Interviewed by Dennis S. and Helium02
Please introduce yourself, the company you work for and your role in the development process of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Hello there, my name is Andrey Salnikov, PR manager with GSC Game World. Our company is occupying the leading position in the Ukrainian game development market. The world game community and development community knows us as the developers of the historical real-time strategies like “Cossacks: European wars” and its two follow-up addons “Cossacks: The Art of War” and “Cossacks: Back to War”, recently released real-time strategy title “American Conquest”, tactical shooter ┬┬źVenom: Codename Outbreak┬┬╗ and super-speed arcade racing ┬┬źHoverAce┬┬╗. At the moment our team is busy with development of the following projects: arcade first-person shooter ┬┬źFireStarter┬┬╗, historical RTS ┬┬źCossacks 2: Napoleonic Wars┬┬╗ and survival action/RPG ┬┬źS.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost┬┬╗.
Obviously judging by its name, S.T.A.L.K.E.R was influenced by Andrey Tarkovsky's movie with a similar name, which in turn was influenced by the book Roadside Picnic written by the Strugatsky brothers. Could you give our readers a brief introduction of what the book and movie were about and what the game took from both of them? Are there any events in the game that were taken from the movie or the book?
The idea of developing a game setup around the infamous Chernobyl area has been teasing our minds for quite a long time. “Roadside Picnic” by Strugatsky brothers and Tarkovskiy subsequent replication of the same book on the screen served us as spring-board to put all the three ingredients in the same cauldron. We have created a story about a mysterious industrial disaster zone full of the inexplicable. The game will feature a number of the real and imaginary things like stalkers, anomaly formations, artifacts etc. With this game we also wanted to voice a warning about the possible consequences of a human negligence, carelessness and a blind hunt for technological progress.
To ensure a more real-life perception of the game environment we (note that approximately 60% of game architecture has its real prototypes in Chernobyl zone) we made two field trips to the Exclusion zone. We felt the need to get a real feel of the atmosphere of dismay and despair that ushered the forlorn cities, feel of insane solitude and doom, and even fear that makes people do wild things. In other words we tried to experience a little bit of real stalker’s life, that explore the zone in search for artifacts. Artifacts are in great demand by dealers and scientists ready to pay well to get them. The player joins this world as a newbie stalker making his first steps towards exploring the Zone, its dangerous and altering world, eventually trying to solve it’s secret and fathom the powers behind it.
The screenshots show a high-detailed game, what graphics engine is used for developing it? Have you used it before? Tell us about some of its unique features.
The game will be powered by an exclusive in-house X-ray engine. This versatile engine incorporates most state-of-the-art technologies to ensure the best play experience. Supporting both indoor and vast outdoor spaces, the X-ray will do up to 3 000 000 polygons per frame; high quality bump-mapping; soft shadows cast by all of the objects onto everything; volumetric fog; Particle system with real physics, screen post-processing, shading, wind, reaction to pressing, turbulent flows, dynamic change of day and night; weather effects. This is just a small excerpt of what X-ray can do. For more detailed information click the link http://www.stalker-game.com/index.php?t=engine&rnd=9713
On the official site nVIDIA is listed as a “technical partner” - does that mean the game will be specifically optimized for cards using their chipset? If so, which nVIDIA exclusive features will it include?
Nvidia is a technical partner for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and we work closely with them to ensure best possible optimization for their FX boards. Geforce FX offers excellent shader possibilities, and we will be using that extensively. We design a dedicated renderer for DirectX 9 class hardware with fully real-time dynamic lighting, soft, physically correct shadows cast from everything onto everything, true per-pixel lighting, 1-3 millions of polys per frame, etc.
What kinds of weapons will the game contain? Are most of them imaginary or have real-life equivalents?
We are planning a weaponry stack of 30 items total. These will include as conventional guns used by many countries for law enforcement bodies and armed forces such as PMM (Makarov pistol), Browning Hi-Power pistol, well-known and wide-spread AK-47 submachine-gun, as well as weapons of recent design such as FN 2000 and Fort pistol; you can also expect to see some special guns with psychotropic effects, artifact weaponry and more. Weapons are going to be extensively modifiable, which means you can create a super assault rifle out of a common AK-47, by purchasing and installing various attached gun bits.
Will the gamer be able to interact with everything in sight like in Operation-Flashpoint or Red Faction? What vehicles will we see and drive?
The player will come across a wide variety of vehicles – cars, trucks, jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. Almost every one of them will be available for use, to cover greater distances at a shorter time and transport more a various items. Now the player is limited to the ground vehicles only, though initially we wanted to make helicopters like Mi-24 available for flying, but in the development run we realized that it could impair the gameplay. You will be able to drive good old Lada Niva, rusty Moskvich or Kamaz truck, however having bought it you will have to take care of the fuel and protective equipment as well, so that travel across dangerous parts of the zone is possible. If you’re lucky enough you can come across a car in good order – then you’re free to claim it. Physics-wise, the game world will provide ample interaction opportunities, as the Zone will offer interactive bits of industrial trash, crates, barrels etc; destructible glass, lamps, objects to throw, push and so on.
How many single-player missions do you plan to include in the final game version? Will there be sub-levels in every main mission? Tell us briefly about the typical game missions, possibly giving some examples.
We have rejected linear gameplay, in favor of letting the player do what he wants and go where he feels like. Examples of such approach could be games like Elite, Daggerfall и Fallout. The player will traverse an immense 30 sq. km world of the Zone, earn money and build up his personal skills. In other words he will follow a very flexible storyline towards the end of the game. The Zone will consist of approx. 15 levels with their size varying from 1 to 5 sq. km. The player will be able to explore any and every corner of it, though some areas will require more sophisticated equipment to resist the deadly anomalous formations. Exploring this mysterious world the player will be able to accomplish a massive number of quests and get all sorts of rewarding. For instance, a dealer asks you to bring him a precious artifact from the Zone, mentioning he had given the same job to another stalker who left a couple months ago and never returned. You went to locate the artifact and lying next to, you realized, is a dead stalker mentioned by the dealer. You bury him and come back to the dealer, who gives you a night-vision gadget as a reward. The player will be absolutely free to set the priority of the quests received and free the dump some of them if he feels like it, or if they are too dangerous for him at this point of time.
The same quest could be given to several stalkers (NPC) who will try to accomplish it themselves. On such occasions really dramatic scenes could happen, when two stalkers kill each other over the same artifact. The one that survives the fight will be stained with the murderer reputation (if witnessed) and this will change the attitude among other stalkers and dealers.
Are there any special character skills available in this game? If so, tell us about these skills. Is there anything new in Stalker characters?
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an action/role-playing game, where we do not provide for growing experience of your character by changing characteristics or levels. We do this pursuing the only goal - the player should work out his personal mastery and skills, rather than those of his character. We believe that changing characteristics, levels and character experience are detrimental to realism we create in the game. As far as the rest is concerned, you have it as virtually in any normal RPG - you travel the Zone, collect artifacts, weapons, reveal spots of anomalous energy, communicate and trade with characters etc. By earning money, buying new equipment and weapons the player can reveal new parts of the Zone previously inaccessible to him. I.e. those, which you won't initially reach with a pistol and simple detector.
Speaking about characteristics, we compare the player with a soldier on a mission. Prior to the mission, he is trained for it, but once on it, he cannot improve his skills drastically as he’s preoccupied with mission accomplishment. Additionally, we believe that classic system of skills can be justified in third-person-view games, when nothing depends on the player's actions, like in Diablo, for instance. The player can only click on opponent - then dice are cast and, basing on skills, mathematical calculations are done. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. this is the player's mastery which grows, and not abstract skills of a model on the screen. If the player has mastered weapon peculiarities, knows weak spots of the enemies, knows equipment and Zone anomalies, has an excellent reaction and accuracy etc - he gets an appropriate result. So everything will be really dependent on the player himself here.
Will the game have multiplayer mode support? If so, which modes will be included and for how many players?
The multiplayer mode has become virtually essential to any computer game, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is among them. We are planning to have a set of standard popular modes, such as Deathmatch, CTF and cooperative. We also work on some original team play modes, for example, MutantsVsHumans. The multiplayer will most likely support us to 32 players in a game.
How long do you project will it take you to complete the game development? What difficulties are you facing, if any? How big is the staff working on it?
We have been developing the X-ray engine through the last two years, and it’s about one year ago that we got down to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. We project to release the game before the end of 2003.
Will you consider developing an add-on or sequel to the game if the sales go well or do you already have such plans?
We are certainly thinking of making a sequel provided the project is successful, but its too early too talk about that. Let’s see the game release first.
Do you already have international publishing partners for the game outside of Russia? If so, who are they?
Now we are finalizing the negotiations with a world-wide publisher. We will disclose the details once the contract is signed. The CIS (former USSR) territory publisher is Russobit-M.
Why do you think an action gamer must have this game?
I will not make any absolute statements like every first-person shooter fan should have this game in his collection. But if you’re looking for intriguing and blood-chilling storyline, tremendous interactivity of the game world, stockpile of weapons and vehicles available for driving, mind-blowing photorealistic graphics and a complete freedom of movements, canny and devious AI, eerie and bloodthirsty monsters and smart NPCs, multiplayer modes etc, etc. then this game is for You.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
On behalf of the whole ┬┬źS.T.A.L.K.E.R.┬┬╗ project team I would like to thank the community for their genuine interest and involvement in our game. Your feedback supplies us with additional inspiration and confidence of being on the right path with the project. Good luck and thank you for the support!