Alien Breed 3D2: The Killing Grounds

A pioneering game with potential left mostly untapped

By Steve Duff, Contributing Writer,

Alien Breed 3D2: The Killing Grounds
Developer: Team 17
Distributor: Ocean
Price: About $40 nowadays


This game, known generally as AB3D2-TKG, was the first 'Doom-clone' on any platform to ship with a true 'over-and-under' 3D engine. It is now legendary on the Amiga platform, with supporters and detractors in seemingly equal measure, and with each camp showing equal enthusiasm for its viewpoint. In short, this game has been controversial from Day One.

The Straight Dope:

I can't give this game the usual Good Stuff/Bad Stuff approach. To my way of looking at it, AB3D2-TKG has a place in history far more important than its relatively modest value as a game. Because, let's face it, if this game was directly ported to PC and came over the transom for review at PC Gamer, it would be lucky to get 50%, and I believe Team 17 would agree with me on this. This is a stunningly user-hostile title and is clearly no more than a commercially-released early beta. And herein lies the tale.

The real story of AB3D2-TKG is that it was a parting shot from a beloved Amiga developer -- Team 17 of Worms fame. Team 17 has now left us. Worms 2 is now out, as of this writing, for the PC, at least in demo form. It will not be available on the miggy. There is of course no guarantee that Team 17 will ever equal the success of Worms with a new game, but whether they thrive or fade away, they no longer develop for the Amiga. Adding further spice to the mix, however, is that Team 17 members can still be found posting to, leading some to hope that if things ever turn around for us, Team 17 may still be willing to return.

The position of AB3D2-TKG in the mix, and part of the source for the controversy, is that many Amiga gamers see it as a cynical effort by a developer to foist a beta game upon us at full commercial price, then leave the Amiga scene and further to drop support for the game on their website. AB3D2-TKG was released in late 1995, and to date there've been no upgrades to the famously inadequate install script or any of the game's other user-hostile features.

The Sin List:

The AB3D2-TKG install script does not make proper Assigns and the game cannot be run from Workbench, unless you are an experienced enough Amigan to write the proper Assigns yourself. The game will not remember your controller settings -- you have to re-do them every time you play. There is no Quit option in the game. You have to reboot your machine to escape from it. Starting a saved game can be a hassle for some players. I had to start a new game, then escape, and then load the saved game, since I was unable to load it directly from the 'Load Position' option. The game lacks precise control of resolution, offering only a High or Reduced rendering option instead of something useful, like 320x200, 1x1 pixel mode, etc. At least, this is what I encountered.

Other observers would add the lack of graphics-card support to the Sin-list, and further state that many Amiga coders offered to do it for free before the game was released. Still other Amiga coders have described the AB3D2-TKG code as the biggest mess they've ever seen, which has hampered third-party efforts to improve the game.

A more positive view of the situation is offered by the game's supporters. They will say that the game was essentially a one-man effort by Andy Clitheroe -- all the engine-coding, level design, sprite animation, etc., was done by him it seems. This is a huge amount of work. Also, AB3D2-TKG is the only Amiga Doom-clone that's actually difficult. It is also famous for its brooding atmosphere, achieved through an absolutely splendid, creepy soundtrack, by far the best in any Doom-clone on any platform. There is also the thoughtful inclusion of footsteps -- you can actually hear the footsteps of robots hunting you down, but you don't know where they are. In this way the game generates real sweat-popping tension. There's also the dynamic lighting effects, the water effects, and the thoughtful inclusion of a level editor (which sadly proved ineffective). Further, there is reasonable enemy AI, and in my experience the Breed actually seem capable of learning your dodge routines, and then shoot at the area you normally dodge towards. Very cool.

So where do I stand?

I lean more to the side of the detractors. Team 17 shouldn't have released a beta title at full price. At the very least, they should have continued with post-release development to fix the problems. There is of course the counter-argument that the small Amiga game scene doesn't justify the cost and effort of full development for such a complex title. Fine, I say, so long as you charge less for a beta release.

As a game, AB3D2-TKG is at best half-assed compared to the likes of Doom and Quake, or even Marathon 2. The level design is sloppy, consisting mainly of big, mostly empty rooms and boring mazes. The moment you start the game, you can see a texture misalignment. This is a classic example of either sloppiness or engine limitation. Every time there is a break in floor elevation, the wall textures are misaligned by a distance equal to the revised floor height. This may indicate that the game engine has no provision for texture offsets to correct this problem.

The game is tough. As usual for Amiga Doom-clones there are no difficulty settings. Hopefully, designers will wake up and correct this problem in future games. The enemies are much tougher than those in Breathless, and when you get hit, it means something. You'll get hit a lot, in no small measure due to the horrendous collision detection. That thing coming towards you may look the size of a softball, and you may think a simple sidestep will allow you to dodge it, but in fact it's the size of a Volkswagen and you'll be lucky to escape. Most of the enemies are quite tough to kill as well, with only the red dog-things succumbing to a single shotgun hit.

Unfortunately, the overall sense of 'less than optimal' gaming is carried into the sprites, which have very few frames of animation and thus look rather stiff. This is especially true of the tall, skinny blue dudes who just glide across the floor with their arms fully outstretched, looking positively ridiculous. Again, poor collision detection causes confusion. I found myself being bitten to death by a dog-thing which looked too far away to even touch me.

There are interesting touches with the creatures. Occasionally, if you allow them to go past you, they will keep on going. You can then pursue them. Also, you can allow the more dangerous enemies, such as the red robots, to walk away and hopefully get lost somewhere.

The game lacks environmental objects such as those of Doom -- flickering torches, burning barrels, pillars, floor lamps, etc., which leads to a fairly sterile feeling.

In sum, AB3D2-TKG is a classic example of 'might-have-been.' Its engine is inherently superior to that of Breathless or Nemac IV. Its graphical quality is also at least the equal of those games, and its music and sense of overall tension go well beyond nearly any game in this category, on any platform. Further, advanced creature-features such as 'random prowling' are included. It is these features that have inspired the game's adherents to put extra effort into supporting utilities such as the TKGTurboPatch, fixes to make it launch from Workbench, to edit saved games, and even to edit levels via the newest effort at a level editor (still not quite ready for prime time, but a vast improvement nonetheless).

Against this, the game's poor sprite animation and collision detection, the probable shortfalls in the engine (how much visible architecture can it handle, for instance?), and of course all the user-interface problems, doom it to the land of mediocrity in my view. If the release had been delayed by about six months, the ultimate result would have been much better. As it stands, it would take graphics-card support, 640x480 screen modes, at least triple the animation frames, no less than 25 different environmental objects, several more textures, and a complete user-interface overhaul to make this game truly worthwhile. In addition, a truly good editor and online deathmatch support would be a super idea. Some of these efforts are ongoing, others will never happen.

The Amiga is not the only platform where beta games are given a full commercial release. However, the Amiga press is kinder to them than they should be. As I write this in December of '97, one need only look at the latest PC Gamer to see a review of Eidos Interactive's TERRACIDE. This game, from a major publisher, and possessed of smooth, 3D-accelerated graphics, has been scorned by every PC gaming magazine for its shortfalls in gameplay and user-interface. PC Gamer gave it 27%. Yet when AB3D2-TKG came out, it was praised by all the Amiga magazines. They noted the problems, but felt the game was worth the scores of over 90% that they showered upon it.

My opinion is different. In my view, if you are willing to accept less, you will get it. If you are going to brush aside the problems in TKG, you might as well forget about the Amiga as a game machine and buy a PC for that purpose, if you haven't already. Well, I am not willing to accept less. I am not ready to give up on the miggy as a game device. I cannot accept the likes of Gloom and AB3D2-TKG. I am used to Doom and Quake and expect to see this level of quality in Amiga games of the same type. Or at least something in shouting distance of that quality. I see it in Breathless, but not here. If the Breathless team could do it, then no one else has an excuse. Period.

Score: 60%