Looking back... S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Jon Blyth dons his radiation suit and chats to a known Stalker about anomalies, realism and learning from your mistakes

STALKER: shadow of chernobyl, apart from being one of the most delayed games of recent memory, was the reason behind some of the most haunting press trips of last year. Journalists were taken to Chernobyl, Ukraine, to witness the desolate ghost town, the deserted playgrounds, the slow decay and the living history.

All these things found their way into STALKER, making it a hugely atmospheric and memorable shooter. Over the long development process, the team gave some candid interviews - and when we caught up with project leader Anton Bolshakov, he was typically frank about what went right and wrong in Chernobyl...


Check Out My Guns
From the very outset we were keen on realism - realistic graphics, environments, stalkers, physics, gameplay - we had long arguments with the publisher as to what extent of realism should be preserved in the game, and had to fight for every inch. Our goal with the guns was to achieve 100 per cent realism with bullet trajectory, adjusting material-piercing qualities and so on.

We couldn't do everything ourselves, though - some source material, photos and technical info on certain guns were contributed by the community. That stuff was used as reference when we created our weapon prototypes.

Nuclear Effects
From the photos and documentaries filmed at the time of the Chernobyl accident, we knew that the strong radiation could affect photos and videotape. It left a grainy kind of noise effect on it. So we started by creating the radiation filter effect on screen - when the player would enter a radiation hotbed, we copied this, making the screen greyish and noisy.

In a similar fashion, our art designers tried to imagine what the gravitational, electric, acid and all other types of anomalies could possibly look like, so that the player, after stepping inside, would realise something's wrong. The anomalies needed to be inconspicuous and alarming to the incautious player. After pestering programmers for some time, we worked out a number of cool-looking and original anomaly effects ready to enrich our spooky Zone.

Living The A-Life
I really enjoy observing the non-scripted combats driven by A-life - things that just take place here and there. You can see a pack of blind dogs get in the way of a military patrol. They start fighting, and you're just passing by, an involuntary witness.

You can watch the scene, or you can sneakily take advantage, and use the distraction to get closer to the military while they are killing the dogs. Attack them from cover, and get some easy loot. When you realise that the game actually creates these situations without any preliminary planning of the designers, it really blows your mind off. Our A-life system is unique for shooters, and we see lots of potential here. All this is just the beginning.


Favourite BITs
My personal favourites are Escape and Pripyat. Escape is very cool
to immerse the player into the Zone and the stalker community - the first fights against bandits and bribing the military are simply unforgettable. I love Pripyat for the fact that it turned out pretty realistic-looking.

It reminds me of the trips made into the exclusion zone - all the rubble, the Ferris wheel, derelict buildings, ruined facilities, barren streets overgrown with trees and bushes - it's a striking image to remember.

The CUTTING-Room Floor
Largely all the monsters and anomalies got in. We had to do a bit of cutting with what either didn't fit well or was too complex to implement. For example, Burer got cut due to a problem of colliding with certain geometry; in the underground where he 'lives', the geometry is pretty complex, and he didn't pass all the areas very well. Also, marketing suggested that we take our rat monsters out - it seems rats are not very well liked in the US.

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