Fresh from playing the game and visiting Chernobyl itself, we sat down with GSC's Oleg Yavorsky to talk about how S.T.A.L.K.E.R is shaping up. You can read what we thought of the game ourselves elsewhere on the site.
Eurogamer: How complete is the game at this stage?
Oleg Yavorsky: The graphics are done 100% and gameplay roughly 70% complete.
Eurogamer: Do you always have to shoot the Stalkers, or can you interact with them without shooting?
Oleg Yavorsky: For now they can either be aggressive or friendly. As we only had a quick demonstration for you - 15 minutes - we found it hard to squeeze in all the components, so we focused it on action so you could go out and shoot.
Eurogamer: How much vehicle use is in the game? Are there motorbikes?
Oleg Yavorsky: These will be mainly good old Soviet cars, trucks and an APC. Helicopters also, but only the army can fly them.
Eurogamer: How authentic is the area in the game?
Oleg Yavorsky: Obviously we didn't translate the entire Chernobyl exclusion zone in the game directly as it would be a little bit boring since it's just a flat area with new sand brought in, with some forests and cemeteries around. We changed the landscape and the distances between the key objects. The key objects will be very authentic and it will be 60 per cent authentic.
Eurogamer: Tell us about the RPG elements.
Oleg Yavorsky: It's a role-playing game in as much as the player performs a certain role, where he has freedom to choose which role to play. There are no level ups but can communicate with NPCs, and shift his likes and dislikes: be on one side or another side. He can trade objects, he can exchange messages and information and he can play the role of a good guy or less good guy or bad guy or neutral guy in this way. But there won't be any level ups and experience. These will be the skills of the player that we would like to develop. His mastery of shooting, communication, exchanging objects.
Eurogamer: How much stealth is required?
Oleg Yavorsky: Stealth is quite influential during the game as you will be affected by hunger, you will have endurance. For instance if you lose your strength because you've been carrying too much weight you get tired fast and will have to sleep from time to time to restore your energy. You are also affected by radiation - if you get too close to it you also die. So, yes, it's usually a survival game, and threats will be at any corner, waiting for you.
Eurogamer: How do you manage loading each zone in?
Oleg Yavorsky: The idea is that we have a huge zone made up of about 18 levels, all joined into one zone, and you can cross in between those zones at any adjacent spot - so you have multiple entries into different level, depending where it's located.
Eurogamer: Will there be any humour in the game?
Oleg Yavorsky: Probably the most humorous element will be the experience of drinking Vodka - for curing radiation, but if you drink too much... Chiefly, though, there are some funny monsters - that's about it, really.
Eurogamer: How does the storyline develop?
Oleg Yavorsky: There are key tasks for the player to perform along with loads and loads of randomly generated tasks along the way. The way the story develops depends on several factors, basically. The player is free to accomplish each task and is not forced to do that particular key task/key quest to progress from there, but it's really dependent on whether he was fast enough to do that - or maybe somebody else has already done this key task. The story will develop in a different way for this particular player since NPC players - other Stalkers - in the game in this zone there will be about 100 of them will be his competitors, and will be developing their story for themselves as well.
Eurogamer: So you could have the NPCs ending the story for you?
Oleg Yavorsky: Yes there is such a possibility - basically any Stalker who enters the game who is in this zone can potentially accomplish the game and reach the final ending. For the player, this will not be that drastic. For him there will still be possibilities for his own personal ending. There will still be ways to complete the game for the player.
Eurogamer: Are you planning to upgrade and improve the AI?
Oleg Yavorsky: Yes, we will of course still work on AI improvements. For now we already have a sort of universal scheme for all the monsters in there where they have an entire cycle. They feed, they hunt, they have rest, they are aggressive, for now, due to high concentration of these monsters in this build on this level, they are fighting with each other - you will barely find them in a condition of rest having been calm, but of course we're still working on the AI.
The AI system has about 200 parameters, which are constantly evaluated for response, where they evaluate their chances of victory - where they panic, where they are sure of their victory and so on. For now we have simplified it intentionally to increase those parameters otherwise we have a chance for the player to wander around and just come across peaceful monsters not attacking him - it might not be so much fun for you to play. But we are sure that it is the most complex AI system that exists today.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow Of Chernobyl is due out in September on PC CD-ROM.