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GDC Video: Making the Atari coin-op classic Crystal Castles

Franz Lanzinger's GDC 2013 postmortem of Atari arcade game Crystal Castles is now free and includes a Q&A with the original dev team and a live session with Lanzinger himself playing piano pieces from the game.

Game Developer, Staff

April 3, 2013

3 Min Read

Courtesy of the GDC Vault, Franz Lanzinger's hour-long GDC 2013 lecture is now free and features a postmortem of Atari arcade game Crystal Castles with an unplugged session of Lanzinger himself playing the game's music live. The music that was so recognizable in-game was because Atari then had no system in place to license music. That didn't stop Lanzinger from giving a live piano jam session at GDC, featuring OST snippets that were borrowed from Beethovan and Tschaikovsky. Afterward, Lanzinger reflected on what he felt went right and wrong with the game itself. He was satisfied with the level warp system, non-violent but exciting gameplay, and trackball controls. However, he admitted those controls also limited the sales of the game. He also lamented not writing a cohesive storyline and not preserving code from early field tests, which were regrettably lost forever. He later shared his relationship with Atari. He recalled being against programming in joystick controls in the game home release. He also had to write a long essay about why his game needed to have an ending, which was against the grain for arcade games at the time. Lastly, the other original team members behind Crystal Castles joined the stage for a special Q&A wrapping up a memorable, 60-minute postmortem at GDC 2013. Session Name: Classic Game Postmortem: Crystal Castles Speaker(s): Franz Lanzinger Company Name(s): Actual Entertainment, Inc. Track / Format: Design Overview: Why was Atari coin-op so successful at creating dozens of original and highly influential games in just a few years, many that still sell today? In this 30-year anniversary classic postmortem Franz Lanzinger, the original programmer and designer, will analyze, review, and spill the secrets of Atari's classic arcade game, Crystal Castles. Featuring Bentley Bear picking up gems and getting chased by trees and bees, Crystal Castles broke ground as a fast-paced, yet nonviolent, 3D isometric game. It was Atari's first arcade character game with an ending and included an ingenious secret warp system. Franz, also a professional pianist, will perform the music on his stage piano with the audience getting a live, close-up view. The talk will feature rare documents, sketches, photos, videos, and even actual 6502 code from the heyday of Atari coin-op, defiantly known as "Coin-op, the real Atari."

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent GDC events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers. Those who purchased All Access passes to events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC China already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscriptions via a GDC Vault inquiry form. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can find out more here. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins. Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more new content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from other events like GDC China and GDC 2013. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS. Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Tech.

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