The Last Express
A Hitchcockian thriller set aboard the Orient Express on the eve of World War I, Jordan and Smoking Car Productions’ cult-classic 1997 real-time-rewinding adventure game The Last Express has now arrived on mobile devices.
About The Last Express
The Last Express never made the jump to next-gen videogame consoles like its predecessor, Prince of Persia — but though its 1990s PC graphics and technology may be antiquated, its story, characters, and design have stood the test of time and have won the loyalty of an exceptionally passionate and committed fan base. The Last Express is different from any other game I’ve done. It’s an achievement I’m especially proud of, and one that’s close to my heart.
Published by Brøderbund in 1997 (and in Japan by Softbank) on three CD-ROM disks, The Last Express was an immersive adventure game that put the player on board the Orient Express in July 1914, crossing Europe on the eve of World War I. It pushed the boundaries of interactive narrative in ways that no other game has done before or since.
For me, making this game was a life-changing experience. It was my first time starting and running a company. In four years, Smoking Car Productions grew to 60 people; babies were born, friendships were forged. We spent our last nickel on the game, and closed our doors shortly after it shipped, so it probably wasn’t the smartest career move for most of us; but it was an adventure that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
To create the art nouveau-inspired animation for The Last Express, we developed — and patented — a digital rotoscoping process to transform live-action footage into hand-drawn animation. Since then, a similar technique has been used in TV commercials and feature films such as Philip K. Dick’s “A Scanner Darkly.”
To make our portrayal of the 1914 Orient Express as historically accurate as possible, the Smoking Car team tracked down the original pre-war blueprints, train timetables, and even the last remaining sleeping car, derelict and abandoned in an Athens trainyard. 3D modeler-artist Donald Grahame took hundreds of measurements and photographs to “restore” the virtual train to its original luxurious state, down to the hand-turned screws and embossed leather panels on the compartment doors.
Artistically and technically, it was an immensely ambitious undertaking, perhaps bordering on lunacy. It may be “the greatest game never played” — but I think we pulled it off.