Available: Q4 2003
By: GSC Game World
Website: http://www.firestarter-game.com

Interviewed by Dennis Sloutsky

Hi, please introduce yourself and the company you work for to our readers, state past projects if possible.

My name is Slava Klimov. I’m the FireStarter Project Lead. My previous experience includes work on Hover Ace, as the Lead Programmer. Our company is called GSC Game World and we are the leading Ukrainian game developing studio which has been in the market since 1995. Our portfolio includes such titles as Cossacks: European Wars, its two add-ons Cossacks: The Art of War and Cossacks: Back to War; a tactical 3D shooter Codename: Outbreak, arcade combat racer Hover Ace, and a historical RTS American Conquest. Currently in development are American Conquest: Fight Back, Cossacks 2, FireStarter and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost.

Can you tell us the basic storyline/plot of Firestarter?

The game is set in a distant future when virtual reality machines are as common as cars in the street. During one of the virtual reality game sessions, the master computer goes insane to capture the mind of the player and change the rules of the game. Now the player is to withstand vicious attacks of hordes of monsters, supplied with weapons and air for no more that 48 hours. If you fail to play through all the levels imposed by crazy machine, you lose in the game, pretty simple.
To make the player believe he’s inside a virtual reality machine, we’ll introduce certain effects, such as behind-the-scenes voice of the computer, some “matrix” effects as well as function glitches of the machine.

Where does most of the action take place? Who are your enemies?

There are 16 levels in Firestarter. Any single player level can be selected for gaming in multiplayer. All single player levels are split into 4 episodes (such as Industrial, Empire etc) each containing 4 levels. Most of the levels are indoor or pseudo-outdoor ones. Talking about the level design, it is fully futuristic. We focus our efforts on four main topics – industrial, imperial, space and excavations, but these rather serve as directional points for the general design, than tie us to certain style. Talking about the level design, it should be noted that every level will consist of zones with only one of them reachable once you start the level. But others will unblock as you go (or creep, or strafe, or hide ;-) ) through the level. This is a good tool on one hand to keep the where-the-hell-am-I factor low, by temporarily confining the travel space for the player.

What are the objectives you have to complete in missions? How many of them will there be?

Speaking about missions and the in-game tasks, the word “survival” comes to mind, followed by “grinding action” collocation :-) . All the missions are designed to keep the player constantly alert. The player will need to survive within a certain time stretch while monsters will press on aggressively, at the end of the each episode the player will be challenged against a boss monster. A good deal of variety will be introduced with upgradable character parameters and skills, artifacts to pick up etc.

What kinds of monsters will there be and what will their special abilities/attacks be?

Monsters in Firestarter are split into 3 classes: zombies, demons and robots. All the monsters differ not only in their looks, but also in types of armament, combat tactics, AI and more. For example, Ghoul is pretty basic a monster of demon class, poorly protected and attacking with his bare hands, dangerous only when teams up with a dozen of his kin, whereas Colossus, for instance, is a military robot of upper class, heavily armored, possessing incredible fire rate and can hardly be killed unless you stuff him with a good load of mega rockets. Monsters in FireStarter will oppose with a variety of weapons including pole axes, xeon lasers, thermal missiles, napalm and much more. Some of them possess very special abilities, such as venomous insect breeding, for example. Anthropoid demon “Haymaker” can transmit the coordinates of the enemy to other demons, and by turning his back to the player he becomes invisible. You will find out of more from the very game :-) .

How intelligent will their AI be? Will they be able to work as groups, provide support for each other, etc..?

They will most certainly not be skilled to play chess with you :-) . On the other hand what is believed to be cool AI today? Monsters retreating, calling for help, attacking in groups, coordinating their action? The top AI in our view is the one that will leave the player with zilch chances to win. Our monsters will have the AI necessary to make the game interesting. Some monsters will have as much as reflexes, others like “Dragon” will have unique decision making system. Because of his low movement speed and extra strong armor the Dragon will avoid open spaces, block narrow corridors and provoke the player into close combat.

What kinds of weapons will the player be able to choose from? Will any vehicles be included?

With FireStarter the player will get a decent arsenal of 20 weapons, 10 light and 10 heavy modifications. The weapon used will depend on the level of the character and certain game situation. There will be a lot of original weapons except for, say, classical sub-machine gun and shotgun. For example, mortar with nuclear mines, or grenade launcher in light and heavy modifications. The modifications will affect the way the weapon looks and shoots. The light modification will provide the player with three types of projectiles – unguided missiles (standard type), flare rockets (to blind an enemy) and cluster rockets each surprising monsters with ten smaller warheads with thermal tracking system. If this yet seems enough, we are not going to agree, check out the grenade launcher in heavy modification: besides three of the above mentioned shells, the heavy modification grenade launcher will excite you with guiding missiles, super-sonic mini-rockets, mega-missiles (flying torpedoes with enormous hitting range), on top of all that with accurate, but rare penetrative missiles carrying several warheads, with first warhead exploding inside of the monster and the rest flying ahead. Since December 2002 the web-site www.firestarter-game.com has been housing regular updates on the game, as well as a number of weapon tricks.

Which games can Firestarter be compared to?

In terms of atmosphere, the closest ones would be Aliens vs Predators and Serious Sam.

Firestarter is being advertised as “First Person Shooter with RPG elements”. Can you elaborate on the game genre name for us?

Firestarter is a game for good old hardcore arcade first person action. You can free your mind, run round and send packs of bloodthirsty monsters to hell. On the other hand the RPG slant of FireStarter will make this quest (if you like) somewhat easier for you. Each character will have 3 basic parameters: Health, Armor and Speed. Besides that there will be two skills depending on the type of the character. Heavier characters will get to develop “brutal force skills” like using a weapon with each of your hands, whereas lighter characters like Agent will get to develop skills that will help them to dodge monsters and their shots easier by jumping longer and running faster etc. As the player progresses through the game by killing monsters he will be granted experience points based on the type and number of monsters slaughtered. Bigger monsters mean more experience. At the level up stages the player will get three basic parameters upgraded automatically to keep the balance right and choose next level of his skills.

What makes Firestarter stand out of the crowd of released and upcoming first person shooters?

Intense action games come out in packs as well as their RPG colleagues, but I am not sure I can remember a good combination of RPG and FPS on the market. Just think with what extra might you will be crashing monsters anticipating to upgrade armor, learn how to shoot with two hands, hop around like a kangaroo and more at your choice. The most attractive thing about RPG elements in FireStarter is that new tricks will be revealed as you play through, opening up new weapons and strategies. The RPG provides for great replayability, which is crucial, we believe.

The game screenshots look awesome. What graphics engine was used for game development? What are some of its unique features?

The game is developed on original high-tech engine The Firestarter Engine, which uses the possibilities of the latest accelerator generation GeForce 3, 4. Among the engine possibilities are work with outdoor and indoor areas, colored dynamic lighting, dynamic shadows, vertex and pixel shaders, T&L, procedure textures, various classes of particle system-based effects, interactive and destructible level objects, realistic physics, high-polygonal character and monster models (up to 5000 of polygons), skeleton animation.

What are the recommended system requirements if one would want to run the game on the highest resolution available with all the features tuned on to maximum?

An analogue of 1.2 Gig Athlon processor and GeForce 4 is greatly sufficient to enjoy the game in maximal quality and good performance.

Which graphics cards and processors will the game be optimized for? Basically, who wins in the end: nVIDIA or ATI, AMD or Intel?

The engine is optimized to the video cards of the GeForce3/Radeon9700 generation, although it runs smooth on every video board from GeForce2MX on. We don’t have support for special abilities of the cards of different producers, while we use their standard features only. As far as the CPU is concerned the engine holds optimization modules for Intel and AMD chips, as well as uses DirectX functions adjusted to specific processors.

Will the game use CGI-generated animations or scripted scenes to portray the cutscenes?

The storyline will not need such scenes, although we might include them if time allows.

What kind of music soundtrack can we expect to hear while playing the game?

We are very much in for dynamic electronic and hardcore music a-la Nine Inch Nails, Prodigy, etc.

What kinds of multiplayer modes will be included? How many players can participate in one game at once?

Up to 8 players will be able to join in a multiplayer game over LAN or the Internet. In a multiplayer game, there will be both classic modes of play, such as deathmatch and cooperative, and unique ones - play for monsters, team-play modes with a possibility of monster control etc.

Can we expect a game editor to be shipped with the game? Will you offer any SDK tools to mod makers?

We want to spend some extra time to make such tools most convenient for the enthusiasts, for this reason the editor, utils and sources are planned to be available for free download about 1-3 months after the game release.

When can we expect a game demo to be released?

We are finalizing the demo. Probably, it will be released soon.

When did you start the game development and how many people are/were working on it?

The project development started in late 2001. Currently FireStarter team includes 12 people working full time (programmers, artists, modelers, level designers) and several involved across projects (sound men, CGI animators etc.).

What's the current release date and who are the international publishers for the title?

The target release date is Q4 2004, we are finalizing publishing deals internationally and will announce the publishers shortly.

Thanks for taking time off your busy schedule and answering our questions.

The pleasure is ours; I would like to thank Oleg Yavorsky, GSC Game World PR man for helping me out.