STALKER beats DOOM 3? (interview and exclusive screens)

Today we bring you a fresh and extensive interview with Alexei Sytyanov, game designer of an upcoming action hit S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Oblivion Lost developed by leading Ukraine developer GSC Game World. What more, we also offer two exclusive screenshots of this eye-catcher. So, enjoy!

Doupě: First of all, could you please introduce your company to our readers?

Alexei Sytyanov: Our company is called GSC Game World and we are a leading PC game developer in Ukraine. Our portfolio includes such titles as historical RTS Cossacks: European Wars, its two add-ons Cossacks: The Art of War and Cossacks: Back to War, tactical shooter Codename: Outbreak, historical RTS American Conquest. Currently in development are arcade shooter FireStarter, historical RTS Cossacks 2: Napoleonic Wars and survival action/RPG S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost.

 
exclusive for Doupe.cz


 
Doupě: Story is not usually being such an important issue in this genre. Anyways, is there anything players should know about the background story of your game?

AS: Our game is set in the murky Zone of Chernobyl in the near future. The player begins playing in year 2012, just some six years after the second explosion at the Chernobyl atomic facility. That second explosion was followed suit by formation of a very strange area around the catastrophe site, which subsequently got called the Zone. All the research attempts failed in the area as scientific groups and explorers started vanishing into thin air. Abruptly the Zone grew five kilometres wider to stretch over 20 square km. Flashes of lighting, loud thunder, strange rumble and some anomalous activity were regularly observed in the area. The army cordoned off the Zone to let nobody in and out, until a solution how to tackle that unpredictable area could be found. Some of the army posts were reported attacked by large packs of rats, obviously mutated ones. 
Several years passed and the Zone seems to have stopped growing. As human curiosity prevailed, some of them, amateurs, started sneaking into the Zone to find out what`s going on inside there. These were basically marauders, who, under the risk of getting caught by the army, explored the infamous area and brought objects with unknown abnormal characteristics from the Zone. As public interest towards the Zone grew, there formed certain groups of people interested in getting their hands on those Zone artifacts - scientists, corporations etc. From now on, those amateur Zone explorers ventured their treks on purpose - they earned money by selling artifacts. Later on these explorers got to be known as stalkers.
The player starts the game as a stalker-newbie. He is to learn a lot about the Zone, it`s life and dangers and ultimately, if he is up to it, unveil the mystery of the Zone.   
 
Doupě: Why did you choose the quite unusual setting of Strugacky brothers` novel?

AS: It was a long-time aspiration of ours to create a game featuring the notorious Chernobyl atomic facility. Both "The Roadside Picnic" novel by Strugatsky brothers and the Stalker movie by A.Tarkovsky served only an inspiration for us. We come up with our own alternative story of post-apocalyptic industrial catastrophe life and want to create a game of fore-warning against any possible disasters technologies can lead to nowadays.

Doupě: Who`s the player? Does he have any choice of characters?

AS: As I mentioned, the player is one of the stalkers, the guys who earn money by selling artifacts from the Zone. The player will be able to pick up one of several stalker characters offered initially in the game.

 

 

Doupě: And who`s the enemy? How many types of enemies can players encounter?

AS: We plan a variety of enemies for the game. These will range from army soldiers on the Zone borders to most uncanny fictional characters, such as dwarfs or controllers. Although I cannot disclose that fully at the moment, I`d like to mention some of the enemies to possess abnormal abilities, such as telepathy and telekinesis. For instance, controller can coordinate the actions of zombies with the power of his mind. Hiding on top of trees or buildings, that monster amasses zombies on roofs and waits until a victim approaches below to order zombies fall on it. When a zombie encounters the stalker, he reports to his controller and does not attack until ordered. 
The player will be able to communicate with some sapient creatures in the game and these, under favourable attitude to the player, may even help him out of some tough situations.

Doupě: Non-player characters (NPCs) add a lot of atmosphere into the game. Do you have some in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?

AS: Sure. We plan about 100 NPC stalkers in the game. These are going to be computer-controlled characters who perform similar tasks as the player does. This means that the player may go to seek some valuable artifact along with several other NPC stalkers, as requested by artifact dealer. And there where the drama may happen. Imagine, you go to seek that artifact, there on the way you see one of the stalkers dead, poisoned and bit to death by mutant rats, you go further and see the other two stalkers fighting for possession of that target artifact. Here you have several options, you can kill both of the stalkers and grab the artifact, wait until one of the fighters survives and then kill him or try negotiating the artifact out of him, or you can leave those stalkers fighting and try grabbing the artifact before them.. Depending on how you act, your reputation will be built. If you gain the reputaion of a stalker-killer, you will always be met with gunfire by stalkers.
There will be also different stalker groupings, each pursuing its own goals and objectives, and the player will have possibilities to join one of those groupings. Stalker groupings can be in friendly and hostile relations with each other.    

Doupě: Where does the game take place? What are the common mission objectives?

 

 

AS: Striving to bring as much realism into the game as possible, we undertook two research trips into the real Chernobyl zone. The materials we have collected will allow us to reproduce about  60% of the real 30-km exclusion zone. The world of the game is largely made of woods, marshlands, derelict villages and civil buildings, ruins of industrial complexes, underground laboratories etc. Players will find the cities of Pripjat and Chernobyl, red forest, vehicle cemetery, the very atomic plant sarcophagus and other locations in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The very game atmosphere is going to be murky and dangerous.
Roughly, the objectives for the player will include collecting artifacts, information, rescuing  lost stalkers or scientists and so on.

Doupě: Sounds & grahics that`s what matters today. What can you tell us about these features in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?

AS: Talking about support of most advanced technologies here, we will have DirectX 9 sound and a special optimization for GeForce FX board. Right now we design a dedicated renderer for DX9 class hardware with fully realtime dynamic lighting, soft (unlike Doom3), physically correct shadows (again unlike Doom3) cast from everything onto everything, true per-pixel lighting (Doom3 uses per-texel),  1-3 millions of polys per frame, physical umbra/penumbra computations, hundreds of lights per frame in realtime and more.

Doupě: Can you give us some more details of your graphics engine and its capabilities?

AS: We use our in-house X-Ray engine for the game. The engine supports all the latest technologies in 3D graphics available today. Currently we optimize the engine for DirectX 9. We also closely cooperate with Nvidia and carry out optimization for their latest Cg technologies provided with GeForce FX boards. Owing to the recently available hardware support, it has become possible to implement natural render of complex materials with proper light interaction, such as rusted metal, natural flora, glass, realistic skin, etc in the game. One of the latest features we`ve been working on is the use of so called "deferred shading" approach to break the barriers in polygon count found in the current and future leading game-engines. Having more than 2 million of fully bump-mapped polygons representing each frame and true per-pixel complex light-material interaction will make it possible to attain an immensely realistic image in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. You can find the full list of technical specifications for the engine here: http://www.stalker-game.com/index.php?t=engine&rnd=8028
 
Doupě: "Guns. Lots of guns." - it`s Neo from Matrix. What do you say? (i.e. how many and what types of weapons can we expect, will they have different modes of fire? and so on...)

AS: There will be 30 weapons for the player`s use. Most of the weapons are going to be modifiable to allow you apply, for instance, laser sight or silencer on your favourite rifle. Due to the game setting (Ukraine, near future) we`ll introduce quite a few of ex-Soviet, Russian and Ukrainian guns. Some of the weapons planned for the game are currently in development,  for instance, Fort pistol and FN 2000 submachine gun.
One of the gameplay elements is a weight limit we`ll impose on the player. Such will definitely add realism to the game, as the player will not be able to carry a whole arsenal of rocket launchers, machine guns and sniper rifles in the Zone. Ammunition, foodstuffs and equipment will have to be bought additionally. You will also be able to pick up guns and gear you can find in the Zone for use.

Doupě: C&C: Renegade and HALO recently showed how important and amusing vehicles can actually be. Will we meet any vehicles in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? And if the answer is "YES", there`s another question: will the player be able to control them?

AS: As long as you have cash in the Zone, you can buy everything up to a car. Out of controllable vehicles we can disclose now are Lada Niva, Moskvich cars and Kamaz truck. If you locate a vehicle in the Zone and it still functions, you can make use of it too (provided there`s some fuel left in the tank).

Doupě: What about music in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., can we expect any special features/songs? What genre will it be, if it will be? I can smell some rock`n roll in there, huh?

AS: As S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is going to be an atomospheric game, the in-game music will be alike of that on the official game web-site (www.stalker-game.com), i.e. atmospheric and with a lot of ambient sounds. Right now we think of a special intro and credits themes, but no further details on that for now. 
 
Doupě: There can`t be any "real" 3D FPS today without a multiplayer, it`s a necessity. Do you agree? So, ...what will you offer to players in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? (modes, etc.)

AS: We will bring all the multiplayer modes popular today in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. These will include CTF, Deathmatch, teammatch and cooperative modes. Besides, we plan several original modes of play. Most likely, up to 32 players will be able to join in a network game.
 
Doupě: What is the suggested release date for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?

AS: We are targeting Q4 2003 for the game release.
 
Doupě: What is the current development state of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?

AS: Currently we are on the stage of a technical demo. A pre-alpha build will be demonstrated at E3 expo in May.

Doupě: I suppose that the primary market you aim at is the english-speaking market, am I right? Hovewer, do you plan to have localized versions of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., except the Russian one? For example German, French, Polish... and perhaps even Czech version?

AS: Oh, surely, we`ll be localising the game into many languages, and hopefully, into Polish and Czech too,  depends on publisher`s will actually.

Official site: http://www.stalker-game.com/
Developer: GSC GameWorld (http://www.gsc-game.com/)
Publisher: Russobit-M (http://www.russobit-m.com/)

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