ⓘ Safecracker (video game)
Safecracker is a 1997 puzzle adventure game developed by Daydream Software and published by GT Interactive. It casts the player as a security professional, whose goal is to infiltrate the mansion headquarters of a safe manufacturer and break into 35 of its unusual models. Each safe is guarded by a different type of puzzle, including sliding tiles, anagram codes and translations from braille. The players progression is nonlinear: the mansion can be explored, and its safes unlocked, in multiple orders. However, the game must be completed within a 12-hour time limit.
Safecracker was conceived in 1994 as the debut title by Daydream, one of Swedens first major computer game developers. After signing with Warner Interactive Entertainment WIE in 1995, Daydream began to develop the game with Macromedia Director and QuickTime VR. Expensive Silicon Graphics machines were purchased with Warners funding to create the visuals; musicians Rob n Raz were hired to compose the soundtrack. However, corporate upheaval at WIE led to costly delays. GT Interactive ultimately bought the publisher in 1996 and purposely slow-walked Safecracker s release and promotion. Having anticipated problems with GT, Daydream went public: its hit IPO drew enough capital for the team to repurchase Safecracker s rights in 1997 and sign new distributors worldwide.
While Safecracker s troubled release hurt its retail performance, long-tail sales at a budget price eventually carried it to 650.000 units sold. Reviewers broadly panned the games limited core premise, although certain writers considered it a strength and recommended the title to fans of puzzle games. Critical reception of the puzzles and visuals ranged from positive to strongly negative. Following the launch of Safecracker, Daydream became a foundational company in the Swedish game industry. Nevertheless, problems caused by its early public launch led to the developers bankruptcy in 2003. Kheops Studio and The Adventure Company later released a spiritual successor to Safecracker under the name Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure 2006.
1. Gameplay and plot
Safecracker is a puzzle adventure game that takes place from a first-person view in a pre-rendered visual environment. The player uses a point-and-click interface to traverse the game world and interact with objects. In a manner that has been compared to Zork Nemesis, the players movement is restricted to jumps between panoramic static screens. The camera view can rotate 360° on each screen. In Safecracker, the player assumes the role of a professional in the security systems business, who seeks a job with the fictional Crabb & Sons Company. The firm is a manufacturer of safes with unusual designs. As an audition, the player character is contracted by Crabb & Sons owner to infiltrate his mansion headquarters and crack the safes within, with the ultimate goal of breaking into the new "F-9-12" design.
The game begins outside Crabb & Sons building, after which the player sneaks in and begins to explore. Safecracker features nonlinear progression: the mansions rooms can be navigated, and their safes tackled, in multiple orders. However, the game must be beaten under a 12-hour time limit. The mansion contains over 50 rooms and 35 safes, which are guarded by puzzles in a range of styles. Among these are mathematics puzzles, anagram codes, conversions of temperature units, translations from braille, musical problems and sliding puzzles. Unlocking a safe provides the player with clues and keys, which open up new areas and allow other puzzles to be solved. At the same time, certain clues are hidden around the mansion in books and other objects that the player may investigate. Clue items are stored in the inventory on the heads-up display HUD interface, which also features a meter that tracks the number of puzzles solved.
2.1. Development Origins
Safecracker was conceived in 1994 by acquaintances Jorgen Isaksson and Nigel Papworth of Umeå, Sweden. Papworths interest in making games was first sparked when Isaksson showed him Myst: its simple HyperCard engine suggested to Papworth that game programming could be easy. Isaksson himself had previously experimented with the medium to entertain his younger sister, yielding a computer conversion of the board game Mastermind. Papworth seized on this idea and reworked Isakssons Mastermind board into a safe puzzle. After a short time, the pair had devised five more safes in this style, and the thought arose for an entire game about cracking safes in a single building. This concepting stage began in summer 1994. Isaksson and Papworth soon pitched the Safecracker idea to Erik Phersson and Jan Phersson-Broburg, the heads of a local computer services company, Sombrero, that Isaksson had co-founded. The more recent hire Leif Holm was present as well.
At a meeting in fall 1994, roughly one month after Isaksson had shown Myst to Papworth, the five men resolved to create Safecracker together. The Phersson brothers had already been anxious to expand into new fields. Phersson-Broburg immediately arranged an interview with Sanji Tandan, the head of Warner Music Sweden, based on the logic that the publisher had a worldwide foothold in the CD business. The first contact with Warner occurred in October 1994. However, the Safecracker team initially lacked any materials to sell Tandan on the game. Papworth, a professional illustrator, wrote that he hurriedly "made 2 pretty crude visuals with colored felt tips on an A1 sketch pad that showed a start sequence and some examples of different safe puzzles". Phersson-Broburg composed a financial roadmap for the project, while Isaksson cooperated with Papworth to construct the games plot. The team used StrataVision 3D to create a test of Safecracker s pre-rendered graphics. Tandan enjoyed their presentation and the meeting was a success. Based on this event, the five team members founded Daydream Software in November 1994.
Nevertheless, Daydreams handshake deal with the publisher fell through. Tandan reported back that the rest of Warner Music Sweden was uninterested in pursuing computer games. Shortly thereafter, the Safecracker plan was revived during the 1994 Christmas party at Daydreams new office space. The team was called by the London-based Warner Interactive Entertainment, whose executive Laurence Scotford expressed interest in the game and soon flew to Umeå to learn more. The team then traveled to the publishers London headquarters and pitched Safecracker directly. A writer for the city of Umeå later remarked that it was "a tricky display with cumbersome computers", but the parties reached a tentative agreement to partner on the game. Afterward, the contract was carefully tweaked at Daydreams offices. The developer signed with Warner to develop Safecracker in March 1995, as part of a three-year, multi-title deal set to run until March 1998. Funding was provided via an advance against royalties of 2.5 million kr; Daydream was set to earn 50 kr per unit sold, while Warner retained all revenues for the first 50.000 sales of the game. In retrospect, Papworth felt that Daydream was "lucky" to have joined the game industry when it did, as many of "the big record companies" were entering the computer game business with low standards as to the content they financed.
2.2. Development Production
Daydream Software began development of Safecracker by creating thorough blueprints of the mansion and its rooms on paper. Objects inside the building were similarly drawn on paper ahead of the modeling stage. Nigel Papworth wrote that he "raided the local bookshops and bought up all the books have already become multi-millionaires." A writer for the city of Umeå similarly noted that "Daydream didnt even have a game on the market, let alone any revenue." Meanwhile, Safecracker began to encounter problems with GT Interactive. Daydream told investors that the new publisher was set to honor Warners agreements on the project, and that the team viewed the situation as "very positive". However, GT Interactive delayed Safecracker past its due date of January 1997 to redesign its physical packaging - initially to late March and finally to May.
3. Release and distribution
Safecracker was first released in Sweden in the middle of May 1997. Later that month and in early June, it received follow-up launches in 14 other territories across Europe and South America. Despite significant pre-release coverage, Safecracker s many delays meant that the "momentum for the game. could not be exploited", according to the academic researchers Ola Henfridsson, Helena Holmstrom and Ole Hanseth. It accrued sales of 18.000 units in its first two weeks. Jan Phersson-Broberg later told investors that GT Interactive failed to support Safecracker at retail. He reported that the publisher "did not advertise, at the American Market".
Safecracker s global sales totaled 65.000 units by January 1999, for revenues of 3.2 million kr. This performance amounted to a lifetime loss of 500.000 kr. Sales had risen to roughly 70.000 units the following month, at which point the games development costs were fully capitalized. Although Safecracker had become a budget game by that time, Daydream told investors that its revenues remained "at the same level as when the product was launched and sold as a full-cost product." Conversely, the company reported later in 1999 the games lower price point had decreased its earnings. Safecracker sold roughly 200.000 units by May 30 and 235.000 by September 30. By April 2000, European and Asian markets alone had accounted for 250.000 sales.
In spring 2000, Safecracker received a second launch in North America through DreamCatcher Interactive, the distributor for Daydreams Traitors Gate in the region. This deal offered Safecracker access to mainstream retailers such as Best Buy, Babbages and CompUSA, at around 1.600 locations throughout the territory. It became successful for DreamCatcher. The games worldwide sales reached approximately 275.000 copies by the end of May 2000 and 300.000 copies by mid-2001. In the 2010s, a writer for the city of Umeå retrospectively judged Safecracker a success. The author remarked that the game ultimately "sold 650.000 copies, not least via the department store chain Walmart", where it was stocked as a budget title.
In October 1997, Safecracker won the "Peoples Choice" prize among entertainment products at the Macromedia International User Conference UCON. This followed the games wins, before its launch, at the Macromedia European User Awards.
Reviewing the games PXL Computers edition, Joseph Novicki of PC Gamer US and Joel Strauch of PC Games offered conflicting opinions. Novicki praised the "clarity of purpose" in Safecracker s narrow focus on puzzle-solving, compared to Myst -inspired titles that combine puzzles with plot. By contrast, Strauch considered the games limited story and premise to be major flaws. The lack of interaction beyond safecracking was likewise cited as a positive and a negative, respectively, by the two writers. While Novicki summarized Safecracker as "good puzzle game for gamers of all skill levels", despite problems with its inventory system, Strauch called the puzzles a mixed bag and ultimately panned the game.
The reviewer for PC PowerPlay, David Wildgoose, continued Strauchs complaints about the "stifling and pointless basic premise" in Safecracker. Charlie Brooker of PC Zone concurred: he dismissed the title as a dull, limited experience, and "the sort of thing that impresses computer game virgins and Macintosh owners". He also echoed Strauchs criticism of the QuickTime VR implementation, which both writers found unimpressive as a computer game engine. Brookers only praise went to the soundtrack, which he considered "alright". Wildgoose joined Brooker in calling Safecracker s visuals technically impressive but nevertheless drab and boring, and took a harder line than Strauch against the "witless, haphazard" puzzles. Writing for IGN, Scott Steinberg was more positive on the puzzles, of which he noted that "a rather large quantity. are nothing short of ingenious". He also offered light praise to the visuals, in contrast to Brooker and Wildgoose. Despite these concessions, Steinberg ultimately declared Safecracker prohibitively difficult and confusing, and he sharply criticized its "techno crud" score.
The adventure game websites Just Adventure and Adventure Gamers were more approving of Safecracker. Ray Ivey of the latter publication called the puzzle design "simply a delight", and felt that the game was addictive. Just Adventures Randy Sluganski similarly lauded the puzzles. Although he found them extremely difficult, he wrote that "you actually feel a sense of accomplishment and pride" after solving them. Sluganski also enjoyed the "top-notch" visuals. While he and Ivey both declared Safecracker s plot an afterthought, neither writer felt that its simplicity detracted from the game. Both compared the proceedings to Jewels of the Oracle, which Sluganski believed would limit its appeal, but he nonetheless strongly recommended Safecracker to puzzle devotees. Ivey offered a more general recommendation: to him, Safecracker was a "breezy good time, not to be missed."
With Safecracker as its first release, Daydream Software became an important force in Swedish games. A writer for the city of Umeå later remarked that Daydream "laid the foundation for the lucrative gaming industry in northern Sweden", which later included Coldwood Interactive and Nifflas Games in Umeå itself. The team followed Safecracker with Traitors Gate 1999 and the online game Clusterball 2000. However, Daydream was hounded by problems related to its public launch. The Umeån writer noted that shareholders did not understand the game industry or "the time it takes to develop a large, extensive computer game", and that they demanded faster returns than the prospectus had promised. The Wall Street Journal reported that stocks had crashed at Daydream by early 1998. In retrospect, Nigel Papworth called the companys hit IPO "bad for us. Here we were, blue-eyed, no proper management, no board." Jan Phersson-Broberg likewise believed that the IPO was premature. After a series of financial and management problems related to its public status, the developer was shuttered in 2003.
In April 2006, plans for another Safecracker installment were revealed by publisher DreamCatcher Interactive. It was developed by Kheops Studio, previously known for Return to Mysterious Island. At the time of the announcement, Adventure Gamers reported that the game was to be a spiritual sequel rather than a literal follow-up, and that it would feature 35 safe puzzles. According to Kheops Benoit Hozjan, DreamCatcher first contacted his team about developing a new Safecracker in early 2006, thanks to the originals status as a hit for the publisher. Kheops responded with a pitch for the game and suggested a story based on locating a will. Hozjan noted that the team had difficulty with the titles "fully puzzle-oriented" design, as its earlier projects had emphasized plot. The resultant game, entitled Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure, follows a safecracking professional who seeks the lost will of Duncan W. Adams, a wealthy collector of safes with unusual designs. After going gold in July 2006, the title reached store shelves in August. A port for the Wii was released in December 2008.
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