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Friday, 11 January 2019

QUEEN: THE EYE


With Bohemian Rhapsody winning all kinds of awards, the awesome musical stylings of Queen are again on everyone's minds - if they ever left. But on the outskirts of their rock anthems and operatic concept albums sits a band with a keen interest in science-fiction. We all know Flash Gordon, and some may have seen the Orwellian We Will Rock You on the stage, but most fascinating is Queen: The eYe (yes, that's how it's spelt), a little-known action-adventure published by Electronic Arts in limited numbers back in 1998.

When CD-ROMs became a thing, many bands and artists put their names on a number of interactive experiences. These were mostly glorified encyclopedias with little gameplay. Their main purpose was to promote or supplement the band's recent album or single and not be a product in its own right. The surviving members of Queen recognised this and wanted to do something different. They wanted to make a game. They wanted to make The eYe.

This artistic endeavour grew into a massive project. The short-lived development company Destination Design was created solely to create this game and wouldn't work on any other after its release. Ultimately spanning a massive 5 CDs, the game ballooned into an almost unmanageable enterprise. Hundreds of pieces of art were commisioned. High-tech animation suites were brought in to handle the cutscenes. A motion capture unit was commandeered to provide the character movements. Even the cast of Blake's 7 rounded out the voice cast.

The opening cinematic has flashes of a cohesive story, but it doesn't really tell you anything.

By far, the biggest draw was a large number of newly remixed and remastered Queen tracks - over 90 in all if you include the short stings and riffs. These were rearranged by Roger Taylor and his (then) current group The Cross, with special credit given to the band's drummer Joshua Macrae. Songs such as We Will Rock You, A Kind of Magic and Radio Ga Ga are scattered throughout the soundtrack as well as some lesser known work and new material. Some are played through CD audio (and therefore on any CD player) while others are only found in-game. Some of these tweaked classics are actually pretty good and worth a listen on their own merits. I know some are sure to be in regular rotation on my set list.

It was from this back catalogue that the author and designer Richard Ashdown devised the plot. Set in another dystopian future (different to the stage show) where an omnipresent computer known as the eYe rules the planet with an iron fist. Looking like a rejected design of Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the monocular being resides suspended in a sphere, barking orders to his underlings. One of them is Death on Two Legs, a shapeshifting troublemaker that acts as the villain in each of the five worlds you'll visit.

The industrial Aren Domain hosts a number of nicely designed (if badly programmed) combatants.
The first Juggler key can be found in one of the area's mazes.

Our main hero is Dubroc. Once a feared Controller, a member of the eYe's militia, he soon renounces his position after discovering the existence of other domains, each of which are filled with music by Queen, naturally. He aims to free the music from the 'repressed archives' and therefore the world - 'cos that's what music can do apparently. Instead of turning him to dust immediately, the eYe enlists him into a Running Man style arena where prisoners fight to the death for the amusement of the more fortunate slaves that make up the rest of the populace. This is the first of five parallel domains, and each one contains a Juggler key you need to find before you can move on.

The Works Domain mixes clockwork technology with renaissance style art.
Watch out for those giant fly traps in the Crystal Palace.

The second area is the Works domain, a more fantastical realm that's a stark contrast to the industrial arena you just came from. Its visuals are inspired by renaissance era Italy but with a mystical alchemic twist. The game slows down a little here, with action taking more of a backseat to the exploration. This is the type of pacing a game like this should have all the way through, not the action focussed treasure hunt of The Arena.

Death on Two Legs is here and he's transformed into the Baroness, taking on her lustful characteristics as well. She is the owner of an elaborate museum filled with clockwork monsters, a crystal palace with a garden of man-eating plants and a ballroom and boudoir for the forced romancing. In each domain, you'll have to build up your inventory a new. Thankfully, there's still a variety of weapons to find, with a sword and flintlock pistol among them to help you along the way. Like the hand-to-hand combat, they're still a bit cumbersome to control but the extra damage they cause shortens fights considerably.

You can explore the entire stage in the Theatre Domain, 
including the rejected magic show props in the underground crypt.

Once you've found that section's key, you're off to the Theatre domain where Death has disguised himself as Mr Mestopholies. He's a magician with very real powers, including telekineses as her whisks you away to the creepy basement. He's also captured your one-time colleague and boss from your Controller days too. After torturing you at the eYe's request, Kazan now knows the truth and has chosen to help you on your journey. She will often offer advice and useful items in each domain before inevitably getting captured. It happens quite quickly here, as she's trapped in an iron maiden that only some light puzzling can set her free.

The Innuendo Domain doesn't have a single sex joke.
Instead, you explore a travelling circus and some crop circles.

The circus-themed fourth level takes place at a carnival that is strangely called the Innuendo Domain. In a land filled with carnies and clowns, that's a doubly disturbing title. The two-legged Death man is the top-hat wearing ringleader and can summon clowns to throw pies at you if you approach him with your fight stance activated.

There are a number of sideshows in the area, including a strong-man and a merry-go-round but the most interesting from a story perspective is a water tank that holds a lovelorn mermaid. You can't really ride the rides or play the games, but there is a good atmosphere to the place. When you reach the end of the section in the cornfields, there are some creepy Children of the Corn vibes too. It is here where you'll find the keyhole for your newly completed Juggler key, and the portal to the Final Domain where the eYe resides.

The Final Domain looks like something from Star Wars. You need to master 
jumping and fighting - the game's most neglected mechanics - to get anywhere.

These last three domains have good pacing, with exploration and puzzles taking the fore and as such are the best parts of the whole game. The Final domain takes all that made those work, throws it out the window, takes a dump on it and make them listen to Paul Rodgers era Queen music. There's a rarely used jump button that before now only had a few superfluous uses. Now you'll need it to traverse a futuristic labyrinth of raised platforms with a deadly electrified body of water below ready to kill you if you make a mistake. And you will. It's easy to misjudge the exact direction Dubroc is facing, let alone knowing the distance between gaps. There was one leap that took place so far in the distance you wouldn't know it needed clearing until you fell to your death. While still sporting some stunning visuals, the level's main focus in the second half is making you defeat all forms of Death on Two Legs from the Baroness to his original demon form before reaching the eYe itself.

As you can probably tell, the story gets a bit convoluted as it tries to shoehorn Queen references (Baronness is a line from Killer Queen, while the clunky name of Death on Two Legs comes from a song all of its own). It's not presented too well in the game either. The CGI cutscenes - as great as they are for the time period - shuffle by with little cohesion. Domains seem to exists solely for the purpose of Queen easter eggs even though each and every one looks stunning. The pre-rendered backgrounds are highly detailed and imaginative with a cinematic eye inspired by the likes of Resident Evil and its ilk. The polygonal characters have been given the same care and attention, with sharp designs complete with an attempt at lip-synching when necessary, even though some characters blink with one eye in some scenes. All of their movements were motion-captured too, making the animations smooth and fluid. Some of the death-throws of a recently defeated zombie or clown are nicely theatrical.

All of this hard work doesn't always come together, though. Where action takes precedence over adventuring the flaws of the sub-par tank controls are even more pronounced. The enemies are often fast moving and far more precise with their attacks than you could ever be. Throughout most of the game, you will be stuck with basic melee attacks as your offence, with only a small number of weapons at your disposal at certain times. Even so, Dubroc has quite a move-set for such a game. He has two punches, two kicks and can block, jump and dodge. It can become unwieldy, but at least the keyboard keys have been thoughtfully laid out. If you don't like them, they're fully configurable too. While I haven't done it, I suspect using a program like Joy2Key with a controller will lessen some of the problems.

The controls are mapped nicely, even if they're not programmed well (left).
You'll have to delete the first disk's install when you move on to another (right).

The camera angles try too hard to be cinematic and are often positioned too far away from the character to see what he's doing. It will often shift and to a new angle way too often. This makes it trickier to understand the layout than it needs to be. When in your attack stance, your paltry life bar will be displayed on the top left, with any opponents on the top right. It can only be replenished with health items that are stingily hidden in each location. You can pick them up by pressing 'delete' by default which begins a long animation of him going so - whether there's something there or not. I found myself squatting several times when trying to pick something up only to find the clumb of grey pixels are part of the background. Couple that with some items blending into the background, and this will be one of the biggest reasons you'll be lost. Even with a guide in hand, I couldn't for the life of me find an iron bar behind a carousel.

Once you've completed a domain, you'll need to change disks to move onto the next (Ctrl-F4 for DOSBox users). Strangely enough, it'll also need a re-install. It will delete everything you've just done - saves included - to reinstall the next section as if it were a new game. To hell with going back to a previous save. To hell with starting a new game from scratch. Doing so now will take you to the beginning of that disk's chapter. This screams programming inexperience or if you want to be kind, a last-minute measure to get the game out on time in a workable fashion. Either way, it's incredibly poorly done. You may not care if you plan to play a single game all the way through - it's a linear game with little in the way of plot deviations - but when you want to go back and get screenshots for a review, that really stings. Thank the rock gods that saves for each chapter can be easily found online here.

That's the thing about Queen: The eYe. The art is designed so beautifully that there was an entire art book devoted to the game before it even came out. The game itself, however, is designed so poorly that few people remember the game despite the high brand recognition and (very limited) support from Electronic Arts. It's not like it didn't have promise. The huge ambition of the 22-man team at Destination Design is there to see front and centre and the middle three chapters do fare better than those that bookend them, but they didn't have the know-how to make it play well in the timeframe they had. A promising disaster of an artistic marvel.



To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. French language Manuals and a painstakingly scanned Artbook Included. Tested on Windows 10.

If you're having trouble saving, the SAVEGAME folder may not have installed correctly. Create a folder named SAVEGAME under HDD\THEYE\DATA.

File Size: 1.25 Gb.  Install Size: 1.45 Gb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


Queen: The eYe is © Queen Productions Ltd
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


Like this? Try These...

http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/dark-earth.html  http://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2017/04/obsidian.html  http://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2015/09/azraels-tear.html

16 comments:

  1. Woah, this looks really neat! Never even heard of this one. I love my Queen, so that's an added bonus. Nice job! Sounds like an interesting if deeply flawed oddity.

    The thing with the disc changing/installing sounds pretty mind-bogglingly awful though. I've never encountered anything like that before. I can't imagine what the pre-release board room discussion on that must have been like.

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    1. The more I think about it, the more I think it was down to time constraints. It's a quick fix to get the game out on time without putting the programming effort in to make it run normally.

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  2. I'm sure you meant "ROGER Taylor and his (then) current group The Cross" not "James Taylor". :)

    Thanks for the upload!

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  3. This is timely indeed. I must try this, even though action games are not my thing at all. The music alone sounds enticing, not to mention all the adventure/exploration elements.

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    1. It's certainly interesting. It gets much better after the Arena section at the beginning, though don't expect Resident Evil or Dark Earth levels of greatness.

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  4. I must have strong masochistic tendencies as I actually like The eYe despite poor, slow turning, weaponless Dubroc is viciously killed much to often by his armed opponents, twice as agile and precise.

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    1. Someone has to :)

      To be fair, that problem is reduces greatly once you get beyond the Arena chapter. From then on, it's more about the adventuring than the actioning.

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    2. Ty for your encouragement :) Now I've another question. I can't save my progress. While there is the option to save/load a game in the menu if I try to click or press enter key to save nothing happens. I went to all possible sub-folders in the game install and didn't find a savegame folder. Trying to put there a folder manually named save/SAVE/savegames/SAVEGAMES (if it's case sensitive) or in the sub-folders HDD,HDD\THEEYE. HDD\THEEYE, HDD\THEEYE\DATA ... etc. won't work. I did install and re-install multiple times as you recommend to C\Games with antivirus deactivated. OS is Win10x64 Home. Can you give me some pointers? The site you linked to for the downloadable savegames only says to put them in your savegame folder and rename your own saves.

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    3. Save data can be found under HDD\THEYE\DATA\SAVEGAME
      They must be named SAVEGAME.0 to SAVEGAME.5
      Just did a test and the saves work as they're supposed to. Perhaps you're write permissions are off? Try running as admin.

      Bear in mind that the game deletes and installs data whenever a CD is changed (including saves if I remember correctly), so you cannot go back to a previous chapter once you've begun a new one. Even if you've saved. This is an annoying (and abnormal) quirk of the original release as well. For example, if you've reached the end and want to start from the beginning, selecting 'New Game' will only take you to the beginning of that chapter. Any saves for a previous chapter will not work.

      If you're using those saves to get to the next chapter quicker, you'll have to complete the previous one first. The last save in each chapter places you just where you need to be for this to happen. This means to get to the final 5th chapter, you'll have to do this for first 4 chapters. Incredibly annoying and I've no idea why they programmed it like this, but it is what it is.

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    4. Thank you so much. That was the information I needed. For some reason the installer doesn't create a SAVEGAME folder automatically. Placing a SAVEGAME folder manually in the specified location works. Now I'm finally able to save/load a previous game and the downloadable savegames work too :)

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    5. Ok, I'll have to check it when I have the time. I know using Inno Setup (which I only use for very large games over 2Gb) to create the installers won't create empty folders but Clickteam's Install Creater Pro does. I'll have to check into this when I have the time. In the meantime, I'll add it to the download info on this page.

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  5. Thanks for the review. Didn't realise anyone would still be interested all these years later. It was a pretty tough effort to get it done. I am Richard Ashdown so have some inside knowledge of it. 20 odd years later I think we were pretty mad to just even try to pull it off...but that was, in many ways the point. The band got it and we had enough attitude to give it a go. The game itself suffered because we were inventing and designing the software as we built the game and we lacked skill and most importantly time. This was the moment the games industry really changed to 3D. In effect we were building the likes of Ubisoft's Assassin Creed series on machines that could barely handle the graphics, 20 years ago. That's quite ambitious. At the time there wasn't a rendering system that could manage it. We were real-time streaming both in game audio and red book quality stereo simultaneously, as well for example. The camera switching was 640x480 gfx and there wasn't a physics model built to handle the line of sight and collision detection necessary for the game as I recall. So it was really pushing the edge and ultimately went over the curve. The motion capture - so easy now - came from a medical research company based in Dijon. It was a mammoth task. And in fairness a tribute to the team, their effort and resilience. I still have some video materials which I might yet post that haven't seen the light of day. The original working title was actually DOTL. It was too raw a title really given the period when we were developing. The game sank without trace pretty much (another story) and the creative pretty much resurfaced in the musical WWRY. All in, an extraordinary experience with the band and a game that just couldn't quite get there. Too much to do, never enough time.

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    1. Wow! Great to hear from you Richard. I always found this game fascinating and have the art book sitting proudly on my bookshelf. I suspected a lack of time could've been the main cause of its problems. I feel most promising games that don't quite get there are down to that, and no one can deny The eYe's scope or ambition.

      I would love to see any behind-the-scenes footage of its production, and I'm sure many others would too. A lot of techniques were put into it that was ahead of its time and I'd be interested to see how you all approached it. I find it all fascinating.

      Thanks for providing the inside info. I very much appreciate it.

      Biff

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  6. Not a problem. I think you're spot on. I've sent you an email with the elements I think I can put together. Let me know what you think.
    All the best
    Richard

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    1. Thanks! I'm a little behind with my emails. I'll look at it now.

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