What is humanity? Well, to the development team at Gas Powered Games, humanity is defined as resisting the temptation to replace body parts with cybernetic implants that transform you into a deadly war machine. While female earthlings may find Seth Walker, the protagonist in the upcoming Space Siege, more attractive if he doesn't remove his arms in favor of alien-blasting bazookas, sacrificing his own humanity may be the only way, in fact, to save humanity. We checked in with Space Siege lead designer Mike Marr to get the latest on the upcoming action role-playing game from the maker of the popular Dungeon Siege series. Here's what he had to say.
GameSpot: It has been a while since we last saw Space Siege. What are you currently focusing on at this stage of development?
Mike Marr: At this point in development we're putting the final touches on the game: incorporating feedback from beta testers, finalizing the game's balance, and making sure we've covered all the bases.
GS: Space Siege revolves around Seth Walker, a highly trained soldier tagged as "humanity's last hope." What makes Seth so special besides, you know, the ability to turn himself into a hell-raising cyborg of destruction?
MM: This is an interesting question because Seth is very much an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Because of that, he has to make decisions throughout the game about how far he is willing to go in order to save the remnants of the human race. That said, Seth is unique among the ship's crew in that he has an affinity for tinkering with gadgets and robots, and he is the only one on the ship able to get the Hodgson's Robotics Unit up and running, which then turns into his robotic sidekick.
GS: Life on Earth is wiped out by the Kerak as the game begins, and we meet up with Seth on a colony ship that is quickly boarded as it tries to escape the solar system. Assuming Seth cleans out his ship, what happens next in a galaxy flooded by human-hating aliens?
MM: Great question! This is one of the major plot points during the course of Space Siege. Seth has to decide how to deal with the Kerak menace and what to do should he succeed in removing the Kerak from the Armstrong. The choice ties in to the dilemma of cybernetics, but I don't want to reveal much more than that.
GS: So far, we've seen a few small, spiderlike enemies in the game. What other frightening Kerak will we be forced to mow down? Also, why are the Kerak so mean?
MM: Fairly soon in the game Seth faces off against some of the larger Kerak, including a siege beast that uses a combination of charges and electrical blast attacks. In the later stages of the game, the Kerak really put the screws to the humans when they do something that tilts the odds even further in their favor. I don't want to spoil it, but it won't be pretty for Seth and his friends.
As for why the Kerak are so mean, that ties in with humanity's first effort to colonize an alien world. A ship called the Rebecca Lee discovered an inhabitable planet that they called Elysium. Unfortunately, the planet was considered holy by the Kerak, and they showed up and killed all of the colonists and then set their sights on Earth.
GS: We understand that the difficulty in Space Siege is adjusted dynamically by how many cybernetic implants Seth decides to use at the expense of his humanity. What are the rewards for Seth if he chooses against cybernetic implants? Will female earthlings find him more attractive?
MM: Electing to avoid cybernetics lets Seth utilize several abilities that cannot be accessed otherwise. Additionally, it opens up an alternate ending. And yes, female earthlings do find him more attractive if he keeps all of his parts intact.
GS: What body parts will Seth be able to enhance, and what are some of the benefits? How many different customization options are we talking about here?
MM: There are seven total body parts that Seth can replace with cybernetic alternatives. Benefits in doing so include things like more health, faster movement, access to the best skills in the skill tree, and the use of the game's most powerful weapons.
GS: Philosophers have been struggling with the question for ages, but how do you define humanity?
MM: In Space Siege, humanity is a rating of how pure you are. Giving up your humanity is a slippery slope. A cybernetic eye or hand doesn't cost much, but the more powerful cybernetics, like the spine or the brain, will cost you your identity. However, sometimes that's just the cost of doing business if you're fighting an alien menace bent on genocide.
GS: What other RPG elements will we see besides cybernetic upgrades?
MM: There are a number of RPG elements in Space Siege. We have the traditional skill tree that not only makes your character more powerful, but it also grants Seth new abilities based on his cybernetic layout and level of humanity.
Additionally, we have an upgrade system for both Seth and his robotic companion, HR-V, or as we like to call him, Harvey. In designing the RPG elements of Space Siege, we aimed for taking a twist on the traditional RPG leveling scheme. Your standard RPG uses an experience curve that is exponential, and time between levels grows larger over time. We instead use an incremental scheme that lets the player enhance their character, their weapons, and HR-V every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the course of the game.
GS: The Dungeon Siege games have typically focused more on action than on story. How do you think the increased focus on story benefits Space Siege? Do you worry that the change will alienate fans of your previous games?
MM: I'm not worried. I believe we've managed to actually increase the level of action as well as give greater focus to the story. The key to doing this in Space Siege was our decision to allow conversation to happen primarily over the radio, letting the player continue exploring and blowing up aliens as the story unfolds. You can stand in a quiet hallway and listen to the conversation, or you can forge ahead guns blazing while the conversation occurs. Either way, the game keeps the objectives clear, and you can always go back to the conversation log to read something you've missed.
GS: Are there any plans to support DirectX 10 for owners of high-end PCs? Any other cool high-end graphical stuff in the works?
MM: For Space Siege, we chose not to support DirectX 10. However, because our focus is on providing the most compelling experience to the widest possible audience, we're evaluating what value DX10 can add to our future titles.
As for other cool high-end graphics, we built quite a few rather unique graphical enhancements into our engine, including an advanced lighting model that pushes the boundaries of dynamic illumination. The engine also supports high dynamic range lighting, which is controlled by environmental settings and captures all the benefits of HDR without the typical bloom effect.
In addition to the work done on the lighting, we took advantage of modern hardware instancing support and packed the screen with more objects, enemies, and effects than we have traditionally been able to handle. And in regards to our special effects, we support advanced primitives as well as the ability to use all the latest shader effects for refraction, distortion, and glow. We put a tremendous amount of effort into taking advantage of all those systems to provide an outstanding visual experience for Space Siege.
GS: We've seen a lot of different storytelling techniques in action RPGs lately, from cinematic cutscenes to branching conversation trees. How is the story in Space Siege told?
MM: The story in Space Siege has branching conversations, but not in the way you would expect. Characters in the world respond to Seth's actions and choices automatically, particularly when it comes to whether or not he uses cybernetics. Each of the primary characters has definite opinions on what Seth is, or isn't, doing, and those opinions are expressed during the course of the game. It was important that we deliver an interesting story without bogging the player down in conversation trees or running through town to make sure they had gotten all the quests before departing.
In addition, there are datapads scattered around the world that offer additional details on everything from evacuation plans to what happened to some of the other survivors. The datapads really help color in the story.
GS: Finally, what's the one thing you think players are going to be most excited about when they finally play Space Siege?
MM: If I had to limit it to just one thing? I'd say our use of physics make Space Siege a very volatile experience, and I suspect players will get a kick out of the experience.