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Feature: The Last Express - Revisiting An Unsung Classic

Jordan Mechner's evocative 1997 adventure game The Last Express is a cult classic flop, but time-reversing Prince Of Persia inspiration - and over the holidays, Gamasutra had
December 01, 2008
Jordan Mechner's evocative 1997 adventure game The Last Express is a cult classic flop, but time-reversing Prince Of Persia inspiration - and over the holidays, Gamasutra had an in-depth feature documenting its fascinating genesis. The article caught up with two original leads on the project, producer Mark Netter and technical designer and lead programmer Mark Moran, to discuss the game's long development process, the goals and philosophies behind its setting and narrative, early 20th century class warfare, and what games do better than movies. As the introduction to the piece explains of the history of the fascinating adventure title: "In 1997, Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner's studio Smoking Car Productions released The Last Express, an ambitious adventure game that played out as a tense train ride through Europe, in a compressed real-time version of the three days preceding the outbreak of World War I. Its unusual rotoscoped animation style echoed the elegant Art Nouveau movement that collapsed as war broke out. Upon release, the game was hailed as an achievement, winning a number of adventure game of the year awards in the gaming press and receiving acclaim from outlets like Newsweek, MSNBC, and USA Today in an era when such mainstream attention to games was rare. But The Last Express had taken four years to develop and was wildly over-budget, in no small part due to the copious amounts of investment and time required to execute its film shoots and proprietary animation techniques. Furthermore, publisher Broderbund had recently lost its entire marketing staff, resulting in a dearth of advertising for the game. To make matters worse, key publishing partners fell through and Broderbund was acquired by The Learning Company, focusing its scope to educational titles -- all of which meant The Last Express was soon out of publication, unable to reach the long tail sales on which adventure games traditionally had thrived. In the decade since its release, The Last Express has gained a growing following of fans who appreciate its atypical setting and its innovative systems -- the unbroken, real-time nature of the gameplay means that on a given playthrough, the player may hear entirely different conversations at any moment, depending on his position on the train, leading to different solutions to puzzles and different outcomes to the narrative." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, including lots more specifics on the creation of the intriguing, perhaps overlooked game.

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