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Prowler

by Sean Murphy

After Super Wing Commander shipped, the team had some down time. We weren't sure what we were going to be working on next, so Glen Johnson and I started fleshing out an idea we'd been tossing around for a mech game. We wanted to see a Gundam-style game, with fast and agile robots leaping about the countryside, as opposed to the heavy, plodding Mechwarrior-style games we'd seen.

We started with a story idea. We began with a binary planet system: two planets that moved in close orbit to each other. What effect would it have on man if he evolved with clear proof of others elsewhere? In this binary system man would have developed seeing the night fires and eventually cities on the other planets. We supposed that under these conditions one of the primary goals of our species would be communication: finding a way to communicate with those on the other planet. So our race of man had developed in peace and communication over thousands of years.

Unfortunately they weren't the only planet in their solar system; there was another, inhabited by hostile aliens (you know, generic bad guys) who had none of the peace-loving qualities of our Good Guys. They attacked the binary planet system, and if I remember correctly basically wiped out the civilizations on both planets, with just a handful of refugees fleeing, Galactica-like, out into the cosmos. The game would have taken place on a variety of planets as they fled, pursued by the Big Baddies.

(The bulk of the character sketches I sent are for that preliminary game).

But that game was never to be - Eric Hyman came to us and told us that instead of that one, there was a mech game they were planning to do that they wanted to use us on: a game called Storm Troop (later, Prowler). We pretty much realized our dream game wasn't going to happen, so away we went!

Storm Troop was (IIRC) Paul Isaac's baby. He'd developed a system for articulated mech-style movement and we kind of developed a game concept around that (and I also am fairly sure that the project was initially intended for 3DO). Glen and I retasked ourselves and started developing a look-and-feel for this game, which was to follow the exploits of a group of cavalry-like mech-riding military/police/commandos as they romped around the galaxy, I dunno...fighting evil, doing good, keeping the natives down...I can't really remember what the premise was to be, but basically there was a giant starship that served as your base, moving from star system to star system, from which you'd deploy down to planet surfaces in a...Minotaur? I think that's what they called it - a ship I designed (and sadly have no records of!) that I remember being inspired by a big doolie pickup I got stuck behind in traffic one day. From that dropship your mechs would emerge and go kick ass and take names.

Glen and I had this (at the time) radical idea that we'd go counter to all the popular trends and avoid the typical Star Wars/Alien gritty tech look; instead, we decided that there had been a return to a sort of Neo-Victorian philosophy of design that emphasized form as highly as function; everything would be as lovely as it was workable. Our environments were filled with pillars and plants and tapestries; machines would be accented with filigree and fine ironwork. You can see some of that in the environment sketches Glen did, especially the atrium area.

Anyway, there were problems with the project right from the outset. One of the first issues we ran into is that our legal people informed us that Storm Troop would likely not fly as a title, as Lucas has "Storm Trooper" trademarked...seems ridiculous that a historical character like storm troopers could be trademarked, but Lucas certainly has the bux to do it. We fought that for a while, then finally relented and decided on "Prowler".

Team communication was poor. Leadership was iffy. There was almost no dialog between the art staff and the programming staff. I remember one day, months into the project, sitting in a meeting and hearing the programmers drooling about how cool the game was going to be, how "dark...and gritty...and dirty, and oily and all mechanical and functional and stuff!" Clearly they had not gotten the memo about our grand notions of Neo Victorian design...

Anyway, my Spider-sense started really tingling about that project as the days went by, and I began to feel more and more that it was likely that the game was going to be cancelled. That, combined with a variety of conflict issues I had with some of the other team members (who felt completely comfortable altering signifiicant elements of the artwork we were creating without the slightest consultation with the creating artist), led me to bail from the project - I actually ended up going to work on one of the many iterations Origin attempted on Privateer II; possibly the one that we hired Tracy Hickman to work on. I felt bad about leaving the project but by that time there was so little communication and so much animosity on the team that I felt it was pretty much doomed.

And some time later - as little as three months, possibly as long as six months - sure enough, EA pulled the plug on Prowler and let most of the team go. I remember standing next to Glen at the big company meeting where they were announcing the layoffs (the Prowler team being just a part of the purging); I remember Glen looking over at me ruefully and commenting, "Looks like you made the right decision jumping ship..."


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