The Story Of Digital Tank, A Misplaced Digital Boy Successor To Atari’s Battlezone – Characteristic


Virtual Boy© Nintendo Life

We have happy to current a chapter from Bitmap Books’ wonderful The Video games That Weren’t, which appears at an unreleased Digital Boy title that aimed to emulate the success of Atari’s Battlezone – however sadly by no means noticed the sunshine of day.


Nintendo helped rejuvenate the video games business after the 1983 crash with the Nintendo Leisure System within the US, adopted by blisteringly profitable launches of the Recreation Boy and Tremendous Nintendo. It appeared the corporate may do no improper on the time. So, when asserting that its subsequent console was to be a transportable digital actuality gaming system, there have been one or two raised eyebrows. Nevertheless, this was Nintendo, and ‘failure’ wasn’t a well-known phrase to them.

To type a profitable launch, it was essential to achieve the help of growth studios to construct up a stable pre- and post-launch portfolio. Additionally on the horizon was the brand new Nintendo 64 (N64) console (then below the early guises of Challenge Actuality and Extremely 64), the place a variety of studios have been eager to turn out to be formally licensed builders. One such studio was to be the newly-launched Boss Recreation Studios in 1994.

The studio was an offshoot of movie firm Boss Movie Studios, seeing the potential that video games have been maybe sometime going to be as large or greater than the movie business. “We have been a small studio arrange with the intention of creating video games utilizing amenities of the particular FX studio in Marina del Rey, California,” Boss Recreation Studio’s inventive director on the time, Seth Mendelsohn, instructed us. “It was felt that we may use this facility to make content material for video games and likewise construct a video games growth studio too. One of many managers had a reference to of us at Nintendo, so it was determined to open an workplace in Redmond, Washington – simply down the road from them. We might begin growing content material for Nintendo from the beginning, previous to the launch of the N64.”

With a working relationship firmly established early on with Nintendo, Boss Recreation Studios would start work on what would finally turn out to be High Gear Rally. Though not planning to develop something for the upcoming Digital Boy, Nintendo had a intelligent ploy, the place some smaller studios needed to conform to make a sport for the platform in an effort to develop for the upcoming N64. The studio was hit with this requirement however didn’t see it as an issue, fairly extra simply one other stream of earnings to assist the fledgling firm to get a foothold.

Top Gear Rally was Boss Game Studios' first N64 title
High Gear Rally was Boss Recreation Studios’ first N64 title

The Digital Boy was an intriguing system, a 32-bit console constructed as a headset with two eyepieces to view video games in stereoscopic pink and black monochrome 3D. A part of the impact was achieved utilizing parallax layers to offer the phantasm of depth. It was across the time that Digital Actuality was well-liked, because of the corporate Virtuality and its iconic arcade programs plus, in fact, the movie Lawnmower Man launched just a few years earlier. Enthusiastic about what to provide for the distinctive {hardware}, it wouldn’t take lengthy till the proper sport hit the studio.

“While having discussions with Nintendo, they confirmed us the event {hardware}. I noticed the 2 separate joypads and instantly considered Battlezone. I stated to Colin Gordon [vice president of product development] that this factor is ideal for that form of 3D sport,” recalled Seth. “Everybody stated ‘Yeah, you’re proper!’ after which, on prime of that, it was very a lot according to the feel and appear of these outdated vector video games, so it made much more sense to make a Battlezone model sport. The management system might be actually the identical factor – pushing each sticks forwards to make the tank go forwards, each again to return, and reverse instructions controlling the directional motion. It may comply with the precise model and learnings of Battlezone. We requested Nintendo ‘Is anybody doing such a sport?’, and so they responded ‘Nope!’, and so off we went to create a pitch.”

Within the authentic arcade, the duty was easy: monitor down tanks and UFOs in your scanner and shoot them earlier than they shoot you. You can cover behind rocks from enemy hearth, however, most frequently, you needed to shortly navigate your tank out of the firing line. The arcade controls weren’t everybody’s cup of tea, so replicating on the Digital Boy may threat alienating some video games gamers.

Seth maintained that this could have been compensated for accordingly. “I think about that, when you had by no means performed Battlezone, the idea of two sticks forwards and two sticks again, particularly the turning, would appear very odd,” he admitted. “I think about too that we in all probability would have seemed into less complicated management programs as an possibility anyway.”

Atari's classic arcade title Battlezone was a key influence on Virtual Tank
Atari’s traditional arcade title Battlezone was a key affect on Digital Tank

From the preliminary concept, Seth fleshed out a brief transient with extra detailed solutions and concepts. Again on the studio, the idea was then assigned to artist Todd Downing to spend just a few weeks producing visible sketches and additional concepts that may go into pitching paperwork to current to Nintendo. Seth would proceed to supervise the evolving of his ‘child’ with nice curiosity, seeing because it was one of many studio’s first productions.

“It was by no means supposed to be a full or hardcore simulation however simply an motion arcade sport. We have been conscious that the model of the system wouldn’t go well with individuals taking part in for 5 and 6 hours at a time, so it made sense to have issues damaged down into smaller doses,” defined Seth. “The flip aspect was that it nonetheless needed to have extra depth than the unique Battlezone to take it forwards. Not like the arcade that simply actually had the one button that fired, one intent was to have various kinds of firing missiles and photographs and a bigger number of enemies with differing capabilities, giving far more depth than simply straight driving and capturing.”

In some ways, it was changing into comparable with Realtime Recreation’s Battle Command, with the similarity of getting missions and destroying sure targets or a variety of totally different enemies. Nevertheless, Digital Tank would have landscapes with terrain that you could possibly climb and descend and varied obstacles to navigate previous to search out enemies. A few of these enemies can be more durable to kill than others, requiring specific weapons to destroy them successfully. Monitoring enemies was additionally a really acquainted affair, utilizing the identical model of enemy scanner as present in Battlezone.

Following from Todd’s sketches, 3D artist Hans Piwenitzky quickly turned concerned, spending a month visualising the idea in 3D for a transferring demonstration to current to Nintendo. “On the time, I used to be employed as a 3D modeller and texture artist,” started Hans. “Colin and Seth tasked me with making a 3D demo film of the idea. We have been all enthusiastic about growing for the brand new platform, and I appreciated the idea as an entire as actual 3D video games have been simply within the embryonic levels.”

It was by no means supposed to be a full or hardcore simulation however simply an motion arcade sport

“The surroundings was created out of a red-lined grid, strains defining the sides of the polygons,” he continued. “I created the look of the surroundings, in addition to easy polygonal shapes representing enemy items and projectiles. I used Autodesk 3D Studio as a modeller/UV mapper, Deluxe Paint to create textures and head-up show (HUD), and Autodesk Animator to assemble the totally different parts collectively to type a brief demo. I needed to educate myself find out how to correctly apply a grid texture so the fashions seemed lined in with the pink vectors, in addition to find out how to plot a number of sequence of advanced animations because the tank moved by way of the surroundings and destroyed varied enemies. It was additionally the primary time I had actually began to delve into Autodesk Animator. Very rewarding work, all in all.”

The hassle from the trio paid off, and Nintendo was impressed with the pitch, giving the thumbs as much as proceed with the event of a sport that the {hardware} appeared destined for. By early 1995, Digital Tank was absolutely born – at this stage, recognized merely as 3D Tank. Todd and Hans’s involvement on the mission had, by now, come to an finish, with each having moved on to different initiatives. “By the point the sport was to start out energetic growth, I used to be already engaged on Spider: The Video Recreation for the PlayStation and was doing idea artwork for different titles. I did later verify in every now and then and bought to see the sport take form,” recalled Todd. It was now all about getting a playable sport put collectively and accomplished.

In line with the web site Planet Digital Boy, the Might 1995 E3 occasion in Chicago revealed that the title was coming quickly. Identified solely as 3D Tank on the time, little or no was given away, however many would guess what the final premise can be. Shortly after the occasion, a last identify was settled on which, seemingly all too apparent, was set in stone as Digital Tank to slot in with the console moniker.

V Tank1

Boss Recreation Studios’ technical director Rob Povey was assigned to supervise the event of the mission. “I keep in mind making the choice to make Digital Tank an actual 3D sport as a substitute of 1 with sprites. I additionally keep in mind hating the VB growth package,” recalled Rob. “We have been wanting engineers on the time, so the unique concept was to have Brian Soderberg (a good friend of our then-CEO) present the rendering code. Due to a non-disclosure settlement, he didn’t have entry to the precise platform.” Brian would find yourself writing the engine on a PC consequently, which might then later require porting throughout to the Digital Boy by the studio. Working with Rob as lead engineer can be newly employed Warrick Holfeld, who first needed to get accustomed to the sparsely documented Digital Boy structure earlier than he may make any begin.

“There simply wasn’t anybody to ask to get help with the event system. Not like the opposite {hardware} over time that I’ve labored with, there simply weren’t sufficient different individuals to achieve out to at Nintendo,” defined Seth. “It was plenty of work to get the preliminary growth {hardware} working and get something on the display, so it was not so simple as knocking out a flash mock-up. We have been additionally very early on getting the event package.”

Warrick couldn’t recall very a lot concerning the growth attributable to how transient his time was on the mission, however he did recall his first activity of working with Brian’s code. “The engine was written in C on a PC, the place I spent a while porting the code over to the Digital Boy,” he defined. “I bought the brand new code working, and, proper after that, Rob got here alongside and gave me the 3D engine he had written to make use of inside the sport as a substitute.”

There was typically a sense that this was one thing neat

In the long run, the answer offered by Brian hadn’t been fairly quick sufficient, not helped by his lack of entry to the actual {hardware}. Due to this fact, Rob determined to rewrite and produce a a lot quicker 3D rending engine, working on to the strengths of the {hardware}. Warrick started working with Rob’s engine to assemble one thing playable, in addition to implement the HUD parts detailed within the specification demo.

Rob would now principally oversee Warrick’s growth work however saved a hand within the mission, helping with bits and items of code when required to assist out. Sadly, Warrick’s recollections ended there. “All I keep in mind is that you could possibly transfer across the 3D surroundings. I don’t keep in mind if there have been any characters, or if there was a UI or sound results,” he concluded.

Fortunately, Seth and Rob can be available to fill within the reminiscence gaps, although nobody may recall who dealt with the non-3D art work for the sport. It’s believed that Hans’ 3D demo art work was simply translated and used as placeholder graphics, with further bits and items in all probability added in by Warrick as required. The whole lot would possible have been tidied up in direction of the top of growth, so the primary focus, for now, was simply on the 3D rendering and getting one thing playable put collectively.

Nintendo repeatedly noticed the progress made by the staff, giving enter and any solutions alongside the way in which to assist guarantee the sport was on monitor. “One of many good issues of being within the space and figuring out of us at Nintendo was that we may simply share what we have been doing and get good suggestions from them as to what to do and issues to avoid,” Seth confirmed. “Loads of it was not wanting to finish up making a sport that another person had already made as nicely.”

As with Han’s demo, the panorama was applied utilizing plain vector strains, with undulating hills. The distant horizon was saved clean for now, however there have been plans to incorporate detailed art work later so as to add extra depth and make it even much less visually like Battlezone. One main distinction to the arcade was that enemies can be rendered as crammed/shaded vectors, with the {hardware} and Rob’s engine greater than succesful at dealing with them at a good pace.

V Tank2

After roughly 3–four months of exhausting work, the sport was absolutely playable, with a wide range of floor, air enemies and targets that you could possibly destroy. There was additionally a working HUD panel, full with the familiar-looking enemy scanner. Only a handful of ranges have been current at this stage, sufficient to get a very good really feel for the sport. In the course of the growth, the studio employed Barry Leitch as its audio director, with certainly one of his very first assignments to provide sound results and music for Digital Tank. Barry briefly recalled the sport however couldn’t keep in mind something in any respect about doing work for it, being very stunned to study that he was concerned.

The whole lot was wanting completely on monitor, with the studio now about to start out on the lookout for a writer. It was now the summer time of 1995, and the Digital Boy was about to launch in July and August in Japan and the US respectively. Sadly, there was about to be a fairly sudden flip for the more serious. Felt to be rushed to market with a variety of essential flaws, poor visible results, excessive worth and weak preliminary titles, the launch ended up a catastrophe for Nintendo. The monochrome show, impracticality of the console, and rumours of it being ‘seizure-inducing’ meant that it was closely discounted by shops early on. After only a few months, Nintendo waved the white flag and put the console to mattress, swiftly transferring on and placing all focus into the approaching N64 launch.

“We had all gone and purchased ourselves Digital Boys when it first launched and have been actually stunned on the pace that the platform died in the long run. There was typically a sense that this was one thing neat, and it was cool and undoubtedly totally different to the Recreation Boy and any of the TV consoles,” remembered Seth. “I didn’t get any complications from it, however a part of the issue was your neck hurting after some time. It was exhausting to seek out the proper desk and chair for the factor to face on, so I believe that’s in all probability extra possible why it failed.”

Boss Recreation Studios noticed the writing on the wall early on, and associates at Nintendo simply down the street would admit that they need to in all probability simply transfer their focus to the N64 developments as a substitute. Digital Tank was swiftly dropped, not required in an effort to produce High Gear Rally. “The sport ended up attending to one thing that I wouldn’t even name an alpha. It was in all probability between a primary playable and alpha, the place there was a tank that was rolling round and capturing. It wasn’t near being completed,” defined Seth. Although removed from being a completed product, with a simply couple of ranges, it really had full presentation and choices screens current. However, most stunning, was the early music and sound results being included, one thing normally executed nearer the top of a mission’s life cycle.

Sadly, a Battlezone-like expertise was simply by no means to be for the platform. Digital Tank now stays a curiosity

Total, a big and spectacular quantity of labor was put in inside a really quick area of time, and it was a disgrace that it might in the end all go to waste. As the sport was designed across the Digital Boy’s {hardware}, there was nothing on the playing cards for transferring the concept to different consoles, so it was shelved indefinitely. The studio would deal with Spider (which Warrick additionally moved on to) and High Gear Rally, earlier than later creating video games corresponding to Stunt Racer 64 and Twisted Edge Snowboarding.

Due to the reveal of the sport (below the identify of 3D Tank) through the Web period, Digital Boy followers can be left questioning what it might have been wish to play a Battlezone-like sport on the {hardware}. Even mock-up screenshots surfaced of a possible arcade conversion at first of the brand new millennium, with others clearly sharing the identical imaginative and prescient as Seth as soon as did again in 1994. The query now was whether or not something of Digital Tank might be discovered and proven after simply over 25 years of being within the shadows. Each Todd and Hans confirmed that they not had something referring to the sport as all the things was saved on the studio on the time. Warrick and Rob concluded the identical, however there was higher information to come back.

Seth miraculously saved a last construct of the sport, digging it out to get it up and operating so we may present it right here. On these pages, you may see tidied-up screenshots, interpreted from images of the sport taken by way of the console’s lens. The screenshots present simply how a lot the sport was impressed by Battlezone and was similar to the unique arcade. Little question, it may have been a showcase sport for the platform. Sadly, Nintendo is not going to permit the discharge of the prototype as it’s copyright protected, one thing that Seth can’t break. The one means it might ever floor is that if one other prototype someway turns up by different means. For now, take a look at screenshots from the sport and images of the prototype. It’s hoped that video and audio recordings will sometime be accessible on the Video games That Weren’t web site.

Sadly, a Battlezone-like expertise was simply by no means to be for the platform. Digital Tank now stays a curiosity that we hope surfaces sometime to offer a style of what may have been. Hopefully, in time, a homebrew conversion of Atari’s arcade will give the platform the sport it sorely deserves.


This function – together with many others – will be present in Bitmap Books’ The Video games That Weren’t, which will be bought right here.



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