sect known as the hunters have developed special songs used to combat the Gyre-forms, who ultimately threaten life on the entire planet. Gyre-forms are only the tip of the ice berg compared to a greater threat that lingers from above.
Far in the heavens, an asteroid carves a path through space set to collide with Earth. Through many generations, the Earth has developed a mind of it's own, in the form of millions of dolphins who make up the super pod. The super pod operates as a single mind, with each member operating as a node. Each node is a single dolphin who relays complex pieces of information to one another. The super pod are the ones responsible for discovering the coming asteroid, which threatens to destroy Earth. Whether or not the super pod can find a solution to the impending threat remains to be seen. Whatever the solution may be, it will be up to the protagonist to execute it. Will Earth be destroyed or will it be saved? It's a thrilling twist that's too delicate to spoil here.
Is the Big Blue too much of a tangent for most gamers, who have received the classic Ecco the Dolphin with mixed results? Some praise Ecco the Dolphin for it's beautiful environments and intriguing story, while others have complained about it's controls, and difficulty. The Big Blue sounds like a great game but just the concept itself is too difficult for many gamers to grasp. With the project founders providing little visual to what the Big Blue is game play wise, it's hard to tell if this is an adventure game, a simulator, or a card game - all of which the project presents itself as.
What does trading cards, virtual reality and sea dragons have to do with the Big Blue? Trading cards form a way for players to exchange creatures created in the Big Blue world. Sea Dragons are one of the perks players can obtain if they are lucky enough to encounter them. Virtual Reality is an idea the Big Blue team is toying with, so players can experience the game world as if they were apart of it. All these perks sound great, but add a complex layer to what the core of the Big Blue really is – a video game. On top of that, the projects founders hope to create a massively online game connected through a subscription service. Unfortunately no one asked for trading cards, virtual reality, or sea dragons.
For an unrealistic goal of $665,000, the Big Blue team hopes to create a game that has never been done before. At the heart of most of the Big Blue's major backers are Ecco the Dolphin fans who are still awaiting a continuation of Ecco 2: The Tides of Time. The Big Blue carries a lot of elements of an Ecco the Dolphin game, but tries to be more than what it can deliver.
A prototype of the Big Blue exists that presents clues backers of the Kick Starter project can expect. Unfortunately the prototype lacks what the Kick Starter project promises, a beautiful, detail rich, three dimensional environment. The prototype doesn't live up to the detail exhibited in the ten year old Ecco, Defender of the Future – which presents a problem. If Ed Annunziata expects people to get on board his Big Blue project, he is going to have to set the bar a little higher than the ten year old Sega Dreamcast classic.
Unfortunately the Big Blue failed to meet it's Kick Starter goal, which means the project is dead, for now. Ed Annunziata has announced a new project dubbed “Little Blue” that hopes to deliver what the Big Blue promised, but with less of the meat. Just because The Big Blue failed, doesn't mean the Little Blue has to lower the bar, especially since The Big Blue graphically never raised it to begin with. The last thing gamers want is an over glorified ocean simulator, with graphics that hardly exceed what the original PlayStation could produce.
1. Farokhmanesh, Megan. "Fighting the tide: the struggle to revive Ecco the Dolphin." Polygon, Vox Media, Inc. 30, Jan 2013. Web 15, Aug 2013.
2. Annunziata, Ed. "The Big Blue, an underwater adventure game." KickStarter, KickStarter, Inc. 25, Mar 2013. Web 15, Aug 2013.