Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Exciting Sport of Faceball 2000

Faceball 2000 doesn't feel like a game as much as a tech demo.  It is a port of the Atari ST game, MIDI Maze from Xanth Software F/X.  Unusual for the time, the various ports of the game were done by the original developers and not farmed out to a different developer.  Xanth never really made any other games, so I guess the union of balls and faces was their passion.  Okay, that's enough of the obvious sexual references for the article, so on to explaining the actual game.

I don't know why, but it seems that most 16-bit era games that used 3D would often letterbox the actual 3D rendering into a small portion of the screen.  I assume that this is a technical limitation and by paring it down, developers were able to provide smoother animation, but I really don't know.  What I do know is that there is a massive amount of wasted screen real estate.


I'm sure the Atari ST version was really impressive for 1987, but considering that the SNES version came out in 1992 only a few months before Star Fox, which is not only better looking, but a better game, it just doesn't leave much of a mark on the console.  On the other hand, Faceball 2000 for Game Boy, which was released a year earlier, is pretty impressive considering the limited graphical ability of the hardware and the fact you can play 16-player versus through the magic of daisy-chaining.  This makes the 2-player split screen mode of the SNES version seem a lot less cool.


There isn't much to say about the actual content of the game.  It is basically a prototype FPS where you are put in a small, Windows screen saver-like, 3D maze with a bunch of polygonal shapes with faces on them.  I know the goal is to get to the exit, but I’m not entirely sure what you need to do in order for the exit to show up, but I think you just have to either score enough points or survive for enough time.  You score points by throwing a ball at the other faces. 

Thanks for the tip.
It is essentially a really abstract version of an FPS, where you shoot enemies and avoid being shot by them.  I could see how in the early days of computer gaming a community could spring up around deathmatch-like game that had multiplayer, via MIDI ports of all things, but I don’t really see the draw of the SNES version.  Back in its day it was probably one of those “hey, that’s neat” games that you get bored with pretty quickly, but in 2011 it is more of a strange curiosity than anything you might want to actually play.

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