We had an exclusive opportunity to speak to Kim Jørgensen, Game Director of the upcoming first person shooter Interstellar Marines from Zero Point Software. We discuss the various game play details and what makes Interstellar Marines different from many shooters out there in the market.
GB: Interstellar Marines is being developed in a unique and highly interactive way, making use of web browser playable ‘chapters’- how did you come up with such an original idea?
Early 2009 we’d just finished pre-production on Unreal Engine 3, with a publisher demo and a small competitive multiplayer in place. The idea was to share this content with our community on InterstellarMarines.com and introduce our crowd-sourcing business model in the process (Game developer funded by its community).
Everything was good until we asked Epic Games to kindly structure a license model where we would pay off the engine license fee with revenue generated on InterstellarMarines.com instead of committing to paying the traditional million dollar upfront engine license. Epic Games respectively refused and referred to us being on an evaluation license without the privileges to show anything publicly forcing us to look around for an alternative game engine to build Interstellar Marines on, because we could not afford the Unreal Engine. (Epic released the UE3 UDK 8 months later, good for others but too late for us)
Our eyes quickly turned to Unity because one of our team members had worked with it before and recommended its potential. We instantly fell in love with Unity’s power to deliver high quality game content on a web page, its PC & Mac platform compatibility, the fact that the technology will be available for consoles in the future etc.
Unity became an obvious choice as technology platform for building Interstellar Marines moving forward. In the end Unity allows us to sell Interstellar Marines the exact same place people play it, in their browsers on InterstellarMarines.com.
GB: How much of a reflection on the finished game do you find your latest chapter, Running Man, to be?
Fantastic question. Running Man was the natural step for moving forward with building the core features of Interstellar Marines from the inside out. Its no secret that it’s our ambition to create one of the most immersive game experiences ever made so we immediately turned our attention on nailing the basic feel of looking out the eyes of the character. It was important to introduce simple immersion features such as the helmet, body, movement and weapon handling as well as establishing the environment and gameplay to support the immersion in fun and exciting experiences for the players. In terms of how close we came to the immersion, features and gameplay envisioned for the full game, we still have a long way to go. It feels like we’ve only nailed a fraction of the core features with many more to go, as we move forward with evolving the immersion, movement, weapons and enemy AI needed to blow people away in today’s competitive market.
GB: Interstellar Marines is a sci-fi shooter in a sea of sci-fi shooters. What is going to make consumers purchase your game over others in the same vein?
You mean besides the fact that Interstellar Marines have genetically engineered land sharks in one of the missions?
Our ambition with Interstellar Marines is to make the most believable and immersive sci-fi first person shooter on the planet. No lasers, no needle guns and no big bulky energy armors. When you play Interstellar Marines, we’ll make you feel like you’re “jacked” into the Matrix and when you “unplug”, you’ll be wiping the blood from your mouth.
Interstellar Marines is inspired by RPG titles such as Deus Ex and System Shock 2 for their focus on story, open ended design and character development. FEAR and Crysis for their focus on character immersion and dynamic combat scenarios. And last but not least our beloved tactical shooters Rainbow Six: Raven Shield and Ghost Recon – Advanced Warfighter for their strict military realism, weapons customization and cooperative gameplay.
Interstellar Marines is about evolving the FPS genre with the ideas and inspirations we’ve collected since the birth of the genre; a kind of evolutionary step forward driven by our compulsive interest for science fiction, role-playing, military realism, immersion, cooperative multiplayer and a great unpredictable story.
GB: Zero Point Software is currently pioneering the idea of ‘AAA Indie’- games made by the gamer, for the gamer, and funded by the gamer. But why did you decide to take the more risky approach of indie development instead of finding a big name publisher?
We’re way too humble to take credit for pioneering the crowd-sourced development model, we just believe there is a future where games are made and sold directly between developers and gamers. Fortunately we are not alone. There are several other great indie projects already stirring up the industry, like for example Unknown Worlds with their Natural Selection games and Wolfire Games with their Overgrowth.
GB: What might the other chapters to come contain?
We are planning to release our competitive multiplayer as soon as humanly possible and over time expand and iterate on it to provide more and more value and gameplay for our community to enjoy. The idea is to get people playing early on so we can collect valuable feedback and suggestions because although we have a very clear vision for Interstellar Marines we still believe we can make the game so much more fun and balanced if we take the time to iterate the gameplay with our community.
GB: The chapters themselves, despite being free and web playable, are quite simply the most stunning first person shooters I have ever played from the comfort of my browser. How did you go about creating them?
We had to come up with a lot of tech to lift our ambitions for Running Man and although Bullseye was and still is a textbook game design example (points, stars ratings and achievements), Running Man eats Bullseye for breakfast when it comes to tech features. In Running Man we had to integrate path finding for the training robots, develop rag-doll for both the FPS character and the robots, nail at least the basic movement scheme while staying true to our ambitions for immersion. We ended up creating an advanced reverb volume playback system, audio occlusion and a simple but effective breath system to enhance the immersion of the character. We even created a level streaming system from the ground up with the functionality to stream and align levels dynamically including lightmaps and the list just goes on and on. The best thing about all this is that it makes moving forward with multiplayer and coop so much more interesting, now we have given Unity a proper run for its money.
GB: How can fans support the development of Interstellar Marines?
The fact is that by reading this interview you’re already supporting the development in some sense and with further engagement into spreading and hyping the word things can move really fast. This is all about reminding you that you’re not just passive mindless consumers, but individuals with the power to bring games to the market.
GB: Will the game see a release on the consoles?
We’ll be right where the gamers want us to be, we just need enough support then everything is possible.
GB: When is the game expected to be released?
That’s impossible for us to say at the moment, but with our open door development strategy you’re at least sure to get lots of fun and exciting gameplay experiences while waiting.
GB: Any further comments regarding Interstellar Marines?
We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for our dedicated fans and their support. We’re completely blown away by the commitment and trust they’ve shown us and although those that have purchased upgrades to their accounts will always hold a special place in our hearts, it’s not just them that are helping us out. It’s every user and every visitor that helps give credibility to us and Interstellar Marines.
We thank the team at Zero Point Software and especially Kim Jørgensen for giving us a chance to interview them.