Back in late 2001 we got our first look at an impressive game called Oblivion Lost, then a squad-based action game from GSC Game World. In 2007 the title that we now know as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl finally released, plunging players into a survival-FPS-RPG hybrid and the post-apocalyptic wasteland surrounding the Chernobyl power plant after its meltdown.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was surrounded by plenty of anticipation, but what the with the lengthy development time and word leaking that certain parts of GSC's original vision for the game were being cut, concern that it wouldn't live up to hopes and expectations began to mount. However, the game turned out to be nowhere near as bad as some feared and was generally well received when it finally materialised.
With the release dust now settled, we picked up the phone and got in touch with Anton Bolshakov, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. project lead. Part one of a two-part interview is below...
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - why exactly did it take so long?
Anton Bolshakov: Firstly, it was a big-scale project, the biggest we've done. Secondly, a lot in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was innovative (combining a shooter with RPG, open-ended world, no corridor limits etc.) and a few things were truly groundbreaking (such as A-life) - and thus tough to implement.
A mere merging of that bunch of elements and making it all work within one game was a challenge too. There was a lot of trial and error in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but the experience gained is immense too.
So what was your reaction to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s reception by press and the gaming public when it finally released?
Anton Bolshakov: As there's been so much expectation out there, we were a bit anxious as to how the players and press would ultimately react to the game after so many years of wait.
However, once we got the first game reviews and letters from the happy players, we understood the game was going to be a success. And there's hardly any reward for a developer better than the words of praise from the players. The game's success gave the team a big boost to continue working on the ideas invested in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
What would you say is your greatest achievement with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and why?
Anton Bolshakov: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is about a unique Chernobyl man-made accident atmosphere, the blend of FPS and RPG gameplay, freedom of movement and action in a shooter game.
A captivating story with seven endings which depend on the type of playthrough, a living-and-breathing world controlled by the A-life system, a variety of secondary quests and high replayability, the unique non-scripted AI, realistic guns, powerful DX9 engine and realistic graphics.
There are a few ideas introduced in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. we feel have great potential for further exciting developments, such as A-life, independent NPCs and developed groupings etc.
Imagine you were just starting work on the game now - how would your approach differ from the one you originally took?
Anton Bolshakov: I think we would plan more realistic targets to achieve, would avoid many error experiments which we had to spend loads of time on. And, most likely, we would use someone else's ready-made technology, without having to waste time on creating our proprietary one, whilst having the game developed concomitantly.
There were features originally envisaged that got cut. In hindsight, would you say your original vision for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was just too ambitious?