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black dawn game ps1 splash screen
BLACK DAWN - 1996:  I am lucky that the first game I ever worked on actually got published by Virgin Interactive to generally positive reviews. It was created by nightmare mess Black Ops Entertainment in 1996 for PS1, a brand new console that could barely do 3D at all. For more on the personnel mess of working for John Botti at Black Ops go here.   I had to align linear textures, like roads or airport runways, along the polygon axis of a triangle (the edge). Any texture in the middle of a triangle could get horribly skewed. Nobody wants to land at a runway that warps like silly putty 10 times a second!

Worse, Sony was not a software company like Microsoft. So at the time their tools to texture objects or build things were TERRIBLE. You could not use a mouse to texture objects. The software texturing tool crashed constantly. Fortunately an error message would be displayed. Unfortunately that message was in Japanese. If you do not have a Japanese font on your PC the error message looked like "#()#%)#FJ£§µ L:#Q) )Q#KLMRF#@ ( £§µ))QW(#RT." Pure gibberish!black dawn playstation 1 video game helicopter sim

The PS1 was pushed to its graphical limit and so a lot of weird grid based polygonal fog was used to hide the draw distance. This is not present in the sim below (thank goodness!). Now you can run this game in a web browser and your computer will barely even notice. How a couple decades does change hardware requirements! In the opening level (Central Park) I did the cyclorama buildings in the background, weapon animations and some ground texturing. I did a lot more, even level design, on later parts of the game. But Black Dawn does get hard so not many people may have seen those levels. Making a ground texture transition from green growth to sandy beach to water was especially challenging. You only had 16 colors so a lot of planning and hand dithering of texture tiles was required.

black dawn screenThe game is very high testosterone and brute force: the enemy continues to shoot you long after you have crashed. Tech limitations were compensated for when, after work, we would all play a new game called "Quake" not on PS1 but on our more powerful office PCs.  It was the first really true 3D first person shooter. It supported 8 players and we all had something new in our Windows PCs called a "Voodoo 3D graphics card" by a company called 3DFX. It was a literal blast to have fun killing my co-workers! Now online multiplayer is no big deal, but at the time you needed a business network just to launch a server. Now graphics cards (GPUs) are everywhere and standardized. So it was really great to have this gaming experience years before most consumers did.

Without a gamepad this emulated version is a bit hard to get into especially without a hardware keyboard.


1. Ignore the ad in the sim window
2. Click "Play Now"
3. Press "Enter" when you see the word "Scramble"
4. Press "X" when you see the "Insertion Points" screen.
5. Press "X" TWICE when you see the "Loading" screen complete
Arrow keys steer see below for keymaps.
instructions 1instructions 2

modacad fashion trip product
FASHION TRIP - 1998: ModaCAD ("moda" is Italian for "fashion" and CAD is techspeak for "computer aided design") was a company that made 3D software to structure clothing designs in the computer. This is technically very complex and they wanted to branch out into interactive retail.  In the late 1990s I worked for them designing 3D mall shops in a virtual reality "mall" called "Fashion Trip." It was distributed by game company Sierra Online. Twentysomething female consumers were expected to buy a FORTY DOLLAR compact disk containing the main program. These females were expected to know how to install the base software on their Windows 98 PCs. The program would would let you wander a "virtual mall" and new products would be downloaded over the dial up Internet using "push tech." Then you could make purchases based on the clothing being 3D wrapped around a customized virtual avatar of YOU dear female consumer! It was all paid for by Intel who threw three million dollars at ModaCAD to make the product. Intel wanted to encourage high CPU usage software so that they could more easily sell next gen computer processors. They had big cash reserves and were throwing mud at the wall funding various companies. Nobody knew what was coming next and so ModaCAD made its move.

This semi-dial up push tech "virtual mall" idea was so stupid on so many levels no wonder the company is defunct. Firstly, since when do most girls like to install and navigate 3D video game environments with a keyboard? Also, why can't they just go to a "non-virtual" shopping place?  Those stores don't need to make their employees scan in thousands of apparel items into a computer so that I could 3D texture them to look like starched flat cards. Stores in real life have realistic clothing by default! The clothing textures I made had to be extremely cutout and unappealing.  Even if the consumer's Windows PC could have done true 3D (most could not) then wandering a virtual mall is BORING!

Amazon was already a blossoming bookseller. I wondered "If I know the brand why can't I just buy it at a place like that by searching instead of this video game hybrid?" makes no attempt to be a 3D video game simulating a trip to a physical store. Plus, who would buy touchy feely products like perfume or cashmere sweaters on the Internet? How would you know if the top is even flattering or the perfume smells good? Also, just purchasing the product meant that women 15-30 would have to go to a male dominated gaming software shop like Babbages or Gamestop to even find it!

Young women want to shop as an emotional, communicative experience they can share with galpals at the mall. Young Straight men want to hook up with young women by running into them at the mall. That is "Social." "Virtual" is the opposite of "Social." Just ask the "Social Network."

modacad fashion trip productThe bad, somewhat snarky, New York Times review of the software sealed the deal for me.

I built various sets for stores and then rendered a bunch of still photos of the interiors and products so that guests could point and click through the environment. Similar to the game Myst with sweaters and shoes instead of puzzles and fun things to do you could only try in interactive media. It was such a pointlessly overdone exercise. The same thinking that says "artificial Christmas trees are always superior to live ones" or "Cool Whip is always better than real cream, which comes from a smelly old udder."  The "virtual mannequin" avatars didn't do very much and were overhyped. I was working there through an employment agency but chose not to become a permanent hire.  They were absolutely incapable of digital version control and my files making UI buttons were constantly accidentally being overwritten by other workers on the network. The slightest graphical Photoshop task turned into endless overwork. Fashion is a phony industry and ModaCAD was in over its overly CAD semi-Autistic head. Morale was mediocre and my boss had worked on interactive products much less impressive than the one I worked on (Black Dawn).

Worst of all, the Culver City location at Sepulveda Blvd. and the 405 north exits meant driving my car into and out of the building was a constant hassle. You are just asking to be crashed into from both directions when the day is done. There were a lot of accidents. I ended up getting into one leaving one day. Fortunately there was a car repair place literally fifty feet away which still exists. But it just made the whole Fashion Trip experience feel even more fruitless.  Fortunately I kept the most hires artwork of the nicer looking shops I designed.