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Independence War II Interview

April 26th, 2001
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The space sim genre got a big boost creatively with the release of Particle System's Independence War. Instead of flying a sleek and fast fighter, the ship was a large vessel that actually followed some realistic physics. Now Particle System is finishing up work on the sequel. Independence War 2: The Edge of Chaos is currently undergoing a closed beta test and is scheduled to be published this summer by Infogrames.

Stomped got a treat when it asked to interview some of the folks behind Independence War 2. We got to chat with a number of the folks at Particle Systems about the game, including the game's managing director and executive producer Michael Powell, producer Roger Godfrey, lead programmer Will Vale, game designer and content scripter Stephen Robertson and network programmer Carl Birkinshaw.

Stomped: First, it seems like space sims are getting fewer and far between compared to a few years ago. Are you worried at all that Independence War 2 will not find an audience?

Powell: We think space sims were going up a bit of a blind alley becoming more and more complicated. We've reduced the number of keys for IW2:EOC and improved the user interface to make it much easier to control. Fans of the series need not worry though as we still have realistic physics and all the engineering stuff is there in the background for people to discover.

We still think there's a big market for our blend of sci-fi action and adventure in a space setting. There's no other game or sim that gives you the sense of freedom, exploration and exhilaration that is experienced in Independence War 2: Edge of Chaos.

Stomped: The first game was one of the few that allowed players to fly ships that were much bigger in size than a simple fighter. Now we are seeing games like Star Trek: Bridge Commander with some of the same things. Do you feel that Independence War 2 will further encourage developers to create space sims with more variety?

Powell: I'm not sure - but more variety in all computer gaming would definitely be a good thing.

Stomped: What is the plot of the single player game and how does it connect with the plot of the first game?

Powell: Edge of Chaos is set 100 years later than the original game. You are Cal Johnston, the son of an asteroid miner, orphaned when his father is killed when gangsters led by the infamous Caleb Maas come to repossess his mining ship. You are brought up and trained by Clay, the stored personality of a war hero, who featured in Independence War, until a bungled attempt to avenge your father and kill Caleb Maas lands you in prison for 15 years.

You manage to escape from prison with a motley band of like minded individuals and operating from your hidden base in the Effrit Nebula, begin a life of piracy. More noble motives come to the fore though as the downtrodden citizens of the Badlands Cluster search for leadership to help them overcome the cruel repression of the corporations.

Stomped: What are some of the more noteworthy features in Independence War 2 in terms of gameplay?

Godfrey: The ship to ship combat is similar in style to that in the original game. You still have to cope with inertia and realistic weapons so more brain power has to be employed to defeat you enemies than in other space simulators. Also we have more attention to sensor modelling so you can now make use of stealth tactics and stealth technologies.

The ships are fully configurable so you can customize each one around your personal combat style. If you like balls out action you can go for a really brutal setup with heavy assault weapons. Those commanders with a sense of subtlety can fit their ships out to be stealthy for sneak attacks. The choice is yours.

We also have some very interesting story lines. A lot of thought has gone in to sorting these out as good characters and interesting situations really bring the Independence War universe to life. As with the plot from the original game, nothing is ever quite as it seems...

Stomped: What are some of the engine features you are utilizing in the game? Are you going to be taking advantage of DirectX 8's features?

Vale: Edge of Chaos is built on a brand new engine, called Flux. Flux has been written from the ground up to provide kick-ass gaming technology for I-War 2. On the graphics front, we use a sophisticated shading model similar to high-end 3D rendering packages. If you look at one of our ships in the game engine, you can see light glint from individual paint scrapes on the surface!

Flux makes it very easy for us to cue sound and animation to the action in the game. This means our artists can set up loads of audio and visual effects to give really rich visuals, and let Flux take care of managing them so that the game runs fast.

We also use fully spatial 3D audio to provide a totally convincing soundscape. You can hear every PBC blast, every shield impact, and know exactly where you've taken damage.

On the DirectX front, we fully support Hardware T&L, which allows us to throw complex geometry around and let the graphics card do the work. 

Stomped: How many playable ships are in Independence War 2 and can you give us an idea of their capabilities?

Godfrey: We have five ships that the player can use in the single player game:

* NSO Laplace Command Secton
* Storm Petrel
* Tug
* Fast Attack Ship
* Heavy Corvette

Each ship has different capabilities. For example the Storm Petrel is fast and agile but lightly armoured. The heavy corvette (my personal favorite) is large and can be cumbersome in the hands of an inexperienced pilot - but it packs a heck of a punch.

We also have some special extra ships that players will be able to use in instant action and multiplayer. But we are not going to talk about those just yet...

Stomped: Have you done any changes or improvements in the user interface for the game, especially for piloting the ships?

Godfrey: To previous Independence War players the first and most apparent gameplay change will be the controls. The original game's controls were complex and took new players time to learn. The newly designed Independence War 2 control system is a great deal more elegant. Using the Command Menu is immediately intuitive and allows you to control every aspect of your vessel.

The command menu is simply controlled using the joystick hat-switch (or cursor keys) and the fire button. The player navigates through a 2D Map of ship systems and then fires to select. Our focus tests have shown that it is really easy to use.

I-War 1 Captains will be pleased to know that Keyboard shortcuts are provided for experienced players which are consistent with the original game.

Stomped: What are some of the enemy vessels the player will encounter in the game?

Godfrey: In terms of hardware we have hundreds of vessels flying around the badlands, each with its own task or mission to fulfill. Ships often travel in convoy to discourage piracy; this makes life difficult for brigands like the one you play.

As for the enemy ships some of the most dangerous are the Cutter class corvette operated by a ill mannered group called the Marauders. You will have to be careful around these ships; their vectored thrust makes them very maneuverable and those heavy mount Particle Beam Cannon (PBC) can reduce your ship's hull to scrap in seconds.

Stomped: What can we expect in terms of missions in Independence War 2?


Robertson: We have over forty full missions in the game, with many other minor missions. We've tried very hard to keep the flavor of the original I-War missions while creating new and unique content for Edge Of Chaos.

Missions range from simple piracy and courier missions to huge space battles, and additionally there are specialized missions where you do something completely out of the ordinary, and your ability to think is much more important than your ability with a laser cannon.

Of course missions form only part of the game - there's a huge amount of free-form exploration, piracy, trading, and making alliances, too.

Stomped: What are your plans for multiplayer in the game?


Birkinshaw: Currently we have four multiplayer game scenarios:

* Death Match, a free-for-all frag fest;
* Team Death Match
* Capture the Flag game where opposing teams try to steal cargo pods off
each other and dock to their respective bases * Bomb Tag, where players each scramble for control of a bomb with a ticking timer.

All of the fun weapons from the single-player game are there for you to use, such as beam weapons and gattling cannon. You can fight against AI controlled Bots in all of the games, and you can alter their intelligence if you find the going too tough.

The multiplayer engine is fully scriptable, and that means that you can look forward to more game scenarios being released in the future, certainly ones that require much more co-operation between team players, that reflect the depth of the single-player missions. We're sure that the IWar community out there will have plenty of ideas for missions that they'll be able to develop themselves.

Stomped: Any plans to release a demo of the game before its release in stores?

Godfrey: Yes, the plan has been to create two demos. The first demo release is intended for magazine covermount and this should be appearing on the covers of the PC games magazines in the next 8 weeks.

Once we have completed work on the full game we are hoping to create a smaller demo that can be downloaded from the internet. This will have different mission content to the covermount.

Stomped: What is the current status of Independence War 2 in terms of what has been done and what needs to be finished before its release?

Godfrey: We are almost there right now. The game is 97% finished. Currently we are taking out the last few bugs and dealing with last minute game balancing issues. We are lucky that we have an understanding publisher like Infogrames that have allowed us the time we have needed to bring the gameplay quality up to scratch.

Stomped: Finally, any plans at all for an add-on or gold edition of the game, similar to what you did with the original Independence War?

Godfrey: Nothing is beyond the realms of possibility, though currently we have no firm plans for an add on. However we do want to continue to develop the Independence War universe and the characters who live within it. We are only now scratching the surface of what is possible by applying our technology to the field of space warfare simulation.

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