Developer Update for Fallout Tactics
One from Producer Tony!
Well we finally have a playable single player demo which is fun. Originally we were going to a have a cut down version of the world map with two missions in it and some random encounters, but that plan was a tad ambitious. Now we have two separate missions and the basic tutorials. The tutorials work pretty well although they may seem a bit superficial to Fallout Fans. The missions are pretty typical of the missions you will find in the beginning of the game. There was a great sense of relief when we sent the new demo to Interplay and everyone agreed that it was fun! Always a good start to have a game that is fun to play.
Major problems that we are having at the moment are getting the AI to behave in a realistic manner. Finding a balance between NPCís that are intelligent enough to look as if they are Intelligent but not so intelligent that they whoop the ass of players is proving tricky.
Graphically we have finally settled on two modes. Our engine will render in any size window but the GUIís are designed to fit nicely into a 800 X 600. However it still looks really nice in 1024x768 so weíve extended the game GUI either side to fill it out in the high res mode. We have made a decision to limit the res to just there two modes because there is a definite performance hit in the higher res. Unfortunately there is also an advantage to playing in the higher res modes and we donít want people with top end machines getting an unfair advantage. 1024 X 768 is a good compromise Ė itís still pretty fast on a 300 and definitely opens up the field of view. Weíve included options to turn of the alpha-channel for anti-aliasing so lower end machines should still be able to cope OK. Main thing is going to be install space and HD access speed. The game does a fair bit of loading for stuff like special death sequences as there is just no way to get it all into memory on loading. Mind you the original Fallouts suffered from the same problems.
The lighting effects are looking really nice. We use dynamic lighting for weapons effects and make a lot of use of static lighting in the maps. The static lighting really helps you forget itís a tile-based engine. In many places the levels look like they have been rendered in one piece. The dynamic lighting looks really nice but itís a bit expensive in terms of processing. Robin cooked up a really neat shadow-casting algorithm that means we can set ambient and direct light in the maps for day time and get shadows under bridges and around buildings. It works really well. There are a few areas where it looks dodgy but Parrish (our lead artist) is going to go in and manually sort out the problems. Weíve done some tests and it all looks very doable.
Single player mission scripting is now in full swing. We plan to have all the missions scripted by Christmas. I scheduled it and it looks like a nightmare, but so far itís going pretty well. We break the scripting for each mission into five basic chunks Ė design, initial implementation, focus testing / QA, re-scripting, focus group / QA. We have nine scripters now and they are actually making better progress than Iíd expected Ė which is nice. Unfortunately they are finding more bugs in the scripting than I would have liked Ė which is not nice! Still, we should be ready to start focus group testing the first batch of nine missions in a week. The actual levels are already built although to get them playing necessitates a certain amount of shuffling around of tiles. Iím glad our levels are tile based cos it would have been a real pain to try to design the levels in a 3D package and then have to rebuild them when they did not play. This way the testers can tweak to there little hearts desires. I suspect a major problem will be to unify all the missions so that the learning curve is nice and smooth.
In terms of code it is pretty much all there. We have some thorny issues to address but itís mostly just working out how we want things to behave rather than technical problems.
Biggest problem we face is getting people to play the game in an intelligent and tactical way. I know players should be free to play the game as they want but this game looks enough like an RTS to lead people to assume they can play it that way. Itís not an RTS! If people play it like an RTS they will die very quickly. Hopefully the demo missions should lead players through a natural, tactical learning curve.
Weíve designed our levels so that they are a series of smaller encounters. Each has a different strategy required to complete it. Although we donít have specialist characters as such we have found that it is most satisfying to have characters in the squad who are obviously designed for certain types of combat. Typical game play could consist of putting the guy with the highest stealth into stealth mode Ė moving him up to do some recon and leaving him in position to keep line of site on the enemy. Them move the sniper up until he can get a good shot at the enemy and start creeping up the grunts. Once all the guys are in good positions Ė switch on the player AI so they will attack targets they have a good chance to hit and get ready to start moving them round. The first encounter in the second demo is particularly good Ė it feels like a kind of ultra-violent chess game with the player trying to outmanoeuvre the enemy and make the most use of there sneak, sniper and grunts. Obviously leave the medic at the back and only move him up when itís safe to do so. Works really well. Mind you thatís just one type of encounter we have over twenty basic types of combat multiplied by hundreds of permutations. Stealthing up behind a characters and chopping them in half with the ripper is particularly satisfying!
As a fan of real-time games, Iím very happy with the way Turn-Based play has evolved. Continuos Turn Based is a revelation, though. The pace is just right and you rarely notice the action point stuff getting in the way. I can imagine most people will play CTB multiplayer, but classic TB will work well for guys who are into the hardcore combat elements. There are a lot of stats flying about below the surface and in CTB you donít really get the time to experience the subtlety of the engine. Thatís OK though cos it still plays damn good.
Karl (lead programmer) is about to start looking at the multi-player stuff again. We have not touched this since June. We had it working pretty well for E3 so we are hoping that itís just a matter of turning all the code back on. Yeh right! But I donít think itís going to be too difficult. We are planning to release a multi-player demo a month after the single player demo. Multi-player should be really cool. It was great at E3 but since then things have advanced a lot. The idea is that players will be able to choose really interesting combinations for tactical play. What I really want to see though is six players with six squads entirely of Brahmin playing CTF! Brahmin canít use weapons but get enough of them together and they can do some serious HtH.
We want to leave squad selection in multi-player as flexible as possible but we have to make sure itís balanced for the serious player. Squad selection in Single player is easier to sort out but still requires some thought. Currently you have a pool of characters to choose from. Once a character is lost in action they are gone for good. However as the game progresses you move to new BOS bunkers and your pool is expanded with new, higher-level characters. You also get the chance to add some special recruits if you find the secrets in the missions. This way we plan to give the player some extra tough guys later on.
Other bits and pieces; Working hours are still reasonably sensible. We did a couple of weekends on the trot getting ready for to deliver the single player demo. But mostly we are working 50 Ė 60 hour weeks. I hope it does not get any worse but Iíve been in the industry for long enough to expect the worse! The Air Con has packed up. We tried to use it for the first time this summer and it sounded like it was going to explode. The company sent out a repair man and he reckons the fan base has disintegrated sending bits of fan blade throughout the mechanism Ė sounds nice! Cos we are in the southern hemisphere itís getting really hot here now. We have had a lot of rain so itís really humid too. UT has lost itís grip on the dev team. They are now into Counter Strike. I donít play either cos I suffer from FPSD (First Person Shooter Dyslexia). Robin(AI programmer) has dyed his air black Ė it was blonde. Al (effects programmer) has had blonde highlights put in his hair where it was dark. Jan (GUI and Tools programmer) and Ed(lead design)have had all there hair cut off, Karl and I still have sensibly short hair. Life is basically good and Iím looking forward to Christmas.
Iíll send another update after the single player demo is out but I doubt there is going to be any major changes to peoples hair between then and nowÖ
Producer - Fallout Tactics