‘In Return Fire you get to play with bombs, tanks, rockets, you know… that type of stuff’ – the concept which is succintly explained on the back of the CD case in 17 words. A perfect summary.
The game injects itself firmly into your mind and soon after you’ll find devilish delights in blowing up buildings and armed turrets.
We spoke with creator, Reichart Von Wolfsheild, about Return Fire and how he came to design such a project, its challenges, and how it became one of the best loved 3DO games on the system.
For this review we have included excerpts from our conversation which you can read in full here.
WAR OF THE WORLDS
This top down tank shooter portrays war in a comical fun way through an arcade like aesthetic, and much like the arcade it’s best enjoyed with a friend. The 3DO’s daisy-chaining of controllers and potential for multi-player mayhem is one of the key attractions that helped get this project on the system. Return Fire will require you to seek out a living breathing person – so if you find one, invite them over and get ready for battle.
Silent Software’s Reichart Von Wolfsheild remembers fondly the early tests they were running on 3DO hardware.
R.W: “We spent an entire month doing research just doing speed tests on the 3DO. Our very first test was to throw a polygon up, then we had to understand it was a square, it works a certain way, and we spun it – then sub divide it and kept sub dividing it down.
So all these tests were to see if there was anyway to get more speed out of it. We knew what our max polygons and sizes could have been.”
He continues to explain some of the tricks used to improve the performance of the game.
R.W: “. . . it’s not real 3D, it’s 2.5D. It is real 3D in the sense it’s being rendered with a 3D formula, except we dropped one of the axis and the reason we did this is because we gained about 20 percent more speed on the 3DO.
And knowing we had to split the screen and render two worlds, we wanted to keep the frame rate north of 12 frames per second. Obviously back then games were between 30 and 60 frames, but I wanted to get this world rendered, I had a lot to render, more than an EA game would do or something else, so that’s how we came up with that. We did it physically on the ground and spent days thinking what we could do, and ran tests over-and-over again, just seeing how fast we could do matrix math.”
Return Fire was ported with better frame rates and graphical updates on the PlayStation and PC, but to experience the title in its original inception, the 3DO is it. And rather grand it is too.
BUILDING BRIDGES AND BURNING THEM
A variety of maps have been meticulously built with a gentle learning curve. Each level is based around capture the flag mechanics, obstacles come in the form of an enemy stopping you with high walls, defense turrets, aerial drones and submarines. The environment is completely destructible but some buildings can provide cover as you race from island to island.
Such a strategy takes an alternative route when you get a friend in the mix and the results prove feverishly addictive as you battle for balance over completing your objective and obfuscating your opponent through a barrage of weaponry and environmental destruction.
R.W: “. . . what I was trying to capture with Return Fire, is that amazing moment when you bring your friends over your house and you’re relaxing and you are learning about each other by playing games together. It’s the reason people get together and play D&D and board games and so forth, it’s incredibly… I’ll use the phrase, ‘intimately social’, and I don’t feel there are other many things that do that.”
To conquer your enemy and retrieve the flag you have a limited supply of vehicles including: Helicopters, Tanks, Heavy Rocket Carriers and Jeeps, each must be used in balance to complete each stage and each has different strengths and weaknesses. The Jeep for example, has little to no armor – but is exceedingly quick and is the only vehicle which can obtain the flag.
Graphically the game is simple, yet pleasing and perfectly suitable for what it sets out to achieve. If anything there is a charm which makes mass destruction within this potentially grim atmosphere, very cheeky. You can’t help but draw a wry smile as you wipe out entire camps of infantry in their tents.
All the art was created by Van Arno, today a celebrated fine painter, and it turned out Return Fire was his first foray in video-game territory. Reichart recalls fondly how he loved his style and wanted him on the team, even though, Van, had never used a computer before. Reichart coached him through the process so his skills could transition over from paint to pixel and into the game.
R.W: “I said to him – hey you wanna do some computer work? And he said – sure, I’ll try it. He was very laid back, very easy going about it which is rather ironic given this is a war game. So again it brought a certain ‘feel’ to the game, but we kept it minimalistic on purpose.”
I LOVE THE SMELL OF NAPALM IN THE MORNING
The sound design is perfectly pitched with the weight of the tank tracks rolling over concrete. Each blast envelops you and is felt through the rumbles and metallic ricochets.
It doesn’t stop there. The comedic and purposeful effects of soldiers falling under your vehicle are hilarious, but where it really steps into its own is with the music.
Classical themes are assigned to each vehicle and it goes without saying it adds an immense amount of depth and fun. Tearing through buildings and infantry to Holst’s Mars, from the Planet Suite, is gratifying. Even when your plans go wayward.
On its release Return Fire was a game that very much ignited my love for classical music, it was the first time I had heard it used in such a way that evoked a real passion that continues today. Of course, it is widely used as a standard by games of today, but back in 1995 it was almost non-existent.
Over a period of 3 months, Reichart, went through 300 classical CD’s stored in his truck.
R.W: “What I was looking for was the Rock ’n’ Roll version of these songs, I wanted to hear the upbeat versions, I wanted to hear heavy drums, it was a video-game I wanted it over-the-top. Even blind, even when I didn’t know what CD I was pulling, EMI’s collection from Giovanni was the best I’d heard.”
A schedule was put together with an approximate budget of $15,000 to fly out to Europe and have a selection of classical themes scored for the game, which he would orchestrate himself. At that time a dialogue was also opened up between EMI and Silent Software which led to two months of negotiations.
Silent Software were asking for 45 minutes of EMI music, and the price was $100,000.
R.W: “I said I don’t have a one-hundred thousand dollar budget. He finally agreed to full licensing rights for any games I make in the next three years and I can’t tell you the final price, but it was definitely cheaper than me flying to Europe, so I got all the music rights to all the music I wanted, best quality and part of the deal that actually pushed it through was I told them I would advertise them, I would put ‘EMI’ first image full page, again, video games didn’t really do that back then.”
Return Fire is a very good game, and should be in every 3DO collectors library. This game has been remembered for two things in particular – multi-player, and, its fantastic music.
One of the benefits of the 3DO hardware was the on board battery backup and if you have a thirst for war, then you can purchase additional maps in the expansion disc ‘Return Fire: Maps O Death’.
The game stands as one of my top ten 3DO games. It continues to play so well today due to the simplicity, the controls and all out playability. One thing I had to ask about Return Fire is how its creator felt about it today, after all these years.
R.W: “I very much love Return fire, if you look at the box from Fire Power it’s one of my favorite pieces of artwork, it’s just so ridiculously over the top, if you look closely at the jeep driving at you, it’s a lot of fun. That’s just the beauty of Van Arno – but there’s a lot of humour in all this stuff too.
No, there’s definitely a love of this and nostalgia to it, I get asked constantly to do updates for it.”
And with regards to updates on Return Fire, time will tell.
Facts about Return Fire you may not know:
- Return Fire designer, Reichart Von Wolfsheild is an American inventor, technologist and artist, and was part of the development of the first modern multi-player game.
- Return Fire is the sequel to ‘Fire Power’ on the Commodore Amiga.
- The skull laugh is provided by R.J Mical, inventor of the Amiga, and, co-inventor of the Atari Lynx and 3DO.
- Return Fire is the first game to use a planned content expansion pack on a console.
- The idea for Return Fire germinated from the arcade game ‘Tank’.
- The camouflage artwork for Return Fire was used to make it stand out among other games on the store shelves, which at that time all used bright, bold colours.
- The noise of the soldiers being squished by your vehicle is a sound bite from Silent Software developer Will Ware.
Interested in the full story behind Return Fire and more industry insight? Visit our conversation with Reichart Von Wolfsheild here.
Return Fire rating breakdown explained here
Return Fire review by Ash RGB_RetroBlog
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