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Interview with Alexander Zubov

Alexander “motorsep” Zubov is the founder of Kot-in-Action Creative Artel, whose new independently produced game, Steel Storm: Burning Retribution, is set to be released this May. He took the time to answer a few questions about his project for me.

Entar: Tell us a little about your team and your project.
Alexander: Kot-in-Action Creative Artel(tm) is an international team, with it’s members scattered around the globe. The headquarters of the company are located in Texas. None of the members live in the vicinity from each other, therefore the communication happens by the means of the IRC, the e-mail and the forum. Currently, the core of the team consist of 3 people. The rest of the team are freelancers.
Steel Storm(tm) project was born shortly after we finished prototyping our first game, titled The Prophecy(tm), for QuakeExpo 2008. The amount of art assets for The Prophecy was staggering, we have been short handed in the art department and at that time we didn’t have required experience to take on a project of that magnitude. Therefore we decided to freeze Prophecy and start a smaller scale project. A new game was born. Initially, it was suppose to be a very simple arcade shooter with top down view, but in time, the complexity of the project unfolded and the game became known as Steel Storm series.
 We chose to develop the game in the episodic format with Episode 1 being a free to play game. This move helped us to raise awareness of the brand and helped us to establish a user base. To the date, we have 295,000 downloaded copies of the game, according to our downloads counter. 7% to 10% of those users are active players.

Steel Storm: Burning Retribution is a commercial installment of the series and it includes Episode 1 and Episode 2 of the game. The game will be supplied with 25 single player missions, 2 CTF missions, and several DM missions. As you may know already, Steel Storm comes with in-game real-time collaborative mission editor SandStorm(tm). You can create a server on which you and your friend can work together on a single mission in real-time.

A lot of people have complained about the lack of a real story in the game. Steel Storm is not really a type of game that needs characters and deep story. We have a small story behind the game and it is unveiled through the briefings player needs to read before every mission. Eventually, we might create a spin off of the main series, where we will introduce deeply developed universe of Steel Storm and its characters.

Entar: Can you talk a little about some of the key features we will see in Steel Storm?
Alexander: Key features of the game:

  • Fast paced and streamlined gameplay: Just jump into the game, read briefings and fire away :)
  • Online warfare with up to 16 players (engine can handle 255 player theoretically) in any of the multi-player modes, which are coop, Capture the Flag and good ol’ deathmatch.
  • 25 different missions: good variety of environments to please the eye and good variety of objectives to take care of.
  • Challenges and unlock First-Person camera mode: face various challenges, overcome them and earn your badge. Once player beats the game, (s)he will get an unlockable FPS camera in their Profile > Camera Options menu. So player can beat the game once again, but as FPS game.
  • Create new missions or modify existing ones using the unique real-time collaborative mission editor and share them with the world: this is definitely one of the most exciting features as it brings easy modding back to the scene. Just open a either existing mission and modify it. Make new objectives, new scenario and share it with the world.

Entar: Talk about some of the benefits of using the Darkplaces engine as your engine of choice for this game.
Alexander: The first and foremost benefit is that Darkplaces engine is a complete, solid game engine. All we had to worry about is the game logic and art assets. We didn’t have to worry about creating state-of-the-art technology, it was already there for us. Second benefit is the power and flexibility of Darkplaces. While it’s designed with FPS game in mind and for FPS game, it can be used to create a game of pretty much any genre. Although the engine is  based on GLQuake GPL engine, it can produce stunning visuals at iD Tech 4 level of quality (or better in some cases) and perform as good also. Third benefit of the engine is its price tag. It’s free! It can not get any better than that.

Entar: What is the exact release date? Do you know how much you expect the game to cost?
Alexander: The game is scheduled to be released on May 10th, 2011 on Steam, Ubuntu Software Center, Desura and Kot-in-Action’s e-Shoppe. Steel Storm: Episode 1 will remain free and Steel Storm: Burning Retribution will cost $14.95 USD.

Entar: Will there be any cheats of any kind?
Alexander: At this moment I cannot disclose that information :) Maybe.

Entar: What are some of your favorite games out there today, independent or otherwise?
Alexander: I am a big fan of FPS games. Most of the old school FPS games are my favorite, including Doom series, Quake, Quake 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Heretic / Hexen series. Among modern FPS games I enjoyed  playing Crysis: Warhead. Besides FPS games I love Diablo series, WarCraft series (except WoW) and Dungeon Keeper series. These are the games I played. I am certainly looking forward to playing Star Craft 2, Crysis 2, Mirror’s Edge, Star Wars: Force Unleashed 2, Diablo 3 on PC. One of the console games I would love to play is Killzone 3 for PS3. However I still don’t own any console. Maybe one day ;)

Entar: What are your plans for the future?
Alexander: The reception of Steel Storm: Burning Retribution will determine whether we will continue with the franchise or move onto other projects we have in store. We certainly would like to continue evolving Steel Storm. Within a month or two after the release of Steel Storm: Burning Retribution we are planning on releasing a DLC with new features and new content.

Entar: What challenges have you encountered in developing for the DarkPlaces engine? How have you overcome it?
Alexander: The major challenge we faces was engine support. There are only 2 engine maintainers. The techniques we have been using during development of the game are unique and relatively new to the Darkplaces development scene. Therefore we exposed a lot of previously unknown bugs in the engine that needed to be fixed in a timely fashion. As the engine team is extremely short handed and is not paid for the engine development, we had to wait for the bugs to be fixed and needed features introduced into the engine. There is little to no documentation on many aspects of the engine. We certainly appreciate help of the Darkplaces community, but  we had to discover a lot of solutions on our own through trial and error,  which certainly pushed our development time frame, because no one has done that before us.

Entar: What game design principles have influenced your design decisions for Steel Storm?
Alexander: I just wanted to make a top-down free roaming shooter with FPS controls scheme, with things to blow up, with objectives to accomplish, with scores and medals to earn, with coop and other multiplayer modes. Pure raw old school fun wrapped into pretty visuals. So most of the things we did, were based on our gut feeling and the way we wanted to play the game.

Entar: Thank you for taking your time to answer my questions.
Alexander: Not at all, my pleasure. I wish all the best to those readers who wish to endure a difficult path of indie game developers. However, it’s a fun enterprise!

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