Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins...

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 25 October 1997. Last updated on 07 August 2009.
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Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins…
Beautifully modeled backgrounds form the many breathtaking sceneries.
Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins…
Limited branched dialogs allow minimal interactivity with game characters.
Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins…
What are these pills?
Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins…
Colonel Saunders is hiding secrets of the Eden Initiative.

Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins... is developed based on a new design concept called VirtualCinema. Pioneered by HyperBole Studios, VirtualCinema takes full advantage of the multimedia capability of the computer to provide a platform for storytelling. In fact, HyperBole Studios makes no substantial claim about Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins... being an adventure game. Instead, it is marketed as a form of interactive storytelling. Despite the impressive technology used to develop this title, the interactivity achieved falls about as short as its bare gameplay.

You are Drew Griffins, an army medical student (ouch!) recruited by the UN on a secret mission to an alien world. The year is 2057. An advanced environmental simulation program called Earth-5 has predicted that there are only five years before irreversible environmental damages will cause the Earth's demise. Only the Eden Initiative can save Earth from this Armageddon. The key to this operation is a rare mineral, iridium oxide, found on the alien planet AJ3905 —a world accessible only through an interplanetary device called the Quantum Gate. This world is occupied by a hostile life form who appear anthropomorphic in form through your virtual reality display. Yet, as launch time closes in, you begin to question the validity of the orders from your commanding officer, Colonel Saunders, and the inventor of the Quantum Gate, Dr. Elizabeth Marks. Furthermore, your army buddy, Private Michaels, tells tales of great conspiracy to hide the true agenda of the Eden Initiative. When your tophat and life support fail during the final battle with the aliens, you realize that you have been tricked into annihilating, in reality, a peaceful race of winged humanoids called the Alylinde. In your last moments before death, you ponder dearly upon the mistake you have made.

Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins... uses a high-performance software engine developed in-house called VirtualCinema. It is designed specifically to play digital video and multimedia from a CD-ROM, taking full advantage of the multimedia PC platform. It creates a "storyworld" where the player is the central character and the storytelling is folded into character interaction and exploration by the player. The hardware tools used by HyperBole Studios to make this title include various Silicon Graphics workstations, Apple Macintoshes, and PCs. The software tools used include Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, SoftImage, and a variety of plug-in filters. The majority of the work is done using Adobe Premiere. It is used for the video manipulation work, including basic editing, color correction, audio synchronization, key of actors into backgrounds, and integration of multiple layers of 2D and 3D graphics and video effects. All the 2D images are manipulated and edited using Adobe Photoshop. Adobe After Effects is used for more sophisticated special effects work.

Videos are encoded in both Apple QuickTime for Windows and Microsoft Video for Windows formats. The game works best on a Multimedia PC Level 2 system. All movie files are compressed using the SuperMac Compact Video compressor that comes with the QuickTime for Windows developers kit. All sound effects are uncompressed wave files. Most graphics, or bitmaps, are stored in a propriety compressed bitmap file format. However, Microsoft's Video for Windows developer's kit includes a sample application, ICMAPP, that allows opening, viewing, compressing and decompressing this propriety format. The bitmaps are compressed using the MS Video 1 compression algorithm that was jointly developed by Media Vision and Microsoft. MIDI files are authored using only ten channels. Channels 1 to 10 contain all note information; no notes are heard on Channels 13 to 16.

A VirtualCinema movie is presented in three layers. The first layer contains the physical environment and the world through which the player navigates. Layered over this are windows of digital video where the player interacts with the characters and controls how the story unfolds. The third layer shows the player Drew's thoughts, memories and fantasies. Navigation is done simply by point and click. The cinematic quality of these movies deserves much praise. Photo-realistic 16-bit graphics provide an immersing environment that can be explored. The premise for a story is strong, although its execution is weak. The manual is artistically designed, complete with poetry. The end theme "Kalimbe" is composed by D'C├╝ckoo. Some replay value of this game is retained since the collection of movie clips cannot be viewed in entirety in only a single sitting.

Unfortunately, despite its unique design, this game fails to delivery a succinct story. The flashback sequences are confusing and do not add much emotional elements to the story. Gameplay is virtually nonexistent since there is no real puzzle to be solved in the game! The player merely clicks on the screen to advance through the movie clips. The game world is small, and the freedom to explore is restricted by a time limit after which the player is automatically diverted to a specific location or asked to do something specific without recourse. Sometimes, there are just too many icons for the player to click. In order to view all the movies, the player must play the game over many times. Yet, most players will not have the patience to sit through the many repetitive segments just to watch a few new segments! Most videos are played in small screens and are quite pixelated. Lip synchronization is also a problem at times. The arcade sequence in the virtual reality battlefield simulation is just laughably simple.

Care must be taken when installing this game in Windows 95. The game automatically overwrites key drivers and files in order to install its own version of QuickTime in the WindowsSystem directory, even if a later version has already been installed. This can cause the dreaded missing or conflicting .dll dynamic link library error. This error can also occur when installed in Windows 3.x if there is already a version of QuickTime installed prior.

There has been an adaptation of the game to a paperback novel titled the same by Prima Publishing. Another little known fact is that the game has 2 subtitles—"The Saga Begins..." and "No One Dreams Here". The first appears on the box and the CD jewel case insert; the second only appears in the Readme.txt on the CD. No reason has ever been given by HyperBole Studios as to why there are different subtitles. Despite the breathtaking VirtualCinema technology, Quantum Gate: The Saga Begins... amounts to nothing more than eye candy with minimal interactivity as a game and a poorly executed story.

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