Summary: STALKER is a game that captured our attention and imagination years ago. Now, after long development delays and rumors of publisher intervention, JCal sits down with the devs to ask how things are going.
FiringSquad: First, STALKER has been in development for several years now. How does GSC feel about the lengthy time period it is taking to complete the game?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: It seems to be just about the time it takes to build projects of this scale. When you're having a big pressure and responsibility to the community waiting for the game, you have to ensure things work as proper and fine on every single point of the game. There has been lots of trial and error with the development, but it undeniably has been a very positive experience for us.
FiringSquad: Since STALKER was first announced, games like the Grand Theft Auto series and more recently Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion have made the "open world" way of game design popular. How does STALKER's gameplay differ from these games?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: Firstly, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s genre is different - it's a survival FPS. It's interesting to compare the game with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (funny enough, the working title of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was Oblivion Lost), as the games seemingly have much in common - huge world, freedom, A-life and more. In fact, though, the games are a lot different. What is a low-paced role-playing game in Oblivion, is a survival shooter with role-play elements, tense atmosphere and high events dynamics. On top of that, the games have different world scale and the ratio of story vs freeplay is different, so S.T.A.L.K.E.R. does provide a different experience.
FiringSquad: How much refinment has gone into making the game's mix of action with some role playing aspects work?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: Once we have accomplished all the game components and put them together, we understood that we need to carry out solid balancing for the sake of achieving the gameplay integrity. Because what matters for the player is how everything works in common, whether the game is captivating or not, other than how qualitative is each single feature. It all should contribute to keeping the player involved from the intro cut-scene until the very final credits. Having played the game from A to Z we also realized which game design ideas worked out well for us and which not. Generally speaking, for the last year or so we focused our efforts on reinforcing the game's storyline component. As our play-test sessions demonstrated, the heaps of A-life-based and random quests would frequently get the players lost. Now we have achieved a proper balance between storyline events leading you through the game and random quests and events filling out the game world and enabling you access to many rare items and cash.
FiringSquad: The game's setting of Chernobyl still resonates today. How much research did the team do to make the location realistic while still allowing for making it fun to play in?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: Several research trips ventured into the Chernobyl exclusion zone, thousands of photos taken, proprietary video filmed, area maps and documentaries studied, three extra arms grown (no, just kidding on that last one :) ) - we took the time to make it as authentic as possible. The authenticity, btw, was appraised by the Head of Chernobyl power plant who recently came down to our office to see the game. So we are confident on that side. Overall the area is going to be 60% authentic - with all the notorious sites easily recognizable - we had to adjust the landscape to the needs of the game a bit.
FiringSquad: What are some of your personal favorite monsters in the game?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: I like Bloodsucker very much - he's scares the hell out of me, eyes glowing devilish in the dark, and his ability to disappear makes him just unpredictable (and even scarier). I also like combating against Burer. This little dwarf is apt in raising anything movable from the ground and hurling that at you from far away. Getting hit by a wardrobe flying into your head can be fun!:)
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the game's main storyline quests and what sort of side quests can the player take on?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. the player will go along the storyline accomplishing the obligatory story missions, the non-obligatory secondary quests, so as will be free to research the Zone and accomplish random quests. The player's daily tasks, as a stalker, go to the extent of collecting artifacts to sell, fighting mutants, hostile stalkers, avoiding dangers, gathering information on the Zone and its inhabitants etc. The ultimate goal of the player is to unveil the mystery of the Zone: what's behind it, what's controlling it, where mutations come from, there are many questions raised, which boils down to accomplishing a number of storyline quests (targeted on important information collecting primarily). There are both simple and complex missions, where the solution will cause certain consequences in the future, such as attitude change of certain stalker groupings. Let me describe a mission on neglected military warehouses as an example. The events started developing as follows: On the level there are old military warehouses where the Freedom grouping set themselves. It is the core Freedom's base, which is well-guarded and protected. The Duty grouping - the key Freedom's enemy, located that base and prepare a raid on them. A Duty squad is hiding nearby the warehouses, getting ready to assault the base. The player shows up on the level with a rather simple task set - find RG-6 (gun). The search of RG-6 will lead the player to both the Duty squad, so as the base of Freedom. The player will stand a choice:
Oleg V. Yavorsky: We prepare a good bunch of weapons ranging from knives up to grenade-launchers. The pieces will be both Soviet/Russian/Ukrainian, so as Western types. The weapons are going to be realistic or prototypes being currently developed. The overall number of guns exceeds 30 types. This doesn't include the various upgrades you can apply to your weapons, such as scopes, silencers, barrel-attached grenade launchers etc. We did our best to implement the realistic gun ballistics, so as tear & wear (misfires, repairing and so on).
FiringSquad: The last time STALKER was seen in pubic, you showed off the game's multiplayer deathmatch mode. Since then what has been done to expand on the game's multiplayer features?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: We've implemented several interesting modes of play in multiplayer. Those include the popular deathmatch, team deathmatch and original Artifact Hunt mode where two teams fight over artifacts popping up randomly on the level. It should be mentioned that a good deal of singleplayer elements will come with the multiplayer game in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., such as anomalous energy spots, radiation, detectors and the atmosphere of courseJ. There will be up to 32 players hooking in a game over LAN or Internet.
FiringSquad: The visuals of the game were impressive the last time we saw them two years ago at E3. What has been done to improve the graphics since then and will STALKER have any DirectX10 features for use on Windows Vista when it is finally released?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: Through that time we've already implemented a cool DX9 renderer which provides for stunning detailing and a very good picture on screen. Shaders 3.0, millions of polygons per frame in real-time, soft dynamic shadows and per-pixel lighting, the list goes on and on. We're considering optimizing for new platforms like Vista at the moment. Overall, we're very confident of the technology we have on hands.
FiringSquad: Are there any plans for a playable demo of the game to be released?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: Our plans include an open beta-test to be held for multiplayer. We're considering other steps like demo release, but nothing set on that yet.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the status of the game's progress and what is the current time period for its release?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: We're targeting beginning 07 to ship. There're still a bunch of gameplay balancing, debugging and localization issues to address, but we're happy of the progress the game's making.
FiringSquad: Are there any plans for mod tools to be released for the game?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: This is planned. No dates fixed for this yet however.
FiringSquad: Finally, do you feel that STALKER will be worth the many years that gamers have had to wait for its release?
Oleg V. Yavorsky: Absolutely three times yes!
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