Interviewed by Matthew Patterson
Matthew Patterson interviews Lisa Tunnah (director/game designer/model builder)
Can you introduce yourself and the company you work for?
My name is Lisa and I’m the co-founder of Vulcan Software. My roles here are game designer, model builder and texture artist, and I make the best coffee, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Can you give us a little history of Vulcan Software please?
Vulcan was founded in 1994 by myself and my partner Paul Carrington. We started out as a development and publishing company for the Amiga platform, releasing a total of 15 titles over a period of 5 years. In 1999 we moved over to PC and began work on Mother3D, our 3D game engine and development tools, which form the basis of our FPS Hybrid. In the last couple of years we have also developed digital distribution software called the Vulcan Portal which hosts it’s own on-line community, and uses Mother technology for the 3D avatars that reside within it.
Can you tell us a little about Hybrid please?
Hybrid is a science fiction themed FPS designed with an adult audience in mind. The game is spread over three distinct locations and begins on the Navasota (a resource and cargo ship) en-route to Neptune. The player (who takes on the identity of engineer Lieutenant Marek Hale) is thrown very suddenly into the game as the ship is attacked by a hostile alien species, who proceed to board the vessel and begin harvesting the crew. The Navasota sustains damage in the attack and the self-destruct sequence is initialized, Marek must find the means to abandon ship before this eventuality, whilst defending himself against the initial onslaught of the alien hybrid race.
Having abandoned the Navasota, we find ourselves in the mining facility on Nereid, the aliens have taken over the complex and have begun to hybridize the original inhabitants. This second location is heavily populated with an array of alien characters who largely comprise the hierarchy of the species. The player must negotiate his way through the complex in order to carry out his main objective of sending a message back to earth, and ultimately destroying the facility. Details of the third and final location will be revealed at a later date.
What inspired you all to create Hybrid?
Our Mother engine has been in development for four years and is finally ready to give birth to it’s first game J. Seeing Mother’s capabilities is somewhat inspiring in itself, but over these past four years we have been following the progression of FPS games and the technology that drives them. Our observations of their shortcomings have contributed to many of the design principles that will make Hybrid stand out from the crowd.
“Eye-candy” is still the big selling point for the majority of FPS games, and although we believe that every game should possess stunning visuals, it shouldn’t constitute the main aspect of the experience on offer. I think that gamers expect stunning visuals and death defying high production values as standard, and it’s high time the odds were raised in the game-play department. I don’t wish to beat this old argument to death, and believe me I wouldn’t be waving my stick if I didn’t have something pretty substantial to back me up, which brings me onto your next question.
What makes your game special, why should our readers buy it?
Because it’s going to be a stunningly beautiful game to play. At the heart of Hybrid is the premise of interaction, the player will be able to fully interact with their environment, adding depth and immersion to the experience, similarly, the AI based characters will possess the same interactive capabilities as the player. They will be able to open and close doors and airlocks, operate computer consoles to start or stop machinery, or change the dynamics of a location, i.e. by turning off lights. They will be able to move objects around to create obstacles in your path, and they will be able to hide behind or inside them. Forget ambling towards another crewmembers dropped weapon, knowing for sure that it is yours for the taking. An enemy character may very well kick it out of reach, or worse still pick it up and use it against you. All of this is made possible by the way in which we build and define our game models.
Part of the Mother3D engine and development tools is an application called the Mother Model Creator (MMC). We build all of our game models in here and because of the high level of control we exercise over their creation, we can add many more definitions within each resulting model file than would otherwise be possible. The MMC allows us to define every animation for a model, and every sound it may ever emanate, it allows us to set up tagging information which is subsequently made available to AI based characters so they can interact with that model without us having to generate any further code to allow them to do so. The experience of encountering a game character that is aware of it’s environment to this degree is nothing less than extraordinary, and makes for some truly amazing game play scenarios.
Who is Hybrid aimed at?
Hybrid is going to appeal to gamers who currently play FPS games, and more broadly, gamers who are drawn to science fiction themed games in particular. Additionally Hybrid is a violent game with explicit and disturbing content, designed to appeal to an adult audience. The player will witness many disturbing scenes as they venture further into the Nereid based mining facility where the aliens have taken up residence, using the original human inhabitants as the latest addition to their organic supply chain. The player will encounter these “human victims” at various stages of their transition from human to hybrid, so nudity will be a factor in the context of laboratory situations. The vulnerability of the human victims is designed to psychologically disarm the player thus adding to the terrifying atmosphere of the game as a whole
As mentioned previously we look to other games really to provide us with a benchmark, rather than as a source of inspiration for content. However we do hold Half life in high regard for it’s expansion of AI boundaries at that time.
Which part of the game are you most enjoying working on?
At the moment I’m enjoying building the models the player will ultimately be able to interact with. I’ve just finished a personal console, which is one of the models assigned to the personal quarters of Marek Hale where you begin the game. It’s rewarding from my point of view because I get to set up the interactive capabilities of the models as I build them.
How long until we see the game on shelves?
There’s no specific release date for Hybrid yet, although we have a preliminary completion date of the end of the year.
What are the future plans for Vulcan Software?
Vulcan will continue to create high end games for the PC platform based on our Mother3D technology, which we will continue to evolve as hardware advances make more and more features possible.