Crimson Skies Creator Speaks Out

We sit down with BattleTech cofounder Jordan Weisman to talk about Crimson Skies.

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GameSpot News was the first to uncover Microsoft's upcoming FASA Interactive-inspired title, Crimson Skies, back in July. Since then, very little has been announced about the title, as FASA Interactive's creative visionaries are breaking in their new offices in Redmond, Wash. after having been acquired by Microsoft. To gain some insight into the upcoming title and to find out what gamers can expect, GameSpot talked to the Jordan Weisman, the game's creative lead and one of founders of the BattleTech universe (of which MechWarrior is a part). Here's what Weisman had to say about his upcoming title:

GameSpot News: Since Crimson Skies is relatively unknown to the mainstream video-gaming audience, how would describe your upcoming creation?Jordan Weisman: Crimson Skies is a roller-coaster ride of a flight sim. The game is set in 1937, in an alternate history. The United States has fractured into small European-sized countries as a result of prohibition and the Great Depression. Thus, the Nation of Hollywood, and the Empire State can fight the old battle of the coasts with more then words. Above it all float the massive zeppelins, which carry cargo and passengers between these small nations and across the globe. Lastly (and most importantly), are the air pirates in their zeppelin-based aircraft carriers that hunt the airborne prey and the rich cargoes they carry.

GSN: At what type of gamer is Crimson Skies targeted?JW: Crimson Skies is for any action-game fan who likes great graphics, fast action, and a good story.

GSN: Since aviation is the primary form of transportation in Crimson Skies, do you think flight-simulation addicts will be tempted to play? What type of planes (biplanes, modern, etc.) will be in the final version?JW: Crimson Skies is not really a flight simulator - but I think that flight-sim fans will have a great time doing all the things that could only be done in the movies. This game is about fun, not realism, and I think that the flight-sim fans will understand that and enjoy it for what it is. In terms of aircraft, the game features all sorts of great-looking planes - some of which might even fly in real life. Many are based on German experimental designs from the end of WWII, and many from the creative minds of Lex Story and Dave McCoy. The technology level is propeller based - no jets.

GSN: With your established set of Crimson Skies board game fans, what are you doing to make sure the video game will live up to their expectations?JW: I hope that the fans of the board game and miniatures will enjoy the way that the PC game brings elements of the story and world to life. This is a very story-intensive game - with lots of characters and a great deal of fictionally interesting player rewards based on achievements within the missions. The core of the game system is of course the same - featuring all the planes and weapons from the board game. GSN: The premise for Crimson Skies is undoubtedly unique, as you travel through alternative 1937 with the edge of a Mad Max movie. What was your original inspiration for Crimson Skies?JW: Dave McCoy and I came up with the basic premise several years ago when we were looking for a new game to do at the Virtual World entertainment centers. We wanted to create a world that not only had fighter pilots in it, but was based around fighter pilots - where they became the equivalent of our royalty and movie stars. Thus we created an aviation-crazed environment where everything moves by air and thus the daring pirates who attack the zeppelins and the dashing men and women who defend them are always in the limelight.

GSN: From the first few glimpses we've seen of the game, it appears that the video game uses a slightly modified version of the same engine used in Mech 3. Have you and Zipper made any significant changes to the engine now that most of the action in the game takes place in the skies rather than on terra firma?JW: At the beginning of the project we sat down and talked about how we wanted this game to be different; Crimson Skies would be a flight game that took place in the terrain - not over it. Thus, Dave proposed a number of techniques to allow that kind of detail for both the ground and the clouds. The team at Zipper took these ideas and ran with them for some fantastic results. The basic terrain geometry and texture generation is basically like MechWarrior 3, though continuous mesh terrain is in development and planned for the final game to improve performance and fidelity. A new method for putting enormous numbers of ground clutter objects into view was developed, which will let a forest consist of thousands of three-dimensional trees, not simply a texture map of trees from above. Low flight over the suburbs of LA reveals individual houses and white picket fences, not just a blurry texture map of city blocks or highly stylized cube buildings, etc. Flight introduced a series of issues not encountered in 'Mech III. One of the nice developments was three-dimensional cloud landscapes. Clouds are not simply procedural effects sprinkled in to produce a visual effect. Mission-specific cloud-formation landscapes are three dimensionally represented, and are used to choreograph some of the high-altitude action. Hiding enemies in specific cloud formations with predictable, repeatable qualities means that even at high altitudes you are flying in the terrain, not over it.

GSN: What type of player experience will single players have when adding Crimson Skies to their collection?JW: You play in the role of an Air Pirate - marauding your way across North America, hopefully that's a new addition to someone's collection ;-) My goals for the project are that it features the kind of action and adventure that some of the great movies have captured and then provides a depth of rewards for the players actions that are much more unique and fun then in previous games. After all, there are not many games where you get to steal the Spruce Goose, kidnap a movie star (just to have dinner with her), and get involved in giant aerial engagements with huge zeppelins exchanging broadsides while dozens of fighters swarm over them looking for weak spots.

GSN: How large are you hoping to make the game in terms of the multiplayer aspects of Crimson Skies' gameplay?JW: John Howard, the game's lead designer, has come up with several unique multiplayer scenarios, including multiple teams each with its own zeppelin in a battle to the finish. Each of these scenarios will feature team-vs.- team play in a variety of environments and victory conditions.

GSN: With such an interesting game environment, do you hope to give gamers the tools to build additional craft and other objects for the game?JW: Included in the game is an aircraft-modification system that lets players customize an aircraft from the airframe up. The player will decide on engines, armor, machine guns, ammunition types, and of course choose from the large selection of unique rockets. Lastly, the players will be able to customize their paint schemes and import their own unit emblems.

GSN: Being in the business of making games outside the video-game industry, do you find it refreshing that the video-game industry turns to designers like yourself for inspiration and fresh ideas?JW: I have been playing both sides of the fence for a long time now. I've been involved with the PC since the first adaptation of BattleTech more than ten years ago, and of course with the design and development of the whole BattleTech Center/Virtual World Center virtual-reality entertainment centers. But in general, I do think that it's great that the technology has gotten to a point where the game design and the universe that the game takes place in are becoming a more important component of video-game creation.

GSN: Now that you're working under Microsoft, what has the transition been like for you? Do you find that you have fewer limitations now that you have bigger budgets? Or do you remain focused on the primary goals of the game without thinking about financial limitations?JW: Well in many ways this is my first "real" job. Up to now I have only worked at companies that I had founded (FASA, Virtual World, and FASA Interactive), so this has been a transition in many ways. And overall I find it very exciting - we have always been in a situation where we had more ideas then resources, and that can get frustrating. Here, I am able to leverage off an excellent organization and use a great deal of resources. The result is that I am currently involved in a large number of exciting projects that keep me up very late at night.

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