Work in progress: First Samurai from issue 79


Vivid Image might not be famed for their prolificacy, but the games that they do produce are famous for their imagination and innovation. Hammerfist and Time Machine both earned Sizzlers, but their third game First Samurai looks set to better even those high standards. PHIL KING goes 'back to the future' to find out more.

Its title may well pay homage to Last Ninja I and II, which several Vivid Image people worked on, and First Samurai's plot also has a familiar ring with an Ancient Japanese hero travelling forward in time to pursue an evil villain. His destination isn't contemporary New York though; this hero suffers his futureshock in 2323! It's a world populated by mutants and robots, quite a surprise for our Samurai hero who was a lowly tax inspector's assistant (!), now determined to avenge his master's murder by the Demon King.

Vivid Image's Mev Dinc admits that the First Samurai name started out as a joke, 'But it grew on us and we realized it was a good title, We wanted to do another martial arts game, and as we couldn't really use a Ninja again we decided to have a new Samurai hero.' With the change of hero comes a change in perspective. Rather than isometric 3-D, First Samurai utilizes a side-on, multidirectionally scrolling view with the athletic hero leaping around platforms and even climbing up and down walls. He also has a considerable number of martial arts moves at his disposal including several types of punch, high and flying kicks and the classic leg sweep.

Killing the various energy-draining creatures that continually appear reveals their floating spirits which can be collected to boost the hero's magic power. Only when he has enough of this is he able to use his Samurai sword to slash in various directions it may even be used to 'dig' through certaindestructible walls and floors. In addition, special weapons can be thrown when collected.

With this multitude of moves you might expect a fiddly control system, something which Mev was keen to avoid. 'We tried to make it easily accessible so anyone could just pick up the joystick and play. Both the Hammerfist and Ninja controls were a bit complicated.'

First Samurai has been designed in conjunction with Raff (Cybernoid) Cecco, who is programming the Amiga version the C64 is the only 8-bit machine to get a conversion. Mev explains, 'Initially the game design was so ambitious that we thought it would be too difficult to do any 8-bit versions. But later we realized the C64 was still a good machine which could handle the scrolling and efficiently store the huge level maps, It's good at this sort of game.'


The C64 conversion is being handled by freelance programmer, Jon Williams. Based in the 'sunny seaside town' of Littlehampton on the south coast, Jon is an industry veteran of some eight or nine years he refuses to disclose his exact age ('It's such a long time since my birth'!), but claims to be 'between driving licence and bus pass eligibility!'. He also denies allegations of programmers earning megabucks. 'I don't know where these big money rumours started, but they're certainly not true,' Asked whether he has a Ferrari in his garage, John laughs, 'No, just a pair of bicycle clips. And no, they're not goldplated!'

Jon began his programming career on the old Atari 800, with his first game Jetboot Jack. This was followed by several titles for commodore's ill-fated C16 when it first came out. His subsequent 1986 C64 debut, the medieval multi-eventer Knight Games, Sizzled back in Issue 17. After this came Oink and a brief excursion into 16-bit with Pyramax on the Amiga.

More recent C64 credits include US Gold's Shadow Dancer and Elite's disappointing Last Battle 'Although I was told my conversion worked out better than the original Sega console game.' Jon also admits to doing some work on Mirrorsoft's dismal Back To The Future II, but is keen to point out he was asked to step in at the last moment just to complete the project!

As with Shadow Dancer, Jon has found working from start to finish on First Samural much more rewarding. Though given a fairly free rein by Vivid Image, he is attempting a fairly strict conversion. 'I've tried to get it as close to the Amiga as possible. Obviously had to cut down on the number of sprites on screen. To counteract the loss of difficulty the baddies materialize near the player rather than wandering onto the screen. One thing I wasn't prepared to compromise on was the size and number of levels. The map is huge, the same size as the Amiga's, in fact, with near enough the same layout. It's so big it takes me half an hour to explore when editing!'

The sheer scale of the game necessitates the many regeneration points (where you restart when killed), and a multiload. Each of five loads will contain four 'levels'; different sections of the overall map only accessible by solving special puzzles as with the Last Ninja games, it's not just mindless beat'-em-up action. 'It's basically an arcade game but with the addition of a puzzle element. You have to search around to find the magical objects needed to overcome hazards at the end of each section.'

With the right magical objects collected, a powerful Wizard-Mage can be summoned to help you. For instance, at the end of the first level he builds a bridge to allow you to traverse a waterfall Once you've done this however, it's not all over. You must also defeat an end-of-level baddie such as a dragon snake, metal skeleton Samurai or large metal spider,

Despite its future setting, the game retains the feel of Feudal Japan with Oriental buildings, trees and animated waterfalls which the hero can walk behind in an impressive 3-D effect 'It wasn't too difficult to achieve, though I had to put some thought into the placement of the items and I think it adds that extra bit of finish.'


The graphics are being done by Sneap who lives hundreds of miles away in Derbyshire. In fact, Jon has met his partner only a handful of times, but doesn't find long distance collaboration a problem. 'It's fine as long as you work with professionals, and Matt certainly knows what he's doing.'

Matt is another man who won't reveal his exact age ('It's a lot less than Jon I'm young enough to be his grandson!') and has been in the industry for seven years. He started his career as a programmer, working on several 'unmentionable' titles plus Mission Impossibubble (on Hewson's 4th Dimension compilation), before specializing as a graphic artist He now works for Eurocom a Nintendo development company and has created the graphics for NES titles such as Elite, Magician and John Smith Special Agent.

For First Samurai he's using a special graphics editor created by Vivid lmage's John Twiddy 'It's bloody awful! No only kidding it's really good.' Graphics are first created on the Atari ST and PC, before being ported down to the C64 for further tweaking.

Matt has had little trouble recreating Raff Cecco's dazzling Amiga graphics. The hero in particular is superby animated with a multitude of impressive moves especially the sword swings complete with blur lines.

End-of level baddies were also easily converted. 'They weren't a problem as they're not huge on the Amiga. The metal spider uses three sprites, as does the Samurai. The main problem has been cramming everything from the Amiga game into the C64 character set. Level 1 was particularly bad putting characters all over the place. But it was Jon who really had to sort that out. He's not so bad for an old man!'

First Samurai will be published by Imageworks for 10.99 and 12.99 sometime before Xmas the precise release date is still undecided!

This feature was typed in/OCRed by Iain