We talk to producer and game designer William Westwater about Monolith's recently released sci-fi action sequel.
Sierra and Fox Interactive's latest action game, Aliens Versus Predator 2, was released earlier this month. The game has received very favorable reviews, though there have been some complaints about its multiplayer mode. We recently talked with Monolith's William Westwater, the game's producer and designer, to find out what the team would have done differently, how the relationship between LithTech and Monolith affected the development of the game, and what's next for the Aliens Versus Predator series.
GameSpot: Aliens Versus Predator 2 has received a number of favorable reviews since its release. Have you been pleased with the public's response to the game so far?
William Westwater: The public reaction has been great, especially to the single-player game. You can play as alien, predator, and marine, and in each, we really went for a feel that was appropriate for the character. The alien and predator missions are different from a lot of first-person shooters, so we were a little worried that people might love one style, say the marines, and dislike the others, the predator or aliens, for instance.
Happily, we haven't seen a lot of that. Although most people do seem to like the marines best, we've also seen reviewers say that they like the predator or alien best. That's great. It means we found a nice balance between the three stories.
GS: Looking back, are there any things in the game you would have done differently?
WW: Looking back, we wish we'd done an online public beta test. We had originally planned one, then the planning fell through. We tested the multiplayer a lot internally and with Fox, but that just doesn't replicate the conditions that people experience on the Internet. We had one big bug that we found the moment the demo went public--and we did fix it. Still, once you have that first quick patch out, I think some people look at you differently. It's kind of like showing up for work naked one day. The next day, people just can't look at you the same way.
As you can imagine, I'd like to have done that differently.
GS: Were there features or content that you intended to include in the game but couldn't due to the development schedule?
WW: When we start, we develop with a prioritized feature list that shows what we'd create if nothing went wrong. Of course, something always goes wrong, and the list always gets shorter. Having said that, some of the things on that list were very close to making it into the game. Right now, we're tinkering with the code and playing with a few of those features. Specifics are all top-secret, though. I could tell you, but then I'd have to feed you to a drone.
Now, the feature list covers things that we considered seriously for the game. We also had a wish list. The difference between the two lies in our mission statement, which we hashed out nearly two years ago. Mission: Play alien, predator, or marine in any order and bind them with a strong story; expand the franchise with new movie-based characters and weapons; improve the graphics; and improve the multiplayer. If it isn't essential to the game, it's on the wish list. Period.
Ah, the wish list. AI teammates. Co-op modes. Bots. Someone wanted to drive the APC. Someone else wanted to fly the dropship. Probably someone even wanted to have RPG elements where you could improve your alien abilities. I exaggerate a little. No one wanted to make an alien RPG character, but you get the idea. The bottom line was if an idea wasn't critical to our mission, we had to move on. Any other choice and you wouldn't be playing the game today. Or next year. Or the year after.
GS: Do you plan to include any of those features in future updates to the game in the form of patches or expansion packs?
WW: Yes. We can't go into details yet, but yes.
GS: What is the AVP2 team working on now? Have they moved on to other projects, or are they working on updates to the game?
WW: Honestly, most of the team--such as art and level design--has moved onto Secret Project X, Secret Project Y, or The Operative 2. The programmers are split between new teams and our continuing support team for AVP2. We want to improve our multiplayer still and help the mod community work with the game. Me, I'm hip-deep in localizations, demos, and our low-violence German version of AVP2.
GS: Can you tell us about any upcoming updates to the game? Will any Internet multiplayer issues be addressed?
WW: We have been tweaking, profiling, and optimizing the multiplayer game behind closed doors. We want you to have a smoother game.
GS: When do you expect the next update to be available?
WW: We want to put out the tools and another update as an AVP2 holiday gift to the world.
GS: How closely do the game developers at Monolith work with the technology developers at LithTech?
WW: We work very closely with LithTech. So, while in some sense games at Monolith drive the technology, we are continually consulting with the LithTech team. That lets LithTech ensure that the technology is reusable while Monolith ensures that the game is awesome. Those two aspects, you don't have to write that in the mission statement. They are a given.
GS: Did the development of AVP2 have any direct influence on the ongoing development of the LithTech engine?
WW: AVP2, which is built on LithTech's Talon System, grew out of the NOLF engine. We improved the lighting to 32-bit light mapping to enhance the mood, rewrote the physics code to support wall walking, updated the AI for aliens and predators, and then generally worked like mad to get the game done and polished. We're NOLF after a very long and painful boot camp filled with angry aliens and predators.
GS: Have there been any technology advancements in the LithTech engine that you weren't able to include in AVP2? If so, will you be able to take advantage of any of those advancements in future updates to the game?
WW: LithTech really has three development systems. AVP2's derived from NOLF into the Talon System. Of course, we have a lot of advancements. I mentioned the lighting and local gravity for characters. We also enhanced the engine in a lot of small ways--per-poly collision detection, client-side hit simulation for multiplayer, and per texture render settings, for example. We also put a lot of energy into memory and performance optimizations at the end of the project. Many of these optimizations were game-side, but they would apply to anyone making a FPS using the Talon System.
GS: Thanks for your time, William.
For more information about Aliens Versus Predator 2, read our full review of the game.
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