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Retro Games: MDK

by: Daniel Barros ; edited by: M.S. Smith ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

In this article we take a look back to a simpler time - when Interplay was still on top and releasing top-notch games. Among those, MDK. Take a step back to when a full 3D game was an incredible advance.

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    Max, Doctor, Kurt

    Do you remember the company that first released Earthworm Jim? The 2D, side-scroller that involved an intrepid earthworm who was tryng to save the world? That company's name was Interplay - quite the big game developer in the 90s. In 1997, Interplay released a new IP (Intellectual Property) called MDK. The game involved a mad scientist known as Dr. Hawkins, who leaves the Earth to pursue experimental research while orbiting the Earth. In his space station, the Doctor conceives a robotic dog called Max, who has four arms, and a janitor named Kurt.

    The game's story is extremely simple. The game revolves around the fact that the Doctor creates an experimental armored suit that only fits Kurt, the janitor. Upon completing the building of the suit, the Doctor is suddenly warned that an alien species is invading the Earth and using giant "Minecrawlers" to strip the Earth of all its resources while simultaneously destroying all the cities in the world.

    The Doctor, seeing this occur from outer space, finishes up his armor suit (the coil suit) and outfits Kurt to use it. He then dispatches Kurt to attack the first minecrawler that is attacking Southern California. Ultimately, this is how the entire story of the game plays out, with Kurt being dispatched to various different minecrawlers and taking them out individually.

    The real excitment that was associated with this game was the gameplay.The entire game was actually rendered 3D graphics, not pre-rendered 3D or faux-3D using 2D mapping techniques. The game heavily relied on hardware acceleration, and as a result, required a pretty advanced CPU to play (which at the time was something along the lines of a 100 MHz CPU).

    The game consists of six minecrawlers, each of which is essentially a very long level, taking an hour or more to finish. Each level has the exact same sequence of game mechanics, with each level featuring variations on the theme. At the beginning of each of the six levels, Kurt parachutes into the level and has to avoid missiles on his way down to the minecrawler (at the same time, he can pick up power-ups to either start off the level powered up or weakened). Once the parachuting stage is over, each minecrawler consists of a few different "arena" segments. These segments are essentially large rooms - each containing a few different enemies (ape-like grunts, huge tanks, etc.) that Kurt has to destroy in order to move on.

    At the end of the level, Kurt destroys the minecrawler control room and (consequently) the entire minecrawler. Upon destruction of the minecrawler, Kurt rides a "slip-stream" back up into a place where Max can pick him up to continue the mission.

    So far so good, right? Now for the bad news about MDK. Much like Outlaws, this game has not aged well. I booted it up on my computer, using the latest and greatest hardware and the game ran extremely well. The problem is the gameplay itself. In an age of true 3D movement and advanced camera systems, having the camera fixed onto Kurt with him always in the middle. This camera system leads to some awkward movements and weird camera issues - ultimately, I couldn't replay the game to completion, it was just too big a headache to fix the camera system.

    If you played the original MDK, perhaps it's best that it remains a part of your memory. If you never picked up the game and can deal with the fact that older games don't have modern camera systems - you're in for a thrill ride. For a game developed in '97, it still holds up 3D graphics quite well.