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Interviews

The Making of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., part two

Interview: GSC's ambitious PC project is here, but it was a rocky road to release. We look back with the developer

Over the weekend we brought you the first instalment in a two-part interview with GSC Game World looking back at S.T.A.L.K.E.R. This morning, we present you with the second and concluding part of our chat with Anton Bolshakov, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. project lead...

(Part one of our interview can be found here)

How did THQ's involvement shape the final product?

Anton Bolshakov: We worked well with THQ's producer Dean Sharpe who joined at the final development stage of the project. I respect Dean's professionalism: when he joined the project he understood that drastic changes to the game at this development stage may completely ruin all the deadlines.

Therefore, we focused on finalising the current concept and the features which worked 100 percent. Some of the features were cut from the game or put aside for the next iterations. We concentrated on polishing up the gameplay, balance, difficulty levels... Also, Dean has accomplished a chunk of work on organising the game testing, localisation, pre-master preparation. Owing to our mutual work the game turned out substantially better.

Did you guys ever get into any heated arguments with the publisher over aspects of the game?

Anton Bolshakov: Yes, there were such occasions. We discussed animations a lot, NPCs' hit reactions, AI, story aspects which we believed were too important for the story, while they considered their presentation difficult to understand.

We had discussions about adapting the stories told by NPCs in the voiceover. No bruises though and we both just wanted a better game at the end.

Did THQ ever ask you to change anything and you told them too, ah, how shall we put this... get lost?

Anton Bolshakov: Naturally, we discussed a lot, but without any extremes here. We always meticulously reasoned our views.

Would you tackle a project of the same magnitude again?

Anton Bolshakov: Yes, the team has successfully completed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. To us it is a mountain peak climbed. Now the team is well-built and professional. Through the development process we worked out proper management, planning and projecting. Now we can make, and do make, no less complex projects, however with much more predictably in terms of timing.

What's in the pipeline for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? Is it the sort of game you can release expansions or content updates for, say new multiplayer maps, or will you just be fixing bugs?

Anton Bolshakov: We're preparing some next S.T.A.L.K.E.R. announcements for the upcoming E3. We will be happy to share all the interesting details during the E3 in July.

To let you know, we have already released the MP SDK and now work on SP SDK. We do a lot to improve the MP part, such as optimising the traffic, remote control function, anti-cheating... We're preparing a big update with a new game mode - Freeplay, with no story tasks, including only the A-life driven ones, and where the goal is to gain ranks, climb up in rankings, so as to become the best s.t.a.l.k.e.r. in the Zone.

Also we keep fixing the bugs found and release patches.

Finally, on a more general note, do you think there's not enough risks being taken by developers with PC games these days?

Anton Bolshakov: The risks are huge. Today's development is very complex. Modern projects are expensive, you need to support a vast amount of technological and gameplay features, hardware, the time to develop extends, you require a bigger team (and expanded team poses a bigger management challenge), professional staff - all this only to get your project out of the door.

Then it may sell or may flop disastrously in sales - it requires the work of the publisher, PR, good luck in the long run. There's high risk here too.

If we were to begin the development as a start-up team not in 2000, but in 2007, we would definitely not take up such a project as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Unfortunately, immense risks lead to fewer and fewer developers remaining, while those who are still around are put into stiff deadlines by their financiers or publishers. This does not encourage creativity and the generation of new ideas.

The development of ideas has shifted into the section of smaller games - shareware products, mobile games, DS games. It is there, where the teams may not exceed a handful of people, it takes a couple of months to develop and the risks are low. Here you can experiment and seek new approaches. So life goes on.

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