Blade Runner is one of the best and most transgressive adventure game ever made. Almost four decades after its premiere on the big screen, Blade Runner continues to be one of the most influential films in history and the greatest reference in neo-noir cinema. A groundbreaking production loosely inspired by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and universally recognized as a cult film.
Of course, what was achieved by Blade Runner has double merit, since -to date- seven versions have been published with relevant changes. And most interesting of all: ten years before director Ridley Scott released his final cut, the legendary Westwood dared to expand the original story through a new protagonist and a different perspective.
Westwood closed its doors in 2003, but it hardly needs an introduction – however many years pass, its legacy lives on. DUNE revolutionized the way of making real-time strategy games and the Command & Conquer saga is far from being forgotten. Not to mention the relevance of the role-playing saga Eye of the Beholder.
That Las Vegas studio established itself in a multitude of genres, and despite the fact that Blade Runner was not its first graphic adventure (let’s remember The Legend of Kyrandia series ) it knew how to keep up with LucasArts and Sierra, and even catch up with the Scott’s own movie. Major words duly accompanied by the necessary ambition to correspond to them.
In fact, to understand the achievement of Blade Runner as a video game, we must look beyond the playable experience itself: the standardization of distribution on CDs added to the maturity reached by technology when creating video games made Westwood dare to develop a cinematographic experience in the form of point and click and, at the same time, be very experimental in terms of narratives.
Which does not mean that the development of Blade Runner, the video game itself was an odyssey in which talent – with extra inspiration – had to correspond to high expectations, the responsibility of expanding the film of the same name and, in the process, bringing together some rights to the film divided into three different entities.
Because, as we will see, shaping the Blade Runner video game was also a true lineup of stars.
A PC Blockbuster Without Rick Deckard
Developing a video game about Blade Runner might seem like a safe bet, but the truth is that it took too long to become a reality. The reason? Basically, the chaotic outcome of the film’s production .
As he told co – founder Louis Castle Westwood Edge in 2013, Scott made lots of concessions to obtain the resources that would enable complete Blade Runner, diversified investors and generating new commitments.
Ridley had to sign many deals with actors for residual rights. That created a lot of complications in the sense that different people had different agreements. Worse yet, the production ended on a sour note and many of the records were lost.
The Blade Runner Partnership was very interested in the game being made and, in fact, had proposed to develop an adaptation to the big developers of the moment such as EA, Sierra or Activision without good results. Fortunately, Virgin Interactive’s predisposition was different , although it had to deal with the real problem.
The unstable balance of copyrights is poorly summarized and soon in that a company owned the exploitation rights in the United States ( The Ladd Company ) another its own internationally ( Run Run Shaw ) and, finally, the referred The Blade Runner Partnership those who had domestic marketing. How to make a video game under these conditions?
No one knows who could claim ownership of the film, or even specific parts of it. So, we were prohibited from using any footage or audio because we would never know what rights we might be trampling on.
Luckily, the responsibility for shaping it fell to a particularly inspired and stormy Westwood . Enough to dare to explore a new story that runs parallel to the film. Without Rick Deckard , but with several members of the original cast returning to their rules fifteen years later.
Now comes the real challenge: create a video game that lives up to the expectations generated without the immortal character of Harrison Ford. And the truth is that those in Las Vegas put all the meat on the grill: they were completely creative, they were transgressors in the narrative and even dared to use cutting-edge technology and techniques for the time.
On the one hand, the visuals were simply groundbreaking. In addition to spectacular cinematics made in digital that were among the best of 1997, Blade runner pulled out muscle through some brand-new characters made with voxels and high-quality backgrounds.
- On the other hand, Rick Deckard’s character had all but been eliminated from the experience. Throughout the adventure we would see references to him and that both stories -the game and the movie- run in parallel will make sooner or later the player end up recognizing and relating situations and walking through common places.
- Of course, the golden rule during production is that at no time could you contradict what was shown in the movies . All the creative freedom that Westwood had was always at the service of the film that was already considered a cult work.
- And even though they couldn’t make use of the footage, in Westwood they had the technology to recreate various shots and scenarios in 3D and implement them in the story itself . Which you can see in more detail in the video on these lines.
- To which we must add that everything related to the characters that reappeared in the game had been created for the occasion. A genius, requiring an extra effort and ingenuity.
However, the greatest milestone of Blade Runner was its way of offering a truly immersive experience: although Westwood rejected the idea of directly adapting the film or its script, they wanted to replicate its spirit through its new protagonist. Offering the player a true research experience with a very high replayability.
So, despite the fact that we can use weapons at certain times, everything is outstandingly tied to the detective work designed not to offer two equal games.
The way to do this is a genius in itself: as a rookie Blade Runner , our mission would be to conduct a complex investigation and hunt down two replicants , human-like androids. However, the interesting thing is that Westwood developed a system in which in each new game any of the fifteen suspects could be our objective : the game determined the true nature of these in a random way.
To this must be added details such as a system of elections that led to twelve possible endings (crazy for the time) and best of all: getting the player to constantly question whether Ray McCoy , the protagonist of the game, is also a replicant.
Blade Runner, one of the best and most transgressive adventure game ever made
The Blade Runner movie was one of Mike Pondsmith’s self-confessed inspirations when it came to creating Cyberpunk. And, directly or indirectly, the milestone Westwood achieved with its video game still resonates with today’s big releases . Especially in a Cyberpunk 2077 that takes our decisions very seriously.
The Blade Runner Westwood was not just a technical marvel presented in four CDs and a particularly demanding requirements for 1997, was also years ahead of the games that sought to merge the purely cinematic experience with the purest essence of the game.
Which does not mean that, as a graphic adventure, it was also outstanding. With tons of dialogue and cutting-edge cutscenes, an exceptional location (with voices entirely in Spanish) and a very minimalist game interface in which we only had to pay attention to the color and animation of the cursor to know what kind of interaction we could have .
Despite what it may seem, using our pistol will be the exception and not the rule. And the same applies to traditional puzzles and others very aptly inspired by the film, including the Voight-Kampff test or the Esper photo scanning system.
But the game is also aware that not all Deckard fans are used to adventure games, so a very practical system of records and clues was implemented within the interface. It can be said that all were hits.
For its part, Virgin was fully aware of what it was up to. Both as a license and in terms of his gaming experience, and he corresponded with Westwood by covering Blade Runner in the media and in terms of promoting it very generously.
Translating the above into a commercial success that reached 800,000 copies sold in 2002. And, although that figure today would seem almost ridiculous, if we put it in perspective, things change: for each copy of The Curse of Monkey Island -a titan of the adventure game genre – three copies of Blade Runner were sold.
Which made it incomprehensible for years that this bit of adventure adventure history had not been rescued. Staying in the awkward limbo of distributorless video games for decades. Until an unexpected and highly celebrated 2019 comeback on GOG, CD Projekt’s video game platform.
And what is even more interesting: as it did with other great unforgettable classics, such as System Shock, Nightdive Studios is involved in the development of an improved and updated version of Blade Runner , whose improvements you can see below.
It cannot be said that the Blade Runner video game has managed to make a great impact within the adventure adventure genre. In fact, it didn’t even match the depth of the rest of Westwood’s own sagas. But that didn’t overshadow his stupendous reception, the wisdom of his groundbreaking ideas, and how his narrative ambitions found new ways to come true in video games.
Blade Runner was never a video game conversion of the movie it worships, but it is an unbeatable adaptation of its essence to mouse and keyboard. A must-see graphic adventure that, on its own merits, lives up to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece.