S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Updated Q&A - Smart AI, Advanced Physics, and Multiplayer

Project lead Anton Bolshakov discusses the advanced artificial intelligence and weapons modeling that make this first-person survival action game different from anything that you've played.

You probably wouldn't want to vacation around the exclusion zone that surrounds the infamous nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, which melted down in 1986. But when S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl ships next month, you'll be able to adventure all you want around a fictional version of Chernobyl, set in a universe where the radiation has done strange things to the area. That's because you'll play as a stalker, a heavily armed scavenger looking for valuable artifacts while also battling the mutant creatures and rival stalkers that inhabit the zone. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. blends first-person action with a wide-open world that you can explore at will; you won't be following a linear path, like in so many action games. With the game finally set to ship next month, we caught up with project lead Anton Bolshakov to learn more about the game's advanced features.

GameSpot: Give us an update on the game's development. What aspects of the game is the team working on now?

Anton Bolshakov: We are close to the finish line. The team is preparing the release-candidate version. The feature list is already closed, but we are still correcting some bugs, fine-tuning the balancing, optimizing the game for different PC configurations, and just polishing the game as a whole. So in general, everything is going well and according to plan.

After years of development, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. finally arrives next month.

GS: Tell us about the combat in the single-player game. How true to life are the weapons and damage models? Is the game intended to be highly realistic and punishing for less-skilled players?

AB: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is oriented around realism, so we are doing everything in such a way that the player will feel that everything is real, including graphics, atmosphere, and artificial intelligence. We used the same principle working on weapons in the game.

There are about 30 weapon types, most of them based on real prototypes. Many of these weapons are upgradeable with scopes, grenade launchers, and silencers, just as in real life. The same thing applies with the ballistics. Making apt use of the physics engine, we implemented a large number of interactive gameplay features, which makes the game more realistic and lively. Thus, true bullet ballistics were implemented in the game. To adjust the bullets, we used such parameters as mass, speed of flight, materials-piercing abilities, and environment resistance. As a result, our weapons act very realistically. For example, when you are shooting the Russian Vintorez rifle from long distances, you can see that the bullet is flying in a parabola. That is why while shooting at a target that is far away, you should aim a bit higher.

Real bullet speed makes it necessary to lead your target while shooting at a target that is moving and far away. The same goes for grenades; they use physics, creating physical waves and splinters after the explosion. We also created a ricochet that sometimes can be used to shoot a covered enemy, if you are able to calculate everything correctly, of course. You should remember the ricochet effect so you don't hit yourself accidentally.

Using iron sights is more accurate than shooting from the waist, and shooting while you are sitting is more accurate than shots made while running. You should also take into account the density of materials and the ability to shoot through them--concrete blocks are good cover, while thin metal and wood are not. In addition, we should say that nearly every weapon has different cartridge types (splinter, armor piercing, and so on), each of which has its own physical properties. And don't forget to change your weapons from time to time, as the weapons show realistic wear and tear over time.

We created a realistic damage system where the torso or headshot will be completely different from the hand or leg ones. You will see the proper animations of enemies hit in each body part. After a serious torso hit, the enemies will fall on the ground squirming in pain. The more injured a character is, the more that character's state will change--heavily injured characters will leave tracks of blood (which can be followed). Without dressing a wound, you can bleed to death.

By creating the combat system, we were trying to make it realistic, fun, and as efficient as possible, so we think that beginners will be able to get used to it very quickly. Having familiarized themselves with the weapons properties, players will be able to use them effectively in different combat conditions.

GS: How does the combat in the single-player game differ from standard first-person shooter battles? Will players have to be more concerned about conserving ammo or not being able to heal themselves from damage, for instance?

Detailed ballistics modeling may translate into some of the most realistic firefights yet.

AB: The concept of the player's freedom in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. makes the game a lot different than other shooters.

First, the player may approach the game scene from absolutely any point or position. For example, in order to accomplish the task of eliminating the bandits encamped in the factory, the player may go in with guns blazing, or try sneaking up from flanks, or circle the camp around, or use stealth-style play.

Second, with any tactics chosen, the player will obtain a corresponding AI reaction. The universal combat AI we created is taught to skillfully act in any circumstances. Thus, we gave each non-player character virtual hearing and sight. As a result, combat against the AI would start only after NPCs have spotted the player.

For example, a player could sneak up to an army post, snipe an enemy, and hide. Once the other NPCs spot their friend's body, they will react by raising the alarm and seeking out the enemy. As soon as the enemy is detected, the AI will, while shooting, run for cover, reload, and look out for targets. The combat AI was taught to reload guns and search for new cover if wounded. Aside from individual actions, the AI is taught to effectively act as a team. Thus, in battle the AI characters exchange messages with each other and use suppression fire when one of them asks to cover him, and the rest will back him up.

Who Stalks the Stalkers?

AB (cont.): When severely wounding or killing an enemy, the AI will brag about their deed to their team; they also react to losses among their team, some might even panic. We taught the AI to react differently depending on whether it is fighting against one opponent, two, three, or more, so as to have the ability to differentiate the tactics. Thus, if there are two groups fighting with the player involved in one, the other group won't all fire at the player. Instead, the other group will distribute the number of enemies between themselves depending on strength.

Developer GSC Game World found easy inspiration for the game, since it's based not far from Chernobyl.

Answering to the second part of the question, a considerable part of the gameplay revolves around the survival of the player. By the notion of survival, we mean not only physical survival in the exclusion zone, but also the meticulous planning of equipment, careful movement thorough the zone, and knowing when to fight and when not to. Lack of bullets is also common, especially when the game begins. The player will have to pick up ammunition from slain enemies, look for hidden stashes, trade, and so on.

GS: What role will the environment play in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s battles? We've seen several missions that take place in crowded industrial ruins that provide plenty of cover, but how interactive will the environments be? Will players be able to destroy or deform parts of the world in battle, such as knocking over walls or piles of debris with explosions to provide more cover or crush their enemies underneath?

AB: The large outdoor setting, the highly detailed and complex geometry, and the freedom inside the game give the player an enormous amount of possibilities regarding combat action planning. Using binoculars, the player is able to look over the area, count enemy forces, and find a good spot for attack. The player will find a lot of dynamic objects and physics. For example, by shooting at a gas container that is next to a group of enemies, you may kill more than one with a single shot. Or by shooting out a lamp in an underground area, you will be able to set up an ambush for an enemy stalker.

GS: Given the game's highly open-ended nature, tell us about how the team designed the various battlefields in the game. How will these environments let players take multiple approaches to each battle?

AB: In designing levels, we were guided by the idea of creating the most effective battles as possible. First, we determined key points where battles would be interesting, with lots of cover and possibilities of short rushes and work-arounds--for example, a junkyard or a destroyed hangar. We placed a lot of objects that give the player and NPC characters many possibilities and freedom. We changed and shifted these details many times while balancing and testing until the best configurations were found.

GS: Give us an overview of what S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s multiplayer modes will have to offer.

AB: Multiplayer in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. consists of three modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and the unique artifact hunt. The first two modes are well known from the other games. Artifact hunt is a mode where the players are split into two teams and fight for artifacts that appear randomly on the map. The task is to take the artifact to your base. The team that has more artifacts wins.

In spite of the fact that the rules of our multiplayer are similar to other games' rules, you will always recognize that S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s unique atmosphere, physics, highly detailed environments, anomalies, and artifacts set the game apart from other multiplayer games.

Among the other features of the multiplayer are dynamic day/night cycles, a ranking system, upgradeable weapons, and different types of cartridges for every weapon type. We specially designed maps for multiplayer. We used professional cyber-sportsmen in designing and balancing maps. Multiplayer supports up to 32 players over LAN or Internet. We'll have the multiplayer beta open soon, and we invite everyone to take a look.

GS: How will the combat system translate to multiplayer play? Will multiplayer S.T.A.L.K.E.R. play like a standard arcade-style multiplayer shooter, or will players still need to worry about dwindling ammo supplies, limited inventory space, and radiation?

AB: It is worth noting that while working on multiplayer, we had to modify and readjust a number of single-player elements, taking in the fact that the combat is being played against other people.

Multiplayer support for up to 32 should mean that the area around Chernobyl becomes hot once again.

First, the weapons were readjusted to make the combat closer to reality. Now the player will be able to die from a single headshot, while in single-player, the player would have to absorb half a clip of ammunition. Let me mention, however, that weapons' characteristics were readjusted in multiplayer, taking into account the weapons' balance in the single-player game. In other words, weapons that are weak in single-player remain weak in multiplayer, too.

In the course of the multiplayer testing, we had to implement certain changes in the bullet ballistics. For instance, the air resistance parameter was increased. Now you can't kill an enemy with the basic pistol at a long distance. When using a silencer, the weapon's power was reduced, while at the same time if you shoot with the silencer applied, the opponent will not see the direction of fire on the minimap. Bullet conservation is present only in the artifact-hunt mode, while in the other two modes there is no shortage of bullets.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s combat system?

AB: We are making the combat in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as interesting as possible, and we are hoping that the players will enjoy their experience as much as we do!

GS: Thank you, Anton.

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Discussion

108 comments
sycenleung
sycenleung

It sounds good. I hope that the release version will be as good as they said.

rutger300
rutger300

when GS askes: "What role will the environment play in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s battles? We've seen several missions that take place in crowded industrial ruins that provide plenty of cover, but how interactive will the environments be? Will players be able to destroy or deform parts of the world in battle, such as knocking over walls or piles of debris with explosions to provide more cover or crush their enemies underneath?" AB says: "The large outdoor setting, the highly detailed and complex geometry, and the freedom inside the game give the player an enormous amount of possibilities regarding combat action planning. Using binoculars, the player is able to look over the area, count enemy forces, and find a good spot for attack. The player will find a lot of dynamic objects and physics. For example, by shooting at a gas container that is next to a group of enemies, you may kill more than one with a single shot. Or by shooting out a lamp in an underground area, you will be able to set up an ambush for an enemy stalker." THATS NOT AN ANSWER ANTON!!!

Zero_Fate_
Zero_Fate_

devilnevercry9, i think you just made one of the most idiotic comments i ever layed my eyes on.

nev70
nev70

FinishingTouch- This game is old news, I had the cracked alpha build way back in 2002. ............................................................................................WTF are you on ? are you saying theres been no dev or any improvment in the last 5 years ? what so they just let it sit there and gather dust for the sake of it ?

R3DN1N3
R3DN1N3

I've been tracking this game since '05 and I'm glad it's finally coming out. I hope my 3 year old HP computer can handle the system requirements. I can shell out some money to upgrade a few parts here and there but if I can play it as it comes then I'll be a happy camper. I can't wait lol. 2007 is gonna be a great year for the video game industry as a whole.

devilnevercry9
devilnevercry9

this game is only $39.99. that's made something isn't good about it. this price is pulled me to attention about the game, it could be rate at 7.8 to 8.2 is the best for of it. Since it is new play styles

Himoversin
Himoversin

Prediction: It'll be buggy but still cool. Put me down for a copy.

doodeeman
doodeeman

Just in case no one has posted the Min requirements for the game i'll just say this: they have made the game to run fine on low end computers and it'll run on DX8-9 and possibly 10 later on. I dont even care about the graphics, as long as its as fun as it sounds im happy

VengfulOne
VengfulOne

This game better be good. I haven't baught a pc game in a while and I feel lost and scared!

telorn
telorn

Lunch my butt, Reldas. We all know you're browsing the web on company time...just as I am ;) Oh, and I'd stay away from physics cards for now. It's too new to know who will come out on top (External Aegis or ATI/Nvidia built-in) and hardly any games support it anyway (Ghost recon the only one?). Does Stalker even support Aegis?

Reldas89
Reldas89

i was reading this while eating my lunch at work and i am very impressed, lets just hope that everything that they say is true and works just like they said it would

firedrakes
firedrakes

Physics cards anyone??? thu price needs to go down on them

Sandlynx9
Sandlynx9

Last I heard they said the graphics are comparable to HL2, so... I'll allow it. They are trying to do so much with this game. It sounds awesome, I just hope it all pans out in the end and the elements lend themselves well to the gameplay.

nappan
nappan

This game sounds like Oblivion in chernobyl, and I mean that in a VERY good way. I cannot wait to get my hands on this puppy.

infirmaryblues
infirmaryblues

Wow, it's pathetic to see so many people not give this game a chance based on GRAPHICS. Good god, of course it doesn't look like Crysis. Only Crysis looks like Crysis. And we still have yet to see if Crysis has decent gameplay or an engaging storyline. STALKER looks very promising in those areas, not to mention the physics involved with the guns.

-Dragon_Hunter-
-Dragon_Hunter-

While i haven't been following this title for long, i'm quite exited about it's it's upcomming release. And as many have said, the graphics will probably be a bit dated. However, in my personal opinion, while great graphics are nice, they really are just that, nice. Judging by what i have read (Pretty much just what has been written here on Gamespot), the rest of the game is above average. For one, how many games up to date actually include parameters such as air resistance and travel time for shots at long range? Not to mention that they apparently let the AI handle most things, instead of using prescripted events. This all should, if it's actually implemented correctly, lead to STALKER being one of the most realistic games to date. Look at it this way. How many games actually make chest-wounds as deadly as they should be? Not many of them. While i don't expect it to realistically portray the effects of damage to vital organs, such as punctured lungs and so on, it seems like it will do a better job than most other games. Not to mention that it's not a traditional FPS, which will most likely result in a much wider range of potential players (I know alot of people who aren't all that big on FPS's, myself included, that is looking forwards towards this title). And the dated graphics could, note that i said could, also give them a wider array of potential purchasers, since alot of games these days are playing on somewhat dated systems. Well, i could go on and on, but this is already getting drawn out, so i'll end here. And note that this entire comment is based on my perception of gaming and my interpretation of what i have read, and i hold no illusions of being right about everything.

ANGELOFSOLLACE
ANGELOFSOLLACE

A well awaited game. I plan on getting it once it comes out. For those of you out there that are thinking about getting this game don't listen to bad reviews from people that haven't played the game. If you really worried about dropping 40-50 dollars give the demo a run when it comes out. -SOLLACE

airforceone452
airforceone452

We used professional cyber-sportsmen in designing and balancing maps. wtf are "cyber-sportsmen"?

FinishingTouch-
FinishingTouch-

This game is old news, I had the cracked alpha build way back in 2002. The game looked crap then and looks crap now. The engine is outdated and a 5 year old graphics card could handle this. """For example, a player could sneak up to an army post, snipe an enemy, and hide. Once the other NPCs spot their friend's body, they will react by raising the alarm and seeking out the enemy. As soon as the enemy is detected, the AI will, while shooting, run for cover, reload, and look out for targets. The combat AI was taught to reload guns and search for new cover if wounded.""" Ya we've all seen that before in EVERY other game.

racerx737
racerx737

this game sounds pretty amazing, guess we'll have to see when it comes out!

azirra
azirra

Tidus: I just think STALKER is a great game maybe Im wrong maybe im right. Nobody can be sure before its released :)

The_Weekend
The_Weekend

let's wait out and see how good it can be ... might be a bigger winner than it is made to be!

blackhammer77
blackhammer77

Perhaps it may be a disappointment or over hyped - and Crysis sure does raise the bar. But wait at least until the demo comes out before saying its a disappointment - all you can see in screenshots are graphics. Sure its not completely revolutionary - but it combines all the great things about fps. Before I read this bit - I couldnt care less about it; but now... i cant wait!

DO646260
DO646260

GiJesse, no it sounds like PC cause they said messing with PC configurations... Sounds like an awesome game though!!

Tidus4444
Tidus4444

Personally, I think this game is way too over hyped. In my opinion, the videos and screenshots don't meet the standards of what is already on the market today... or at least what will be (ex: Crysis). Even gameplay wise it looks mediocre. I'll probably end up getting this anyway since i've been looking forward to it since the beginning. It just sucks when people set such high expectations for games, especially ones like S.T.A.L.K.E.R that took years and years to make. Sometimes people set almost impossible standards where they believe the game is going to be almost an ideal version of what they would want to experience, but you know what? That'll never happen haha. There always be something that we want more. But anyway, this game does look decent i guess, but it doesn't look revolutionary. Let's just wait and see...

GUnitTimothy
GUnitTimothy

graphics suck for a game thats been at work for that long...

MC_PaUK
MC_PaUK

How many endings are planned? "We plan seven drastically different endings to the game. The way it will end depends on what is the player's way to complete the game."

azirra
azirra

Oh and another thing cjcr: Its also good because its one of the hardcore classic PC on the market.. And I relly miss those games :)

azirra
azirra

cjcr: Thats probely right and then it also looks total cool :) Ooh wait no you are not at all right because there are mutants in the game.. And tahts not so realistic right? :D

DLOW8
DLOW8

this was an e-mail interview, wasn't it? lazy.

kiro900
kiro900

any news about multiplayer???

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

Now I know why this game is so eagerly expected by a lot of people. Because it tries to be one of the most realistic games ever made. We'll see if it succeeds.

firebreathing
firebreathing

pardue been waiting on this game for 4 years. i wouldnt mind if they ported it to consoles. but ONLY and i mean ONLY after they have completely mastered it for the pc. then they do with it whatever they like, if it means dumbing it down and porting to a gaysole, i mean console, sorry.Did you seriously say "gaysole"??? Do you think about what you're saying before you just spout it out of your mouth like an elephant with diarrhea??? You must be pissed about the fact that racing and fighting games are better on consoles. If you're so much better than console users why don't you just start to work on your portable pc with decent hardware that doesn't cost 1000$. I know 10 year olds that aren't even that immature :)

auntbessie
auntbessie

I love killing mutants, show me a monster with 3 legs, 5 arms and 2 cocks, I'll take em all off. Looking forward to this one, length of development is an issue I guess as pc gaming advances so quickly, could be another Daikatana as a worst case, but I'm optimistic about this one, give it a chance I say.

esrra
esrra

this game is going to own. this kind of game should be an example to those eye candy FPS, and do a "complete" job. grafix are ok but if you add what this guys are doing. well you know you have a "classic" something to remenber that company. same with fallout and interplay. so many good games. or microprose with X-Com apocalypse.

SciFiShooterGUY
SciFiShooterGUY

I think it's kind of funny that you just decided to point out the fact that there were bugs in the game, while they said they were in the final process of trying to fix them. I am sure they are small bugs, and I know most every game has bugs anyway, I have no doubts that this game will be the best, bug or no bugs. It has the potential to be one of the best beyond any other new shooter, besides maybe Crysis or any other open ended FPS with RPG like elements and advanced AI systems. In fact, you might say I have dreamed about this kind of game, since I first started playing Classic DOOM what seems a lifetime ago. But really only about 12-13 years ago.

SlawekAB
SlawekAB

i am waiting for a review before i buy this one cause if after so many years in development and this thing still has bugs than again this game is being made by russians so who knows but after i read review and it gets some good points i will buy it

ovp87
ovp87

i hafto agree. had they made this game another half-ass console port id be pissed. all pc gamers know weve had to endure far too many of those already. dont get me wrong, i wish console gamers everything good. but im sick & tired of half-ass camera angles, wacked controls and graphics from the second world war.

Mohamed_h
Mohamed_h

Again ..if that game managed to achieve what it promises .. it will be the king of all shooters in 2007 .. may be even better than Crysis !

riotdude
riotdude

This game is going to rock and that was really stupid of what you said pardue.

datniccah187
datniccah187

Wow, i'm dig' this. You have to love any game where nuclear substances have done strange things to the surrounding area. Should make for some interesting creatures and interesting game play. I'm all over this.

partytimekegs
partytimekegs

This looks really amazing. I truly hope it doesn't pull a Fable.

DesmondPills
DesmondPills

pardue you are lame for that lame comment.

adawg1500
adawg1500

do we get an emblem for watching?

carlboehm
carlboehm

Pardue, did you really just call it a "gaysole?" That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. Obviously if you're so much better than a console user you must be extremely 1337 and EXTREMELY cool