Though hard to believe, the premise behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl isn't that outlandish; in fact, real-life stalkers scavenged the exclusion zone surrounding the site of the world's worst nuclear power plant disaster for years. In this first-person survival action game, you'll play as a stalker hunting for irradiated artifacts after a fictitious second meltdown at the power plant. In addition to the radiation, you'll have to worry about rival stalkers, not to mention the many strange, mutated creatures inhabiting the zone. And if that weren't enough, the radiation has spawned strange anomalies in the environment that could kill you. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has been a long time in development, but if GSC Game World can deliver on its ambitious feature list, there's no doubt that it's going to be one of the most intriguing, original, and exciting action games of the year. We had the chance to catch up with Oleg Yavorsky, GSC's senior public relations manager, to take an exclusive advance look at the all-new features that will be revealed at E3 next week in Los Angeles.
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us about some of the new technical features that GSC Game World and THQ are showing off at E3. For instance, we understand that the E3 demo will focus on DirectX 9 graphical effects. Where will we see these effects, and what will they add to the game?
Oleg Yavorsky: For E3, we have worked on a DirectX 9 version of the game and will demonstrate cutting-edge technologies onscreen: up to 3 million polygons per frame in real time, fully dynamic lighting, soft dynamic shadows cast from every object onto other objects, as well as extensive use of shaders, post-processing effects, and more. We will demonstrate one of the in-game indoor levels--the Chernobyl sarcophagus underground areas--fully in DirectX 9. It will definitely add to the tense atmosphere, while the lighting and shadows will create an intense experience--for instance, when the shadow of a monster behind the corner appears on the wall before you can actually see the monster itself.
GS: What about the new vehicles and vehicle information you're revealing at E3. What vehicles are available in the game, and what purpose do they serve--transportation, storage, or even as a weapon? How will they affect the gameplay?
OY:At E3, we will feature the Soviet KamAZ truck, the Lada Niva, and the armored personnel carrier. All of the vehicles are operable and reflect the physical characteristics of their real-world counterparts. Unlike the previously demonstrated vehicles, the progress we've made on the physics will allow players to break vehicle windows. It should be mentioned that a vehicle can be used not only as transportation, but to also damage objects or humans. Vehicles will definitely add more diversity to the gameplay.
GS: How about the new physics features that you're revealing. We've seen demonstrations of rag-doll deaths and vehicle physics already. In what other ways will the physics engine affect the gameplay in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?
OY: We plan to unveil quite a few new physics elements at E3. Breakable glass, as mentioned above, is one important addition. We'll also show a selection of various interactive objects, including pieces of furniture, composite complex objects (lights swaying on wires and heavy metal tubes on ropes, which are an effective tool to use against your enemies, by the way!), barrels, buckets, wooden boards, and more.
GS: Tell us about the new artificial intelligence features you're revealing. How will stalkers and monsters communicate with each other?
OY: Let's talk a bit about stalkers and the way they communicate. Each of the stalkers in the zone has a personal digital assistant, which he uses to contact the other stalker around. Provided the other stalker is friendly, you can invite him for communication and trade; you just send the other stalker a message after which he may either agree or refuse. If agreed, stalkers greet each other, lower weapons, and come closer. At this point, the trade window pops up on the screen. After successful trading both parties depart.
GS: How about the new AI features that you are revealing that show how stalkers and monsters will behave both in and out of battle? What new abilities, like telepathy and telekinesis, are being revealed at E3? What new battle behaviors are being unveiled at the show, and how will they affect the game?
OY: We plan to demonstrate an advanced combat AI, where the computer-controlled characters are able to orient themselves around complex levels full of diversified geometry and objects, while efficiently finding cover behind them. We also plan to reveal a new telekinetic monster, the dwarf. This guy will make good use of objects scattered around levels and throw them at you. The dwarf is truly powerful.
GS: What about the anomalies in the exclusion zone that you're revealing at E3--are there new anomalies that will be unveiled at the show? What role will these and other anomalies play in the game?
OY: Anomalies are dangerous concentrations of anomalous energy in the zone and are an important gameplay component. Anomalies serve as the primary source for the stalkers' revenue-generating artifacts. At E3, we plan to demonstrate several anomaly types: two gravity anomalies (one absorbing and one repulsing), an electrical anomaly, and a stinging one--all with different visual effects.
GS: Tell us about the new details on artifacts that are being revealed. We know that players must seek out these precious items before their rivals do, but how will players actually sell or trade these items? Do you automatically complete the game once a certain number or certain types of these items are collected?
OY: First off, you'll be able to trade through a dealer who is based in one of the levels. The mechanism of trade will work similarly to the one described above. Secondly, you can trade with friendly stalkers around. We will demonstrate several types of gravitational artifacts in the E3 build. The game is mission- and quest-based, but looking for artifacts is only one type of quest you may receive. We will prepare more.
GS: How about the rest and fatigue system. How long--in real time--can a stalker go without proper food and sleep? How long will sleeping take, and how can players make sure they choose a safe place to rest? What happens when they rest in an unsafe place?
OY: Players will get tired throughout their missions, and unless they take the opportunity to sleep--ranging from 30 minutes to several days--they run the risk of fainting. Hunger will affect players' bodies the same way; if they don't eat for a long time, they will faint and may eventually starve to death. Sleeping should take place in inconspicuous areas; however, there are no restrictions there. If encountered by a monster while sleeping, the player will automatically be woken for combat.
GS: What about the multiplayer details that you are revealing at E3. What multiplayer modes will be available in the final game? Will there be competitive modes like deathmatch or cooperative modes? Will you be able to play through the entire game cooperatively?
OY: We will unveil a fully playable multiplayer map and a team deathmatch mode. The map has been specifically designed by our GSC Pro-Team, an in-house team of professional Counter-Strike and Quake players. Cooperative play will not be included in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
GS: Are there any other new features or details that you plan to reveal at E3?
OY: Yes, and you are welcome to see those with your own eyes on the show floor!
GS: Thanks, Oleg.