Interstellar Marines has had an interesting development. A first-person shooter conceived by Zero Point Software in the early 2000s, it was prototyped using a well-known game engine and then shopped around to the big publishers at the Games Developers Conference. However, the developers were deterred by the amount of changes that publishers wanted to make to their game and decided to remain independent while continuing to work on the game. The result is a game that’s being driven by the community that surrounds it and who has a very real opportunity of shaping the way the final product turns out. Zero Point Software recently dropped by our London office to show us the latest technology behind Interstellar Marines, as well as its vision for the future of what they call ‘AAA Indie.’
According to game director Kim Jørgensen, the aim for Interstellar Marines is to present “first contact with an alien race in a believable and even philosophical way.” You play one of these marines, working for the galactic equivalent of NATO, and you start the game scouting out Mars before moving onto a space station. There will be three types of enemies--high-level humans, like soldiers; low-level humans, like scientists; and numerous alien life forms, all of which have their own independent AI routines. The whole game is designed to be a short co-op experience for up to four people, with dynamic AI and enemy placement encouraging multiple play-throughs.
That's what the team has planned for the game, anyway. At the moment, Zero Point has a number of demos that it uses to show proof of concept. The first is a demo built using high-end technology, but as it was created using the demo version of the tools, it can’t be shown publicly. It’s a shame because it shows a high level of skill in terms of lighting, water, and organic effects, and while it's showing its age now, the demo allows us to get a feel for the atmosphere Zero Point is trying to achieve. The inspiration from such films as Aliens is obvious, as is F.E.A.R. in terms of graphics and sound, and while Jørgensen acknowledges the influences, he promises a story that won’t just retread sci-fi shooter cliches.
However, high-end engines are too costly for an indie developer, which is why the team has recently moved development to Unity, a new high-level engine that’s a fraction of the cost of most industry-standard tools. The Unity demo is still in its early stages in terms of lighting, but it's already showing the potential to deliver a first-person shooter on an indie budget. The demo is reminiscent of the Killzone 2 "Behind the Bullet" trailer, as marines and enemies battle it out suspended in time. The only enemies we've seen so far are giant sharks, which are the result of human experimentation aboard one of the space ships. But the most impressive part of the demo is the ship that you’ll launch from at the start of the game. It shows off the role-playing-game-like upgrade system, and you’ll be able to use the computer on the ship to kit out your character as you plummet to earth.
Because of the aforementioned licensing issues, Zero Point is unable to show Interstellar Marines in video form or even release screenshots. However, with a new engine in place, Zero Point is hoping to show off more from the game soon. Zero Point also plans to release a beta later in the year, with regular updates following to gather feedback from the community. What Zero Point Software is effectively doing is using the community as beta testers, gathering feedback from its fans on where they want the series to go. There's still plenty of work to be done on Interstellar Marines, but there's no doubt that it presents an interesting new way of developing games. For lots more info, make sure you check out The GameSpot UK Podcast this week, where we talk to the developers about 'AAA Indie' development.