GameStar.ru staff is happy to announce the next Round Table convocation. Just about a month ago we've finished discussing RPG with famous creators working in the genre, and today we're launching a series of interviews with the leading developers in the field of the most popular, most demanded, most adrenaline packed genre favoured by millions — shooter games.
The Round Table starts off with an interview with the leading developer of Survarium — Ruslan Didenko. If you've never heard about this project — it's a MMO-shooter game by the folks who had worked on legendary S.T.A.L.K.E.R. before and is something to look forward to.
Greetings, please introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us about your position and job responsibilities.
My name is Ruslan Didenko. For the time being I am the Project Lead for Survarium. I used to work with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. projects: from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 before. While working on current project, I deal with forming and keeping the general vision of the project, planning and administration.
So, why don’t you start with telling us a little about yourself and how did you get into the game industry?
I’ve always wanted to make games. Back when I was at schoolI used to drawmy owntable game about knights. But there were too few people who heard about Ukrainian gamedev in Odessa those days, so I became a programmer after I graduated from University. At the same time with the help of my internet-friends I was elaborating an online text-game MUD). After the two years of boring work as a database programmer I decided to change something, so I found an open position at GSC Game World, contacted them, succeeded in job interview and entered a new World!
In perspective, how long do you think it will be before real-time computer graphics become 100% photorealistic? For example, when computer graphics will reach the Avatar movie’s level?
I think it’s already 100% photorealistic. At least watching the latest leading engines tech demos doesn’t give an impression that something is missing there. Another thing, you should be able to use all these features skillfully. From my point of view, graphics in Avatar movie are great not because of the technologies, but due to astonishingly balanced and breathtaking world created and realized by the director. In my opinion, nowadays the quality of graphics depends about 70% on the art solutions and only 30% on the technological innovations.
What do you expect from the next-gen consoles?
I am hopeful of closer integration with the Internet and orientation on downloadable content. Now we can see the so-called “golden age” of PC games. In my opinion PC games survived mostly because of the Internet. Consoles are not so developed in that area yet. What I am expecting from the next generation is that the companies will remove some of the limitations, which will provide a lot of opportunities for online games on consoles. Plus, I would really like consoles to be more open platforms the game developers.
Who of modern game designers would you like to mention specially? Which FPS and/or TPS developing studio impresses you?
To tell the truth, I’ve not been an active follower of my colleagues’ success. For years I’ve kept an eye on the example of Sid Meier. As for TPS and FPS, modern shooters are too biased towards the interactive cinema, and that doesn’t make me happy as a player. I’d rather prefer to be able to play, cope with nonstandard situations and think. And most of the up-to-date games don’t give us a chance to do this. But if we try to assemble a perfect game with the help of some details, it will be a story of the MassEffect, graphics and weapons from the Battlefield and freedom of action and atmosphere of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
What is your opinion about the upcoming Windows 8? Do you think its release can influence the game market? Can it really harm indie-development or digital distribution as many people are afraid of?
The idea of implementation of the application store into the OS by Microsoft looks quite logical. But the Devil is in the details. If this policy complicates the delivery of the games from developers to users, everybody will suffer from it. As of now the games for Windows 8 certification requirements make me shudder. Besides, certification fee will scare most small development studios off.
FPS games were always quite linear from the very beginning, though in the past it was well hidden behind various approaches to in-game situations. Nowadays many gamers complain about gameplay being much less variable and FPS titles turning more into a plain shooting range. Do you agree? Please name one FPS game you think has the most non-linear gameplay.
I absolutely agree with that. Unfortunately, there are too many marketing guys and a few game designers in game production today. A lot of game makers stopped thinking about how people will play their games. And I don’t like the idea of games becoming the “fast-food”, thus we will eat it in spite of the fact that this is tasteless and same, because it is cheap and affordable. As for the linearity in shooter games, you can't judge it only by locations topology, but you will also have to answer following questions: does an in-game situation provide for multiple solutions, will the player be able to find a solution to his own taste? There are only a couple shooter games satisfying these criteria at the moment and they're mostly multiplayer.
Early shooters had everything to make one feel like the world's real savior — huge rocket launchers, jetpacks, medkits and non-stop action. A lot of modern shooters are either too serious or mostly multiplayer-oriented. Is it the dead-end or should we expect next ten years to change much in FPS genre?
Everything goes in a spiral. And still, nature abhors a vacuum. So I’m sure that we’ll see new shooters following the Duke Nukem traditions. Joking aside, there are only a few themes that will always enjoy popularity in shooters. If you want to be recognizable and differ from others, you have to create something new. And this will inevitably lead to inventions. Even the typical multiplayer already seems hopelessly outdated. I suppose that in future the gameplay socializing will play a major role to modify games.
How important are non-linear gameplay and freedom in FPS and TPS games? Do you think linear shooter games have already aged, despite the continuous success of several franchises?
Until the game has its fans, it won’t be out of date. Unfortunately, there are fewer fans of the non-linear games, than linear ones. The reasons are both the absence of the supply of these games and cultivation of the consumer’s cult. From my point of view, linear and non-linear shooters can be divided in two absolutely independent genres with their own rules and canons. And I refused to compare them. Linear shooters incline towards the interactive movies, and I expect them to compete with film industry. Non-linear shooters incline towards the online multiplayer.
What do you consider to be the key moments in the genre's evolution — like, its most significant stages, events, people? What game influenced the genre and its development the most?
To me it’s Doom — forefather of shooters, Quake which started the 3D age of shooters, Half Life — first game with interesting storyline, and Counter Strike — a progenitor of modern online shooters.
What were your biggest mistakes at the beginning of your career and later as a recognized developer? What in development process takes most of your time and resources?
We can’t talk about mistakes because not enough time has passed. Though some unsuccessful decisions were made, we managed to benefit from them and invent something really interesting. So they can hardly be considered as mistakes. As for the development process time, there is no secret. The most expensive part is production of graphics, but fortunately, it is the most predictable part. Polishing the gameplay takes most of our time. You can't just predict when you're going to be satisfied with it for 100%. You just try one thing, then another. When you're making an add-on it's much simpler and the point here is not to break anything. But developing of the original concept may take years. Still, it heavily depends on developers' talent and common view.
What changes do you think should be made in a classic F2P formula for it to become a leap forward for the industry?
We should change players’ attitude to it. And for this, games of high quality should be released by this model. This process has been already started and it’s spinning up.
What changes in the genre are leading it to a dead-end? What disappoints you the most in modern shooter games? What it’s going to look like in ten years, in your opinion?
I don’t think that the genre comes to a dead-end. It’s evolving, getting more sophisticated and creating new types of genre which become independent in the long run. Modern shooters are unoriginal, and it’s quite upsetting. Only one shooter in ten can at least bring some new emotions to players. But it’s not bad at all, in my opinion. For example, the situation in film industry is even worse. Major innovations may be connected with new input devices. For example, an ability to communicate via voice chat not only with your human teammates, but also with NPCs will open new possibilities.
If it's not a secret, what is approximate budget for an action game and how high should sales be to cover development costs?
Everything considerably depends on project’s scale and the country where the project is developed. Budgets for locally developed games here are about five times lower than those in the western markets. And the lion’s share of it takes marketing. On the average, about 300.000-400.000copies sold on PC allow to recoup the development by a studio of 50 staff with up to a three-year production time.
With each new generation development costs rise and new technologies require expanding the staff of qualified professionals. How are you planning to avoid these difficulties in the future and what measures did you take entering current generation?
We decided not to seek after the state-of-the-art technologies, but pay attention to the gameplay design. We think that it is irrational to waste three times as many resources to improve graphics by 5%. Historically, graphics were important in the traditional retail model, to persuade a player to buy the game. When you play online games, especially free2play games, then it’s the gameplay that comes to the front place.Only if the player is interested, he will play and pay for it. In graphics we underscore artistry, not technologies, because if the picture is beautiful, the player doesn’t pay any attention to technologies which created this picture.
What are the main reasons FPSs is dominating other genres? Is it because of well-established public opinion on games, simplicity of learning the basics, aggressive marketing through last two decades, or because of something else?
I think the reason is that consoles, being a major gaming platform, are more oriented on shooter games than strategy. By the way, now we can see a completely reverse process. Touchpads are more convenient for RTS than shooters. And I’m sure that the next few years will be the era of a new flourishing period for the strategy games.
Did the over-the-top FPS/TPS accent become an obstacle for other genres’ development?
The fact that there are no AAA titles in other genres doesn't mean that they don’t have a progress. On the contrary, there is a lack of projects, but each of them deserves consideration. They don’t disappear in the heaps of second-grade projects. In point of the new ideas, other genres have progressed much further than the shootersover the last five years.
Famous series have been showing decrease in overall sales for a few years. Can it be changed by equivalent replacement of core-brands, fresh new approach to controls and interaction with environment or does it require major reconsideration of the genre?
Well, first of all, it doesn’t apply to all series. Some of them report on beating sales target in the first month each year, which means that everything is not so bad. But honestly, this tendency takes place among the games of the second echelon. There are more and more games year by year, but audience of players doesn’t expand so fast. Plus, technological difference between games is not so drastic, as it was ten years ago. So it’s quite logical, that the audience is mostly diluted between different projects, because there is no undisputed leader in this industry nowadays. I think that it will be hard to beat the records of past years, when everybody played the same game, in present genre. The point is that you should find a new genre or new tools of communication with the player.
Modern game industry is comparable to a boiling pot full of philosophy. There’s half a million books written, teaching how to make games properly. Some people rock the crowd with long-forgotten tricks, others blame the lack of photorealistic graphics. What is your vision of genre’s development according to your observations and experience?
I think that modern game development is mostly hackwork, but not art. And the more expensive is game development, the more risky is to underscore art. I find it a problem. But it’s good that new business models, such as F2P emerge to encourage experiments. Some of the series were born as courageous experiment, often as a fan-made mod. And now it is a great time to experiment and create something new.
The other members of the Round table, related to FPS genre, are: