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Beneath's fortunes are rising

Is the world ready for a revisionist H.G. Wells or Jules Verne adventure game? Presto Studios and Activision think so.

November 4, 1998
Web posted at: 11:15 AM EDT

by George T. Chronis


(IDG) -- Is the world ready for a revisionist H.G. Wells or Jules Verne adventure game? Presto Studios and Activision think so. In Beneath, Presto (of Journeyman Project fame) is convinced that Tomb Raider opened a door for third-person adventures, but the earlier game relied upon its good looks and lacked easy input control and depth of story telling.

So Presto set off to build a game around Jack, a turn-of-the-century (19th/20th) adventurer out to track down his missing father whose expedition to the pole has gone terribly wrong. In the best Wells/Verne tradition, Jack discovers an underground world with an entirely unique social and eco-system. Three societies inhabit the underground--a Troglodyte world, a Morlock world, and an Insectoid world. Strangely, all three are biologically and socially connected, the questions to be uncovered are how are they connected and what are they up do?

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Whether beefcake Jack will draw women to beneath the same way Tomb Raider's Lara captivated men is unknown, but Presto definitely has a grand vision for an adventure game in Beneath. Unfortunately, despite obvious enthusiasm behind their product, the first couple of times Beneath was brought in for demonstration to PC Games, there wasn't a whole lot in evidence to get excited about. These early alphas were all software rendered, there weren't any adversaries or creatures and nothing to explore but dingy mineshafts. What's more, the producers seem somewhat disdainful of the need for 3D acceleration in third-person games.

This week Activision trotted Beneath through the office again and we're happy to report there's a lot more there to talk about. First, Glide support was finally added a couple of weeks ago. Direct3D will come later, as well high-resolution versions of Jack, but the difference 3D acceleration brings to the game is enormous. Activision won't release updated screens, so we were forced to run the accompanying E3 SVGA screens, but we're happy to report that Presto's texture work is often stunning in 3D.

Also worth note is how much the physics model has improved. Jack is supposed to be no stranger to daring-do--rock-climbing, vine swinging, etc.--so you can imagine there will be plenty of opportunities for him to swing, hang and climb underground. Equipped with all manner of rope and climbing gadgets, players will have to grapple, swing, and jump across many a chasm. Implementing what it calls a "predictive" jumping and climbing AI, Presto has come up with a pretty easy control system. But also impressive is the tracking camera that pulls out to view Jack's swings over cavernous falls.

Another aid to third-person gamers will be a smart auto-aim. It's often difficult to get a good firing angle on targets that are close in and partially obscured by a game's main character. In Beneath, Jack's gun will auto-aim on targets at mid-range to close-in distances.

Now for the targets. Presto still hasn't put many adversaries into the game, but at least we got to play with some early giant spiders and earwicks. They're still pretty stupid, and we'd still like to see how the Morlocks and Insectoids are coming along, but this is still progress.

Bottom line, there's more to like about Beneath. And maybe one day soon we'll get a look at Insectoid world as well as the Troglodyte and Morlock worlds. We'll keep you posted.

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