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Tuesday 8th January 2001

GameSpot UK - Designer’s Diary Part Two
Posted: Tuesday, 08 January 2001 11:19am GMT

    GameSpot UK have posted the second part of the Bitmap Brothers Designer’s Diary.

    We visit the Bitmap Brothers as they prepare to enter the last six weeks of development on their action-strategy sequel, Z: Steel Soldiers (PC). Interview & Screens (pages have been moved).
    Forum: PC Gaming

    The Interview

    GameSpot joined Mike Montgomery - Head Bitmap, John Phillips - 3D Programmer, Dave Cantrell - Lead Programmer and Ollie Dibben - AI guru, for a chat about developments on the Bitmaps Brothers' action-strategy blockbuster.

    GameSpot UK:
    So what are you working on right now?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    DC: Currently I'm working on converting our Direct X7 driver to Direct X8, plus investigating the options for extended character sets, among other things.

    OD: I'm polishing off the AI, ironing out any bugs, ironing out any last issues with the different units, tanks etc. and generally making sure everything works as it should in the AI department.

    JP: I'm on tidy-up duties and sorting through multiplayer.

    GameSpot UK:
    It's about six weeks since the last designer diary - what's changed on Z: Steel Soldiers in the meantime?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    MM: We're at the stage of trying to get the game finished and into what I call the hell period. I think we've been to hell and back already. We had a bit of a break at Christmas which kind of relaxed us all, but all hell's about to break loose again and the next six weeks promises to be the hardest working point of the entire project. The longest six weeks we've ever had probably, remembering games we've done before, we'll probably end up sleeping in the office underneath our chairs and stuff like that, especially the programmers, the others don't have to work as hard.

    But it's also an exciting time really, it's like all the work you've put in comes together and it's finally there. On the final day we deliver the master and go down the pub and it's actually the biggest anti-climax in your life. You just sit there and you wonder why you're here and why the world's going round and you can actually stop and look at it for a change instead of being shackled to a PC.

    GameSpot UK:
    So with six weeks to go, what are the biggest challenges you think you face?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    OD: Just meeting our own standards, meeting our own expectations for the game. Polishing stuff off as much as we want to. We've already managed to impress a lot of people but the hardest thing I think is to satisfy yourself.

    DC: I think my biggest nightmare in the next six weeks is going to be organising it all and making sure it all gets done. That's the lot of the lead programmer, as well as actually doing some programming as well.

    GameSpot UK:
    What's it going to feel like - finishing this project after four years in development?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    MM: For me it's been about four years but for John it's been about seven, it's about seven years since he started programming the 3D engine. There were gaps in-between when we were doing other things but when he started the spec, it was about seven years ago. Dave's been working on it for about two years and Ollie about 15-16 months. Finishing is going to be different for us all in different ways. Dave, John and me we're all veterans, but it's Ollie's first project, so he's probably going to be the most excited of all.

    DC:It's going to be followed by a huge sigh of relief and a lot of catching up on some sleep.

    GameSpot UK:
    One thing we haven't really talked about before in too much depth is the AI?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    OD: It's been going quite well. I mean the last six months I've been trying to put a bit more personality into the AI, making it a bit more human in the way that it works, the way it scouts out around the map and remembers what it's seen and acts on that. The result is that every time you play the game it will react slightly differently depending on how the player has played it. If the player sits back and relaxes, the AI will just come storming in all over the place and will make use of the fact that the player's not doing anything. If the player charges up one side of the map the AI will react by trying to take the other side. It will react completely differently depending on your approach. We're also attempting to stick in a lot more personality, both for the AI's units and the player's own units: you know, the way the player's units themselves react, reacting to different situations and using extra animation to put some extra polish on the units. We're also making the units sort of automatically help out in certain types of situations and in other situations, maybe that won't be a good thing. But that's part of the characterisation of the units and they are beginning to develop their own distinct personalities.

    GameSpot UK:
    What's your favourite part of Z: SS?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    DC: I love the visual look of the game, the fact that when you go into battle everything looks as though it's really kicking off, it looks really impressive. The look and feel of the game and the arcade nature of it - that's what I love. It really keeps you going when you see it in action.

    OD: Some of the level designs are really getting polished up now and the levels are really coming together. The artists have been putting the finishing touches to some of them and they're really looking good, which makes the whole experience a lot more fun and enjoyable.

    JP: It's shaping up to look a lot more like a 3D RTS should do, compared to other games which have attempted 3D.

    MM: I think these guys are being very kind to their fellow workers and I admire them for that. For me, I think it's the whole team effort which has come together to actually make that. Particularly on the programming side. It's quite hard to do an RTS - well an action strategy game I should say, because we don't really want to call it an RTS - in a 3D environment but for the programmers to get that actually working so well. I tell you what, it's not easy. There have been some complications along the way but we've managed to solve probably all of them now. And I think that's an achievement in itself.

    GameSpot UK:
    How are the interface and FMV sequences shaping up? You were just about to do some work on them when we spoke last?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    MM: A month ago we were at the point where the interface had more or less just been thrown in. I don't mean thrown in literally, but it was all put in, it wasn't quite working and it was a bit messy but you could see what it was going to be. Now we've done half the polish and we've not finished it yet, but it does look a whole lot better.

    It's great because the player can move things around - if they don't like a window where it is, they can simply move it elsewhere or click it off. It now gives the user the opportunity to customise the whole thing themselves, including the ability to customise colours. If you want gory greens, you can have 'em.

    The FMVs? Well that's an interesting one, erm, we haven't said anything officially. We've been debating about what to do and we've been in negotiations with some people over time on their machines. The actual direction that we're going in is not traditional. You'll have to wait for the next instalment of the diary to find out exactly what we've done, but we've come up with something which is certainly not traditional for games, we've come up with a system which we're actually more excited about than traditional FMV.

    GameSpot UK:
    OK, six weeks to go what are you most looking forward to once SS is all over?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    OD: Seeing the game on the shop shelf and knowing that I've helped put it there.

    DC: A couple of weeks' rest, then working on a game that takes slightly less time.

    GameSpot UK:
    Any final message for Z fans?

    Bitmap Brothers:
    MM: Just buy the bloody droves!

Taken from GameSpot UK

GameSpot UK

Related Links

Game Sites:

GameSpot UK

Bitmap Brothers pages

Official Z: Steel Soldiers Site
Z: Steel Soldiers


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