December Flashback: Blood Wake

Blood Wake Picture.png

A Quick Overview

This is the first in a series, where we discuss what came out each month in Xbox gaming history, starting with Blood Wake. (Released December 25th 2001, on the OG Xbox) It was developed by Stormfront Studios and published by Microsoft. The game takes place in an alternate 1920's Southern China. Featuring single player and 2-4 local co-op, players would face off against enemies in over 26 missions while driving one of the many heavily armed boats featured in the game. It received good reviews and sold over 550,000 copies which was considered a great success for its time. Blood Wake compliments the inspiration the developers took from games like Twisted Metal and Crimson Skies.

Ah, The Memories

Blood Wake was one of the first games I purchased for my OG Xbox, and it is one of my favorite games to this day. At the time, the graphics and water physics blew my mind. The fast paced vehicle combat felt intense and satisfying, while also feeling unlike anything else I had ever played. Hopefully, Blood Wake will make it's way to backwards compatibility, so that everyone can enjoy this timeless classic and appreciate one of the many games Stormfront brought us.

A Story of Love and Revenge

You play as Lieutenant Shao Kai, who is a former naval officer of the Northern League. After being betrayed and left for dead by your brother, Admiral Shao Lung, you are then rescued by sea raiders who soon make you their leader. Ped, (your love interest) becomes your adviser and you begin seeking out your brother and his allies to get revenge, and to destroy the “Iron Empire” he has created.

Simple Beginnings

Ralf Knoesel was the lead programmer for Stormfront studios, and created the engine for Blood Wake during his holiday break. With his lead artists, Tim Dean and Matt Small, he created the concept which they described as “Twisted Metal on water.” Shortly after, the team got the green light to continue development while Stormfront looked for a publisher.

Microsoft, who was looking for a proper game to follow up their recently released Crimson Skies, picked up the title hoping they could adapt Blood Wake to their idea. The Blood Wake engine was designed for arena based combat, but Microsoft wanted more structure and focus on missions and exploration. After some tweaking they were able to turn Blood Wake into “Crimson Skies on water.”

Development team lead David Bunnett, hired lead writer David Ackerman Gray to create the story and adapt it to the game. Lead designer, David Wessman, who previously worked on the X-Wing series was brought in to develop the vehicle combat. He did research on boat warfare from the American Civil War, the Opium wars, World War II and the Vietnam war. In addition he also chose the setting and time period for the game.  

The team met all of their milestones weeks early, impressing Microsoft and increasing their hopes of a good product. They also observed testers playing the game in their free-time making them think that Blood Wake could be a sleeper hit. A time extension was given to polish the game before release.

The Good And The Ugly

Since the game was launched 30 days after the OG Xbox was released, it was highly anticipated. It was advertised on television during its release and reached the #4 spot on NPD sales charts in early 2002. Blood Wake later became #1 on Xbox game rentals. The game had strong sales and became one of the first of Microsoft's Platinum Series Hits, it was then re-released with new box art at a lower price.

Stormfront immediately started developing a sequel with all the added features that they wanted to incorporate including co-op, a better water engine, and better graphics. However, negotiations failed after several months with Microsoft, forcing Stormfront to lay off over half of the team and cancel production on a Blood Wake sequel. No other boat combat game was developed or released after that, and Blood Wake is still considered one of the best games in vehicular combat.

Stormfront closed its doors in 2008, due to poor performance and sales with recent titles. In their lifetime, they worked with Sierra Entertainment, EA and Microsoft releasing several successful games. Titles include LOTR The Two Towers, Stronghold, Neverwinter Nights, and several in the Madden series. Blood Wake is the only Xbox exclusive Stormfront ever released.

Chris Brodka
I grew up on the East Coast where I currently live. I cut my teeth on Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Super Mario World and I'm a sucker for all things nerdy. I enjoy working on music and sound production when I'm not working or drooling over a new game.