Interviewed by Dennis Sloutsky
On the concluding day of our Buka week special feature, we bring you an appropriate ending. We've had the chance to speak to the lead game designer of Echelon: Wind Warriors, the highly anticipated sequel to Echelon, the futuristic flying simulation that has captured the hearts and minds of many players back in the day.
Hi, please introduce yourself and the company you work for.
Peter Porai-Koshits, lead gamedesigner of MADia ltd.
Please introduce the basic storyline of Echelon: WW for our readers.
By the year 2117 the process of disintegration of Galactic Empire became irreversible. By that time it had under its rule a space totaling more then 1500 cubic parsecs and could no longer effectively control neither its dominions nor transgalactic trade routes.
The Galaxy quickly descended into chaos. Civil war raged among the remains of what once was an enormously powerful empire. Planetary systems declared their independence one after another with Imperial military mercilessly crushing these rebellions using enormously destructive and unimaginably cruel from-orbit bombardments.
The planets thus attacked became unfit for any form life for many centuries with radiation level at their surfaces well in excess of 500 roentgen/hr.
As a result a massive exodus of population started from civilized planets to as yet unexplored areas of the Universe with not only civilians going but also combatants who were sick of this war and did not wish to take part in the atrocities.
In 2130 a squadron under Colonel William H. Bunny of the 3rd Imperial Guards mutinied. The Colonel refused to destroy two populated planets in Regis-IV system and was declared an outlaw. Nothing was heard of his squadron until two months later when it appeared on orbit around Arcadia-XV – a planet where several top military academies were stationed and also the one where the families of the mutineers lived. Planet defenses for some reason failed to attack Colonel Bunny's squadron (the inquiry into this misdemeanor is attached). The squadron remained on the orbit for 36 hours and then left for unknown destination having taken their families and other volunteers together with a large quantity of ground vehicles and equipment.
Obviously, the Colonel decided to colonize one of many uninhabited planets in the Galaxy.
By the year 2135 the proportion of terrestrial type planets where humans could live without using life-support systems ("Terra-Type A" planets) was under 4,5% and the fierce battles typical of that period were fought primarily for the control of these planets.
The culmination of the Civil War was in 2140. At this time the war became a series of local conflicts fought on the surfaces of TTA planets with combatants using plasma (or "clean" as they called it) weapons.
In place of the old Empire a Galactic Federation of Free Planets emerged and started to grow quickly.
In less than 100 years scientific and economic potential of the Federation reached the level of former Empire and standard of living of its population far exceeded the highest achieved by the Empire in 2113. By that time various colonies which survived fratricidal wars against each other established stable trade and social relations with their former home planets.
In 2320 in Sector 1022 a federal patrol ship "Vanguard" established contact with an unknown cruiser which came out of an artificially created space instability zone which is now called Zero-T-Channel. There were people on board the ship or beings virtually undistinguishable from people. It appeared they were descendants of one of many lost imperial colonies on a planet called Velian.
Velian was colonized in 2142 and in 2149 the colonists discovered an alien facility in perfect operational order. Its owners abandoned the facility several centuries before for unknown reasons. After studying alien technology for a number of years, the Velinas made a series of spectacular breakthroughs in two areas of science: bioengineering (gene engineering, cloning and creation of cyborgs) and zero transportation (Zero-Т, i.e. instant transfer of objects from one place to another). Velians successfully colonized nearby systems building a network of Zero-T stations.
According to unconfirmed reports for the last 100 years Velians were fighting internal wars. Federation has no information as to the cause or character of these wars. We still don't know whom they were fighting and why.
Barely a year after meeting a Velian starship the Federation signed an agreement with Velian for creating and jointly operating a galactic network of Zero-T stations. Nearly every large colony received one or even several Velian Zero-T complexes. Trade between planets grew enormously as well as industrial production. Standards of living soared and far exceeded those of 2113 when the Empire was at its prime.
At the same time, use of Velian gene technology was banned throughout the Federation.
"Zero expansion". Totally unexpectedly, Velians seized over control of all Zero-T complexes in the Federation. Zero-T stations turned out to be a "trojan hose" 'kindly' presented by the Velians to nearly every planet in the Federation.
More than that, under pretence that the device was an essential part of any Zero-T system, the Velians had installed in every Zero-T complex a suppression field generator, also a product of alien technologies, which rendered these stations absolutely impregnable to any attack using ordinary military hardware. With this generator on, all military electronics within its effective range ceased to function. Gravitational engines became unsynchronized, on-board computers, remote sensors, targeting systems, fire control systems, weapons systems, plasma cannons and all kinds of other equipment were just so much junk. Whereas the enemy had the opportunity of momentarily switching the field off to launch a surprise attack and instantly switching it back on to prevent a retaliatory strike.
Whole Federal military units were caught unawares and left helpless at the mercy of Velian cyborgs controlled by beings only distantly resembling humans.
Having thus seized control of all Zero-T portals, Velians launched a coordinated attack against peaceful planets with hordes of Velian troops pouring from Zero-T portals. Velian invasion units were quickly deployed on all strategically important planets of the Federation. Through the streets of peaceful cities marched columns of cyborgs ruthlessly crushing any real or suspected resistance.
What kind of game Echelon: WW is? Can you classify it as more of an arcade/action game or a full-scaled flying simulator?
This is undoubtedly arcade/action game. However, despite this trend, we tried to include with the game features of hardcore simulations as much as possible. Such features which at least impede gameplay but add some enchanting touch of genuineness of events, genuineness of the world created in the game and genuineness of player’s existence in that world. Thus we hope the game will attract both strict simulations fans, especially those ones who are tired a little with rigorous rules and just want to amuse themselves, and simple arcade fans, especially those who at heart strive for some new sensations at least somehow related to simulations.
To say more, we’d like to note liberalism of our game concerning input controls. Though most simulations give an ultimate advantage to joystick, making it nearly impossible to control a craft with mouse, while most arcades, and shooters especially, make mouse the main implement, in Echelon, due to the mode eMouse (Echelon Mouse) of our development, mouse and joystick are completely equitable as control devices. In multiplayer games, it’s still a question what is better, as the winning scores of both styles adepts are fairly equal.
What is the size of a typical game map?
Several tens of thousands square kilometers.
We chose not to make separate small maps for every mission. We’ve created two big isles (or two small continents) where the game events are taking place.
While creating these terrains, we tried to make a realistic landscape of another planet. We were making almost nothing purposely for some missions. Just the opposite: working at mission scenario, its creators were studying maps planning like real warlords where and how it is better to strike, where defense lines can be considering terrain folds, at what distance from the base support will be available, and so on.
How many missions will be included with the game?
There will be near 50 missions in the game. Here are their main types, though each specific mission can use several plots smoothly spilling over from one to another:
1)Attacking enemy base with bombers.
2)Support for bombers’ attacking enemy base – air-cover by fighters.
3)Defending friendly base against enemy air assaults.
4)Defending enemy base against enemy ground assaults – bombing hostile assault columns.
Enemy base can mean a fortified base itself, or just a ground force, or sea or air carrier.
How many game units are available to choose from in the game and what are they?
There will be some 40 different flying crafts (and they vary not only in appearance, but have fundamentally different parameters), some 20 types of ground vehicles, hundreds of structures of various looks and purposes in the game.
The player will have an opportunity of operating 21 different flying crafts. They are divided into the following classes:
Fighters (BFF). 6 types. The most frequent option for the player. Max speed is about 600 kph, excellent maneuverability.
Interceptors (INT). 5 types. They are more complicated in control, requiring special skills. Max speed is about 1300 kph, maneuverability restricted.
Heavy bombers. 5 types. They are hard to control, vulnerable from air, being used to exterminate ground objects. Max speed is about 500 kph, maneuverability is poor.
Stealth scout. 1 type. Max speed is about 500 kph, maneuverability average.
Air transports. 4 types. Max speed is about 300 kph, maneuverability average.
All flying crafts (except for transports) may be equipped with weapon of 2-3 types at player’s choice. Especially heavy weapons can be placed only to bombers.
What kinds of weapons does the player have access to?
The main type of weapons for the player is Plasma weapons.
PPC – pulse plasma cannon
High rate of fire, long range, little power.
MPC – medium plasma cannon
Average rate of fire, average range, average power.
APC – advanced plasma cannon
Low rate of fire, super long range, high power.
Ammo is limited only by power and functionality of on-board reactor, thus is nearly endless.
But to fight enemy within the Suppressing Field the enemy uses, the gunmen had to return to old-fashioned fire-arms. They have less impressive parameters and limited ammo, but, in contrast to plasma, work inside the Suppressing Field.
BG – light machine gun
HG – heave machine gun
BC – light cannon
AC – advanced cannon
For far air targets the player may also use
GM – guided missile
GMx2 – double bracket guided missile
For attacking ground targets the player may use cassettes with unguided missiles:
PRx8 PRx16 – plasma missiles, doesn’t work in the Suppressing Field
UMx8 UMx16 – unguided rockets, work in the Suppressing Field
Heavier analogues of the weapons listed above can be placed to bombers:
HPC – heavy plasma cannon
HC – heavy cannon
TPD – heavy air-to-surface missiles.
Does the player receive upgrades and/or better statistics as he advances through the game?
Yes. As the campaign develops, the unit where the player serves gradually gains new equipment, crafts and weapons.
In what time frame is Echelon: WW happening comparing to the original Echelon?
The events of the first Echelon take place against a background of Wind Warriors. Chronologically, WW begins a little earlier than Echelon and finishes later. Some missions take places in the regions already familiar to the player from the first Echelon. The player even can occasionally see the flight Alpha from Echelon on duty and hear radio talks he remembers from the first game. And the storyline is the same on the whole. Aliens have invaded the planet and the player is opposing them being in the federation military forces. But now he is a hardened experienced wolf, veteran of many battles, so he is entrusted for more important tasks from the very beginning.
While in the first Echelon the final mission is attack to the central enemy base on the continent, we watch this battle from aside in WW, and then the main character is transferred to another continent, to Arctic, in order to make sure there is no enemy left there.
What are the major improvements/advances of WW comparing to the original Echelon?
1) Graphical aspect has not undergone any serious changes.
Some adjustments for graphic details were expanded to higher level of detail.
Vast forests were added.
Multiple lights, lamps, smokes and some minor animation were added as well.
The appearance of most effects (explosions, dust, smoke, flame, etc) was elaborated thoroughly, their spectrum and diversity were increased.
2) The menu system was completely revised.
Its appearance and design were entirely changed.
Menus of search and choosing servers in Internet in GameSpy system were added.
The ideology of keeping player’s personal file was changed. Now there can be several users of the game on one PC. The history of advancing through the game is being recorded for each such user. He can look at all his past data at any time, viewing briefings, films, general and specific for a mission statistics, textual, audio and video files in his dossier. He also can launch any of missions passed and/or return the whole game to this mission.
3) Computer pilots’ AI was enhanced.
Now AI attacks targets avoiding damaging his friendly units, AI tries to evade collisions with other crafts or buildings and reports the leader on tasks accomplished. From other hand, we try to introduce an element of “humanity” into AI behavior and if we manage to do this, AI will make some errors in nervous situation. For example, a severely damaged or under point-blanc craft can crush ground by mistake.
AI of ground units is also enhanced. Tanks now find the shortest route through cross-country terrain faster, use roads and bridges in a more accurate and correct manner.
4) New game objects were added.
Four new flying crafts for the player to operate. New enemy fighter. Several new types of weapon. New ground vehicles and plenty of new ground structures.
5) The attitude to mission creation was changed considerably.
The storyline connecting missions in whole was thoroughly elaborated. Smooth increase in difficulty from the beginning of the game to the end was tracked. Variants of transitions from one mission to another now often depend on the player’s actions in the last mission, and not only simple “success/failure” is the criteria. In many missions the need for the player to interact not only with his second wingmen, but with other units on the battlefield as well, is emphasized. Number of script scenes was increased.
6) Multiplayer was worked over completely.
The net protocol was improved in order to make it possible for clients with poor connect to play in Internet not spoiling the game for clients with good connect.
Number of diagnostic massages was increased, which helps to understand the causes of multiplayer troubles any specific client has.
Support for GameSpy was created.
Many changes of gameplay was introduced to multiplayer according to wishes of first version Echelon users.
A lot of people have genuinely enjoyed the original Echelon but were disappointed by the amount of bugs encountered in the game... What can you tell them about WW in that regard?
We don’t consider the number of bugs in the first Echelon to be extremely high. Of course, there were some bugs in the game, but no more than in any new game just released.
Moreover, most these bugs were connected with multiplayer mode and didn’t spoil singleplayer.
The problem was in the local publisher’s support for the game, in the quality of testing and further release of the patch.
I hope this time such problems will not emerge at all or will be fixed quickly.
What graphics engine is Echelon: WW using?
Considerably improved and advanced engine of the first Echelon.
What are the new abilities of the graphics engine comparing to the original Echelon?
Many new animations were added, mostly light (lamps, flares, searchlights) and smoke (engine damage, froth traces behind ships on the water).
The eventual nVIDIA vs. ATI question... Is the graphics engine optimized for nVIDIA, ATI video cards or both?
The engine is optimized for work with DirectX 8 and, correspondingly, with any video card fully supporting DirectX.
Before mass spread of GeForce3 it was possible to say that Echelon had some bent to ATI, supporting some features of Radeon which NVIDIA chips didn’t have until GF3 emerged.
As for now, no difference exists.
What is the optimum system configuration needed to run WW in all its glory?
PIII 1 Ghz, 128Mb ram, GF3 or Radeon8500, SBLive.
What can you tell us about the multiplayer modes in Echelon: WW?
There are common deathmatch, common teamplay, teamplay “capture the fort” and coop play realized in Echelon. Number of players is limited only by the resources of a server and its connection.
While working at multiplayer modes we paid main attention to the balance and diversity of gameplay in the common deathmatch. If we’ve succeeded with it (and it seems we have for battles among the team members are taking place for long and still with interest) all other kinds of multiplayer will also be interesting. And this means that having a mission editor (and we are planning to release it), players will have an opportunity of enhancing multiplayer and creating missions of their own.
Coop play stands aside. If the game is interesting in single player mode, players always desire to taste it in cooperation, and we give them such an opportunity. Coop play makes it possible to pass the main campaign by a team of up to 4 players (or less – 2-3), while missions become more complicated and players can face situations they have not found in single mode.
Do you plan to bundle the game with a server-finding utility such as Gamespy, or do you plan on using an in-game interface for those matters?
Yes, Echelon supports the GameSpy system and has a built-in search for servers in GameSpy.
What makes Echelon: WW a unique experience?
The first thing to be mentioned is that the genre is quite unusual. A fair number of games simulating “star wars”, future space battles, exists. The number of simulations for contemporary or historic flying crafts is no less. But in Echelon the action takes place at a low altitude above the intricate landscape, and it is a fantastic simulation of future crafts operating near the surface of a planet, whish is quite rare thing.
In most aircraft simulations the most of the action takes place at a great altitude. The surface is not depicted in great details, both geometrically and considering textures, but this fact is not obvious due to great altitude. But the range of sight is usually no less than ten kilometers, if not several tens kilometers.
By contrast, if we take First Person Shooters, they have very detailed surface, its textures, geometry, buildings and other surface details. This strongly restricts the range of sight to 2-3 km, what is not a matter of life for this genre.
On one hand, Echelon is an aircraft simulation, so the game needs a long range of sight at least for laying the route. On the other hand, the most battles in the game take place at extremely low heights with active interaction with or opposing ground units, therefore the game needs detailed picture of the ground surface and objects on it, and it must be done so, that the player can always feel his altitude and speed as he has almost no time for looking at indicators in combat.
That’s why it can be said that the main feature of the Echelon’s engine is detailed picture of the ground surface, ground buildings, small ground “scale” objects, detailed representation of all effects on the surface (dust, explosions, shadows, flashes, sparkles) along with a rather great range of sight and possibility of a bird-eye view of the planet.
Any last words for our readers?
To the reader:
You can run kid but you can't hide. (С) Top Gun