It doesn’t matter that the technology in question never really went anywhere. It was cool for the time, and this feature is all about looking back in time!
Ecstatica was a third-person horror/action game in the vein of similar titles like Alone in the Dark and, though it came later, Resident Evil. Think pre-determined camera angles, cheap scares and inventory restrictions.
It was designed by veteran British developer Andrew Spencer, and published by Psygnosis, who are revered for many things, not least the company’s amazing policy on box art.
Riding into a town in the dead of night, the player soon finds the place overrun by evil creatures. As you would, you spend the rest of the game clearing these beasts out, mostly by running around the place hitting them with a sword.
Of course, it wasn’t actually that scary; like more contemporary survival horror games, the tension is built mainly through increasing the player’s vulnerability to attack and limiting their ability to carry things, not by any great feat of character design or writing.
It was, however, saucy. There were punching monks. A minotaur ties you up at one point, and things get a little weird. Oh, and at one point, you see dangly little ellipsoid cocks.
It was also, like many of these pioneering 3D games, clumsy to control, with obstructive camera angles and sluggish animation response times making you feel like you were playing the game underwater.
But Ecstatica is remembered more for its graphics than anything else, as it was part of a spirited, if short-lived movement in the mid-90s towards “ellipsoid” graphics. If you don’t know what they are, you can see them in action in the clip to the left; rather than animate basic sprites or generate memory-consuming 3D polygons, ellipsoid technology generated “blobs”, which were used to build character models.
They may not look like much in static images, but at the time they were thought to be revolutionary, allowing for incredibly fluid animation. And, for the time, they certainly were!
The reason you didn’t see many other games copy the style, though, was precisely because of the time the game was released. A few years earlier and the technology wasn’t around. A few years later and PC performance, aided by the first generation of graphics cards, could handle proper polygons, which looked far more realistic.
So it exists as a quirk of its era. A historical dead-end, never to be repeated. Ellipsoid technology was the zeppelin of the video games world.
Actually, that’s slightly incorrect. The game was repeated, once, as in 1997 a sequel was released, which improved the graphics but not much else, the game evolving into more of an action title than something we’d now call survival horror.
If you’d like to play Ecstatica, it’s available as abandonware.