Ion Maiden plays exactly how you recall old Apogee / 3d Realms and ID Software games being, except better.
Your control of Shelly Harrison AKA Bombshell runs at a perfect 60fps as you navigate through the classic feel of this cyberpunk enemy territory with a tinge of old 2.5D pixle sprite work charm, contrasting desolate concrete rubble color with bright red gun fire and enemy blood. Despite being something entirely new, it feels like you’re playing a game from the classic library as the company has dusted off and optimized their classic Build engine, and updated it for modern game play. The game developed by Viewpoint and 3D Realms should be launching sometime this fall.
We discussed Ion Maiden the engine, and 90’s PC gamer nostalgia with 3D Realm’s founder and CEO Scott Miller during his visit on the show floor at PAX East 2018 in Boston.
Ryan Gibbs, TYF music editor: Can you tell me a bit about “Ion Maiden”?
Scott Miller, founder of 3D Realms: It’s a game that uses our engine we developed back in the mid-90s along with the programmer Ken Silverman. There’s a lot of retro games coming out nowadays, and we thought ‘Let’s put our hands in that pond, but instead of using a modern engine, let’s use our original engine.” So we dusted it off. It’s been improved in some ways, but for the most part, it looks just like it did back in the ‘90s when we did “Shadow Warrior” and “Duke [Nukem 3D]” with it.
Ryan G: What work was done to the engine to get it up to 2018 specs?
Miller: We increased the texture size. This [engine] never used 3D models like modern engines did, it used sprites, but we increased the texture size on that and reduced the pixelation. We made it to where the lighting is a little better. It still uses a 256-color palette as a starting spot, but instead of the shadowing only using that palette, we actually use millions of colors to get the shadowing to look a lot better.
Another factor is in the old games, when you reached a level, you actually had to stop the game and reload the next level. Here, with modern technology, we can load a level within a second. So we have a seamless progression through the levels of this game. You never actually reach an end of the level screen that gives you your time like we did back in the 90s.
Ryan G: What’s stopping you from porting this game back to an old 486 [computer from the 1990s]?
Miller: Probably not a lot, actually. This game uses a software renderer. It doesn’t use hardware to render the seam. Even though it’s a 1996/97/98 engine, it still actually pushes current technology. We’re pushing the limits on it because we’re making the environments a lot bigger [and] increasing texture size. The engine wasn’t really made to take advantage of modern tricks. The size of the levels are a lot bigger nowadays in this game. We’re maxing it out. So take this game back to a 486 or a Pentium II for a CPU, we’d actually have to reduce the level size quite a bit.
Ryan G: Are you putting this game out in a big box [package]?
Miller: We sure are.
Ryan G: Do you think there’s a charm to putting out a game on a CD in a box in 2018?
Miller: I think that a lot of people like to collect these things. I think there’s still a market for it. I know I would want one if I was a fan of the game. I think we’re going to come out with a limited edition of 500, and if it does really well, then we may come out with a second edition with a smaller version of the big box, maybe [with] less goodies, just for people who want something on their shelf.
Ryan G: What goodies have you pack into the box?
Miller: We haven’t decided yet. With have some ideas; You know, a mouse pad. Maybe some of the same kind of stuff we would have done back in the ‘90s. Maybe a shirt in there.
Ryan G: Similar question, do think that somebody who remembers the games [made with this engine] from the mid-’90s will see this game and they’ll remember this engine and be interested in it?
Miller: So far, that’s 100% of the feedback that we’re getting from people who are playing the game. People are like, “Oh my god, this brings me back to my childhood. It feels like the game I grew up playing.” Nowadays, games don’t feel this way anymore. We’ve touched a nostalgic nerve. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much when we started this project. It’s gone way above my expectations.
Ryan G: How long did it take to develop the game?
Miller: It’s been about an 18 month project so far, with a team that’s mainly part-time. It’s more of a passion project for these developers..But if the game does well, and so far it’s off to a good start, then I think that a lot of these developers that are on the project are going to become full-timers
Ryan G: What is your personal favorite aspect of this game?
Miller: It just feels like the kind of game[s] from the ‘90s that were personally my favorites. I loved, from the ‘Doom” [and] “Duke Nukem” age games that were really about gameplay that didn’t necessarily have the best graphics. To me, it just brings me back home.
Ryan G: Can you tell me a bit about the plot of the game and the main character [Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison]?
Miller: In the preview campaign, we’re really not touching on the story. That’s all going to be in the full campaign when it comes out.. This is a character that I actually came up with back in 1998 called Bombshell. It’s like an origin story for her. In lots of ways, it’s like a little bit of a kick ass, female version of Duke [Nukem]. But she’s not fighting aliens. We’re going to try to keep it more realistic than we did back in the “Duke” days and really bring sort of a meaningful story to her life. Still, it’s all about the fun in the gameplay and kicking ass and weapons. We’re not going to have a deep story when it’s finished.
Ryan G: When are you planning to launch the game, and on what platforms?
Miller: We don’t have a set date yet, but we’re looking at August or September, hopefully. Just PC now, but we’ll definitely be on the Xbox and PlayStation. Maybe the Switch, we’re not sure yet.
Ryan G: Lastly, what is your favorite 3D Realms game?
Miller: I would have to say the first “Max Payne”. Everything we set out to do with that game, we came through with. We had the character, the way we told the story, we had some certain goals for that game [like] the bullet-time. Everything worked out to perfection in that game. I really loved it.