Since 1984, when Psygnosis first became a reality, they've provided the video game player with some benchmark products. A quick glance back into the annals of time and names like Shadow of the Beast and the Lemmings titles come into focus.
More recently they've thrilled us with titles like Hired Guns and the very accomplished Combat Air Patrol. In-between times the company has undergone radical change, with the Sony Corporation becoming heavily involved in Psygnosis's major developments.
To this end the company have always managed to stay at the sharp end of technology. Indeed, while most were wondering which way a CD went into the machine, the Liverpool-
The first fruit of their labours is Microcosm, a strange montage of an arcade shoot-'em-up, and the movies Inner Space and Fantastic Voyage.
Set on a harsh, dark, future world called Bodor, Microcosm traces the underworld activities of two rival corporations.
Both Cybertech Inc and Axiom are at the centre of practically everything on the planet. They both have large mining concerns which dig further into the belly of the planet, systematically raping her of anything precious.
The majority of the planet is uninhabitable, with a high proportion of the population living in a very confined space. Poisonous gases belch forth from the bowels of the earth, a deadly by-product of cut-throat mining operations.
Life is cheap under the corporation regime. In fact, the only thing that matters to the corporations is the title of Corps1.
Just recently, Cybertech's grip has tightened around the prestigious title, and little by little Axiom are falling by the wayside. President of Axiom, Argon Stark, is desperate to re-address this disappointing situation and investigates some rather aggressive methods of correcting matters.
It's only following a meeting with one of Stark's right-hand men that a more subtle means of ending the regime is formulated. Stark is introduced to a doctor, who has for some time been experimenting with miniaturisation. He claims that he can send a human being inside of another using his breakthrough technology.
So the seed of an idea is set, Infiltrate Cybertech's headquarters and inject their president with a mind-
The plan is successfully implemented, but during its inception Cybertech becomes suspicious, and realise that Axiom have sent an intruder into their President. A decision has to be taken immediately. After a frantic meeting, Cybertech executives decide to inject a craft with which to fight the assassin viruses.
Before the CD32 laser scanner can wink an optical eye at the gameplay, Microcosm launches itself into six minutes and 40 seconds of stunning introduction. This Bladerunner-
The idea for the introduction was the brainchild of lead visualiser Jim Bowers. Following a brainstorming session, the nucleus of an idea was born. Loosely based on the "inside the body" films like Inner Space and Fantastic Voyage, the team started initial design work on the Amiga. Then transferred everything across to Silicon Graphics machines.
Using £10,000+ Indego systems, they set about creating the world of Botor. As the footage rolls, the first thing to greet the eye is a street scene. This incredible section of animation, which features a futuristic truck rolling by and lasts under ten seconds, features 241 models, seven different light sources and over 85,331 polygons.
Running SoftImage on the Indego, a 3D model starts its life as a wireframe skeleton which can be manipulated and animated to ensure that routines are correct. The next step is to fill the object and show that it has three dimensions. From here the image has textures and added detail like symbols or camouflage applied.
At this point we have a textured 3D image that has no shadow or light source, so these are applied, and from here the image can be pasted onto another image.
Much of the game involves live action sequences Mike Simpson of Psygnosis explained the technique employed: "The live actors were filmed against a blue screen and then into modelled scenes. For example, in the lab scene in the intro only the actors are real - thw hole lab is computer generated.
Using the same technology as used in Lawnmower Man, Microcosm had to be reworked from its original FM Towns format. As Mike told me: "The game had to be completely re-written, new and seriously clever code had to be developed to exploit the CD32 hardware."
Much of this technology also went into the reproduction of the game interiors, like the vein walls. Mike was on hand with the biology lesson: "A tunnel was modelled from polygons and a vein texture wrapped onto the surface. Lamps were set behind the point of view so the scene would be lit in the foreground and fade away into the darkness."
After eight months of re-coding Microcosm for the CD32, work has started on follow up projects, Mike showed me the direction Psygnosis are going in: "This is an ongoing process for us now. We've learned a lot since Microcosm, Scavenger 4 (which is initially on the FM Towns machine, but will undoubtedly be released on the CD32) is more interactive. The third game in the series will be even more interactive."
The future certainly looks much brighter for Psygnosis's CD plans than the grim world they portray in Microcosm. Indeed, when I asked Mike about the future of games storage systems, he has this to say about their cartridge counterparts: "CDs are the way forward, and besides, you can't get 500Mb on a cart!"
A virus is an infectious particle consisting of nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) enclosed in a protein shell. Viruses are acellular and able to function and reproduce only if they can invade a living cell to use the cell's system to replicate themselves.
The healthy human body responds by producing an antiviral protein, interferon, which prevents the infection spreading to adjacent cells.
Viruses are most commonly found in seas and lakes, with between five and ten million per millilitre at most sites tested, with up to 250 million per millilitre in a poluted lake. Among the more common viruses are canine distemper, chickenpox and yellow fever.
Discovered in 1971, viroids are even smaller than viruses, and consist of one single strand of nucleic acid. They cause such things as stunted growth in plants and some rare diseases in animals and humans.
The origin of the virus is still unclear, but it is generally believed that they are degenerate forms of life, derived from uncleic acid that has broken away from higher organisms.
When it comes to aural stimulation, Psygnosis left nothing to chance, and, wanting to utilise the power of CD, enlisted the talent of ex-Yes keyboard player Rick Wakeman.
As with the graphics, the noise that emanates from the CD32 is indeed something to behold. Personally, I don't remember a time when I've heard such a quality soundtrack from a title.
A montage of ambient riffs and beefy dance beats, the Microcosm soundtrack is a pulsating and interesting departure from the norm.80%
Microcosm is probably the most impressive-
The combination of CD sound and superbly constructed images really does put you in mind of a sci-fi movie. Shifting from moody street scenes to hi-tech robotic automatons and helicopters, it's totally absorbing.
The intro also combines real live action sequences which run alongside computer graphics, and add an extra dimension of realism to the piece.
Once into the game you'll find that the play area graphics are of the highest standard too. As you journey around the internal organs via vein systems, you'll be treated to a ray-
After the completion of each level you'll see more animated sequences, again rendered using Silicon Graphics and Amiga technology. Even the different craft that you guide through the body have been rendered and texture mapped to add that extra edge.
On a visual level, Microcosm is second to none and, its state-of-
Psygnosis's first full CD title is a very tricky product to measure or assess. This is because there are two separate entities that exist around each other throughout the entirety of play.
On the one hand you have the cinematic introduction sequence and the sections that roll around the actual play (like level completion or death of your craft), and on the other the gameplay itself.
The first thing to say is that as far as raytraced sequences are concerned, then Microcosm definitely has it. That's all very well for the first couple of times you turn the CD on, or want to show off to friends.
But, once this has worn off and you start jumping into the play, what are you left with? The answer, again, isn't that cut and dried.
As you first start your epic journey around the body, you are indeed craving for more of those colourful artery walls, and it's even fun watching your own submersible split into a thousand pieces (causing the man you're trying to save massive internal bleeding).
However, humans being humans, we become accustomed to things very quickly. So, once we've witnessed some spectacular visuals, the euphoria doesn't last for long and we need stimulation from the playability.
Microcosm is hard, in fact it's very hard. At times it's too tough, and becomes infuriating when you keep getting stuck at the same point. But that's shoot-'em-ups for you.
As a game, it plays adequately enough, with plenty of blasting action to keep you happy. If I had criticisms, they would be that Microcosm had more power-ups and weapons to choose, and that the internal walls that you guide your ship around had a collision detector.
In terms of product for the CD32, Microcosm is unmissable. It's not incredible, and it's not going to go down as a benchmark title. But in comparison to what else is available for Commodore's new console, it's streets ahead.
As a footnote, it's worth mentioning that as reviewers, we get to see a lot of products, and tend to get a little blasé about software. As an experiment we left the CD32 and Microcosm with some unwitting (normal) people, and they absolutely loved it.