Thursday, September 20, 2012

A WARPed Retrospective: D

Welcome back, birds! It's been quite a while since we checked in with Eno-san and the WARP collective, what with all the hub and/or bub that's been surrounding the Coop as of late. But, the time has come to stop with the procrastinating. Grab on to my feathers, and let's soar into the wild blue yonder once more, as we continue on our WARPed adventure!

 So we've already discussed the birth of WARP, and I've showcased some of it's lesser known works. Now, it's time to take a gander at the heavy hitters in the lineup. If you talk to anyone who has any fond rememberance of Kenji Eno, these games are the ones that will most likely come to mind. Their the ones that helped Kenji find international acclaim, and are still considered cult classics today. While not the official title, I personally tend to refer to them as the Laura Trilogy.

 In the early 90's, the era of the Full Motion Video game was in full swing. Eno saw the potential the genre had, and sought to make his mark amongst the Night Traps and Sewer Sharks. However, instead of putting out a casting call for B-grade thespians and Hollywood has-been's, Eno tossed around the idea of using a 'virtual actress'. One you wouldn't have to feed and pay SAG royalties to, basically. So, in 1994, the crew at WARP grabbed a couple two tree Amiga computers and got to work on what would be the first game to feature their silicon leading lady, Laura.

D aka D no Shokutaku (D's Dinner Table)
Released: 1995, 96, 98
Publishers: Panasonic, Acclaim
Platforms: 3DO, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, Ms-DOS, Windows

3DO cover art (US)
3DO cover art (JP)
Acclaim Cover Art (US/EU)

Laura's first starring role would be in the 1995 production of D as Laura Harris, a mild mannered college student from San Francisco. Late one evening, Laura is shocked to learn that her father, the esteemed Dr. Richter Harris, has decided to go batshit insane and shoot up just about everyone present at the prominent Los Angeles hospital he works at. Wasting no time, she hops into her sports car and rockets towards L.A. in the hopes that she can try to talk some sense into dear old Dad. After what I'm sure was an amazing bout of negotiation with the L.A.P.D, Laura crawls underneath the yellow tape and enters the hospital. Without warning, Laura is suddenly whisked away to what appears to be a medieval era castle. With nothing but her wits and a magical compact to aid her, Laura must unravel the mysteries of this foreboding estate and get to the bottom of her father's madness before it's too late!

D's premise is very simple. The player is given two hours real time to navigate the castle, solve puzzles, and locate Richter. Much like the classic Dragon's Lair, you're simply pressing directional buttons to move Laura around, and hitting a button to make her interact with the environment or examine her inventory. If you get to a puzzle that has you stumped, Laura can consult her mystical compact for clues. However, you can only do this three times before the compact mirror shatters and becomes useless for the rest of the game.

 While dated by today's standards, D earned a great deal of attention back in the 90's for it's slick pre-rendered presentation, moody and omniprescent atmosphere, and it's somewhat gory subject matter for the time. Indeed, Kenji was concerned that the game wouldn't be published in the US as a result, and came up with a rather devious scheme to ensure it would see the light of day Stateside. During it's initial development, there was no narrative attached to the project. The story was created in secret, and most of the WARP staff wasn't even aware it existed. When everything was finished, Eno submitted this 'clean' version of the game for approval. Since he had submitted the master discs late, he would have to hand deliver the final product to the US manufacturers if he wanted it published. This was all part of Kenji's plan. While on the plane bound for America, Kenji channeled the spirit of Folger's coffee commercials, and switched out the 'clean' version with the complete copy. As a result, Kenji was able to completely bypass the censors. Clever girl.

 While D made little impact in the States (much in part to the 3DO's low user base at the time,) it was well received in Japan. So much that WARP would produce a "Director's Cut" of the game in 1998, featuring new footage, interviews, and all kinds of neat goodies. However, Acclaim took a liking to WARP's little creation, and offered to publish the game for Sony and Sega's 32-bit systems, as well as PC's running Microsoft Windows and DOS. This helped D gain more exposure in the US and Europe, and led to even more sales for Eno and his crew. However, this move would result in Eno having a huge fallout with Sony and it's Playstation brand.

 You see, while retailers were able to secure over 100,000 preorders for the Playstation port, Sony decided to give it's in-house products publishing priority. As a result, only 28,000 copies of the game actually made it into customer's hands. Eno was understantably upset at this move. That's a lot of money that was left on the table. And when you're a small company like WARP, that can really hurt you. Eno wasn't about to take that sitting down. He would have his revenge.

 What nefarious plot did Eno have in mind for the villains at SCE? And what of Laura? What new adventures would she undertake? All this will be answered next time, as the Coop grabs a gander at the second installment in the Laura Trilogy. In the meantime, here's the first part of Supergreatfriend's comprehensive D walkthrough, for those of you who want to experience the game, but don't want to deal with emulators or old, scratched discs. Until next time!

 (SPOILER ALERT: Yeah, D got a sequel. However, that's a tale for another time...)

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