In 1992, after the release of Prince of Persia, I moved to Paris intending to take a sabbatical from making video games. Ironically, it led me to my most ambitious game effort yet.
Published by Brøderbund in 1997 on three CD-ROM disks, The Last Express was an immersive adventure game that put the player on board the Orient Express in July 1914, crossing Europe on the eve of World War I. It pushed the boundaries of interactive narrative in ways that no game has done before or since.
Game technology has advanced, but The Last Express story, characters, and design have stood the test of time and won the loyalty of an exceptionally passionate and committed fan base. It's a game I'm especially proud of, and one that's close to my heart.
Recently, DotEmu released the original Last Express on a variety of mobile platforms (see above). My favorite way to play it now is with headphones, on a plane — or better yet, on a train.
Making this game was a life-changing experience for me. It was my first time starting and running a company. In four years, Smoking Car Productions grew to 60 people; babies were born, friendships were forged.
To create the art nouveau-inspired animation for The Last Express, we developed — and patented — a digital rotoscoping process to transform live-action footage into hand-drawn animation.
In order to make our portrayal of the 1914 Orient Express as historically accurate as possible, the Smoking Car team tracked down the original pre-war blueprints, train timetables, and even the last remaining sleeping car, derelict and abandoned in an Athens train yard.
3D modeler-artist Donald Grahame took hundreds of measurements and photographs to "restore" the virtual train to its original luxurious state, down to the hand-turned screws and embossed leather panels on the compartment doors.
Artistically and technically, it was an immensely ambitious undertaking, bordering on lunacy. We spent our last nickel on the game, and closed our doors shortly after it shipped; but it was an adventure I wouldn't trade for anything.