S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky is the second game from developer GSC Game World to take us into the Zone, the irradiated wasteland surrounding the post-meltdown Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
We had to wait, wait and then wait some more for Shadow of Chernobyl, but prequel Clear Sky, which was announced at this year's E3, has been slapped with a 2008 release date.
In part one of a two-part interview, Anton Bolshakov, GSC project manager, tackles our questions. We'll bring you the second instalment shortly...
WARNING: Potential plot spoilers ahead...
Why a prequel storyline? What made you choose that over setting the next S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game after Shadow of Chernobyl?
Anton Bolshakov: There're several reasons why we got down to make this prequel game. Firstly, the original game tells about Strelok accomplishing three trips to the Zone center.
He is the only one to have successfully managed it. The SoC [Shadow of Chernobyl] events begin with a rather mysterious situation. The amnesiac protagonist is found on the Zone edge next to a crashed death truck.
Throughout the game Strelok accomplishes his third, successful traverse into the Zone centre.
What happened to him prior to these events, what occurred during the first and the second Strelok's trip to the Zone, what was the Zone's reaction, how and why the main character found himself in the death truck - these questions were left unanswered and those events were rather interesting.
These are the happenings that the prequel is all about.
The second thing encouraging us to start the prequel development is the very big-scale and original world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The Zone is hardly comparable to any common game universe. We introduced a number of new notions and rules, such as stalkering, anomalies, artefacts, detectors and more.
We would like to give people a better understanding of this unusual place - the Zone around Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant before going for a big new story. To us this seems a very proper step, so that the players get to know the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. world better.
So what's the storyline?
Bolshakov: The story of Clear Sky will explain what happened to Strelok during his early escapades into the Zone and at the same time present an alternative look at events of the original game.
You will play a different character this time, a mercenary s.t.a.l.k.e.r. who, against his will becomes involved in global events in the Zone. Eventually, the player will have to not only keep an eye on Strelok's doings but actually oppose him.
Without disclosing much, I'd say the end of the Clear Sky story will bring you to what SoC begins with.
Well, you're obviously still keen to develop the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise despite your experiences with Shadow of Chernobyl. What keeps your enthusiasm going?
Bolshakov: It's not DESPITE the experiences with SoC, but OWING to that experience that we see the right ways to develop the game brand further. Firstly, not all of the features were implemented to the limits of their potential. We believe the ideas vested in original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. are just the beginning and we're excited to bring each of those features to a new level.
Secondly, thanks to the success of the original game, we've got a big spur from the game fans, the community, inspiring us to create new involving content and technology. Clear Sky is going to be a step forward for actually every game aspect, and now done from the perspective of the immense experience gained by the team during the original game development.