Westka Interactive is a German developer that, while recognizable in Europe, isn't exactly a household name among gamers here in the States. But like nearly every computer game developer--domestic or not--the company would just as soon change all that, and it's hinging its success in the US on a visually outstanding first-person game called The Y Project. Like Ion Storm's Deus Ex, The Y Project initially looks like a first-person shooter, but its pacing is more akin to a typical role-playing game, and in fact, the game will incorporate a lot of the same role-playing elements and gameplay mechanics that earned Deus Ex its critical acclaim. Westka dropped by our offices not too long ago and brought with it a very early build of The Y Project.
Granted, there wasn't much of the game to see. In fact, The Y Project still has about 14 months of development ahead of it, since it's not slated for release until early 2003. What we do know is that it will take place in a not-so-distant future, about 200 years in the future to be precise. The developers chose that time period because, according to them, it's far enough in the future that they'll be able to create new environments, vehicles, weapons, and other items, but close enough that all these items and whatnot will still be grounded in modern-day reality, which ultimately makes it easier for the players to relate to and recognize them. The game doesn't actually take place on Earth, but on a similar planet that's been newly colonized by humans, who congregated in urban areas that continued to grow in size until a single gigantic megalopolis was eventually formed, not unlike the one in The Fifth Element. But this planet is also home to a race of genetically mutated insects that have become such a nuisance to society that the humans were forced into erecting a massive dome to protect their city from the constant threat of bug-related incidents. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants of this sprawling city, however, is that the insects' mutations are a result of government-funded genetic experiments that went, naturally, awry. The project that studied the effects of genome manipulation on insects is called, you guessed it, The Y Project. And as if the Y Project's vile spawns weren't a big enough headache for these humans, one day their domed city inexplicably collapsed, killing most of its citizens and exposing the few remaining survivors to even more insect drama.
Of all the city leaders, only two survive the collapse of the dome--the science minister and the defense minister--and as you can probably assume, the former wants to investigate the reasons for the collapse and study the swarm of mutated insects, while the latter just wants to blast his way out of the current situation. And that's where you come in. You'll play the role of an adventurer who for some reason is important to both of the surviving ministers; that is, they'll require your help as a means to accomplish their own personal goals. Both will try to convince you to ally with them by offering you unique tools, weapons, items, information, and disinformation. In effect, your character will end up being a double agent of sorts, in that you'll have to perform your own investigations, take what each minister says with a grain of salt, recognize that both of them are ultimately just using you, play each side off of the other, and in the end, choose your own destiny.
This "he said, she said" affair will play itself out across five distinct chapters throughout The Y Project, and within each chapter, you'll have complete freedom to move around the gameworld and solve as many or as few miniquests as you see fit. Once you finish a chapter, however, you won't be able to go back to any of the previous levels.
The developers are describing The Y Project as a role-playing game, but they say it won't have any of the genre's typical conventions like experience points and level increases. The game will give you points every time you complete a quest, kill an insect, or participate in a miniquest, and you can allocate these points toward advancing a number of skills, like accuracy, or toward gaining the ability to wear certain types of armor. According to the designers at Westka, The Y Project will have a total of 16 weapons, though you'll never be able to carry more than 10 at a time. One such weapon is tentatively being called the medusa, and like its name implies, it'll turn its victims to stone, which you can then shatter by kicking or by using a more conventional ballistic weapon. Additionally, each of the guns in your arsenal will be modular and can be fitted with a number of items that'll be given to you from either minister. Depending on what kind of item it is and which of the two ministers gave it to you, the same weapon will have drastically different results.
All this--the characters, environments, and weapons--will be brought to life using the latest version of Epic Games' impressive Unreal 3D engine, which is the same piece of technology that will be powering the forthcoming Unreal II and Unreal Tournament 2. In the demo of The Y Project that we saw, 3D models for insects contained 8,000 polygons apiece. The head of the main character had 2,500 polygons--just the head! We even saw a statue that was supposedly made up of no fewer than 300,000 polygons. All this is combined with environments that boast impressive dynamic lighting, procedurally generated clouds, wind that blows cloth and smoke in the same direction, fog that parts and twists when an object passes through it, and a robust physics engine that causes objects to realistically tumble down stairs and collide with their surroundings in a realistic manner. Other technical features include self-tuning difficulty that will monitor your progress throughout each of the five chapters and will scale the enemy AI and the rate that items and insects spawn into the level accordingly.
The level of artwork is also quite noteworthy in The Y Project. Apparently, Westka hired a clothing designer to oversee the production of all the costumes that your character and all of the nonplayer characters in the game will be wearing. The characters themselves are also heavily stylized, with sharp jaws, protruding cheekbones, and lanky frames.
Needless to say, it's way too early to draw any comparisons between The Y Project, which is still very much in the conceptual stages of development, and a game like Deus Ex, which has been out for almost two years. However, the designers at Westka can certainly talk the talk, and the graphics technology that they've been able to put together for the game is very impressive. It'll be interesting to see if they have the same amount of success with executing The Y Project's gameplay as they've had with its graphics. We'll have to wait and see.