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Who Invented FLIC?

May 25th, 2011 by Multimedia Mike

I have been reading through “All Your Base Are Belong To Us: How 50 Years of Video Games Conquered Pop Culture” by Harold Goldberg. Despite the title, Zero Wing has yet to be mentioned (I’m about halfway done).



I just made it through the chapter describing early breakthrough CD-ROM games, including Myst, The 7th Guest, and The 11th Hour. Some interesting tidbits:

The 7th Guest
Of course, Graeme Devine created a new FMV format (called VDX, documented here) for The 7th Guest. The player was apparently called PLAY and the book claims that Autodesk was so impressed by the technology that it licensed the player for use in its own products. When I think of an Autodesk multimedia format, I think of FLIC. The VDX coding format doesn’t look too much like FLIC, per my reading.

Here’s the relevant passage (pp 118-119):

Devine began working on creating software within the CD-ROM disk that would play full-motion video. Within days he had a robust but small ninety-kilobyte player called PLAY that was so good, it was licensed by Autodesk, the makers of the best 3-D animation program at the time. Then Devine figured out a way to compress the huge video files so that they would easily fit on two CD-ROMs.

Googling for “autodesk trilobyte play program” (Trilobyte was the company behind 7th Guest) led me to this readme file for a program called PLAY73 (hosted at Jason Scott’s massive CD-ROM archive, and it’s on a disc that, incidentally, I donated to the archive; so, let’s here it for Jason’s tireless archival efforts! And for Google’s remarkable indexing prowess). The file — dated September 10, 1991 — mentions that it’s a FLICK player, copyright Trilobyte software.



However, it also mentions being a Groovie Player. Based on ScummVM’s reimplementation of the VDX format, Groovie might refer to the engine behind The 7th Guest.

So now I’m really interested: Did Graeme Devine create the FLIC file format? Multimedia nerds want to know!

I guess not. Thanks to Jim Leonard for digging up this item: “I developed the flic file format for the Autodesk Animator.” Jim Kent, Dr. Dobbs Magazine, March 1993.

The PLAY73 changelog reveals something from the bad old days of DOS/PC programming: The necessity of writing graphics drivers for 1/2 dozen different video adapters. The PLAY73 readme file also has some vintage contact address for Graeme Devine; remember when addresses looked like these?

If you have any comments, please send them to:
	Compuserve: 72330,3276
	Genie     : G.DEVINE
	Internet  : 72330,3276@compuserve.com

The 11th Hour
The book didn’t really add anything I didn’t already know regarding the compression format (RoQ) used in 11th Hour. I already knew how hard Devine worked at it. This book took pains to emphasize the emotional toll taken on the format’s creator.

I wonder if he would be comforted to know that, more than 15 years later, people are still finding ways to use the format.

Posted in Multimedia History | 9 Comments »

9 Responses

  1. Jim Leonard Says:

    I’m not sure where you are confusing Devine and the Autodesk Animator FLIC format… Gary Yost of the Yost Group created FLIC. Before he created Animator for the PC he did a similar program for the Atari ST. Animator came out in 1988.

  2. Multimedia Mike Says:

    So perhaps this book was misleading. Or maybe it just implied that Autodesk licensed the Groovie/VDX format to sit alongside the FLIC format.

  3. Multimedia Mike Says:

    Also, I just updated the post to include the exact words from the book that lead me to think maybe Devine was involved with FLIC.

    I see that Autodesk Animator was created by the Yost Group. But do we have any solid evidence that they created the FLIC format?

    Further… what is the matter with us that we care so deeply about this? :-)

  4. clone2727 Says:

    Yes, Groovie is the engine used in The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour (and also Clandestiny, Tender Loving Care, and Uncle Henry’s Playhouse).

  5. techiepig Says:

    why don’t you just ask graeme devine himself, who thinks the book is a very accurate repres. of what went on. he’s easily accessible if you fb or google him.

  6. Jim Leonard Says:

    “But do we have any solid evidence that they created the FLIC format?”

    Absolutely, as you won’t see any occurrences of .fli files before the release of autodesk animator.

    For some fun reading, check http://www.maxunderground.com/the_history_of_3d_studio_pt2

  7. Jim Leonard Says:

    IIRC, Trilobyte created an SVGA fli/flc/flic player that they released into the wild for free; they did so because they were creating 7th Guest with 3DS, and 3DS saves in autodesk animator files for it’s animation output. They were doing SVGA-res stuff before there was a decent player for it, so they wrote their own player.

    The files are just deltas between frames, so just that is still too big and slow to fit onto 1X CDROM. If memory serves, Devine added huffman encoding to the format which then made it become GROOVIE, and got it to fit onto two CDROMs play back without stuttering.

  8. Jim Leonard Says:

    Finally found it. “I developed the flic file format for the Autodesk Animator.” Jim Kent, Dr. Dobbs Magazine, March 1993.

  9. Multimedia Mike Says:

    Thanks for your tireless research efforts, Jim. I’ve updated the post.