In retrospect, it seems unbelievable that there was a time when one man, just one, could produce an AAA game which not only took the hardware to its limits, but delivered an intransigent artistic vision as well. An epitomic example in my mind of such is Andrew Braybrook who designed and produced some of the brightest Commodore 64 hits that are now considered as milestones in home computing, namely Paradroid (1985) and Uridium (1986).
Even though I love both Paradroid and Uridium, I do have a special relationship to the latter one, which still amazes me how well it took advantage of C64’s hardware and even some of its disadvantages, like horizontally doubled pixels. Uridium indeed was a looker in many regards, not least of which being the silky smooth 50 Hz scrolling that put some of the arcade games of that time to shame. Also, the multi-phased ship explosion looked nothing like ones in previous games I had seen so far. Uridium was a visually perfect C64 game, if there’s such a thing as perfect.
Uridium is one of those rare, magical occurrences where a right person collided with a right technology at a right time. Braybrook knew the C64 inside out, had a vision, the skills and determination to carry through that vision, which resulted as a game that basically blew the competition out of the water on that platform, at least what comes to the mere visuals. Unfortunately, the success of Braybrook stayed on the C64 and didn’t translate to more advanced systems that followed it, like the Amiga 500, which is often the case in success stories that involve right timing and profound knowledge of right technology. Uridium 2 released 1993 on the Amiga 500 platform was indeed just another shooter that barely left a mark on history.
Nevertheless, I can only imagine the power trip Braybrook must had been having when designing and coding the original Uridium, that one man could make such a big contribution to the gaming community and real-time imagery at large. That’s something, as said, that most likely will never happen again in any platform. Not even in the so-called indie-scene that has found a new foothold on downloadable market places such as the App Store, Xbox Live Arcade or Steam.
Indeed, small one/two men operations today simply can’t push the medium forward through technology in multiple fronts like id Software, Epic or Crytek do. Instead, they can do it through a distinct visual style that makes it possible to produce, in a sense, an AAA game within that particular artistic framework. Consider some of the most celebrated indie games of late such as Limbo (2010), Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (2011) or Fez (2012), what they all share is some novel, breakthrough visual paradigm that is easy on the hardware, but which pushes the medium artistically to its limits at the same time.
Small developers have to pick their battles if they are planning to go against the big boys, there’s no question about it. With Uridium, Andrew Braybrook didn’t have to. He was the big boy back then.