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RG 44 - Making of Rescue on Fractalus! Extras

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 11:48 am
by mikeb
Extra quotes from the team I coudn't squeeze into the RG article (warning 'spoilers' for those that havn't read it yet!)

David Fox (Project Leader/Designer on Fractalus!)

On his first few days at Lucasfilm:

I seemed to know that I might end up working for Lucasfilm at some point.
It didn't hurt that we were already
living in Marin County (same place where Lucasfilm was based), and that
various people tied to the film kept crossing our paths. In 1981, my wife,
Annie, and I were thinking of moving out of the area up to Eugene, Oregon,
where the price of homes was much lower than in Marin. We visited there,
looked at houses for sale, then I said, "Well, if we move here, I'll never
get to work for Lucasfilm." So, we didn't move, and...

When I first started, they didn't have a space ready for our group, but
there was an extra desk in Loren Carpenter's office. We were officially a
part of the Computer Division, and so that made sense. And coincidentally
Loren had a real interest in games.

I had actually met Loren a year earlier when I was researching my book,
Computer Animation Primer (I included an animated sequence in the book from
his ground-breaking film, Vol Libre - So
maybe that was one of the reasons I was assigned to his office.

More on his design role:

Besides the "level elevator" and launch sequence, I also coded all the
gameplay-related code (scoring, tracking when the mother ship should come
back), the instrument panel and instruments (using altitude info provided by
Charlie's routines), the missile you shoot (graphics, animation) and the
table of values that determined how the levels progressed (number of pilots
to pick up, how fast the Jaggi pops up, number of Jaggi punches before he
breaks through, the day/night cycle in level 16 and above, etc.).

You should ask Charlie if he remembers his theory about he wanted make the
gun emplacement energy bolts look brighter than they are... He observed that
when the human eye sees a bright flash, the iris closes down a bit to
compensate. This has the effect of darkening everything else in the scene
during those fractions of a second. So, when the gun emplacement shoots, we
drop the brightness of the sky down just a bit, then bring it back up. I
don't know if this actually worked. Possibly it would only work with a fast
enough frame rate. So it could have worked on the Atari version, but
would have been less effective on the conversions.

More on the design of the HUD:

I had seen the Microsoft Flight Simulator, and I really wanted something
that just gave basic info, that anyone should be able to pick up right away.
And we wanted people looking out the window, not at the instruments. So, the
less complex, the better.

One of the instruments I wanted was something that told you not only your
actual altitude, but also your relative altitude above the ground. Since the
terrain was very mountainous, and you couldn't really look down, this helped
give a feel for how high you were. Same for the distance from the mountains
on either side to your wing tips. Also, since this was still a
low-resolution experience compared to real life, we made crashing into the
ground relatively forgiving. Your force field took all the damage, not your

Extra info on the X-Wing cockpit he observed at ILM (and the inspiriation for the HUD in Fractalus!)

Well,I gotta tell you, this was a major disappointment!! What looked amazing on
film, with flashing lights, animated displays, etc., looked totally
different in full daylight. I saw pieces of plastic toys that had been glued
onto the side, including a toy poker game. Lots of glued on knobs and
buttons... The genius of ILM was that they knew exactly how much detail was
needed to sell the concept when filmed under proper lighting conditions. No
one was ever supposed to see it in broad daylight.

On demoing 'Rescue' at SIGGRAPH in 1984

I think the height of this was getting to demonstrate our games at the 1984
SIGGRAPH on the Panel: Microcomputer Graphics. The room was packed, maybe
with 1000 or more people in it. Also up there with me were David Levine
demoing Ballblazer, and Bill Atkinson (creator of MacPaint) and Susan Kare
demoed these programs on the first Macintosh.

Demoing Rescue was a blast... These were, afterall, all computer graphics
experts. It could have been a real hard sell, considering how low-res our
games were compared to everything else that was being shown at the
conference. But they loved both games and all the jokes were well-received.
Quite a heady experience.

More on the ILM photoshoot for the cover/manual.

For the back cover, they told me they wanted a grungy look. I didn't shave
for a week, though my beard was light enough that it didn't show up much.
They covered me with dirt, a bit of blood, had me sit inside this tiny
cockpit, lit parts of it on fire (and had a guy standing by with a fire
extinguisher), then started taking photos... I had my wedding ring on, and
had my hand positioned so it could be seen in the photo. I figured that this
would make me seem even sadder, and hoped people would want desperately to
buy the game so they could rescue me and let me be reunited with my wife :-)

For the front cover shot, I was both the running pilot, and that were my
leather-clad knees inside the cockpit. Is this symbolic or what -- only I
could save myself?

Anyway, they had me move my arm while they were taking the photo to create
some motion blur, to make it look like I was running.

On the conversions:

All the conversions were done by other companies who had people that were
experts on those systems. I managed the conversion process to some degree,
working with the programmers, explaining what was important. It was
frustrating, though, since the game was so tuned to the Atari and its
features. None of the conversions were as good as the original. I'd say the
C64 version came closest, but primarily because the C64's 6502 ran at only
1MHz, and the Atari ran at 1.79 MHz, it was almost twice as fast. I think
the Atari version ended up running at about 6-7fps, and the C64 at about

On the abandoned Atari 7200 version:

I remember they were working on it, and I do remember seeing
the updated control panel. But that's about it.

More on the scariness of the 'Jaggi' monster

Even I would get a rush of adrenalin during that pause while waiting to find
out if it were apilot or a Jaggi... In my panic, I've killed many pilots,
hitting the wrong button and turning on the shields instead of
opening the airlock.


Charlie Kellner (Flight dynamics, fractal engine optimization)

On squeezing the game into 8-bit machines:

Well, that was really what made the game unique. Almost everything about
it was thought to be impossible, at the time.
My first really difficult task was to write a 16-bit divide subroutine.
If I remember right, it had to divide 16 bits by 8 bits,
with a 16 bit result - as fast as possible.
There were many such challenges, but of course that was
what attracted me to it in the first place.


Gary Winnick (Artist/Animator on Fractalus!)

I first became acquainted with the project 'Rescue on Fractalus', or
'Behind Jaggi Lines (the original title' as I'm sure you already know)
when meeting David Fox, Dave Levine and Peter Langston at the Siggraph
computer graphics conference, I believe this was in 1984. I'd been working
as a computer animator/artist at Atari, my friend Charlie Kellner, whom
I'd met when he was working at Apple, had recently taken a position with
the newly formed Lucasfilm Games division arranged the meeting.

The group was looking to add an artist to the team and invited me to visit
them at their offices in San Rafael. The 'Daves' (Fox and Levine) showed
me their two projects for the Atari 800 & the 5200 in production "Rescue"
and "Ballblazer". The game demos were obviously revolutionary both
technically as well as in game play. They agreed to give me a
test/contract to design a piece of animation still needed for Rescue.
David (Fox) showed me the game, the player's goal was to rescue (pick up)
downed pilots. David also wanted an instance where the enemy aliens could
disguise themselves as downed pilots as a surprise attack while you were
parked on the ground.

So, my first job with the games group became to design the look and
associated attack animation of that alien Dave called 'the Jaggi' (based
on the joke as to how 'jaggi' the pixilated low rez graphics looked). This
had to work within one of the specific Atari graphics mode (I think it was
mode 7?David might recall). There were certainly a variety of limitations,
size, color, number of frames, etc., but that was typical in those days. I
think I worked on it for about a week, after which I drove back up to
Marin (we weren't e-mailing files in those days) with my completed
animation on a 5 ¼" floppy disk to deliver the files. I guess they were
happy with the results, because they offered me a full time position as
the division's first artist/animator soon after that.

I think (it's hard to remember the exact chronology) over the course of
the next six to eight months, I worked on both games, but 'Rescue'
definitely had more visual design associated with it. I created (drew on
paper) designs for the exterior of the 'Valkyrie' fighter, pilots, enemy
saucers, gun emplacements, and of course more in depth designs for the
Jaggi itself in addition to the animation I'd already done. We also worked
directly with ILM to design and develop the photographic collateral
materials (they built and photographed actual models based on the designs)
used for the packaging and manual.

Interesting Facts:

David Fox says his favourite of all the Lucasfilm projects he worked on was Zak McKracken (and expressed interest in a future making of in RG!). Other projects he was involved in are Koronis Rift, Maniac Mansion, Labyrinth, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Graphic Adventure), Loom and The Secret of Monkey Island.

Loren Carpenter, the creator the the fractal routine used in the game, as well as Koronis Rift and The Eidolon, went on to co-found Pixar Animation Studios with Steve Jobs.

Charlie Kellner revised Fractalus's fractal engine for use in Koronis Rift and The Eidolon (which he also designed), but when he and Loren left the company the knowledge behind the fractal technology went with them, and Lucasfilm never created any other fractal-based titles.

Gary Winnick went on to create art and animation for most of the SCUMM-era adventures and was the graphic artist for Super Star Wars on the the SNES . He is also credited as co-designer on Maniac Mansion, along with Ron Gilbert.

It was great to speak to these guys, who are all obviously still highly enthusiastic to talk about their work at Lucasfilm nearly 25 years ago!

Links: David Fox's Fractalus! page, with video from the game's launch

Peter Langston's Lucasfilm Games Group page

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 11:54 am
by mikeb
An unconscious David Fox in a downed Valkyrie cockpit. Note the wedding ring clearly visible on his left hand..

ILM's Lorne Peterson, Wesley Seeds and Barbara Affonso build the cockpit used on the game’s cover

This highly detailed model was lovingly produced by ILM’s Wesley Seeds. On the game's cover it only appears as a tiny silhouette!

The Valkyrie fighter was constructed from cannibalised toy model aircraft kits.

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 12:02 pm
by mikeb
David Fox, complete with orange jump suit, in an out-take from the ILM shoot.

Larger image of the European C64 release.

The Atari-Lucasfilm logo, a partnership that lasted for only two games.

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 12:09 pm
by mikeb
Hostile Jaggi saucers unnerve the player by attempting to
crash into their Valkyrie craft

Locating the Ace with the purple flying helmet awarded you
substantial bonus points!

The little-seen later 'night' missions are a race to fulfill your
quota of pilots before the screen turns pitch black..

The Atari 7200 prototype of Rescue on Fractalus! - never released.

More info:

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 12:55 pm
by merman
Fantastic, thanks!

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:47 pm
by MC1
Nice one. :D

Re: RG 44 - Making of Rescue on Fractalus! Extras

Posted: Mon Nov 19, 2007 4:59 pm
by MikeHaggar
Very nice extras :)

mikeb wrote:David Fox says his favourite of all the Lucasfilm projects he worked on was Zak McKracken (and expressed interest in a future making of in RG!).
Yes. Please!

Posted: Tue Nov 20, 2007 3:14 am
by DRS
Nice one for taking the time and trouble to post all these extras. A fine article now made even better by these extra goodies. Cheers.

Posted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 6:47 am
by mikeb
Thanks guys! In hindsight I probably asked far too many questions than were ever likely to fit in the published article, so I'm very grateful for the team's time, especially David Fox, in being willing to answer them.

Some nice feedback from David, via Darran: "This is actually by far the best story on this game ever published -- all the articles published at the time of release were much more about the hype and less about the process and team"


Posted: Sun Nov 25, 2007 8:01 pm
by mikeb
Various fan email David Fox received regarding people's reactions to the Jaggi popping up!

I first played RoF when I was in college. One night when I was alone in my darkened dorm room I was playing RoF for the first time (it was around
midnight and I hadn't slept in almost two days), when the Jaggi jumped on
the windshield. I let out a scream that woke up my neighbors on either side
of me and I fell out of my chair. My neighbors came knocking on my door
wondering what the hell happened. That's a gaming memory I'll always


message: Hi David!

You'll have no idea who I am (and I only just found out who you are) but
bear with me a moment. I was wandering around the web looking for old Atari
stuff in a fit of nostalgia when I stumbled across this page on Fractalus: - with your details.

I must have been about 14 or so when I discovered ROF and played it for
hours on end. It just seemed so immersive and atmospheric - I was totally
awestruck by it. One single event remains deeply etched in my memory (a
good 15+ years later) like no other gaming experience before or since - the
first time one of those aliens appeared at the windscreen. I was playing in
my darkened bedroom staring intently at the TV and I can remember now I got
such a start - I leapt out of my skin! (I can hear the discordant note
that accompanied him even now!) :-o I think it took about an hour for my
heart rate to return to something near normal.

So now I have a PS2 sitting in my lounge room and... you know what I'm going
to say but I've got to say it anyway... - technically jaw dropping but ...
pah! Nothing compares to that one moment in ROF

Anyway - there it is. I'm not a nut (honest!), I just wanted to say you
made some serious impact on me with that game (and maybe even went some way
to contributing to my career in computer graphics and now web and multimedia


Steve. Sydney, Australia.


I was playing RoF (Rescue on Fractalus) with a friend.
We'd take turns, sometimes He would be on the keyboard, I would
be on the joystick. Othertimes I would be on the keyboard, he would
be on the joystick.

Anyway, the first time a Jaggi jumped up on us, I was on the
Joystick, and he was on the keyboard. It was just the perfect setting too.
About 11 or 12 at night, all the lights off, speakers up loud, and the
computer connected to nice big 36" (or maybe 42") TV...

So we land, to pick up one of the Pilots. But we can't see him
becuase the ship's nose is at an odd angle. The footsteps come up, and
my friend hits the key to open the door. But he hits the wrong key so the
door doesn't open.

Then all of the sudden BOOOOAAAAANNNGGGG!!!! This big
green Gremlin-lookin thing jumps up and starts banging on the ship's
I tell you we about jumped out of our skins!!!

So a second or two later I'm going "Shields!!! Shields!!! Hit the
shield key!!!"

But my friend is still kinda glazed over. Then the Jaggi punched
through the window and the game was over.

I don't think we played the game again for about a half-hour or so.
We sat and talked about it for while ("I couldn't believe the game
actually did that... That was awesome!!"... This kind of stuff).
Then I remembered reading a line in the back of the instruction book
when I first got the game (in the very back of the book, it was written like
a dialog, and the last line said something "oh my God its a... Its going

So I got out the instruction book and showed it to my friend, and I said
"Now I finally know what this means".

Oh, it scared the hell out of us... But it was really cool. One of
the most memorable moments in all my video-gaming as a kid...

The next couple games I think we must have roasted about a dozen
pilots... Both my friend and I were very "trigger happy" on that shield
key. We'd light up the shields if we even THOUGHT that this guy might be an

The one time I actually roasted "The Ace" (the pilot with the purple
helment). My friend was like "you idiot!! That was the ace!!"


I had a 27" color
television at the time, to which my 800XL was hooked up to. I sat
fairly close to the television, and back then a 27" TV was fairly
large. Well, I was playing Rescue on Fractalus one night with the
lights off, probably fairly soon after I got the game. I landed on the
planet's surface, waited for the pilot to come over to the ship and
knock on the door, but this time it was different.. This time the
sonofabitch jumped up in front of the cockpit with that ear piercing
sound and scared the HELL out of me! I jumped up, dropped the joystick
and knocked the folding metal chair over that I was sitting in. After
that little incident you can bet that I CAREFULLY looked at the color
of the pilot's head as he approached the ship! I will say that it was
always fun to watch someone else react to the Jaggi beast for the first
time. :D

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 4:50 am
by Scapegoat
A cracking article for a top game.

Posted: Tue Dec 11, 2007 5:55 pm
by retroisland
Excellent article! I have many great memories of playing this game on my friend's C64 and was always astounded at the atmospheric sound effects and nice graphics. The Spectrum version was also good but didn't quite have the same 'one-more-go' factor.