MDK is a 1997 third-person shooter video game developed by Shiny Entertainment for Microsoft Windows. It was ported to Mac OS by Shokwave, and to the PlayStation by Neversoft. It was published on all systems by PIE in North America and Interplay Entertainment in Europe. The Windows version was released in April 1997, the Mac version in June and the PlayStation version in November. The game was released on GOG.com in September 2008, and on Steam in September 2009.
The game tells the story of Kurt Hectic, a janitor who reluctantly must attempt to save Earth from an alien invasion of gigantic strip mining city-size vehicles named “Minecrawlers”. These Minecrawlers are not only removing all of earth’s natural resources, but are also crushing any people and cities that get in their way. Aided by his boss, the (possibly) insane inventor/scientist Dr. Fluke Hawkins, and a genetically engineered robotic two-legged/four-armed dog named Bones (although he prefers Max), Kurt must infiltrate each Minecrawler, and fight his way to the pilot, whom he must then kill before returning to Hawkins’ in-orbit space station, the Jim Dandy.
Conceived and co-designed by Nick Bruty, MDK was Shiny’s first PC game, and was notable for using software rendering, requiring only a Pentium or equivalent microprocessor, rather than necessitating any GPU enhancements, despite its large 3D levels and complex polygon-based enemies. As the developers were attempting things never before seen in a PC game, they had to write their own programming language from scratch. Additionally, when in sniper mode, the player has the ability to zoom up to 100x, but the developers chose not to employ any of the standard solutions to pop-up, such as clipping or fogging. They also worked to ensure the game ran at a minimum of 30fps at all times on all machines. The game’s original system requirements were a 60MHz Pentium, 16MB of RAM, 17MB of hard drive storage, an SVGA compatible video card, and a Sound Blaster or equivalent sound card; modest specs even by the standards of the time.
MDK received generally positive reviews, with critics praising the gameplay, the level design, the sardonic sense of humor, the game’s technical accomplishments and, in particular, the use of sniper mode. The most oft repeated criticisms were that the game was too short and the story was weak. The game was a commercial success, and Interplay approached Bruty to work on a sequel immediately. However, he was already developing Giants: Citizen Kabuto, and so BioWare was hired to develop the game. MDK2 was published for Windows and the Dreamcast in 2000, and for the PlayStation 2 (as MDK 2: Armageddon) in 2001. In 2007, Interplay announced a third game was planned, but it was never made.
For the most part, MDK is a run-and-gun third-person shooter. However, it also features several minigames, and allows the player to enter first-person mode at any time they wish so as to use their sniper weapon. The basic design of the game involves distinct individual levels in which the player character, Kurt Hectic, must infiltrate a “Minecrawler”, fight his way through an array of enemies, tackle some rudimentary puzzles, and reach the control centre, where he must then eliminate the pilot in a boss fight. Every level is completely different, with different enemies, a different level design, a different aesthetic, and a different kind of control centre, with a different strategy required to eliminate each pilot.
During the standard run-and-gun gameplay, the player must frequently use Kurt’s “ribbon chute”, a parachute contained within his outfit that can be used indefinitely. The chute allows Kurt to make long jumps, survive long falls, and utilize updrafts. It deploys immediately, and retracts automatically when not being used. Kurt also has access to a smart bomb type feature, where he can call Max to fly a bomber over the battle area and drop bombs on the enemies. To call Max, however, firstly, Kurt must have collected an airstrike pickup within the game. He must then enter sniper mode to select the area he wants Max to target. Additionally, the airstrike can only be used in exterior locations on the Minecrawler. Other weaponry in the game includes, but is not limited to, grenades, “The World’s Most Interesting Bomb” (when Kurt throws the bomb, all enemies within the vicinity will approach it, at which point Kurt can detonate it), “The Very Large Hamster Hammer” (a giant hammer that causes the ground to vibrate violently, damaging any nearby enemies), and “The World’s Smallest Nuclear Explosion” (used for opening locked doors).
In addition to the standard run-and-gun/sniper modes, there are several additional gameplay modes in MDK. All levels start out with an “atmospheric entry” in which Kurt jumps from his base ship, the Jim Dandy space station, which is in orbit around Earth, to the Minecrawler on the planet’s surface. As he descends, the Minecrawler activates its radar, which, if touched, triggers the launch of anti-air missiles, which must be dodged. Some levels feature Kurt taking over an enemy bombing ship and performing bombing runs, some feature a glider which Kurt must ride to specific location. One level features several snowboarding sequences, where Kurt must navigate obstacles while destroying enemies. Additionally, once a level has been completed, the Minecrawler disintegrates, and is sucked back into the energy stream from which it emerged, taking Kurt with it. Kurt then has a set period of time in the energy stream, during which he pursues a health power-up, which, if collected grants 150% health for the start of the next level. If he touches the walls of the stream, he loses health and decelerates. At the end of the set period, Max will enter the stream on a tether and pull Kurt back to the Jim Dandy.
Kurt’s main defense against his enemies is his “Coil Suit,” a skin-tight armor made of a Kevlar-like material, and created on a “nuclear-blast proof sewing machine”. This suit serves as a bulletproof vest during the combat sections of the game, and also protects Kurt from friction and heat during the atmospheric entry sections. Kurt’s weapon is a chain gun, which is attached to his arm, and carries unlimited ammo. The other major weapon in the game is a sniper gun. This is created when Kurt detaches his chain gun from his arm and mounts it onto his helmet. The sniper weapon can zoom up to 100x, and has the capability of supporting five different types of ammunition, including homing missiles and mortar shells. Kurt does not actually see out of the helmet, rather, he sees out of a HUD, which he uses to aim. There are also three “Bullet Cams” that track each projectile and linger briefly after impact, showing any damage done. However, when Kurt is in sniper mode, he is unable to move, and can thus be easily targeted by enemies.
The enemies in MDK are a collective of aliens called “Streamriders” under the command of Gunter Glut. Each Minecrawler is manned primarily by various types of soldiers named “Grunts.” Some areas contain “Grunt generators” which create an infinite amount of enemies until destroyed. Apart from Grunts, and each Minecrawler’s unique pilot, Kurt will also encounter various types of robots, tanks, automated and manned turrets, animals, small attack ships, troop transport ships, and sentry drones.