GSC Game World interview

After six years of development, GSC Game World finally finished S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl in 2007. Critics and players both were enthralled by the result. Still, criticisms were heard that something better could have been developed in six years. Furthermore, some of the more innovative ideas originally announced didn't find their place in the game. Regardless, the general consensus is that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was worth the wait.

The same year, GSC Game World announced a prequel, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, due to be released shortly. We talked with GSC Game World about the new S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and what can we expect in the Zone when we get there.

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1. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little about your background and your job at GSC Game World?

My name is Valentine Yeltyshev. I work at GSC Game World as a PR manager.

2. Why have you decided to make a prequel? Did you plan this during the development of the original game, or did the idea come up after the release of Shadow of Chernobyl?

The plan to make a prequel appeared right before the Shadow of Chernobyl release. By that time we already knew which features will be good to implement into future projects and what should be done to make the game better. Also we realized that many questions in the game storyline left open. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game world is so profound that the player didn’t get the whole understanding of its laws and history. We decided to fill those gaps and tell the players more about the Zone and it’s inhabitants and the best way for that is to make a prequel.

3. Which of the ideas, originally planned for Shadow of Chernobyl, that did not come to life, do you intend to implement in Clear Sky?

The main thing occurs to me is a group AI. This type of AI controls the actions of the factions, their interests according to the current situation in the Zone. That thing made the war of factions possible. We didn’t want to make some scripted events, we wanted to give the player complete freedom inside the complete AI world. Factions are fighting for territory, science and other spots that give the faction some advantages. Faction could send detachments to attack or fight the spot back, decide which spot is the most interesting at the moment and actually act as a real faction. And if we add the Smart Cover system implemented in Clear Sky it makes the actions in the Zone very realistic and the further development of situations completely unpredictable with hundreds of possible variants.

4. How do you intend to expand the gameplay? What new features will we see in Clear Sky?

Some aspects of the gameplay were changed pretty hard. For example artifact search. In Clear Sky some anomalies and the artifacts in them are completely invisible. You need to use some sort of detector to find a safe route inside the anomaly fields and get the artifact. So a two-handed HUD was added when you carry a detector in one hand and a bolt or one-handed weapon in the other. At this time the negative powers of the anomaly field affect you and you are a good target for enemy stalkers, so you will need good protective suits and equipment for that.

We added the possibility of upgrading weapons so you could improve the weapon you like in many characteristics like accuracy, range, magazine capacity etc. You can also repair your weapon and protective suit.

5. While classified as a FPS, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. also has some RPG elements. Do you plan on expanding on the RPG side of the game?

The role playing part of the game was improved by the use of living factions and the possibility of joining any faction you like and helping it in the war of factions. The missions you get will depend on the faction’s interests in the Zone, its ideology. The war of factions does not cross the storyline so the player is completely free to decide whether to take part in the war of factions or just follow the storyline or maybe do both things at the same time.

If you're talking, about parameters and characteristics you will have the possibility to upgrade your weapons and protective suits by many parameters, repair them, use artifacts in order to change your suit’s properties etc.

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6. We heard about " The war of factions " in Clear Sky. Will the player be essential if he chooses one of the conflicted sides and just how important are the factions and their attitude towards the player?

There is a difficult system of factions’ relationships. So if you join some faction the hostile faction will consider you as their enemy. There are always ways of changing your faction, but you will have to do something, whether some mission or some money penalty etc. Life in the Zone is not simple and it is always  easier to live in a group. Joining a faction will get you access to their trader, mechanic and amount of new weapons and equipment. Every faction has its own unique list of weapons, suits and equipments. Also added is the possibility of capturing and holding resources, territory and scientific spots in the Zone, interaction with your faction-mates.

7. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has received numerous critiques on account of it's combat system, specifically the accuracy of weapons. Has the combat been improved and in what ways?

We paid a lot of attention to improving ballistics and the combat system in general. For example, we added Smart Cover system that allows the AI to understand what kind of cover and objects it has in the vicinity and how to use them in combat. Hundreds of new combat animations in combination with Smart Cover system and AI's ability to throw grenades makes the combat in Clear Sky very spectacular and realistic.

8. Will we be able to complete the game in multiple ways or did you plan one particular ending for Clear Sky?

We need to get the solid storyline as a result so the ending of Clear Sky could be only one, where the original game starts.

9. Has the A-Life system advanced since Shadow of Chernobyl? What new tricks can we expect from AI?

I would like to say that in general, the AI was improved a lot. Both combat and idle modes were improved. But the most significant thing done is implementing living factions. They changed from just guys sitting at the campfire into a group of people with their own living camp, leader, trader, mechanic, ideology, interests, enemies and missions. It’s a completely new level of living game world. You will see an interaction in team combat, bypassing of dynamic objects, ability to throw grenades, adequate reaction to contusion, blinding, damage etc.

10. The X-Ray Engine looks better than ever. What are the improvements in version 1.5?

The new version of the X-Ray engine supports a great amount of modern graphics features and of course the support of DX10 renderer. The list of new features is long so here are some of them:

– New animation engine supporting inverse kinematics

– parallax bump

– soft particles

– motion blur

– depth of field

– eye adaptation effect

– soft water

– new materials and shaders

– new light model (fully dynamic light and shadows)

– new concept of models creating – high poly models with normal mapping etc.

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11. What advantages of DX10 over DX9 rendering will we be able to see in Clear Sky?

The DX10 renderer is still in development now, but we have already implemented such features as God rays, volumetric fog and smoke, dynamic wet surfaces, etc.

12. Do you wish to add something?

There are a lot of interesting things developed and implemented in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky so that it is impossible to mention all of them in this interview. We think that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fans will definitely like those changes and improvements we’ve done with the game. Clear Sky is a stand-alone game with a solid storyline, so even those who never played the original game will definitely like its prequel.

We'd like to thank Valentine for taking the time to answer our questions.

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