S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Designer Diary #2

GSC Game World writer Yury Besarab discusses the creation of the intriguing game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost in this edition of our designer diaries.

It's easy to pigeonhole most games into genres--you can classify first-person shooters as first-person games that let you run around and blast things, and you can classify role-playing games as games that include pointy-eared elves who gain experience points. But Ukrainian developer GSC Game World is working on a game that isn't so easily classified. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost will take place in a bleak, near-future version of Chernobyl, the site of the tragic reactor meltdown in 1986. In the game, you'll play as a stalker--a scavenger in search of irradiated objects, or "artefacts," in the area around the devastated reactor, known as "the Zone."

The guts of the devastated Chernobyl reactor.

This unusual game will combine elements of first-person shooters and role-playing games with what the developer describes as a highly organic environment--one that changes from day to night and includes an actual community of creatures and rival scavengers that will act independently of any choices you make. In fact, if you're too slow in your quest to recover artefacts and unearth the mystery of the Zone, another computer-controlled stalker may complete the game before you do. In this edition of our designer diaries, GSC Game World writer Yury Besarab discusses the game's premise and how it will tie in to the gameplay of this innovative game.

Making Sense of Oblivion

Yury Besarab
Writer, GSC GameWorld

When we started developing S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost, we wanted to establish a "what if" scenario based on the very real and very terrible events of 1986, when reactor four at Chernobyl blew. In the game, a second explosion in 2006 essentially creates what we call the "Exclusion Zone" around the reactor site. "The Zone" defines the scope of the game, because within this area, we see the perversion of nature that results from the release of such a high dose of radiation. Here, we could create an area that allows the range of incidents and opportunities we need for a game of such ambition. Here, we could set up our own laws, both natural and unnatural, in which the "real" world can interact in a way that feels acceptable for gamers.

The zone won't be a pleasant place.

We're attempting to make the effect of radiation in the Zone to be very clear, and very consistent. It's a place where mutants come in many different forms and with many different abilities. This second reactor meltdown will cause a wide variety of side effects to the area and its inhabitants. The creatures here are possessed of more than natural cunning and should prove to be formidable challenges to anyone, however well armed, who enters the Zone looking for personal gain. And few even think of making such an attempt. Scientific and military expeditions no longer send any expeditions into the area, since all explorers have a tendency to disappear. The government seals off the area, apparently taking the position that it should be contained. And while this approach appears to be working in terms of preventing the horrors from escaping, it overlooks the need to keep other horrors from entering.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost will introduce a new breed of mercenary. These are the stalkers, a band of people linked by activity rather than formal affiliation. A stalker will risk his or her life in the Zone on a daily basis, looking for a payoff--whether it's retrieving an artefact for a rich collector, scouting for intelligence, or even rescuing some other hapless, would-be stalker. The stalkers, like the Zone, know few boundaries.

It's with these people that the game really starts, six years after the second explosion. The Zone is a fully formed region, talked about in the media and home to all manner of abnormalities. Stalkers come and go regularly, and the most experienced ones become experts at the subtleties of exploring and surviving in this dangerous area.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost takes this choice as the basis of the game. Stalkers always attempt to learn as much as possible about their environment. And there will be a lot to learn. The Zone is constantly evolving as creatures of every size and shape shift about the land in response to built-in urges or as a reaction to new dangers. We hope that this highly complex use of cause-and-effect mechanics will add a random element to the game that will make sure players don't get complacent. Even anomalies--areas where strong concentrations of radiation can cause unpredictable effects, like toxic air or low gravity--will become as much a part of the landscape as the sunrise (only less predictable). In the meantime, hunger, fatigue, and the constant effects of radiation on the body play a key part for everyone within the Zone.

We hope that this simulation of real life within the Zone will help set S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost apart from other games you may have played before. We're attempting to make the game as open-ended as possible so that you can choose your own objectives. Computer-controlled characters will have their own priorities, some of which may or may not clash with your own. Your abilities will grow as you become increasingly familiar with the landscape, creatures, and anomalies--but so will other characters. How you react should become as much a part of the game as finding new weapons or artefacts. Again, we're placing a huge emphasis on cause and effect; using a shoot-now-and-ask-questions-later approach will provide a much different result than attempting to use other tactics to accomplish your goals, like stealth.

You won't be alone there, either.

We've talked about this before, but we hope to create a game that offers you hundreds of possibilities of different things to see and do and different characters to align with or fight against. We're attempting to create a game that will seem eerily familiar, yet dangerously alien. As we've stated previously, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will feature eight different endings that you'll see based on both your actions and those of others in the Zone. We hope you'll try to see them all.

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