In a fairy-tale forest, a boisterous young girl accidentally unleashes an ancient demon spirit; Fire incarnate. The demon posses the closest thing to it, her dog, creating a giant evil fur-ball that threatens to wreak havoc across the forest. Leaving a trail of warped and fragile reality in its wake, the new-born dog-god must be saved from itself. Our young heroine has to undo the chaos it wreaks and needs to battle through the nightmares it leaves behind it, but she has a guardian spirit and 4 petrified monks to help her. Can Alice save her beloved pet? Will she be sharp enough to save the forest from a fiery new reality? Will she prove herself able enough to be charged with power over nature… or will the dog-god’s madness consume the world?
Malice is a dark and comic fairy-tale, a scary, character-based adventure for kids and adults alike. Sumptuous in its visual humor, Malice’s worlds fall somewhere further down the ‘Yellow brick road’, round the bend from ‘Alice’s Wonderland’ and ‘Through the looking glass’ darkly…
…this is a place where you’ll meet those monsters that lurk in the closet, under the bed; JuJu men raise zombies from the earth, singing trees tell tales of prophesy, age’d ex super-heroes lie helpless in spiders’ webs, murderous crows police the streets and pyromaniacal glow-worms set fire to each other…
You’ll wield a baseball bat to ‘beat’ the magic out of the creatures you encounter, you’ll decipher the fiendish ways of a machine ecology gone mad, and use the 4 elements to defend yourself against the tyranny of a new born dog-god and his cohorts.
Malice is a 3D adventure for the PlayStation; an exploration/platform/puzzle game that takes the classic platform style gameplay that the Croc 2 engine is so good at and moves it into a new monstrous wicked wonderland. Was Malice inspired by the story of Alice in Wonderland? According to Herman Serrano, “only in so far as it’s a dark fairytale with a girl named Alice for a protagonist, but certainly the aim was to write a dark fairytale with a character who grows up to become a kick-ass heroine.”
The bottom line is Malice PS1 combines the action of Croc 2 with the exploration and depth of a Mario 64 and is presented with a sense of unique style and graphic beauty and detail that would have become the new technological standard for the PlayStation. Although Malice was released for the PS2 in 2004, the PS1 version differs greatly in storyline, graphics, design, and gameplay. Any of the former Malice designers will tell you that Malice PS2 was only a shell of its original design. Unfortunately many of the designs that made this PS1 version so enjoyable were removed in the PS2 version. This is the game that Malice should have been on the PS2. In the end, Malice PS1 can easily be considered the greatest game never released on the PlayStation.
Below is just a sampling of the unique game design that can be found in Malice:
The dog-god turned Alice into a cat. Obtain ingredients for the old witch to make a potion that will turn Alice human again: eyes of newt, crow feathers, and a deadly nightshade which is represented by a ninja table lamp…get it? (aye thank yew.)
A land shark patrols the fields around the siren tree. Get caught by it and it will drag Alice down beneath the brush and thrash her around.
The siren tree has a throbbing purple fungal pimple that must be popped. Traverse up the treacherous branches of the siren tree and jump down from the highest point and land on the pimple to pop it.
The gloworms have turned bad and you must knock the evil out of them before they burn you with their magic.
Use water magic to run on water.
Take a ride on a Beer Moth or a Toucan to reach hidden areas
“I have lots of good memories of Malice. Mostly that it was a wildly overambitious idea.. that had a truly awesome tech demo that wowed a billion of people (that was being used to launch xbox).. but it got pulled around from Microsoft, and then from publisher to publisher and eventually, died a death and released on a “B” game label. The blame? Partly due to mismanagement on our part.. partly down to some of the team who were as creative as they were egotistical… partly due to overzealous publisher involvement – making wholesale changes that were unnecessary and unwarranted.. and partly just because it was too damn big a project to be done ‘at our own risk’!
Malice definitely contributed to bringing down the company. I can’t blame all our woes on one game (far from it), but it sure sucked a lot of cash out of the company (millions!) and that can’t have helped.”
-Jez San, former Argonaut Games CEO
So why was it dropped when the PSX version seemed almost complete?
Two main reasons, the first technical, the second was business.
ENGINE LEGACY AND WORK STILL TO-BE-DONE.
The game engine was based on the CROC engine and although a lot of gameplay had been put in, it would still take at least another year to nail some really big bugs, plug in the cutscenes and level-linking code.
WORLD COLLISION: Camera gets stuck
The camera had a big tendency to get stuck on scenery. It needed to be completely overhauled to work with this world. Thanks in part to the tile set approach and the lack of camera consideration when the designers created the levels, this was a big task. It is why the camera gets stuck or is over-ridden a lot in most parts of the game. This problem can still be seen in the final xbox version.
WORLD COLLISION: “FALL OUT OF WORLD”
Due to the tile set nature, Alice can fall through the tiny gaps in the tile set if pushed. When the game migrated to xbox, this big problem was resolved by creating solid levels not based on tile sets. It would have been a lot of testing and proofing of levels to fix this issue if it were to remain on PSX.
WORLD VARIABLES UNDEFINED
This was made worse by the fact that each level had it’s own gravity setting, so Alice actually had different jump-distances. This sort of thing was soon standardised for the Xbox version.
FLAWED TEAM STRUCTURE LED TO DESIGN FRAGMENTATION
How did this lack of global vision happen? The Malice team employed a large contingent of level designers, encouraged to go off and design stuff independently – to the point where one designer soon lost sight of what the rest of the game looked like. And the poor coders soon were being asked for dozens of similar yet unique versions of the same type of game object – very inefficient. This even went as far as failing to nail down a set of global variables, like gravity and jump distance.
So this led to a sort of us-and-them mentality between the coders and the designers, the best anecdote went something like this:-
Designers wanted everything tweakable. Coders were getting sick of providing STRATS* to cover an ever-ending list of changes – especially as the other designers usually had something that already did the job, if they had bothered to talk amongst themselves.
Still the coder dutifully added it to their to-do list and soon returned a Strat the designer could use. The coders by this stage were savvy enough to add in so many variables to keep the designer happy. And so the designer went off and played with the new strat for ages, failing to ever ask what all the variables did. Shame really as only a few of these variables were ever actually plugged into something.
Oh those coders and their mind-games! Oh those designers and their inability to know what to ask for!
*Strats are game objects the designer could drop in the level editor, ranging from obstacles, lights, cameras, pickups, NPCs, enemies etc.
So how was this communication fracture resolved? In the last phase of Malice development, the game teams were setup in smaller groups, consisting of a coder, a designer and an artist together. These teams were responsible for certain levels of the game. A separate team was dedicated to global, front-end and Alice-related matters, to which all teams fed into. This stabilised the fragmentation but made the game a bit too standardised in some areas.
The PSX console by 1999 was in it’s final stage. The PS2 was out and Argonaut was already completing it’s last big PSX project, the glorious Alien Resurrection. This movie tie-in took 5 years to develop and come out, way after the movie release but was still a great game. However it proved to Argonaut executives that the console was at the end of it’s life as the returns on this great game were small.
So Malice was still in the pipeline and even though so much had been put into the game since 1998, it was still at least a whole year away from completion. Fox Interactive also pulled out of supporting Malice so Argonaut was left without a backer for this game. However, the Xbox was due to come out and Argonaut was keen to get first onto this console and ideally showcase Argonaut’s technology. So Malice transitioned from PSX to Xbox, causing the team to swell in the process. During this time, the tech also came along with the amazing Shadowcaster engine emerging from this. By 2001, Microsoft were showing off demos of Malice on Xbox and all seemed well. However, the PSX game design was tricky to re-work into a new schedule and the resulting game suffered a lot of compromise. Microsoft walked away, but Sierra came on-board – complete with Gwen Stefani and No Doubt providing voice talent to Malice’s main character.
But still the game design suffered and the tech failed to deliver on the ever-changing demands. Argonaut was also suffering poor returns on it’s other titles during this 02-03 period and Malice continued to be downgraded until finally Sierra pulled out too. The team was downsized to a skeleton team. Even the project lead was forced out in 2002, effectively killing the vision forever.
Argonaut had to re-coup some of the money invested. Over the next nine months up to summer 2003, the remaining team and LT Studios, the PlayStation 2 conversion team, regrouped their resources and redrafted the game into something that could ship. The final game was a compilation of the most-complete levels tidied up a bit, bundled together in a barely cohesive plot and shipped out – bug-free but a shadow of it’s former self. It took a whole year to get the Gold Master and to find someone to distribute it in 2004. Six months later, Argonaut Games folded. Malice and a few other projects snuck out while the whole company poured everything into Catwoman – it was a risk that did not pay off.
Malice was the sort of game you just don’t see getting made anymore, and in fact almost did not in the end. It is easy to look back and sneer at the amateurish way the game came together, but it was something trying to be different. If Argonaut had been in better shape to keep it’s backers on-board or alternatively had enforced a more hardline policy earlier on to stabilize the design fragmentation then maybe Malice could have become a classic. Malice should have been made two years earlier and stayed on the PSX to have had a real chance, but resources were simply not in place at that time. It is such a shame and all involved lament Malice. Whoever you ask they will have a great story about that game, and a bitter memory too.
IN MEMORY OF ALEX ILIC:
Alex Ilic was an artist at Argonaut who tragically passed away at age 30. He was very passionate about his work and that’s what he should be remembered by.
“May I say it is great that you dedicate this to Alex – he was great artist with lots of talent and a great work ethic – even though he was French J (he’ll forgive me for saying that), but more than that he was dear friend and I’m honoured to have known him.” -Mark Jagger
“Alex was 100% dedicated to his job which was also his passion. I learned a lot from him, an I enjoyed working alongside him, his enthusiasm was contagious. He had a very creative mind, full of excellent, innovative ideas. He made a real difference to my life in general as a friend and to the way I approach work, trying to come up with ways to improve things, thinking outside the box.” -Tanguy Dewavrin
“He was a wonderful artist and a lovely gentle soul, always striving for the very best in his art. He was a pleasure to work with and a pleasure to sit opposite, which I did for a few months. I was deeply saddened to hear about his passing and I still think about him every now and then… a great, great shame!” -Herman Serrano