modDB.com: Thanks for taking the time out of your no doubt busy schedule to do this interview.
Oles: Sure, you are welcome. Sorry for the delayed reply.
modDB.com: Firstly, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself to our viewers at home.
Oles: I’m Oles Shyshkovtsov, Lead Programmer for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
modDB.com: Two years ago, if I mentioned the name ‘GSC Game World’ or ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’ to most people, I’d receive only looks of bewilderment, but now almost every hardcore gamer out there knows about you and your game. However, for those of us who have been living under our respective rocks for the past few years, what is the basic idea behind the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?
Oles: Thanks for the compliments, much appreciated. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a prophetic game that warns mankind of the dangers of carelessly playing with the powers of nature, like thoughtless experimentation with radioactivity. The game is set in a near future, after a mysterious second accident in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. This forms an open-ended world of 30 sq. km or 18 levels joined together in a global map. So the player has total freedom of action and movement as he can go wherever he wants to explore this world. His day-to-day tasks are collecting ‘artifacts of the Zone’ (objects which absorbed anomalous energy) and selling them to parties interested – ‘stalking’ therefore. The player’s ultimate goal is to solve the Zone’s puzzle and unveil the mystery behind the place.
modDB.com: You recently changed S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s subtitle from “Oblivion Lost” to “Shadow of Chernobyl”. Why the change?
Oles: We decided to change the title as now it gives people a better idea of the setting and what to expect of the game.
modDB.com: Will S.T.A.L.K.E.R. ship on DVD, CD, or both? Will you consider online purchasing options, similar to what Valve has done with Half-Life 2?
Oles: We are thinking to release on several CDs. Possibly DVDs on certain territories, which depends on THQ’s, our worldwide publisher’s decision. On-line selling, no, don’t have a technology like that, you can only buy through traditional on-line stores.
modDB.com: We’ve already seen some of the impressive features of the X-Ray engine demonstrated in various videos and screenshots, but what would you say are your favourites, and what features can we expect from X-Ray that we would not find in other competing engines, such as Unreal Engine 2.5, Source, CryEngine and the Doom 3 engine?
Oles: We aim to ship with two versions of the engine – DirectX 8 and DirectX 9. Pretty much everything we’ve shown (bar a very few exceptions) has been from the DirectX 8 renderer and that alone has really stunned people with it’s quality. The DX9 plans are much more ambitious. There you will have up to 3.000.000 polygons on screen rendered in real time, totally dynamic lighting as well as soft dynamic shadows. We are using advanced shader technologies and virtual displacement mapping. One feature unseen in any other games yet is huge outdoor areas where all the lighting is processed dynamically will come with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Find the full list of engine features at the main game’s web-site www.stalker-game.com.
modDB.com: How long have S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the X-Ray engine been in development?
Oles: Oh, it’s been a long time by now. We started from scratch creating the engine back in late 2000. By now it’s four years of development, two game concepts tried, many nights without sleep and too many gallons of beer consumed. :)
modDB.com: Does GSC currently have any plans for a sequel, or expansion pack for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? Also, are there any other games planned for the X-Ray engine, licensed or in-house?
Oles: We can’t think of anything else before we let the original game go. As for the engine, yes, we plan licensing it to third parties, so everybody interested, please, feel free to contact us.
modDB.com: What are the minimum system requirements to play the game? What about for servers?
Oles: We don’t know for sure until we are complete with the game. It’s expected that for a minimum you could do with GeForce 3-type card and 1.4 Gig processor. Ultimately, the more high-end PC you have, the more eye-candy you will get. For a dedicated server you could do with a machine with even lower specs than the minimal ones.
modDB.com: How scalable is the X-Ray engine; would I be able to run the game on older hardware smoothly, for example DirectX 7 generation video cards, by sacrificing a lot of detail, or does it rely heavily on more modern hardware?
Oles: Initially we supported the DX7 hardware, but at some point had to sacrifice it as we decided to put stake on the cutting-edge technology, and therefore DX8 and DX9 only.
modDB.com: Are you planning to release an SDK? If so, when do you plan to release it, and what goodies will it contain?
Oles: Yes, we intend to please MOD-makers with a pretty robust SDK, containing several editors (level, character, particle and shader), as well as AI, physics libraries and all necessary to create your own MODs of the game. The package should come either simultaneously with the game or shortly afterwards.
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modDB.com: How do you plan to support the modding community, if at all, besides through the release of an SDK, for example tutorials, a website for developers, contests etc?
Oles: Yes, as mentioned above, modders can count on extensive support from us.
modDB.com: How deep will modders be able to get into S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s code; will mods be written primarily in some sort of scripting language, as with the Unreal series, or will they be compiled binaries? Also, how much control will mods have over rendering?
Oles: The engine core is compiled and will be inaccessible to the modders. The good news is that modders will be able to use all the engine’s possibilities within that core. On top of that, all the game scripts are open, so modders are free to use, modify them as well as apply their own ones.
modDB.com: How many polygons can we expect to see on the average player or weapon model, and how many polygons can we expect to see on screen at once in an average scene of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?
Oles: With weapons you get about 3000, characters – 5000-7000, trees – 2000. An average scene contains from 500.000-1.500.000 polygons.
modDB.com: What kind of Level of Detail (LOD) system do you have in place in the X-Ray engine to handle the potentially highly complex scenes experienced in the game?
Oles: We apply the LOD system for trees in particular. Initially we had it as a two-level system (3D model – billboard), but the way it works now is that the level of detailing decreases gradually and smoothly until at a certain distance it becomes a billboard.
modDB.com: Does the X-Ray engine take advantage of more recent innovations such as hyper-threading and 64bit processors?
Oles: We have the optimizing planned.
modDB.com: What is the theoretical limit on map sizes in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and how well does the X-Ray engine handle long view-distances? For example, would a Battlefield 1942 style mod be feasible?
Oles: Easily. The average size of a level in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is 2 square kilometers. The biggest ones reach up to 5, loaded at once.
modDB.com: What software packages have you used so far in the development of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as far as models, textures etc?
Oles: With S.T.A.L.K.E.R. designers are free to use any popular 3D packages, like 3DS Max, Maya or Lightwave. You create everything within there and then export into the adequate game editor.
modDB.com: We’ve heard a lot about S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s revolutionary AI and “life simulation” system; what can you tell us about this, and how will modders be able to utilise this?
Oles: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. utilizes probably the most complex AI system to-date. The life simulation system enables any monster and NPC act on his own, independently of the player’s actions, on any game level. Thus, for every single creature we’ve got a full life cycle in action: they hunt, feed, take rest, sleep etc. Every creature and NPC in the game can decide upon the battle outcome probability and therefore make a decision on whether to attack you or run away. They base their decisions not only on facts such as your health and level of weaponry, but also on whether it is actually advantageous for them to attack another creature. This allows the player to virtually sit down hiding and observe life going on around – monsters fight with each other, Pseudo-dogs attacking a military patrol, stalkers hunting down a couple of scary Fleshes, survivors of a Blind dog pack run away from fierce mutant bore, a stalker got trapped in invisible anomaly and calls for help.. the list of events can go on and on and every time the player runs the game, the situation will develop differently.
As for modders, they will be able to create multiplayer mods only for now.
modDB.com: What has been your favourite S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience so far?
Oles: I just adore flying with the camera around levels to see how creatures and stalkers act. Sometimes the experience is really funny and exciting. For instance a Flesh monster would kill a little blind dog and then decide to pull the body into hiding to eat it sometime later. Then another Flesh would spot the dead dog being pulled by his kin and decide to have his own lump. So now you have two Fleshes pulling the body in two different sides, almost tearing it. And now, unexpectedly another Flesh comes down from the hill and decides to join the ‘who-gets-the-poor-dog’ competition. While they try hard for victory, there appears an NPC stalker, spots the tug of dog fest and decides to kick the a** of the nasty Fleshes. He fires at one and all of them run away scared to death. Then the Stalker takes the wretched dog and eats him! Just kidding about the last one. :)
modDB.com: Lastly, we have heard reports that you, personally, will be delivering pre-ordered copies of the game to customers… on horseback. Are you able to shed any light on this rumour?
Oles: Yes, I plan to mount a couple of Chernobyl dogs, grab some copies into my stalker backpack and come all the way to the store. Don’t forget your Geiger counters, lads, make sure you check your game for radiation! :)
Once again, I'd like to thank Oles for joining us; it looks like we're all in for an exciting ride!