If you can get it running on Windows 10, Westwood’s Blade Runner remains one of the most unique and enthralling point-and-click adventures available. It’s built in a sprawling world, operating in real-time as the player gathers clues about a vicious animal murder.
Building that world, particularly with the technology available in the mid ’90s, was an immense challenge. But that system allowed not just for Blade Runner to have multiple endings, but a special ending in particular.
In a new video series for Ars Technica, Westwood co-founder Louis Castle – who was also as the technical director, art director and executive producer on Blade Runner – explained that the game’s design started by establishing the seed of doubt in the player’s mind around humans and replicants.
That uncertainty was key to the appeal of the Blade Runner film, and it would soon become a central mechanic. In the game, you’re given the opportunity to interrogate subjects with differing amounts of intensity. Push too hard, and you’ll finish the interrogation without a proper answer on whether you’ve just quizzed a replicant.
But to make that happen, Westwood had to create a randomised system – much like how the murderer in The Ripper changes with every playthrough – for the NPCs. “And so the way we did that was we broke it down and said every time you play the game, you’re gonna have the same set of characters in the game, but we’re gonna randomise some of those characters,” Castle told Ars Technica. “Sometimes they’re replicants and sometimes they’re humans.”
“And because of that, they would leave different kinds of clues, and because the clues were different every time, you had to actually go get the clues to try to figure out whether or not the person was a replicant or not, because shooting a human made the game much more challenging because now you were a murderer.”
The various variations meant you could end the game in different locations with different characters. But one of the game’s secret endings, as revealed by Castle, forces the player to follow all the right steps to save all the replicants. But in the very final scene, just as the replicants are about to escape from the shuttle to the off-world colonies, the player is able to pull their guns out and shoot every single replicant, earning praise from McCoy’s LAPD colleague Crystal.
“One of the things you could do with Blade Runner, because it was a living simulation, you could play the entire game, saving all the replicants, get to the very last scene, get on the shuttle, get ready to take off to save them and bring them to off-world colonies, pull out your guns and shoot them all,” Castle said.
“And then you got a very special ending for that where you walked out of the shuttle and your cohort Crystal Steele walks up and says, ‘I didn’t know you had it in you, slick.'”
The full interview with Ars goes into a lot more detail about the game than just the endings, however. Castle talks a lot about the compression and 3D tech that had to be created for the game, including deferred rendering and vectors that were necessary to create the lighting necessary to bring the cyberpunk city to life. He also talks a little bit about an advanced trilinear compression and systems to manage volumetric lighting.
It’s a fascinating chat and a reminder of just how technically accomplished Blade Runner was for its time. Watch the video above, and give Ars a few clicks here as well – it’s great stuff.