The Making of: Sacrifice

By Kieron Gillen on August 31st, 2007 at 6:43 pm.

[Another of my Making Of’s from the vault. I was pleased that I got a chance to do this too – it’s much easier to get a developer to talk about their previous game when it’s one in a series which they’ve making a sequel to. It just ties into the whole PR cycle. Trying to get an interview just about something outside of that is a little trickier, and Eric Flannum was enormously gracious with his time. This is a slightly expanded version from PC Format’s original, with some extra material. I replayed it last year actually, and lobbed my piece on Sacrifice’s merits over on my blog a while back. If you like this, you may like that too.]

Sacrifice is one of the most distant landmarks in the PC gaming atlas, in an area marked “Here Be Dragons”. While spectacular, few people went there, and those who did came back reciting fantastical tales of strange vistas, genre-blending RTS/Action mechanics and a frankly wicked sense of humour. To game historians looking back from the far future, it’s going to prove as mystifying as Stonehenge is to archaeologists. How on earth did they build this?

Sexy!

Well, like everything, it started with an idea. “The inspiration was originally from our lead programmer, Martin Brownlow,” Eric Flannum, now at Arenanet tells, us, “He got the opportunity to start a team at Shiny, and basically able to make any game he wanted to. He’d also had the idea for the Sacrifice terrain engine”. The game he wanted was, essentially, a radical update of ancient Julian-Gollop spectrum classic Chaos, but in 3D.

Martin spent time gathering his team. Eric was approached via a mutual contact who he’d worked with at Blizzard. “I was looking for work at the time, and he called me. “Hey – we need a designer, and we’ve got this really cool engine and the basis of the game… but we could really use some help with refining”. So I came on board, and everything worked out from there”. Bar his need for money, what attracted him to that decision? “The team was really good,” Eric effuses, “Secondly, the striking look the game had. When you first see it, especially at the time, it was very… “Wow. That’s not like anything else I’d ever seen before”. And I’d always had a love for RTS and action games, and trying to combine the two was certainly a challenge and very intriguing”

With the game under away, when Eric arrived they had two priorities. “The single-player campaign and specing out the units and what they did,” he explains. “We had the idea that we wanted the campaign to be very freeform, so coming up with a structure was tricky, “he notes, “Working out how the story would work out since the player could take any God’s mission they wanted. Then looking at the unit balance, as players could mix and match different tiers, how do we make that work exactly.”

I'm going to torture the body until I believe in the soul.

But the some of the hardest decisions were made around refining the game mechanics. “It had a lot of features,” Eric remembers, “You originally had more than one wizard and you could swap between them or inhabit any unit and take direct control, like in Dungeon Keeper 2. Also you had the ability to open three more gameplay windows centred on any unit, so you could have 4 points of view at any point.” Sounds awesome. Why lose it? “One of the things we found was that while they were really cool features, they tended to make the game more complicated and harder to play, muddied the interface and distracted from the main thing we were trying to get at – being the general on the battlefield thing,” he explains, “It’s always tough when you spend time implementing something to take it out, so they were pretty tough decisions. Are we going to gain something by losing this feature?”

He has no regrets about the decision, however. “I think they were big wins, as one of the biggest things which stood in the way of Sacrifice appealing more was that there were so many different and new things in it we were asking a lot from the player as far as what they had to learn and accept,” he explains, “From the visual style, from the lack of a disembodied camera… RTS players especially had a lot of new concepts to wrap themselves around” Of course, these “problems” were also some of the things which absolutely distinguished the game. “It was definitely one of the strengths of Sacrifice – its wacky visual look,” Eric considers the issue, “but at the same time… well, there’s something about “an archer” which communicates on a very basic level what that unit does. People don’t have to learn. But when you’ve got a little pyromaniac, there’s an extra step of learning. They don’t inherently know what he does.”

When asked if Sacrifice was a product of its time, whether something as unusual would be prevented by an accountants fear of blowing a mega-budgets on a curio, Eric finds another angle. “Even at the time, Sacrifice was a very small team at its core,” he notes, “We had two programmers who did the majority of the coding. For the longest time we only had one main designer. For artists, one animator. With team sizes being smaller, each individual has more of a chance to put their stamp on things as well, in addition to the budgetary concerns that making a really eclectic game is risky, the smaller team size lent itself to games being more quirky. With bigger teams it’s harder to remain fluid. It’s harder to react to a weird idea or something like that, as you have a much bigger ship to steer. With Sacrifice, if an artist had a crazy idea, it’s easier to just accommodate it”

Sacrifice was rife with those crazy ideas. For example, consider spells like “Bovine Intervention” sending an enormous cow speeding into the air to then crash directly on an unfortunate individual. “It was kind of a shiny trademark. James the God of Earth, and the way Stratos looks – god of air, so a balloon,” Eric recalls, “We wanted to come at it from a very playful, fun and not taking ourselves too seriously angle… but at the same time try to tell a story that’s somewhat dark at the same time. About a guy who’s come from a place where his universe has just been destroyed, and he was responsible for it… then giving the player a little bit of choice whether they go down that road again or not”

In terms of its biggest problem, we return yet again to accessibility – and here the small team was actually a problem. “Sacrifice had more of a difficulty wall than a difficulty curve,” Eric says, “We didn’t realise this as developers, but there’s a certain point at which you understand the game. It sort of clicks for people. They’ll be playing it… and then it’s there. The QA guys and the team had been playing it, but it was harder than we realised as we’d gotten over the curve and become familiar with how to play it.”

SOUL ON FIRE!!!!

But this is really overwhelmed by its strengths. “One of the things I’d really liked was the sound,” Eric argues, “I thought we did an exceptional job of it, and it’s a neglected part of a lot of games. It’s a fully third of the experience, I think and a lot of times it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. A lot of the things we did with the wizard calling out group numbers and orders and things gives the players a lot of feedback of what’s going on.”

What people often forget about Sacrifice is that well before Black & White, it implemented a gesture mouse-movement gesture system for ordering . “One of the strengths that system had was that for players who couldn’t do the gesture thing, you didn’t have to,” Eric notes, “You could treat it as a normal radial menu if you did it slowly. Go over and up and that’s the one that I want, while players that were really adept could do it. It would be nice to see someone take up the mantle of that and explore it a little more”

No matter what it’s successes, Sacrifice was a dead-end in the gaming history book. It never spawned a lineage. Where would they have taken Sacrifice next? And where would Eric like to see other people try to take its ideas. “We had some ideas we were talking about back when there was the possibility of an expansion – and there has been some games that have tried this, like Spellforce – but taking that campaign structure and going a step further,” Eric argues, “We were planning on being even more like an RPG, in that you were literally taking missions as quests from different characters and had a world to explore, and treating the ethereal realm as a level in itself. The merging genres too. I see more people approaching this from the action – like the Outfit, which has introduced a few strategy elements. It would be great to see some more strategy people trying to get that commander on the battlefield feeling”.

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60 Comments »

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  1. tom says:

    mmmmm i loved sacrifice.
    Although to my mind it followed pretty closelt in the footsteps of magic carpet with its mix of fps, resource gathering and spell spawing attack/units..
    I really liked this mixed genre and feel its a shame its not been pursued any further. Perhaps the mixture was too much for most players never mind the psychedelic marbled pulsating world Sacrifice presented.

  2. andreadst says:

    I really liked it too, but Battlezone always appealed to me more because of its sci-fi theme…rationally though, Sacrifice was every bit as BZ and surely one of the best attempts at crossing the RTS and action genres.

  3. Acosta says:

    Great writeup, I really liked Sacrifice, but it was crazy, the design was brilliant but you had to work for arriving to the point you “got it”, combined with the amazing but extremely weird graphics. Is one of those rare unique and experimental game that sadly don´t get the deserved sales and don´t influence other titles.

    I still think there is potential at the idea of action mixed with RTS, but is not fully explored yet.

  4. Solario says:

    I almost want to cry now since I lost my copy a couple of years back. I loved it dearly. Didn’t it also have that great line whenever you lost/died: “Of course that’s not what really happened”?

  5. Scion says:

    Sacrifice is in my mind, probably one of the best games i’ve ever played, it was so unique and funny…that it just struck a chord :)
    if i could ever say thank you to shiny and the dev team, i would.

  6. Yukkione says:

    I love the game, but what stands out in my mind now years later was the music.

  7. Mearaj says:

    mmmm
    i dont think Sacrifice was wasted, most RTS now offers a “Hero” centered story and battels the same way sacrifice did

    OK, i really miss the unique dark hummer atmosphere of Sacrifice, but some how shiny just screwed up after Earth worm Jim, MDK & sacrifice

    messiah was a shame, wild 9, the matrix and their RC game, all of them did not live to the legacy

    i really hope to see sacrifice, earth worm jim and specially MDK (my 90’s favorite which i played 100+ times) sold out

  8. Mearaj says:

    i forget to say, that sacrifice influence effected warcraft 3 and C&C generals, and when such big RTS name are following sacrifice, then this game is really a leap forward at its time

    still no one copied the battle over resources (souls) the same way sacrifice did

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    Mearaj: Actually, you ever played Darwinia? That actually uses a suspiciously similar mechanism.

    KG

  10. Mearaj says:

    Kieron: No
    actually i am a selective player, my cousin showed me MDK demo one day and i lost my mind since then

    my cousin leads to MDK
    MDK leads to sacrifice
    sacrifice leads to … Darwinia mmmm absolutely not

    i have just visited the website and it seems to be an outdated game, that does not compare to dungeon keeper

    sacrifice really deserve something better then Darwinia

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    I was more trying to say that the soul mechanism was used somewhere post-Sacrfice rather than argue Darwinia’s merits.

    Admitedly, I love both games for different reasons.

    KG

  12. Dave B. says:

    I’m listening to the music as I type this. I recently bought a copy for a buddy of mine (I have one for my own library). It is a very unique game and the music is GREAT! While some people have talked about Shiny’s previous games they actually still live on guys! Many of the people behind Shiny formed a new company called Planet Moon Studios. You can find the same great wild gameplay and british humor in games they created like Giants: Citizen Cabuto and Armed and Dangerous (GREAT GAME!!! LOVED THE SHARK GUN!!!). You can check them out at planetmoon.com. They are still in business.

  13. eber says:

    sacrifice is such a great game, its so sad to see those wonderful times fading away.
    i wished they could have finnished the add-on to sacrifice and made more patches for multiplayer.

  14. sc says:

    As my friends called it….

    Sacrifice = Mage Football

  15. Ephro says:

    I liked Sacrifice so much that I was actually playing while it was The New Year (00:00) and that happened two different times. Great game, now I really want to play it online couse I didn’t have the chance so far. Too bad only one of my friends likes it, and he’s gone to Canada. Boohoo

  16. Cactus says:

    Speaking of keeping this game alive…
    There are quite a few Sacrifice enthusiasts out there that have assembled and established Sacrifice Planet (lots of arranged gather dates, maps, etc.) and have played a big part of keeping and preventing Sacrifice from becoming a footnote in the history of gaming.

    Secondly, there’s only one word that describes this wonderful game: enchanting.

  17. Larrax says:

    haha i love ephro’s comment that he missed new year’s twice because he was playing this game- respect my friend!
    if it had gotten more attention that maybe we would have had a sequel, even if it was fan-made like Spring from TA
    :(
    LX

  18. zaba says:

    Sacrifice is the best of game…

  19. Matthew says:

    This is great old game, but I cant get it to run on XP. It says there is insufficient pagefile space (but there really isnt).
    Anyone seen this problem and know a solution?

  20. matte_k says:

    excellent game, insanely hard last level though. i liked the fact that even if you only had one copy, you could “spawn” copies on other pc’s for LAN play only- you don’t see that outside of MP demos anymore…

  21. Slappeh says:

    wub this game

  22. D says:

    I’ve never been able to play a RTS other than Sacrifice. The “commander on the ground” wizard summoning monsters thing was a lot more accessible than some top-down, factory building, unit-cranking-out every-other-kind-of-RTS kind of game

  23. norik says:

    I cant get to internet. I have patch 3.
    Login failed missing key or profile
    What can I do ???

  24. Maximilian says:

    norik, install the multiplayer patch from fansite http://www.sacrificeplanet.net , this should help :).
    have fun :).

  25. EviscerateChucky says:

    I’ve been playing Sacrifice since the day it got released here in Sweden. I remember standing in the store barely 14years old or something with my mom strongly discouraging my enthusiasm of the game at the shelf: Sacrifice. After loads of womanish whining and a like i bought it anyway. Now i am 18yold and still love playing it with my friends at LAN! Such a revolutionary game and not to speak about the campaigns! Suck effort people must have endured to finish programing those game mechanic’s and quests. The best game right beside SC2 (Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow) for it’s multiplayer. Anyhow Sacrifice suddenly stopped working on my last LAN and i just dunno why it did, people find the game room and all but couldn’t join, it just said: Could not join the game. We played through the LAN game options with IPX, all through XP.

  26. Noob says:

    Hi, folks. I have a small problem. My maps in Scapex are for temporary use for example i made a map, played it for 1 day an then “A file I/Q error occured working the wad file” and “an error occured opening the selected scenario” appeared. What I am supposed to do? Please, help!

    PS. I’m not English. Sorry for bad grammar.

  27. Diam0nd says:

    Amazing game. Is there anything at lest remotely like it?

  28. Jajusha says:

    Lovely, Lovely game.

    For those with problems running it on winXP, getting the pagefile space error, just set it to system managed and voila, enjoy

  29. tasix says:

    Sorry Jajusha, but it seems it doesn’t work anyway. Still having that message. Anyone knows how to get rid of that? Pleassse.

  30. mrdj says:

    I loved this game. Please chiny, make this game an xbox live arcade title :(….it would be a hit for sure…

  31. 1q3er5 says:

    Man nice write up. Such a shame this game wasn’t as successful as it should have been. Great artwork, music, gameplay – just a great UNIQUE game.

    Think I’m gonna install it again :)

  32. Zyzyx says:

    Sacrifice has problems dealing with any individual page file that approaches 2gb (problems addressing a file that size). Try setting a fixed page file of 1000mb. I think you can get away with making multiple page files on different partitions as long as none of them get near 1800-1900mb or so.

  33. Heliocentricity says:

    Ya, that said if you have 2gb of ram (like you should) you can turn your pagefile down anyway for an actual boost in performence., xp hardly uses it.

  34. Kurcik says:

    The Best game in my life :( why so short… why so short…

  35. Multi says:

    Im having trouble installing any of the files. I get the splash and I can select “install” but instead of copying files it askes if I want to “completely remove the application and all of its components”
    Guys, what do I do? It’s an original cd trying to run on WinXP

  36. SixiS says:

    Man… so sad. Sacrifice is definitely the best game ever made in my opinion. For its time, it was beautiful. The gameplay was so original and fun. The music, sounds, voices, story… everything was perfect!

    In a perfect world it would have been the best selling game. Thank you to the guys who made it… You have my admiration.

  37. Phillip says:

    A brilliant game – totally unlike anything I have played before or after. I’ll be reinstalling it after reading the article and remembering all the good times… Thanks for the article and the memory Kieron

  38. PLightstar says:

    Loved this game, the voice talent alone was worth playing it for combine that with the great multi-pathed story and the gameplay made one amazing game, too bad we will never see a sequel, hell I would be happy with a remake. They don’t make games like they used to aye

  39. Archaeopterix says:

    Best game ever. Nice write up. It makes me want to play again…

  40. SacManiac says:

    Great Article. Sacrifice for my money is the best game ever. I bought it way back in 1999 and I still play it, after lots of other games have come and gone.

    If any of the sac team read this…you guys are the best. I just wish sac was more popular so we could have sequels…but the game is awesome as it is so no worries.

  41. pharo says:

    absolutely amazing, for me the best one ever, everything in the game is unique and out standing, including sound and music

  42. Ignia says:

    Sacrifice is a fantastic game, it’s such a shame they didn’t take it further. I had many hours of fun completing all the endings, and yet more making new maps to explore.

    I would have liked to try the multiplayer, but there’s no way to click on the ‘LAN’ setting. The internet games don’t seem to work, and http://www.sacrificeplanet.net, which people keep mentioning, doesn’t seem to exist any more. It’s getting increasingly difficult to find out anything about the game, so if anyone has any ideas, I’d love to know. I’m worried it’ll disappear into the archives completely!

  43. Hermit says:

    Sacrifice is indeed awesome. Was somewhat miffed when I bought it off of GoG and couldn’t run it due to the “Insufficient Pagefile” Error.

    2 possible fixes. The first is that you can set your pagefile to 512mb (no more, no less). This fixes it, but is obviously annoying :p

    Far better is to use the patch/fix on http://aluigi.altervista.org/patches
    You’ll need the Lame Patcher and the Sacrifice Patch off that site, then simply follow the readme in the Lame Patcher to apply the patch to sacrifice.exe and voila, game runs fine.

  44. Francisco says:

    Hey somebody knows where I can download this game, because a lost it!

    thanks!

  45. TheDeadlyShoe says:

    try good old games.

  46. GrimFandango says:

    [Don’t share pirated stuff here, you naughty man]

  47. norik says:

    http://www.sacrificeplanet.net doesnt exist anymore, why?

  48. Scott Kevill says:

    EviscerateChucky and Ignia:

    You can still play Sacrifice online using GameRanger. LAN should also work properly this way.

    Ignia and norik:

    Unfortunately, SacrificePlanet.net has been down for many months and doesn’t look like it’s coming back.

    The community seems to be gathering at this Sacrifice Union with this forum.

  49. Leonard says:

    sacrifice! That game is the best oddity on earth.

  50. Jon says:

    Absolutely brilliant game – i remember getting it on release and trying to run it on high graphics…10fps all the way! Still loved it.