Filmation engine

Filmation engine

Knight Lore", Ultimate Play The Game's first title to utilise the Filmation engine]

Filmation is the trademark name of the isometric graphics engine employed in a series of games developed by Ultimate Play The Game during the 1980s, primarily on the 8-bit ZX Spectrum platform, but various titles also appeared on the BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, MSX and Commodore 64 platforms.


The Filmation engine allowed the creation of forced perspective 3D flip-screen environments, ideally suited to platform-based arcade adventures. Player characters could move in four diagonal (from the player's perspective) directions, were able to jump over or onto obstacles, and even push objects around the game environment.

The isometric style

Ant Attack" used a similar isometric style to Ultimate's Filmation and Filmation II titles]

At least three games had used an isometric perspective before Filmation's first appearance in 1984; the arcade games "Q*bert" and "Zaxxon" (both 1982) from Gottlieb and Sega respectively, and the ZX Spectrum title "Ant Attack" (1983) by Sandy White. "Q*bert" and "Zaxxon" have little else in common with Filmation, though "Ant Attack" was a platform game of similar style, and was the first of these games to feature an extra degree of freedom (the ability to move up and down as well and north, south, east and west). It was claimed by White that "Ant Attack" was "the first true isometric 3D game". [cite web | url= | title=Sandy White - an Ant Attack homepage | accessdate=2006-03-28]

Filmation I & II

When Filmation was introduced a year later, it featured far more complex graphics and environments than any isometric title yet, garnering "Knight Lore" much attention and critical acclaim. Ultimate Play The Game first described the engine in the "Knight Lore" manual thus:

"Knight Lore" was followed six months later by "Alien 8" and in 1986 by "Pentagram". A second engine, Filmation II, was introduced in 1985 and used in two titles, "Nightshade" and "Gunfright". This new version of the engine introduced large scrolling environments (much like "Ant Attack"'s) rather than flip-screens. To avoid obscuring the player character, streets and buildings rendered by this engine would disappear to their outlines when the player character walked behind them, and the ability to flip the viewpoint through 180 degrees with a press of the Z key was introduced. Although Filmation II increased the graphical complexity of the titles that used it, the gameplay was simplified; the player was no longer able to jump (and indeed had no reason to) and was confined to essentially simpler environments, with no obstacles other than the buildings themselves. This simplification resulted in "Nightshade" and "Gunfright" being more straightforward shooter games than the puzzle based Filmation I titles.

Two later games, "Martianoids" and "Bubbler", were developed by U.S. Gold (and published on the Ultimate Play The Game label) which also used scrolling 3D environments, though neither made explicit use of the Filmation II engine. Both had similarities to Filmation II, though "Martianoids" did not use a true isometric perspective and "Bubbler" had more in common with Atari's Marble Madness than previous Filmation titles.

Ultimate's final, unreleased title, "Mire Mare", was long thought to have been Filmation-based, but in the late 1990s Rare revealed that it would actually have been more like the top-down "Sabre Wulf", the first title based around the Sabreman character. [cite web | url= | title=Rare Titles in Limbo | publisher=Rare website | accessdate=2006-06-04]



* "Knight Lore" (1984)
* "Alien 8" (1985)
* "Pentagram" (1986)

Filmation II

* "Nightshade" (1985)
* "Gunfright" (1986)


* "Martianoids" (1987)
* "Bubbler" (1987)



The Filmation style was extremely influential in the period immediately following the release of "Knight Lore" and "Alien 8", and it was copied extensively by other publishers in titles such as "Fairlight", "The Great Escape", "Batman", "Head Over Heels" and "Solstice". Later, Rare, the company that Ultimate Play The Game evolved into, reprised the style themselves with their releases "Snake Rattle 'n' Roll" (NES and Sega Mega Drive) and "Monster Max" (Game Boy; written by Bernie Drummond and Jon Ritman, the authors of the aforementioned "Batman" and "Head Over Heels"). "Cadaver" by the Bitmap Brothers, released on the Amiga and Atari ST in 1990, bore striking similarities to "Knight Lore", and even named the game's location "Castle Wulf" after "Knight Lore"'s prequel "Sabre Wulf". Later titles such as the UK-developed "Sonic 3D" (Sega Mega Drive and Sega Saturn) and Moonpod's "Mr. Robot" (Microsoft Windows) (which takes a great deal of influence from "Alien 8"), have adopted similar isometric graphical styles and gameplay.


External links

* [ On Filmation] , a discussion of the engine
* [ Filmation Viewer/Editor] , tool for viewing and creating custom Filmation maps
* [ Looking for an Old Angle] , CRASH article on Filmation and other isometric games
* [ Flash 3d isometric engine]

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