Friday, January 5, 2018


Date: 1997
Developer: Monolith
Publish: GT Interactive

Where to purchase?

The first post here on RPDG is one of the original Build engine games, Blood.  I have always been a fan of FPS games, but I never got into the Build engine games.  I played through the shareware episodes of Duke Nukem 3D and the first few levels of Shadow Warrior, but I never made it much past the first rooms of the Blood demo that came on a PC Gamer demo disk.  So this will be a brand new playthrough experience for me.  I'll be playing the version from that includes the base game plus the two addon packs: Plasma Pak and Cryptic Passage.

As this is the first post, I'm not sure what the best format will be going forward for posts in the future.  I enjoy reading about the development stories behind these old games, so I will try starting with the development story, delving into my own playthrough, and then end with my brief review.  I have no experience in game development or professional writing, so please don't judge me too harshly.  But do leave comments, even if they are just to judge me!  On with the Blood-ing!

- Development -

Blood came out after what I would consider the end of the first generation of PC FPS games.  This first generation consisted largely of 2d, sprite based games that were revolutionary for their time.  Beginning with Wolfenstein 3D by Id Software in 1992, and exemplified by Doom in 1993, these early FPS games were blockbusters for the nascent computer gaming scene.  After the release of Doom, there was flurry of "Doom clones" that were developed and released in short order.  While it does a disservice to these games to just label them as "clones", they were for the most part all 2d, sprite based FPS games that retained many of the gameplay characteristics of Doom.  These characteristics included a bare-bones story, levels requiring a lot of key hunting, isolated and self-contained levels, around 10 weapons increasing in power as the game progressed, a main menu overlaid over a rolling game demo, excessive gore/violence, etc.

Some of these "Doom clones" were built using Id Software's Doom engine (Id tech 1), and others were built using proprietary engines.  One of these proprietary engines, the Build Engine, the engine used by Blood, was developed by Ken Silverman around the same time Doom was released.  His first commercial game created using the Build Engine was Ken's Labyrinth for Epic Megagames in 1993.  Using his Build Engine, he later went on to help develop the hugely successful Duke Nukem 3D for 3D Realms in 1996.  Some of the other games developed on the Build Engine include Witchaven, Shadow Warrior, William Shatner's TekWar (I really want to play this one for this blog), and Redneck Rampage. 

Blood began initial development as early as 1994.  Developer Nick Newhard, working at Edmark Corp, seems to be the originator and force behind the game.  He began work on his own, but was soon joined by Peter Freese and they obtained funding and a development agreement with Apogee Software.  At some point, their Apogee association lead to the formation of a new company called QStudios that focused primarily on Blood.  In early 1996, a leak occurred from a local computer repair shop that resulted in an early Blood Alpha finding its way to the community.  You can find videos of this alpha on youtube:

3rd person fighting in the leaked Blood alpha
Later in 1996, QStudios merged with Jason Hall's Monolith studios and this new duo split from Apogee/3DRealms to form a publishing agreement with GT Interactive.  I'm not sure if the split was amicable or not, but regardless the shareware version was released in March 1997 and the full commercial release went gold in April.

My recollection of the game's reviews were that it got above average to good scores.  I think the main issue holding it back from true greatness was its technology.  By 1997 we had great full 3D FPS games like Quake and Jedi Knight hitting the market (and others like Chasm: The Rift...).  These games made Blood look a little primitive.  But by this time developers were able to squeak every bit out of the Build engine, so Blood had things like Voxel tech, room-over-room maps, and highly destructible environments.  It also weirdly enough had 3dFx Glide support added in a patch.

Two expansion packs were released: Cryptic Passage by Sunstorm Interactive and Plasma Pak by Monolith.

- The Game -

The game starts with your typical 90s FPS menu over the top of a streaming game demo.  I watched the first few seconds of the demo to learn where to find dynamite right at the beginning of the first level.  That seems like a nice, powerful weapon to have at the start!

I selected New Game, chose the first Episode, and chose the easiest difficulty (I guess I'm a big wussy, Big whoop wanna fight about it?).  The game has a short cutscene where an ominous voice tells 4 standing in a grimy crypt-like room that he is going to kill them.  Then spiders or demons come down from the ceiling and seem to steal away a woman that might be the main character's love interest...?  Anyway, it is implied everyone dies.
Early CGI cutscenes...this guy is not happy
Reading the backstory in an included README.TXT, our character is named Caleb and he was an infamous gunfighter in the old west.  Caleb was the leader of a cult called the Cabal that worships a god called Tchernobog (voiced by Monolith CEO Jason Hall!)  In that opening cutscene, Tchernobogy kills the leaders of the Cabal (including Caleb).  Caleb then rises from the grave to enact vengence upon Tchernobog and the rest of the cult.  Clear as day.

Once the game starts, I am immediately greeted by my character saying "I live...again!" and standing in a grave with a pitchfork.  The first thing I noticed was the key bindings are those of the 90s era FPS games.  So first things first it is off to the Options menu:

Thank God all these old games had configurable controls.  Otherwise I would be stuck using the arrow keys for movement and "," for strafing...we truly lived like savages back then.  Speaking of savages, do you see that glowing heart to the left of my pitchfork in the above screenshot?  That is a health pickup from a slain enemy.  I guess Caleb eats the hearts of his enemies to regain health.  I like that.  Simple, straightforward.

This first level of this first episode so far is taking place in a series of cemeteries.  The sound effects are mostly frogs chirping, which I kind of like.  Sets the mood of being in a swamp or otherwise outside at night.  The first enemies I've come across have been zombies that take 2-3 hits from my pitchfork to take down.  Sometimes I hit them and they go down, only to get back up again.  Also sometimes I after I kill them, I can kick their heads around like a soccer ball!  I like that.  I also came across a new enemy (cultist) in a brown robe who shoots a machine gun. 
Pitchforking a zombie

Zombie on the left, cultist on the right

Here is an example of Voxels in use (rotating key)

I hate to say it, but I'm glad I set the difficulty to easy.  I'm getting killed quite a bit early on in this game.  This might be because I'm so used to modern FPS games, which are pretty damn easy with their regenerating health.  Besides the Wolfenstein games and the new Doom game, it's been a while since I've playing an FPS game that relied on health pick ups.  I like it.  It reminds what it used to be like playing a challenging game, instead of just being shunted from one cutscene to the next like in a lot of modern games.  Why back in my day, when old Kaiser Bill was running his shenanigans all across Europe and the Lindy Hop was the newest fad, we could get a cheese burger for a nickel and a brand new stick of RAM for a dime....

Anyway, my point is the game is pretty difficult so far.

I found the initial cemetery area to fairly generic for a FPS game, but things got quite a bit more interesting after that.  Level 3 or 4 took place on a moving train, which is clever and pretty impressive for a Build engine game.  At the beginning of the level, the train was running over enemies, which is funny.  The train mission has you starting at the engine and running all the way back to the caboose to get a key, then running back to the engine to enter the conductor's cabin to set the engine to full speed and crash the train off the tracks.  Included in the train cars are sleeping quarters, a kitchen car, and some dining cars.  You can even look out the windows and see moving terrain and at one point you can blow off the side of a car and expose the inside to the outside scenery.  Pretty impressive.
Kicking a bucket around the room

Speaking of destruction, like a lot of Build engine games this game has a lot of environment destruction.  You can pretty much destroy any piece of furniture or decoration in the game, along with dead enemies.  The added interactivity really makes the levels and gameplay more fun I think.  And I'll never get tired of running through a pile of corpses I just killed and kicking all their heads out in front of me.
Start of the train level

Inside a train car - notice the window and scenery outside
In this screenshot below, I interrupted a dinner party of cultists and zombies.  This is after I shot them all with my shotgun and stabbed them all with my pitchfork.  See all their unfinished drinks on the tables?

I found a mirror so I can finally get a look at Caleb.  He's wearing a black trench coat and jeans and white T-shirt and black hat.  And he has red eyes.  Also, his reflection seems to show him dual wielding pistols or something, but I clearly have my pitchfork equipped.  I'm just going to pretend he is dual wielding pitchforks because akimbo pitchforks sounds stupid and fun to me.  That blue thing next to him is some pick-up that I could not get because I must have been full of whatever it wanted to give me. 

Below you can see the train engine.  The levers on the sides let me overload the engine to cause the train to crash.  The first time I tried it, I overloaded the engine and then just stood there.  Then the engine blew up and I died.  The next time, I went outside the cabin to a safe distance.

After the train level, I came to a carnival level.

I bet this isn't like my local county fair...
The carnival level was a lot of fun, you can tell the developers had a good time coming up with creepy versions of typical carnival games.  There were things like shooting galleries and even a game where you had to kick the heads of zombies through a target.  Also there were mimes!


The enemies are still just zombies and cultists, but this level added a grey-clad cultist that carries a machine gun and is a bit tougher and does a bit more damage.  Actually, there is a new enemy that drives me crazy and has actually killed me once now: Mice:

Look at the evil little bastards.  They only do a tiny bit of damage, but they travel in groups and you have to crouch down to hit them.  They have this faint little squeak that sometimes I can barely hear, so I don't know they are around until it is too late.  Filthy, disgusting little monsters.  

I'm tempted to post too many screenshots from the carnival level since a lot of the carnival games are pretty clever.  I even had to walk a tight rope to get a key from the top of a pylon.  But I'll just post one more from that level.  This is the game where you can kick the zombie heads through the mouth target:

I got stuck for a bit on this level.  There is an automap in the game, and I couldn't find any unused doors or areas I had not discovered.  I was pretty sure I had all the keys as well, and the level isn't that big so I couldn't figure out what I was missing.  I eventually found a wall that is actually a door on the ride called the "Happy-Go-Pukey", and that door was opened by one of my keys:

  After going through the "Happy-Go-Pukey", I had a fight a gargoyle that actually wasn't that difficult.  It only took a few shotgun blasts, and the damage it did was not that great.  I may have to increase the difficulty now that I am getting the hang of the game.  After fighting the gargoyle, there was a brief underwater section, and then the end of the level.
Fighting Mr. Gargoyle

Ouch, 1 of 12 secrets
Next level is E1M5 - Hallowed Grounds.  This level starts out with a series of generic gothic corridors and hallways.  Not much really stands out to me except there were a few gargoyles to fight and quite a bit more cultists.  There were also some underwater portions that involved fighting through some nasty little biting fish.  The level involved some backtracking as well, which I am not really a fan of.  At one point, you need to push a button that seemingly does nothing at the time.  Only later do you realize it opened a door necessary to progress in the level.  While I don't mind key hunting in these older FPS games, these ambiguous button/door combinations are annoying.  I would at least like an indication of what that button did I just pressed, instead of having to guess that it opens one of the multiple locked doors found throughout the level.

That is a good example of the chaotic method in which I fight enemies and try to take video and screenshots.  But I survived with 14 health.  The shotgun can do two rapid shots in quick succession before having to reload, so that makes for some nice damage output against tougher enemies.  At some point near the end of Hallowed Grounds I think, I found an invisibility pick-up which allowed me to sneak up on enemies.
He'll never suspect a thing...(invisible)

He didn't suspect a thing...(invisible)

Next level is E1M6 - The Great Temple.  As soon as I walked around the first corner, the wall behind me blew up and out came some hidden zombies.

Hidden zombie closet
So its going to be one of those kinds of levels.  Further on this hallway opens into a room where the only place to go is into some water.  Once in the water, I encountered more of those biting fish.  I died a few times trying to take a good screenshot of them along with a swimming cultist.  I didn't get any good ones, but here is the best I could find:

After coming up out of the water, there was a series of open rooms with a lot of enemies.  There are a lot more enemies and a lot more shooting in this level.  But there also seems to be a lot of power-ups.  I found this akimbo pick-up:

But when I picked it up, the frowning face across the room shot me with a rocket.  Notice my health went from 100 to 47.  Thanks face.

Stupid face.
After getting my akimbo machine guns and using all my bullets on zombies, I followed a staircase down and got attacked by bats.  I'm OK with zombies and cultists and gargoyles and even mice, but flying enemies like bats in these old Build engine games are annoying.  Without a smooth mouse-look to look up and down, I mostly just spray my shotgun or machine guns wildly hoping the autoaim will shoot them down.

 After dealing with the bats, I found a room that is a staple in early FPS games.  It is the big empty room with a button at the opposite end of the entrance.  I can remember these rooms in almost every old FPS game I played.  Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Dark Forces, Heretic, they all had them.  Once you press the button, the walls come down and monsters come pouring out.  Many times there will be power-ups and ammo spread around as well, which is another obvious indicator of what is about to happen.  So I entered the room and pressed the button:

Zombie swarm
 And I died:

The zombie on the right looks...perplexed
 After a few reloads, I finished them all off using an akimbo shotgun power-up that was hidden in one of their waiting rooms.

Next up after the zombie swarm room were some hallways with traps.  First up was a hallway with rockets firing across it.

And these were serious business rockets.  Even on the easiest setting, one or two glancing shots were enough to instantly kill me.  After the rocket hallway, I had to travel down some flamethrower hallways that were a lot more forgiving.  Simply ducking and timing your running was enough to get by unscathed.  I know a lot of people will find these kinds of traps annoying, but I don't mind this kind of thing.  It really reminds of old FPS games (as it should, this is an old FPS game).  On the spectrum of annoying features of old FPS games, I put these kinds of traps low on the scale.   

I found a balcony overlooking a cliff above the clouds, and the balcony had no railing.  That seems dangerous.

To my left were some doors that zombies popped out of.  I'm assuming the goal was to frighten me and cause me to back over the balcony and fall to my death.  But I outsmarted the mindless zombies by shooting them with my shotgun.  Speaking of outsmarting, I came across some cultists that seemed to be stuck walking into a lit lamp.  I shot one of them with my flare gun.

The level ends with a teleporter taking me to a very ominous looking room that is very obviously going to be the site of another ambush.  The hallway leading into the room is stocked with ammo, and in the middle of the room is another akimbo power-up.

That wasn't very difficult
 And...that was too easy.  It was a few zombies, a few cultists, and a gargoyle.  Again I think this is a function of my playing on Easy mode.  But whatever, I mostly would like to get through this first episode so I can post this first entry on my new blog!  Alright, on to mission 7!

Next is E1M7 - Alter of Stone.  Judging by the size and layout of this level, I'm guessing this is the last level of the first episode and also a boss level.

Coming into this level, my list of weapons are: pitchfork, shotgun, machine gun, dynamite, and napalm launcher.  For inventory items, I have a full med kit that can be used at any time, and beast vision (which I haven't used yet).  So I am feeling pretty confident for this fight.  The level consists of stairs going up either side of the starting area and leading to a central platform accessible only by a small wooden bridge.  Approaching the central platform reveals a woman crucified on an alter type thing.  Pretty gruesome.  Caleb cries out that this is Ophelia, the woman from the intro and his love interest.

As soon as I walked up to Ophelia, there were explosions behind me, and wall blew up to reveal a big grey gargoyle.  The first boss right of the game!

Missing with the napalm launcher

I died once or twice on this fight.  The hardest part is finding an area with enough distance between me and the gargoyle where I could safely fire my napalm launcher.  He moves quickly and tends to end up right behind me if I try to run around the outside staircase areas.  So I ended up staying on the central platform area and just running from one side to the other and getting a shot off with the napalm launcher from each end.  It took about maybe 10-12 shots with the napalm launcher to kill him, which is pretty good for a boss character on Easy mode.

After killing the gargoyle, an ending cutscene played.

Caleb is laying Ophelia to rest

What pretty eyes...

Caleb decides to burn her body...bummer
Ending credits

And that is the end of the first episode.  It only took me around 2 hours to complete this first episode, but this was on the easiest difficulty and without looking for any secrets or exploring the levels much.  I would say if I turned up the difficulty and explored more, I could easily double my playing time.  I'm going to end my playthrough of Blood for now.  Since this is the first post on my site, I'm anxious to get it up and move on to my next game so I can start to fill out my site.  I may come back to it later on if I have time.  I am curious to try out the new weapons found in later episodes and see some new enemies.  Then there is also both of the expansion packs, so there is definitely a lot of gaming left in Blood.

- Review -

Going back and playing DOS-era FPS games is always tough.  On the one hand, these are the kinds of games that gave me some of my best gaming memories as a kid.  On the other hand, a lot of these games do not hold up well when compared to their modern counterparts.  DOS-era strategy games, RPGs, and even some action games tend to fare better and be more playable today than a lot of the old FPS games.  A big part of that has to do with the progress that has been made in gameplay and graphics in new FPS games.  Simple quality of life changes like vertical axis mouse-look, inventories, iron sights, enemy AI, etc. in new games really make it noticable how relatively primitive Build engine FPS games are.  The same goes for any of the older FPS games, including the Doom-engine games.  Another part of the problem is how fundamentally gameplay has changed in modern FPS games.  We are no longer content to simply run from the beginning of a level to the end while blasting all the enemies that get in our way.  Now we are used to having involving stories, multiple NPCs, multiple objectives, seamless open worlds instead of individual levels, and even being able to drive vehicles.  Whereas strategy games and RPGs have changed a lot as well, their basic gameplay remains rooted more closely to their original ancestors.  I would say Civilization 6 is closer in gameplay terms to Civilization 2 than Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is to Blood.  And this therefore makes its easier and less jarring to go back and play Civilization 2 than it is to play Blood.

Despite all that, the important question is did I have fun playing Blood and did it bring back those old nostalgia feelings from playing FPS games from the 90s?  And my answer to that is a resounding...kind of!  I will admit that I was not having fun during the first 2 levels as I struggled to come to terms with the old fashioned gameplay.  Being constantly short of ammo and having to run around key hunting while struggling with enemies that seem to be able to hit-scan shoot me got a little frustrating.  But the train level really opened things up for me.  Once I got a good amount of ammo for the shotgun and picked up the machine gun, things became much more fun.  And the game became progressively better the further I went.  The carnival level was great and clever, and the Great Temple level reminded me of Doom and Doom 2 with its huge number of enemies and ambush rooms.  Like a lot of other old FPS games, I think the game is at its best when you have plenty of ammo, plenty of health, and a whole room of enemies to shoot away at.  I liked mowing down zombies and cultists with my machine gun and lobbing dynamite into groups of them!

I guess I did have fun after all, but it was in specific circumstances.  It was not fun running around searching for keys and unopened doors after I had already killed all the enemies in the level.  And fighting bats, mice, and biting fish pissed me off to no end.  I haven't thought of a good grading scale yet for my reviews.  So for right now I think I'll do a 0-5 scale where 0 is the worst and 5 is the best.  Overall, I had more and more fun playing Blood the further along I progressed, and I'm actually curious to see how the rest of the episodes play.  So based on that, I give it 4 burning cultists out of 5.


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