Late in the 20th Century, WARNER BROS advanced movies into the next phase — a film with a unique title — known as BLADE RUNNER.
Blade Runner was a superior in cinematics, score, acting, and at least equal in storyline, to the book that inspired the film.
Blade Runner was used as a landmark film, an example of what a film could be, of what a story told in a future that is yet to come to pass.
After mixed reviews from a slew of critics, cinema-goers became divided over those who deemed the film a masterpiece, and those whose found it boring.
One particular cut of the film – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT – was released in an attempt to give the film a full stop over which version was superior. Then a game bearing the same name was made.
This was not about the film.
This was from the film.
Blade Runner was a defining film of the eighties, with its constant night, neon-laden rainy streets and electronic score and poetic dialogue, much of which is ingrained in our culture today, particularly Roy Batty’s ‘tears in rain’ monologue towards the end of the film, one would wonder what took them so long to produce a game based on the movie.
The film, one of the earlier works by Ridley Scott, was based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and although the central protagonist, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford in the film, is our eyes and ears throughout the story, the prose and celluloid versions could not be different. In the book, Deckard is a hard-working officer that follows a strange religion called Mercerism, that creates a virtual reality world where users atone for their sins through Wilbur Mercer. He is married and he and his wife long to own a real animal, a status of wealth on the doomed planet Earth.
In the film Deckard is quite different. He is a single man, tired of the job, with no real aim in life, but pulled back into the life of a blade runner to hunt down some renegade replicants, bioengineered humans that have managed to sneak back onto Earth. Deckard’s empathy and humanity is explored as he falls in love with replicant, Rachel, a product of the Tyrell Corporation just like every other replicant. The film asks the question what it is to be human, whilst the book is more focused on asking what reality is and what is life and it’s value. So with those cues in place, what angle did the game try to tackle?
There was a Blade Runner game released in 1985, although it was not based on neither the film nor the book, but instead based on the soundtrack by Vangelis. This was due to a rights issue, and joins the ranks of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds with games that have been based on soundtracks. It’s a short list.
It’s 2019, and somewhere in the rain-soaked, ever-night streets of Los Angeles, a murder has happened. Replicants, illegal on Earth, ever since a combat team mutinied Off-world, have broken into a pet store and murdered all of the animals. A crime as serious as the murder of a human, ever since most of the living species on Earth were wiped out. As blade runner rookie, Ray McCoy, it’s up to you to investigate the murder scene and find clues that will lead you onto the next part of the investigation.
Before we go any further we should discuss Westwood Studios, the company responsible for the game. Westwood Studios was founded in 1985 by Brett Sperry and Louis Castle, and they became known for real-time strategy games. When the company was acquired in 1992 by Virgin Games, and went from strength to strength, gaining a reputation as a solid studio that always delivered quality products on time. It was without a doubt their most famous series is the Command & Conquer games, but Blade Runner was perhaps their most impressive.
The game used 3D models overlaid onto painted backgrounds, but incredibly none of this was rendered using 3D software. Every single part of the game’s graphics has been hand-crafted by an artist. From the lights reflected in puddles, to the spinners that fly overhead, each part of the game has bee meticulously crafted by one of Westwood’s very talented artistic team. Taking their design inspiration from the film, it recreates the mood and atmosphere of the film perfectly, even going deeper to give us a view into a part of Los Angeles we didn’t get to see in the film.
Because Blade Runner was a point-and-click adventure it wasn’t action-heavy. Above all aspects of it, this was a detective game. Where Ray would have to gather clues and assess what was going on to be able to continue his investigation. What’s also fascinating is this game played out in real time, with the world happening as you exist. There were no moments that were triggered by your arrival, you just had to be there to work out the next part, and if you missed it you would have to rely on the clues left behind.
The controls for the game were all from the mouse, with a changing pointer that would determine what actions could be performed. The majority of the game would be Ray analysing the clues he collects by using the ESPER scene, being able to enhance and enlarge certain aspects of items that have been collected for his files. If violence wasn’t your thing, there would mostly be a peaceful way out of a situation. It really made you think before you shot. Shoot the wrong person then than storyline thread was gone forever.
Of course no Blade Runner game would be complete without the ability to administer the Voight-Kampff test, the empathy test used to determine if a character was a replicant or not. Occasionally this was optional, but would mostly go in with the storyline and when it should be administered on a suspect. Depending on the outcome, Ray could decide to kill, apprehend, or release a subject. The trick was thinking ahead and what would happen if you let a suspect go.
Talking of interrogations, Ray would have the options to administer questioning in a different manner and tone. Polite, normal, surly, erratic, or user’s choice. The questions and answers, along with everything else gathered so far, would be stored in Ray’s KIA or Knowledge Integration Assistant. This would then organise clues linked to suspects, possible reasons for why someone would commit the crime, and would also tell you just how much ammunition and funds Ray had left.
Although Rick Deckard does not have an interactive part in the game, he is spoken about and viewed from afar. Plenty of the original cast returned to their roles though, most notably Sean Young returned as Rachel. Also a nice little piece of info is a supporting role by Jeff Garlin, famous comedian and Curb Your Enthusiasm alumni, who plays Lieutenant Edison Guzza, the temporary head of the Blade Runner department.
One of the reasons for the game acting as a companion piece to the film, was due to rights issues not being clear over what could be used in the game. So no audio or footage could be used, so game director, Louis Castle, who was pushing for their own take on the story, opted to create something fresh and of their own production. A wise move with the quality of the game that came out of the end of the production line.
The company did have rights to recreate the surroundings and settings from the film and were able to use the likenesses of each performer, but with Harrison Ford not being interested, and Ridley Scott holding little interest, it was up to the team to create an homage from the ground up, or so one would think, as a white knight came along to assist the development team.
Syd Mead, legendary concept artist of Alien, Tron, and you guessed it, Blade Runner, provided Westwood Studios with access to his original concept art of the film. It allowed the studio to create a game that not only looked like Blade Runner, but was at its very core drinking from the same well the aesthetics of the film drank from. Using designs and influence from the film’s concept art, every detail, every building, every weapon, every costume comes directly from the pages of Blade Runner concept art. Nothing is original, but everything was created just for this game. Imagine if another Blade Runner film had been made using the same sets with a different cast and crew, and you get the idea.
If you thought games such as Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain or Detroit: Become Human were anything new, then you would be mistaken. Blade Runner had thirteen different endings depending on the actions of the player. It’s script was over five-hundred pages long, and required the play-test team to put in 2,500 hours of gameplay to ensure that no play-through was ever the same. Not only that, the game’s NPCs were not scripted, they had set commands to follow but how they got there was down to the computer’s AI. There is an eerie sense you are playing something well ahead of its time when you load up Blade Runner.
Technically, the game was years ahead of its time and pushed computers to its limits. Even though no 3D graphics card was required, the game pushed hardware to the limit with its full content and colour spectrum. The actors in the game were motion-captured, with the team then removing frames to relieve the load on systems, otherwise the game would be unplayable.
When it comes to the music for the game, composer Frank Klepacki recreated a Vangelis-inspired score that accurately reproduced the sounds of Blade Runner. All this was done by the composer learning the score for the film by ear, as access to the composition sheets was denied.
The game went on to sell over one million copies, and would be hailed a masterpiece by most, with a few reviewers criticising the game as not really being a game. However, despite those critics, it went on to garner a bevy of awards.
The game is one of the most requested games in demand for a re-release. However, due to the assets of the original game being lost, an HD remastering is out of the question. The only way to play this game is to own an original copy, a rarity these days unless you look on well-known auction sites.
Love it or loathe it, the game divided people much like the film did, and like it’s inspiration, it has become a cult classic. It deserves its place in the hallowed halls of The Game Dump, not only for its technical achievements, but for showing what a game could really do with telling a story. Perhaps one day a way will be found to bring the game up to date, but for now we are left with its 640×480, 60,000 colour glory. A snapshot of an era in PC gaming that will never come again.