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“The outrage was ridiculous”: How Raven Software made one of the most controversial shooters of its time with Soldier of Fortune

Fortune Warrior

The release of Warriors of Destiny is strange. If you’ve been told to make licensed games, you’d expect superheroes like Batman or well-known movie franchises like The Terminator. Instead, Raven Software got a magazine. As if that wasn’t unusual enough, Warriors of Fortune is a niche magazine about mercenaries and warfare that’s little known in the mainstream, except perhaps for a brief period of notoriety in cases taken to court. In the 1980s it was ranked through advertisements on its web pages.

Dan Kramer, who worked as an assistant programmer director at Soldier Of Fortune, revealed that he and many of his colleagues were surprised to learn that they would be making a game based on the mercenary magazine. “If I remember correctly, Raven was finishing Heretic II and thinking about what they were going to do next. One day Brian Rafael [Raven cofounder] Come in and tell us that Activision has licensed Soldier Of Fortune and we’re going to make a game. Honestly, I don’t think any of us knew what to do in the first place. If any of us have heard of it, all we know is that it is a magazine. Print magazines? We thought, “How does this translate into a game?” It was a surprise. ”

However, the team is determined to make it work. “Licensing games had a bad reputation,” recalls Dan. “You make a crappy game, then license it and hope it sells, that’s how people perceive them. We know that, but Raven is very proud of the work she’s done, so we’re not just going to Say “shit in a box,” because that’s the expression we use, and then broadcast. To the store. We want to do something we’re proud of.”

Dan told us that the team went through several iterations in the early stages of development, moving from a more traditional shooter approach to one inspired by the recently released Rainbow Six where players had to plan the way their squads entered buildings. before changing course again. “What really cemented it and gave us direction was when we heard about John Mullins.”

Fortune Warrior

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“Once we focus on that person, a character is created and we can say, ‘Okay, we can make a game around that,'” Dan said. The credibility that John and his real-life experience as a soldier brings to the game is at the heart of game marketing, so it’s fair to ask him how much and to what extent he actually had an impact on game development. All that time was just marketing fluff.

“It was definitely a marketing question, but he came to the office a few times,” Dan replied. “We were pushing what’s called realism at the time, so there was talk of how that would work in the real world. If we actually asked him where to put the cover or something like that, no. We could have asked him about weapon ideas. I think he might have something to do with it.”

shoot

Fortune Warrior

“I can tell you that from a usability standpoint, we absolutely had to do something that I don’t think has ever been done artistically,” Dan said of the complexities of implementing the new system. “All of our artists had to point out which triangles on the model belonged to which area, so we had to create a complete overview of how many areas we’d get.”

“With the ability to shoot limbs, we had to come up with a system to detect, ‘Okay, alright, if I’m going to blow up a leg, I’ve got to stick the leg out and plug it on a hat or something like that Holes. Cover the model, maybe add some bones, then make a copy of another character, everything except the legs next to it. Then there were the animation issues, so I don’t think other shooters were dealing with that much at the time.”

“Once we got it, we knew it was great. I just played with it for a few hours and talked to the animators about what kind of animation we could do with it. I remember spending a few hours on some special murders A lot of the time, like the groin gun, which was obviously a real crowd pleaser. It was revolutionary at the time. We knew people would think it was different, and we hoped it would be great. Of course, there were people who didn’t think it was cool. “

Fortune Warrior

future destiny

Fortune Warrior

Fortune Warrior

Dan Kramer

“We also want players to feel like they’re battling an enemy that’s a little smarter. The skills we give to enemy AIs are there to help players in fictional worlds and provide new gameplay, but they’re still core to hero gameplay.”

Dan told us that it all came together in the first two levels the studio created, the first in the New York subway and the second in a moving train, which set the tone for the game. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a green light process to convince ourselves, Activision, and the people we showed that, yes, this game is real.”

From confusing magazine licenses to real-life mercenary John Mullins and action-movie ghosts, the studio found a way to make Warriors of Fortune work. The main definition of Soldier Of Fortune is the controversy surrounding the GHOUL system and the violence that comes with it. While we shouldn’t downplay its importance to the game’s success and legacy, it might be worth changing our minds about it. It’s a game made by a team that had a weird concept and tried their best to do something good with it. This includes violence, but it also means serious attempts at new things, resulting in a unique, world-renowned action game.


This feature first appeared in retro gamer Magazine Issue 219. For more great features like the one you just read about, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition: my favorite magazine.

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“The outrage was ridiculous”: How Raven Software made one of the most controversial shooters of its time with Soldier of Fortune

The pitch for Soldier Of Fortune was bizarre. If you were told you were going to be making a game based on a licence, you might expect a superhero like Batman, or a well-known movie franchise like Terminator. Instead, Raven Software got a magazine. As if that wasn’t unusual enough, Soldier Of Fortune was a magazine about the niche subject of mercenaries and war, little known in the mainstream save perhaps for brief eruptions of notoriety during the instances it was taken to court for contract killings that had been arranged through advertisements in its pages in the Eighties. 
Dan Kramer, who worked on Soldier Of Fortune as assistant programming director, reveals that he and many of his colleagues were bemused when they found out they would be making a game based on a mercenary magazine. “If I recall, Raven were wrapping up Heretic II and were looking at what they were going to do next. One day, Brian Raffel [Raven cofounder] came in and told us that Activision had acquired the Soldier Of Fortune licence and that we were going to make a game. Quite honestly, I don’t think any of us really knew what to do at first. If any of us had even heard of it, all we had heard was it was a magazine. A print magazine? We’re like ‘How does that even translate into games?’ It was a surprise.” 
Nevertheless, the team was determined to make it work. “Licensed games had a bad reputation,” Dan recalls. “You make a crappy game and then slap a licence on it and hope it sells, was how they were viewed. We were keenly aware of that, but Raven has a lot of pride in the work it does and so we were not about to just, I’ll say ‘shit in a box’, because that was the expression we used, and then send that out to the stores. We wanted to make something we were proud of.” 
Dan tells us that the team went through a couple of iterations in the early stages of development, swerving from a more traditional shooter approach to something inspired by the then recently released Rainbow Six, where players would have to plan a squad’s entry to a building, before changing courses again. “What really solidified it, gave us some direction, was when we found out about John Mullins.”

“Once we had that person to focus on, it kind of built a character that we could say ‘OK we can make a game around that,’” says Dan. John and the credibility he lent to the game as a result of his real-life experience as a soldier was front and centre of the game’s marketing, so it would be fair to question to what extent he actually had an impact on the game’s development and to what extent that was all just marketing fluff. 
“He certainly was a marketing thing, but he did come out to the office a couple of times,” Dan replies. “We were pushing so-called realism at the time, so there were conversations about how this would actually work in the real world. Whether we actually consulted him about where to place cover or anything like that, no. We might have asked him for ideas for weapons. I think he might have had something to do with that.”
Shoot to kill

“I can tell you from the perspective of using it we definitely had to do things that I don’t think had ever been done on the art side of things,” Dan says on the complexity of implementing the new system. “All of our artists had to designate which triangles on the model belonged to which zone, so we had to come up with a whole scheme of how many zones are we going to have.”
“With being able to shoot limbs off we had to come up with a system that detected, ‘OK, well if I’m going to blow a leg off, then I’m going to have to turn off the leg and then put on a cap or something to cover up the hole in the model, and maybe attach a bit of bone, and then also spawn in another copy of the character except with everything but the leg turned off next to it.’ Then there were animation concerns. So there was a whole lot of stuff that I don’t think other shooters had to deal with at that time.”
“Once we had it, we knew it was cool. I would spend just hours playing around with what we could do with it and talking to the animators about what kind of animations we could make. I remember spending quite a bit of time on some of the special case deaths, like the groin shots, obviously, the real crowd-pleaser. This was, at the time, revolutionary. We knew that people were going to find it different, we hoped cool. Obviously, there were some people who didn’t think it was quite so cool.”

Future fortunes

Dan Kramer

“We also really wanted the player to feel like they were fighting against a somewhat intelligent enemy. The abilities that we gave to the enemy AI were there to help root the player in the fictional world and offer new gameplay but still feed into the core of the hero gameplay.”
Dan tells us this all came together in the first two levels the studio made – the first in a New York subway, the second on a moving train – which set the tone for the game. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it was kind of a green-light process, to convince ourselves, Activision and the people we were showing it that, yeah, this game is for real.”
From a confusing magazine licence, to real-life mercenary John Mullins, to an action movie ethos, the studio found a way to make Soldier Of Fortune work. Soldier Of Fortune has tended to be defined by the controversy that surrounded the GHOUL system and its accompanying violence. While we shouldn’t downplay the significance of that in terms of the game’s success and legacy, it’s perhaps worth adjusting our perspective on it. This is a game built by a team who got given a strange concept and tried their best to make something good out of it. This included violence, but it also represented an earnest attempt to do new things that resulted in a distinct, globe-trotting action game.
This feature first appeared in Retro Gamer magazine issue 219. For more excellent features, like the one you’ve just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at MyFavouriteMagazines.  

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