atop the crag castle sits, bearing silent witness to the evil that has
overcome the land. Beneath it, the village, bathed in darkness save for
the faint glow of the flickering torches as they struggle to stay
alight. In its shadows creeps evil in all its forms. Whilst overlooking
it looms the castle. Its towers seem to reach up, struggling to escape
the darkness that is all around.
them screams the wind, lashing
its way from spire to spire, seemingly to draw the castles every walls
crashing down. In a tower, which the wind seems even more intent on
destroying, a window is illuminated by strange light. Within its walls
he sits, alone, dying. His hands rests on a glowing orb, its eerie
light throws his drawn features into high relief. His eyes focus and
the interminable blackness as his mind escapes to happier times."
||Darkmere was an idea
for a game I had been carrying
around since my
days at Ocean. I'm a fan of isometric viewpoint games and while working
on Rubicon for Hewson (later to become 21st Century Entertainment) I
designing the main character in my spare time. After Hewson went under
I had to find a job rather quick, fortunately Space Hulk came along. I
was involved in that game for about three months working on concepts
the interface, character design and wall textures. Mostly wall
Before then I had been shopping the idea around to a few companies but
without more of a demo it was rather a hard sell.
|Eventually a company
called Arcane Design was willing to take care of finding a publisher if
I signed over the copyright right to them. This was not a wise
decision, but the less said about that the better, Arcane did
however get Core Design to take it. I have nothing but good
things to say about Core and wish them continuing success.(I first wrote this many years ago, since that time Core has been bought, renamed, and absorbed) After
was finished I went to work with Core directly. I was a "remote"
employee" as they are based in Derby UK and I was at that time in
Dorset, well beyond commuting distance. Nice bunch of guys, and
the boss, Jeremy Smith, is cool too.
Above is the main character's
The back story
to is appearance is thus. Years before he had rescue elf from forest.
Fell in love, married. Had Ebryn, our hero. Disappeared. Land went to
and ruin while dad looked for her. Dragon back, sends Ebryn to help.
of TSR will notice that I got my inspiration for this picture from
Caldwells Dragon's of Destiny picture. Years later while at Bethesda I
got to talk to him when he was preparing to paint the box cover art for
The Elder Scrolls, Chapter Three. I never did mention that I had used
art as an inspiration years before. I really like his use of lighting
lighting in the game was one of the things that I felt was the most
important things to get right. I wanted to create a very atmospheric
setting, through both graphics and the sound. I remember talking
on the phone to the sound guy and making all the sounds I wanted
myself! I got rather good at a howling wind, and my cat was pretty
impressive even if I do say so myself!
was obviously a huge influence on me, and it's a fact that a did not
deny. There's a couple of jokes in the game, the most obvious being the
|If any of
you old Amiga people out there
actually got to
play Darkmere you probably saw the image on the right fairly regularly.
The death screen. As with all my artwork prior to joining Bethesda in
it was all "pixel pushed" .For those of you who don't know that
creating a limited palette, at that time typically 16 colours, and
each pixel one at a time to create the final image.
|Later on new software
was released that allowed the
artist to "massage"
the pixels, blending them together, lightening them, darkening them,
that was never feasible until 256 colours became the norm. Darkmere was
a 32 colour game, although the story screens were only 16 colours.
screen from the game. Here Ebryn battles
against an ogre
that protects the entrance of the temple where villagers are sacrificed
to the Orcen God, Enywas. Perhaps if you find a villager alive they
give you details helpful to your quest. I have to be honest here and
say that this was inspired by Gandalf's fight with the Balrog. After
seeing Peter Jackson's vision of the same scene in the cinematic
adaptation mine looks pitiful indeed!
by TSR, this time
Jeff Easley's "The Last Spell" picture, this is Malthar, the mage.A
of your father's who has a secret. He features quite prominently in the
the use of light and shade was a big
me in this graphic. It, in its turn, inspired me years later to use it
as a base for Bethesda first Web page intro screen. Check out the
that one. With a limited palette of 16 colours this style works very
well. The human eye fills in the dark areas so one has only to hint at
the detail there. The remaining colours can then be used for those
parts of the image in light. I've also used this graphic as a title for
my journal section
of this website. Hence the title which was not there in the original
piece. Johannes Vermeer is also a great influence on me with his
wonderful use of colour and light.
was the first game where I was solely responsible for the design.
Up to that point I had been involved with most aspects of design but
never all at once. Darkmere was my first attempt at designing the game,
the graphics, the story and dialogue. In fact pretty much everything
music and Programming, and those fantastic level loading screens from Richard Fox. For a time I handled most of the producer's role
also until Arcane stepped in. This freed me up to concentrate on the
Darkmere was quite well received within the Amiga community and was
voted as one of the top 100 Amiga games of all time. (it came in 85th
you were wondering!)
It was released when the Amiga's popularity had begun to wain. Once
Dragonstone, Darkmere's semi-sequel, was released, the Amiga's days
|Here, in the forest that surrounds
village, you are
attacked by a Small dragonling. The forest is rumoured to be haunted by
the ghosts of the old elven race.
Production of the graphics was quite lengthy.
Mostly because I would revisit graphics over and over again. I would
take long walks in the New Forest which was about a 30 minute
away. The forest sections of the game were primarily produced
over the winter and were a way for me to chase the winter "blahs" way.
the Dwarven mines, now home to orcs
who have returned
after the coming of the Darkmere. And perhaps, deep inside the caverns
perhaps something far more evil lurks.
a typical room of the houses that
make up The Village.
The Village is where you start your adventure. I've blown the image up
here to show it closer to each original presentation on the Amiga.
|Everything in the game was
created as tiles, each one created by placing each pixel at a
time. In only 16 colours. To give the impression of more colours
I used the stippling technique shown here.
example of Ebryn's animation. Originally
it was intended
to give him far more frames of animation than he eventually had. Due to
the Amiga's limited memory we had to drop some of
street from the village level. Your
here. After the coming of the darkmere all good people have left or
taken by the orcs. It has become a hotbed of villainy and evil.
||A typical house layout. The further a player explores inside the quieter the storm outside sounds.
My attention was to have some movement on every screen. Be that a flickering candle, or a rippling stream. So in this house for example I tried to give a sense of life to each room.
It looks kind of cosy. Except for that skeleton in the bed room.
The small arrows at the edge of the screen point to non-obvious exits from your current screen.
|More tolkien influence here. The elves have retreated to the tree tops. There's in fact only one remaining. A dying unicorn. Years before Harry Potter met one! There were many graphics and animations that never made the final game. I'm including many here for those wondering what was missing.
|Deep in the woods you discover a village high in the treetops..Deep in the woods you discover a village high in the treetops..Deep in the woods you discover a village high in the treetops..
Deep in the woods you discover a village high in the treetops..
waterfall deep in the forest. Here you
are to meet
the water nymph.
entrance to the Orcen lair.
||A dying unicorn. Years before Harry Potter met one! There were many graphics and animations that never made the final game. I'm including many here for those wondering what was missing.
The ending was quite reduced from the original idea for example. In the coming weeks I'll add more details.
up of Ebryn, seen here in the
introduction to Darkmere.
Due to memory constraints the ending had to be severely reduced. Originally the player would battle through bubbling lava pools, where flames erupted from the ground,. Then the remaining eggs would hatch and then they would need to be destroyed. Finally the Dragon Queen would launch herself off her 'nest' and start to attack you. Breathing fireballs until at last you defeated her.
What we ended up with was a single frame of the Dragon on her nest. No animation, no dragonlings, No breaking eggs and no bubbling lava. The queen dragon had to be crammed into a 100x100 pixel sprite which admittedly was large compared to the 320x256 pixel resolution of the Amiga, but I wanted to have something looking like the dragon at the beginning of the story that flew. What I ended up with was a Porky Pterodactyl who never made it off the ground.
|I don't believe the animation of the Queen Dragon has ever been seen, so I've included it here for those fans of Darkmere who felt a little cheated by the ending. We'd been at the game for years. I personally spent over 3 years on the game! Looking back It may well have been better to use a ground based dragon, and I have to admit that part of my desire for a sequel was to fix that dragon. The dragons in Dragonstone (originally Darkstone) would have been a better fit I think. What do you think?
|The Dragon defeated and the remaining villagers freed, Ebryn begins the long journey home. Their queen dead, the orcs try to flee. Most are cut down by the villagers and the remaining are hunted out and killed. Slowly the air clears as the mist that hung over the land slowly dissipates.
In the days that follow Ebryn is tormented by the memory of his mother's last words. How would he tell his father the truth? By the time the villagers reach the village most of the scum that were there have fled, or have been killed by the remaining peasants. Returning to the castle and his father Ebryn is surprised to see malthar standing by his Father's throne. Gildorn sits, awaiting his son's return. ."
|"Thank you my son. You have saved our land and for that the people are indebted to you. See, even now the sun begins to shine once more. I fear my time is near, soon I will travel the road my fore-father's have trod. Malthar here will look after you. You will find him a wise counsel and good friend. I thank you my son for what you have done, for now I can rest in peace."
||Paul Hodgson, Andrew
Buchanan and Stewart Gilray
||Mark K. Jones
|© Core Design Ltd.1994