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Cold Winter: Developer Diary

Swordfish Studios' Julian Widdows on a Cold Winter crunch...

Cold Winter is the brand new thinking man's FPS from Swordfish Studios which brings an intriguing new spin to the world of modern international espionage.

You play Andrew Sterling, a captured MI6 agent, who lies languishing and forgotten in a Chinese prison after a covert operation which went disastrously wrong. It suits everyone that Sterling remains a forgotten man, but when he's broken out of jail by a mysterious friend from his past, it begins to slowly unlocks a series of events which could threaten global security and wreak havoc on a worldwide scale.

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So far so apparently standard, but Cold Winter is certainly not your traditional Bond-style super agent blaster, and instead Swordfish Studios are trying to take a more thoughtful, mature, story-led approach to the genre.

Although the game's been in development for some three years from its initial concept stage, Swordfish are now entering that dreaded time developers know as the crunch, as they ramp up and accelerate towards release. It's certainly a hot issue at the moment, with EA recently taking a long hard look at the workload developers face in these crucial periods, so we thought we'd get an insider's perspective from Swordfish Development Director Julian Widdows as they face the crucial crunch period. Here's what he had to say.

If you'd like to know more about Cold Winter itself, why not check our recent exclusive Cold Winter Exposed interview with Julian, where he gives you the full low-down on the game that goes beyond Bond.

Julian Widdows: "And so, it begins. I've pondered long and hard over what would be the best analogy to use when describing the crunch period we invariably get into at the end of every game development cycle and, genuinely, I can't find anything that can adequately describe the mixed feelings this stress ridden period brings.

"I mean, look at it this way, on the one hand three years dedicated to a single cause comes to fruition - somewhere, deep inside, the embryonic feelings of closure creep through the system; the sense that soon it will be over, and again, you will have been part of creating something that you hope and dream gamers are going to enjoy and that you pray will earn the praise of the magazines and editors.

"Mixed with this feeling, however, is pure primal fear and panic - you have a long road behind you, sure, but God man, ahead of you is an even longer, poisoned spike ridden, whirling buzz saw, Sword of Damocles, evil bitch of an assault course. Up a big hill. With a dwarf on your shoulders. Poking you in the eyes with a stick.

"It was with some considerable sympathy that I watched Paula Radcliffe, Britain's marathon running Olympic Gold hope, drop unceremoniously out of 'the games' this year after a gruelling 23 miles. Most of the road behind her, she just couldn't find the required strength to make the distance to the stadium and the finish. I felt so sorry for her. I really did. It kind of reminded me of crunch, if I'm honest, although far more athletic and with less delivery curry.

"During SAS selection, a gruelling sifting mechanism to choose the best of the best, the British soldiers who will join the most elite of regiments, there is a phase called 'Long Drag'. Over approximately a 24hr period, the soldiers, wearing full battle dress, carrying 55lb packs and a rifle, have to navigate from point to point without knowing where the finish line is, when the finish line is, or who's in front and behind. It's a race for membership of the elite, with only one real rule - don't come last. As each checkpoint arrives the men are looking for an SAS trooper who will give them another point to go to, each time not knowing which one will be the last, when the end will come. Unsurprisingly the number of men RTU'd (returned to unit) during this phase is fantastically high.

"Here at Swordfish we have nothing but respect for anyone who gets a game out of the door and onto the shelves. A wise man once said, it's not the first 80 percent that's the hardest, it's the second 80 percent. Hell was he right.

"I've always rather fancied attending a hot chilli eating contest. Not that I think I'd be a contender - far from it - but in the search of the perfect crunch allegory I think of a man who's on his last bowl of habanero enhanced beef chilli, rubbing his eyes, clutching the bowl, and then staggering around in blind and agonising pain until he falls off the stage on top of the prom queen. There are tears and chilli and pink frocks and ambulances, and probably a brass band. Perhaps reality wouldn't quite match the fantasy, but, folks, please don't spoil it for me.

"Here in Birmingham we're now a scary ten weeks away from Sony submission and are polishing as hard as we can. Final audio is dropping in. Cinematics are being rendered and rerendered to fix syncing issues, continuity problems, and glitches. The final set-pieces for the levels are being put in position. Gameplay, weapon and AI balance is being tweaked and tuned to ensure we have a nice progressive experience from start to finish. Bugs are being fixed, and often entered, at a staggering rate.

"The fully physical game world is being adjusted to make the objects in the game feel weighty, feel right, feel just so. And we're playing online an awful lot. Somewhere, deep in hidden, recessed bowels, of t'internet we're fighting transatlantic wars with the QA guys at Vivendi. No winner as of yet. I'll keep you posted. The first press are getting ready to come in to visit us; first looks at a game we've been working on for nearly three years now.

"Yes, all-in-all it's a strange ethereal time. Our game's nearly ready for you people to start playing, and this is a great feeling, it really is. But we've got one hell of a stretch ahead of us - long nights, fast food, Indian take-aways, and caffeinated drinks beckon. Think of us over Christmas. Heck, come and chat to us online. Keep our spirits up. After all, we're doing all this for you, you know."

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