The history of No Cliché and its original Dreamcast games, from Toy Commander to Agartha... not forgetting Toy Racer !
No Cliché was a development studio created in 1997 by Sega, and supervised by Frédérick Raynal. The small French company was composed of most of the former members who worked on one of the very first survival-horror made in 1992: Alone in the Dark. The company was based in Lyon (74, rue Maurice Flandin69003) and employed 22 people: graphic designers, programmers, game designers, musician, etc. They all shared the same passion: designing video games!
No Cliché's adventure with Sega lasted 4 years, during which they created the studio's most emblematic game: Toy Commander. Other titles followed, such as Toy Racer, Quake 3 Arena (coding only) and Agartha, which was cancelled.
Following Sega's abandonment as a console manufacturer, the company will cease operations in 2001.
The history of No Cliché
In 1992 the game Alone in the Dark was released by Infogrames. It is considered today as the precursor of survival-horror. The game created by Frédérick and a team of 7 people allowed its author to become known to the general public and to make a name for himself internationally.
In 1993, several disagreements with Infogrames and Frédérick Raynal forced the designer to leave the French publisher, accompanied by Didier Chanfray (quotes in italics on this page), and to found their own development company called Adeline Software. From this new entity, Little Big Adventure was born in less than 2 years, selling 500,000 copies (first edition). It was such a success that a second episode was immediately started. In the meantime, Time Commando was released on PS1 and PC. The year Little Big Adventure 2 was released (800,000 units sold) marked an important step in what would become the future No Cliché.
Sega had a roadmap, the management was striving to own European studios. The goal was to cater to all continents by offering players the style of game that best suited them. Japanese games tended not to sell well outside Japan (cultural differences). The manufacturer had signed up several large studios across the globe to enrich its future catalogue of titles to be released on Dreamcast.
«Sega was a great experience. I learned a lot, especially from the game designers. We had been to Japan a few times, we talked to other designers like Sega Rally, Sonic, Jet Set Radio, super humble guys. We had a good relationship.»
No Cliché at the 24 hours of Kart. They will beat those of the Eden studio. Frédérick Raynal's daughter was born the next day.
Sega's takeover of the studio was by chance. Every year, the Japanese company used to visit the members of Adeline Software. The company with the blue hedgehog was investigating to find external developers (Third Party) in order to program games on a new console, the Katana, which will become the Dreamcast. As in 1997 Delphine Groupe had decided to sell Adeline Software, Frédérick Raynal took the opportunity to point this out.
From left to right: Miyake-san and Oshino-san during a meal, in Lyon, with the No Cliché team. The third photo is an unused press photo.
Photo by the No Cliché team from the old website
«It was the first time we were with a manufacturer. I had been with a publisher, Infogrames, and then we were independent. It's another way of approaching production. There are no longer any financial problems, we were free of that!»
When No Cliché was for sale, Sega, but also Nintendo (Shigeru Miyamoto had liked LBA a lot) were in the running. The choice was between Sonic and Mario. Sega was chosen, because the characteristics of the future Dreamcast were impressive.
Sega had not really acquired Adeline Software. Licences like Little Big Adventure or Time Commando were not included in the buyout package. They only took over the contracts, the staff in a way. It was an opportunity for the Lyon team to work for the first time with a console manufacturer.
Didier Quentin (Senior Game Designer for Agartha)«We all knew each other very well, since No Cliché was built on a large part of the Adeline Software team. I remember that, very often, we celebrated birthdays in the studio, in the evening, after working hours. I think the studio carpet remembers that!»
The No Cliché team in photo (Time Commando era)
The bond between them made it possible to understand what each individual could bring to each of the No Cliché projects. They relied on the creativity of all the members of the development studio and everyone contributed to the daily running of the studio. This was a big part of a pleasant working atmosphere where everyone was aware that their skills were helping the projects they were assigned to.
Contrary to the name Adeline which had been imposed on them, this time they had the possibility to decide on the future name of the company and design the new logo of the development studio. They wanted something simple with French sounds, but also with English sounds. No Cliché was the perfect choice!
For the first collaboration with No Cliché, Sega wanted a multiplayer game with a target audience of 14 year old boys (teenagers). Agartha wasn't going to be for the moment, as the Japanese company didn't want an adventure game as the first software with the French team. Frédérick will still have to wait to make his baby!
«This was the only constraint given Sega's marketing and editorial position at the time.»
Structure of Sega France, with telephone number of the studio
Sega trusted them and, although they obviously had a studio-publisher relationship, they did a lot of work before showing them the progress they made on the games . Of course, Sega would sometimes be surprised by a direction they were taking or would want to control their creativity to make sure they had a game that could meet a large audience, but this was not something they felt on a daily basis. On the contrary, they felt free but knew that sometimes they had to defend their choices, which was quite normal.
And so the Toy Commander adventure began!
The Toy Commander adventure
Toy Commander, initially known under the working title "The Gutherman Project", had been in the works since the first versions of the Dreamcast development kits, PC graphics cards commonly known as SET 2, appeared. The trade press first mentioned the title on September 30, 1998 with a mysterious photo.
Mockup of Toy Commander menus with its code name
First test of the Toy Commander title screen
First test of a Toy Commander menu in connection with the Mockups above
Cutscene (Bumper), first test in connection with the Mockup above
I can't find an equivalent for this first test!
The kind of photo that is a pleasure to see, hoping that the CD-Rs are not rotten!
«Very quickly the idea of a little boy who dreamed of being a pilot came up, Gutherman may be the name of a famous aeroplane pilot, I don't really remember.»
No Cliché always used code names for its projects, Toy Commander came much later by careful choice of the marketing department. It was on May 12, 1999 that the final name of the Gutherman project was revealed, during the list of games presented at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) on the Sega booth.
At that time, the exact specifications of the console were not known. The Dreamcast controller did not yet exist, it was still at a conceptual stage. The first developers to work on Sega's latest console initially imagined their games on the model of the Saturn controllers. This was the case for the collective led by Frédérick Raynal.
The controller configuration based on a Saturn 3D pad
«There was an incredible challenge for the programmers, they liked it. The machines (development kits), at the beginning of the graphics cards, looked like nothing when we got them.»
Every time they received a new version of the development kit, a number of features already developed no longer worked. The programmers would roll up their sleeves and modify the code to make it compatible. Once the frustration was over, they were all amazed at the capabilities of the Dreamcast!
Didier Quentin :«Really, the Dreamcast was exceptional and should have had a much better fate.»
It was on his way home on the evening of the meeting with Sega to finalise the contract between the development studio and the console manufacturer that the story of toys flying around in a house was born in Didier Chanfray's imagination. Sneaking into his son's bedroom in his pyjamas, then aged 3 or 4, a slipper in one hand and a Lego in the other, he started bombing a Kapla block tower that his child had carefully erected before it collapsed. As you can imagine, the boy started to cry, what emotions!
«I like the angles in a house, the idea of having perspectives on the floor behind a cupboard, in the shoes. Graphically, it was not bad. It looked like Toy Story, except the toys didn't come to life.»
The interplay of perspectives in sketches
The next day, the idea was presented to Frederick. The following week, the first drawings were sketched. Everything went quickly, as 15 days after the first sketches, Sega approved the pitch for the game, which would feature multiplayer (flying and driving) battles with up to 4 fighters on a split screen. After all, that's what the Japanese company had asked No Cliché for, an addictive multiplayer title!
If the idea and the visual aspect of the game came from Didier, the structure, the arcade influence and the functionalities proposed in Toy Commander (Core Design) were imagined by F.Raynal.
Their sources of inspiration were diverse, such as the game by the publisher Acclaim Re-Volt or Micromachines by Codemasters. They played them regularly with each other.
All the resources of the small company in Lyon had been put into the development of Toy Commander. Twenty to twenty-five people had worked hard for 18 months to meet the deadlines so that the game could be released at the same time as the console in Europe.
«We've always made it a point not to spend too much time developing a game, because after a while it's a pain. It's not good for morale and you can miss trends.»
Some games smell like pain and others don't, but the development of Toy Commander went very well. There were no real surprises, except for a few performance problems that the technical team was able to solve quickly. In its early stages, the game ran at 3 frames per second. With a lot of optimization, the title became fluid.
«At the time, there was no game engine like Unreal Engine. We did everything ourselves. Making the tools is great because you quickly learn the constraints. We had already created a lot of tools, including some from Frédérick since Alone in The Dark, and even before.»
During the conceptual phase of Toy Commander, Didier Chanfray had to start from scratch. At the beginning, he had started with the model of a flat, an architect's villa. Exploring a modern house did not suit him. The setting didn't fit the idea of the game, the place where the boy and his family lived lacked a history. The atmosphere was cold. So it was decided to set the game in an old building, a sort of farmhouse to be renovated with a rustic feel. The rooms in old houses are often larger and higher than those in newer buildings. As Toy Commander would also allow the player to drive on the walls, this new approach brought more height and perspective to the rooms of the house that the player would visit.
The rooms of the house had been deliberately deformed or exaggerated to match the gameplay that Toy Commander was going to offer, since one of the particularities of the title was to be able to drive on the walls. By the way, a few years ago, someone had asked Didier Chanfray for the plans of the boy's house in order to build it for real!
When Sega America tested the game, they did not want it to be released as is. Indeed, the cat that you see everywhere in the levels, especially in the kitchen, had been drawn in a very realistic way, with its anus when you see it from behind. The Americans asked No Cliché to remove the cat's anus.
The game sold 280,000 copies for 1 million consoles sold. In Germany, Toy Commander enjoyed a certain notoriety, as a German electro band had used images from the game for their music video. No Cliché did not participate in the elaboration of the animations of the music video, they simply gave the authorization to do so.
«This is our best penetration rate, I've never done better.»
CD and music video of the song "I won't let you down
Toy Commander was taken as an example by Sega. Serge Plagnol, a former member of No Cliché and Associate Director of Product Development at Sega Europe, was tasked with touring Europe with the game's source code to show how the development team did it, and to highlight the possibilities of the Dreamcast.
«When you make a game, you have to deal with the toy first, that is, when you have a toy, do you have fun with it? When you have fun with it, you can tell a story. If you try to tell a story without having a toy, it's complicated. You always have to be interested in the toy!»
Toy Commander controller in hand and its prototypes to download
Toy Commander immersed the player in a childlike world. It was one of the most innovative games to be released on the Dreamcast. As the name suggests, toys played a predominant role in the adventure, in the video game experience. It was in fact a real toy war that took place in every room of a house.
The 3D realisation was beautiful. The graphics were very eye-catching with an amazing level of detail inside the rooms of the house. As you view things in the game from a toy’s perspective, the rooms in the house looked gigantic. We now know how ants see our world!
«I've got a lot of fun with it, because when I was a kid I used to play with a little car. I used to play on the walls, I used to drive around in the jam, doing kid's shit. I fell back into childhood, a bit! All this thanks to my son who opened my eyes all of a sudden!»
The programmers of No Cliché had paid particular attention to the laws of physics for the driving sensations of the miniature vehicles that the game offered.
«Technically the bar was super high, but we had a great technical team, artistically the guys were also great.»
The different angles of view and the physics of the vehicles
The scenario was simple but very effective. Some toys, lost in a corner of the house and under the influence of Hugolin, a teddy bear, decided to rebel against their owner, a young child with an innocent face. Eight toys had each taken possession of a part of the house: the kitchen and the dining room, the two children's bedrooms, the hall and the mezzanine, the garage and the workshop, the attic and the living room, the cellar constituting the final level where the diabolical Hugolin was hiding!
In connection with the parents' room, certainly. Father's book!
«The number of bosses to defeat was variable, you didn't have to get all the bosses to try and get to the end of the game. It was a particularity in the game design. It brought replayability to the game outside of scoring.»
With a significant lifespan, 50 missions to complete, you had to learn to fly children's toys to foil the plans of a terrible rebel bear. Whether at the wheel of a troop carrier or at the controls of a fighter plane (there are more than 35 different scale models to fly), the missions alternated between pure attack objectives (for example, destroying a Godzilla that was threatening the room) and more strategic objectives (recovering lost soldiers in the living room). Some bosses, which had to be fought in order to rally them to our cause, came to block our way. To do this, gadgets (ammunition and weapons) were hidden in the levels to defeat the enemies: eraser pencils, drawing pins, tiip-ex... A game without big bad guys to fight is no longer a game, right :)?
The weapons in drawings
The multiplayer mode could only delight all lovers of fratricidal battles or between friends, since it proposed frenzied games up to four simultaneously, the good old days of video game afternoons to prove to your buddies who was the best!
The player interface
The effect of jam on vehicles (collision)
With hindsight, Didier regrets not having been able to integrate a network game mode to Toy Commander. The Dreamcast's Online was not yet ready at that time. This feature would have appeared in a Toy Commander 2, if the Dreamcast had not met a tragic end. Mind you, Toy Commander 2 was never thought of by the No Cliché team at that time, but it goes without saying that a second one would be made.
The Dreamcast Prototypes of Toy Commander:
You can download the Toy Commander build (old release, BBA redump) below
You can download the Toy Commander build (new release) below
The differences between the two prototypes are minor. It is only the IP.BIN that changes, it is only a question of localisation.
Some sketches with their in-game equivalents
Each artist has a different stroke of the pen. Each game has a different look of drawings. This is what makes it interesting to study roughs outside the conceptual phase of a video game.
Didier Chanfray, art director on the No Cliché games, approached his sketches with an architectural drawing approach. His style was realistic, but the games they worked on had to respect real-life environments. There is also a little bit of a cartographic side, especially for Agartha.
For Toy Commander, one can feel that the elements on the original sketches have evolved a lot during the stage of their volume setting, of their modelling. For Agartha (to be discovered below), the In Game is 95% faithful to what was sketched on a sheet of paper.
RINGOLO, the boss clown, had been itching for rings for a while!
CYCLON, the robot boss, thought that nobody had a chance to defeat him!
A pick-up truck with a pencil sharpener rocket launcher mounted on the rear deck, what a fabulous idea to go back to childhood!
Who hasn't dreamed of becoming a F1 driver as a kid, and surpassing Alain Prost or Ayrton Senna?
Hangar 51, in connection with Area 51? This connection is too simple!
Do you know the Sherman tanks driven by Oddball in the movie "Kelly's Heroes"?
Agartha the revival of survival-horror
With Agartha, No Cliché and its designer Frédérick Raynal wanted to return to the survival-horror style for their new game. This idea had been germinating in the head of the author of the first Alone in The Dark for a while, even before Sega bought the company Adeline Software. It was with the Dreamcast, after the success of Toy Commander, that it was possible.
A loading of the game
Kirk and his grey beard!
«Agartha was started. Sega lost the war to Sony, but it wasn't for lack of money, at the time it was huge.»
Unfortunately, this ambitious project will be cancelled after the fall of Sega in 2001. Technical demos nevertheless allow us to imagine what Agartha could have looked like once its development was completed!
Compared to the rest of the team, Frérérick and Didier had learned quite early that Sega would stop making consoles. However, they decided to continue the development of Agartha, while keeping it a secret, in order to flesh out the CV of the members of No Cliché with mock-ups, the technical demos that we know. They still had to set a deadline of E3 2001, which explains the E3 name of one of the game's prototypes. No internal testing at Sega has been done for Agartha.
The E3 version of Agartha's prototype
The 2 x 2 metre model
Another view of the 2 x 2 metre model
The character's field of view
«We had finished the pre-production, we were starting the production when we knew that everything was going to stop. The assembly phase was missing, there were all the tools to make the game. We were 10% into the production itself, everything was well in place.»
Although a topographical plan had been drawn, the No Cliché team had made a 2 x 2 metre model to facilitate the creative process around Agartha. It also made it possible to visualise the game space.
As a counterpoint to young video game heroes of the time, Kirk was deliberately an older character with grey hair and a beard, a wise but flawed man who was able to make players fear the worst. This man in his fifties was very interested in various cultures, multitudes of beliefs and urban legends ....
From the design of the administrative building parts to their visits to the game
In the 2000s and even before, video game protagonists were often young men (maximum 40 years old) with a certain eloquence. They had to look good, chin hair was frowned upon!
Following an earthquake in a remote and inaccessible part of Romania, Kirk, with his backpack as an inventory, decided to go there to investigate the mysterious earthquake.
« At that time we were exploring new techniques to make the AD (art direction) a bit more realistic, we even scanned steaks to get textures.»
The cataclysm had opened a rift, a fault that could lead into the bowels of the planet, to the Hollow Earth. From this unnatural opening, triggered by a sect of fanatics, an epidemic was released. The inhabitants of the place began to vomit a bluish liquid before losing their human form!
The earthquake was intended to draw Kirk, but especially his half-sister, who was the focus of the cult, to the cursed place. She was the key to freeing the demons of the Hollow Earth.
The refuge is certainly not available on the prototypes
From the design of the hunter's house to its playable version
The aim of the cult was not to spread the disease, but to protect their environment and their more than dubious secret activities.
To learn more about Agartha and download its various prototypes, please click below
Toy Racer and its detailed prototypes
Just after the release of Toy Commander, Sega asked No Cliché to develop an online game in a very short time. As the Dreamcast was the first console equipped with a modem for online connectivity, Sega wanted to put this feature forward.
«Nobody understood what online was. We had to evangelise people to the network mode, hence the Toy Racer project to show and make known the online game.»
To save a considerable amount of time on the development of the game, the graphic universe and the engine of Toy Commander had been reused. The team dedicated to Toy Racer was really small, 5 people were working on this title, while the rest of the team was focusing on Agartha.
The Toy Racer logo
After about 4 to 5 months to design it, Toy Racer could finally land in the living rooms of the most assiduous gamers. Sega's idea was to sell it at a very low price in order to promote the game and the online capability of the Dreamcast.
Technically it was a very big challenge for the team as it was their first racing game and their first network game. In the late 90s, the online speed was ridiculous and the connection link unreliable.
«In the meantime, the technical team had done the Dreamcast port of Quak 3 Arena (code only). Technically, we had some great guys, they had done some amazing things.»
The Jeep Willys in volume
After braving the thousand and one dangers of Toy Commander's perilous missions, Guthy and his fertile imagination were back for a new series of domestic challenges.
Toy Racer was an arcade-style racing game using motorised and heavily armed miniature vehicles. The game was designed for multiplayer play, either split screen or online via the Dreamcast modem.
«Toy Racer was the laboratory for networked games.»
The circuits were to the scale of the [toy] vehicles, while the scenery was of standard dimensions. The player was immersed in a world made for giants. Each track had a theme that matched the room in which it was set. The originality of Toy Racer came from the layout of the tracks: they had variable gravity ramps that allowed the race to continue on the walls or ceiling.
The MULTIPLAYER mode could be used either locally, with up to four players on the same console in split-screen mode, or by connecting (one player per console) to the SEGA server via the console's built-in modem. Depending on the performance of the server, this allowed from four to eight players to play together.
All the vehicles made for Toy Commander were present, as well as a number of Toy Racer exclusive cars. In total, more than ten vehicles were available.
The Pick-Up in volume
The bonus boost in volume
There were four tracks, each with a theme appropriate to the room in which it was located. The track continued on the walls or ceiling with variable gravity ramps that allowed players to use these areas. Players rolling on the floor were often surprised by an opponent rolling on the ceiling in the other direction...
The nostalgic graphic context in which the player evolves, as well as the unconventional layout of the tracks, made Toy Racer a very original game.
This Toy Racer Dreamcast prototype dates from October 17, 2000, predating the final version of the "White Lady" by about 42 days.
Once the GD-R files were extracted, it turns out that No Cliché, to our great pleasure, had left a tool that was not intended to be seen by everyone. It is an application for the Toy Racer server.
A circuit in volume
Extrapolating, this device probably allowed access to what was happening online at the time of its use (number of races played, the server's Ping etc.). A text file is created and generated automatically each time the game is connected or the server application is used.
Currently, the tool does not work, the notebook document only reacts to what is happening in game.
Frantz Cournil (Projet manager) «This is the real Toy Racer server that was online to play multiplayer over the internet. Through Dream Arena (via the Dreamcast's modem) or in LAN with the Ethernet card option on the Dreamcast. This server allows to link remote players.»
The DP2.BAK file is also something specific to this build. The other prototype to be downloaded also has it.
The tiny logo mouahaha!
The "Presented by Sega" logo, before reaching the title screen, is smaller than usual.
On the title screen, the name "Press START" will be changed later to "Press START button" in the final version.
When entering the "Options" to configure the game according to your preferences, the build number V1.05 is not written as it should be.
Following the path "Options" - "Display" - "Screen Borders", the window is empty. Normally, a box with a light blue border should be displayed.
In the audio settings, 10 musical themes are missing. Only the song "Sequential" is in this prototype. The music of the No Clichés games was composed by Philippe Vachey.
Italians will finally be happy to have the possibility to choose their language in the language selection, their tricolour flag proudly stands alongside the others. This setting is new to the build, the game will display the texts in English. The Toy Racer prototype only allows you to play in English or French. For German and Spanish, the default language is English.
The Italians were not left behind!
All vehicles are unlocked
Online Debug Information
When choosing one of the vehicles to compete against the best players in the world, one of the two colours for the Sherman tank and the F1 car did not match between the prototypes and the final version. According to Frantz Cournil, this could be a case of self-censorship, especially because of the skull and crossbones on the World War II tank.
In the Toy Racer menus, the help buttons for navigating the various windows are shown in yellow as opposed to the final blue colour.
All cars, even the weird ones (bonus vehicle), are unlocked without having to progress in the game to unlock them.
When trying to establish a connection for network play with this prototypical version, debug information appears in the upper left corner.
The URL of the game's internet homepage is not correct. This beta was supposed to use a temporary address.
Once a game has started, a FPS counter is revealed in the bottom right corner of the screen.
If you drive the wrong way, a 5 second red countdown is triggered before the game moves the vehicle back in the right direction. The sound of each passing second differs from one version to another. Other sound issues are also noticeable, such as the countdown to the start at the beginning of the race, or when the car reappears on the road.
It would be interesting and welcome to explore this prototype online. It is possible that further debugging information could be displayed once the connection is established. As the ISO of this beta version of Toy Racer cannot be shared publicly, it would be inappropriate to ask someone to make its online mode functional.
You can download the Toy Racer Dreamcast build below
Toy Racer (Oct 17, 2000 Dreamcast Prototype)
I am not able to share the ISO of this first Toy Racer build, maybe in the future. I can however talk about it and show you some photos.
You can download another build of Toy Racer Dreamcast below
This build of Toy Racer, compared to the previous one, doesn't have any special features. The content is close to what will be in the commercial version. This prototype dates from November 18th 2000, 12 days before the master.
I would like to thank Didier Chanfray, Frédérick Raynal, Frantz Cournil and Didier Quentin: for their availability, their kindness, for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing some of their archives with us. Their testimonies bring new information about the history of No Cliché and the backstage of its original projects.
I thank all the people involved in the Toy Commander, Toy Racer, Quake 3 Arena and Agartha projects (MobyGames link under each game). When will Toy Commander Remaster or Agartha development be finished?
For the more adventurous among you, a Katana Dreamcast development kit used by No Cliché was discovered in 2021. It contains sources and more than 3000 textures of Quake 3 Arena, without forgetting a build of the game Agartha and a strange network tool "Flash Edit". You can download it among 9 other dev kits on the page: Dev Kit Katana Dreamcast Release
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