Black ICE\White Noise aka Chaos Agenda
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari
State of completion: Video shooting completed, game engine programming had started and was 80% complete. Various screenshots, preliminary box art and small demo video exist.
Also planned or released for: Motion picture release was considered.
Notes: Game is listed as a CD game due for December 1995 in the Atari Dealer Price List Q3/1995.

After two years of work the game was roughly 80% done. The game engine was nearing "first playable" state and was very slick (considering the platform), allowing for seamless, delay free travel through the city on foot or by cab, and injection into cyberspace. All game video had been shot and processed, with just a few special effects shots to finish. All the sprites were shot, processed and in the game.
There were negotiations to have Nine Inch Nails do the soundtrack, with a strong interest from Trent Reznor himself. But Atari was cheap and tried to drive the price insultingly low and the deal fell apart.
The movie company which shot the game video footage was interested in a motion picture adaptation of Black ICE\White Noise but Atari demanded insane amounts of money for the movie rights and negotiations died quickly.
Some game documentation and the latest build of the code were saved but Atari destroyed the rest.
(Email interview with B.J. West, 1999)

CR: How about Black ICE\White Noise?
FT: Well, that was meant to be kind of the big Atari internally-produced big, big-effort game that was going to put Atari back on the map. It basically started from Sam Tramiel, the president of Atari mandating that we create our own Sonic, Mario, iconic character and basically what happened was we went through many iterations of these kind of really lame mascot-characters, from ducks to alligators to armadillos to… it was all very ridiculous. I don’t think anybody was ever terribly enthused by all these pre-mascot-things so we wanted to do something a little bit edgier. So we came up with the concept Black ICE\White Noise which was, you know, a very innovative concept at the time, in many aspects it was like The Matrix before that ever came out. It more or less embodied that Cyberpunk-hacker archetype that Keanu Reeves played in the movie, we had another guy whose name was Chris Hudak, a video game journalist, he writes for like Next Generation and Wired. So basically we had created this whole world which involved hacking and infiltration and going into cyberspace, very much like The Matrix. It’s probably scary how similar the two actually are, it was all based on William Gibson’s Cyberpunk. We had done a lot of film production on that in terms of shooting people on blue screen and treadmills and basically it was a game that incorporated driving, fighting, exploration and all kinds of things like that into one big package. It was a third person game, one of the things we didn’t want to make was a first person shooter because we want the character to come out and the best way to do that was third person. So basically it was going to be a third person game before third person games were big like Tomb Raider and still embodied a lot of those types of elements in the game. So you would be able to walk down the city street and if you wanted to hijack a car you could get in that car and start driving through the city and maybe the cops would chase you. Or if you needed to hack into some place you could hack into something and you would be in cyberspace. So it was… obviously… probably… way too ambitious for the limited resources that we had but it was very good to give it a try, it had a lot of cutting-edge techniques in terms of integrating 3D and video and digitized graphics into a game. And in theory it would have come out pretty well. It was a very big project for Atari at the time.
CR: I assume it was CD-based? And what happened to it?
FT: Yeah, CD-based. I think basically towards the end, I don’t really have a time line there, but there was a certain point in time when things were just kind of spiraling downhill, you know, a lot of cost cutting, layoffs and this desperate attempt to really get into the PC market which never really took off or happened, you know, the bulk of the projects, all really cool stuff that I was working on, most of those fell by the wayside, it was pretty unfortunate. Some of the easier projects like Bubsy and NBA Jam, those things actually came out OK but the more ambitious projects were just dropped.
CR: Bummer! The screenshots I’ve seen of Black ICE\White Noise looked very good.
FT: Yeah, you know, hindsight is 20:20 but when you look at some of the stuff it was… a lot of the concepts that we had thought of are now the concepts of today. So, yeah, in many ways we were really ahead of our times but, you know, didn’t really do us any good. But it was fun! A lot of fun to fly down, do the video shoots, and just kind of learning that whole process of integrating digital video into computer games, it was very educational, so, you know, from a learning experience standpoint and from a fun standpoint I really have very few regrets if any. There were a lot of difficulties, you know, but the knowledge and the experience was great.
CR: Where was Black ICE\White Noise shot?
FT: Basically we went down to Los Angeles and just rented a studio and just kind of cranked out all of the preset motion patterns that we needed. Like walking forward, walking backward, left, right, up, down, climb, duck, shoot, punch, kick and just plowed through it on treadmills and blue screens.
CR: So similar to the Mindripper project?
FT: Well, we would shoot against a blue screen and then we would cut out those patterns and make our sprites based on those actions. So basically it was like Mortal Kombat, kind of the same thing except we went for more of a 3D feel, so clearly we had to shoot all of the rotations, so that it appeared that you existed in this 3D world. Chris Hudak was kind of the star of the whole thing and we actually hired Michiko Nishiwaki (female martial arts artist from Hong Kong, recently played in 'Man On The Moon'). Ironically a lot of these things are interconnected, the people that put us in contact with the Mindripper people were also some of the people that shot the video for Black ICE\White Noise and they had a contact with… actually what we did was in many ways a very open casting call because a lot of these things were… not only was there basic motions and combat and running and walking but a lot of it was actual video so the character could come up to somebody and you could have a conversation and you could play that conversation and respond positive, negative or neutral. And based on that you’d get different responses and the person would actually respond so we needed actors and some of them… we never got anybody huge but we got kind of a cult martial artist from Hong Kong that had been in a few big martial arts movies out in Hong Kong and she was basically just trying to break into the US market, thought it would be fun, you know. It was a neat process to have the auditions and get a, you know, not really big name but semi-big name at least to a few hard-core martial art film fans, you know. Like I said before, the experience was great and I got really good broad insight into producing a huge expensive product that involved a lot of different elements.
(CyberRoach Magazine #9, 2/2000 - Interview with Faran Thomason)

We are also working on Chaos Agenda, the game where you play a government operative that must walk the fine line between loyalty and doing the right thing.
(AEO 3/13)

I'm a sucker for cyberpunk, I guess. This adventure takes place 40 years in the future on city streets where everything has a price, even your reputation. The two words associated with this game should be, "Merry Christmas." Out around then.
(AEO 4/4)

The game takes place in a very large virtual world, I believe about 40 or 50 game miles. Everything is nicely texture mapped and has a very realistic look to it. The game engine is in 3D, but the player is visible on the screen, the effect looks very nice. The player walks around the city, and is capable of entering some of the buildings. Along the way the player encounters various people, each represented through a FMV conversation. The player can choose attitudes to hold during the conversation, similar to Return to Zork. Many different types of guns are available at the weapons shops scattered around the city for the player's use. The game has a very Cyberpunk feel to it, and that's just the impression it wants to make. The player can choose how to live his or her life in the game, if the player takes on good missions he won't have a wonderful "reputation", if the player chooses assassination type missions, many civilians won't want to deal with him or her. The whole game will have an imbedded plot that will be uncovered as the player takes the various missions. This looks to be a very, very hot release.
(AEO 4/5)

No Respite. No Rails. No Rules. In Black ICE\White Noise players take the role of a street-level cyberpunk in the urban blightscape of New San Francisco, walking a barbed wire tightrope between the cysta line informational world of C-Space and the grimy reality of The Street and The Meat. Gameplay features include point-of-view C-Space hacking, full-motion video encounters, and digitized video sprites of gangs, crazies, cops, Corps... and corpses. Play a good guy who fights the good fight...or a bad girl who left her heart in San Francisco a long time ago. Ooops--your mission went bad and you just blew away a cop. Now here come allllll his friends. Make a note: Better do some creative hacking on that lengthy police record of yours, after you get out of this alive. If you get out of this alive...
(AEO 4/5)

Meanwhile, at the same conference, our good friend Pradip at Atari, who previously wrote Atari Works for the TOS series of Atari computers, handled test routines for the CD-ROM, and developed the CD+G capabilities for the Jag CD, gave the goods on what's becoming one of the most highly anticipated Jag releases, the ambitious Black ICE\White Noise.
It seems that the newest hobby for Jag programmers is to completely rethink the 3D engine, and this game is no exception to the rule. This new 3D engine written specifically for the game operates at 30 fps at a resolution of 320x200 - on the fly with no prerendering - and is capable of full motion in all directions (which should answer some questions as to whether the Jag is capable of such a thing); it is especially good, reports Pradip, at depth cuing. The game itself operates in a window of 224/180, with the rest of the screen being taken up by control panel operations.
Black ICE/White Noise will make good use of Jag peripherals such as the generic NVRAM save carts [Ed: Memory Track carts.] that are on the way, as well as the six-button controller. (Which will be especially good for the fighting sequences in the game.) The team for the game consists of 3 programmers and 3 full time artists (as well as contract artists), who each put in 50 hour weeks. Still, Pradip says that it's not much more difficult to produce a CD than a cart; the only real differences are the sheer volume of data, plus the lack of Jaguar onboard memory.
As for the game itself, it's a cyberpunk adventure set in future San Francisco (which should be interesting to compare to LucasArts' upcoming Calia 2095, which is also a first person adventure in the same setting). It will be a non-linear game, which though it features one main plot, will also be threaded with various subplots along the way which will lead you on different directions along that main plot. One of the most unique (and RPG-like) aspects of the game is that you will be able to interact with characters, and gain reputation in this way that will affect how you move along the main story. Some people have asked about comparisons to the game Virtuoso, based on some early screen shots of BI, but Pradip couldn't comment as he hasn't seen the earlier game.
This looks to be one of Atari's best in-house efforts to come along in some time.
(AEO 4/7)

 

Related links:
http://www.cyberroach.com/cyromag/nine/default.htm
http://www.strafe.com/guide/writing/Atari.html
http://www.strafe.com/guide/writing/Atari2.html
http://www.strafe.com/bj/

Screenshots, Pictures: Screenshot (real?) from Atari promo material Game interface mockup - exploration mode - (c) 1994 Atari Game interface mockup - talk mode - (c) 1994 Atari bw5.jpg (6447 bytes) bw6.jpg (9216 bytes) Preliminary box art - (c) 1994 Atari
Videos: Demo video (fake?)
(video source unknown)

[back]