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Skip Navigation LinksPlayHard > In English > Star Trek: Excalibur. Interview with Luiz Amaral & Mark Ward

Название: Star Trek: Excalibur
Разработчик: Frontier Productions
Официальный сайт игры: перейти
Жанр: Simulator, Space
Игра выйдет: 4 квартал 2011г.

From the times of Starfleet Academy (1997) made by Interplay we really enjoy games based on the Star Trek universe and combining different genres. Klingon Academy (2000) has tried to correct some errors of her predecessor. Both games allowed to take on the role of a spaceship's captain, manage different stations and enjoy an extensive and intriguing story letting solve some dark mysteries on the way. Star Trek: Bridge Commander (2002) from Totally Games boldly went on further and provided some hours of exciting gameplay. Though no game is ideal and Bridge Commander had its problems. Fortunately, a modding community has appeared which improved different aspects of the game.

By 2006 the modification process reached its limit, especially with graphical engine getting rather old. Nowadays an independent international team of developers is working on Star Trek: Excalibur which is a new game that can easily become your favourite if you like any of the projects mentioned above. Recently we've had a chance to discuss all the details of the upcoming game with the head of its developers' team: Luiz Amaral (LA) from Brazil (Project Leader) & Mark Ward (MW) from the UK (Lead Artist).

- Please, introduce yourselves.

 My name is Luiz C. Córdova Jr. and I’m the Project Leader so I keep an eye on everything going on in the team, I also do quite a lot of work on the Art & Design of the game.

MW: My name is Mark Ward. I’m the Lead Artist which means together with Luiz and the rest of the team I develop the look and feel of the game and I manage the work that all the artists in the team are doing.

- How and when did you meet each other?

We all met at the Bridge Commander modding community. We all used to make modifications for that game. Long ago I've cracked a method to import custom bridges to Bridge Commander and started teaching it to the people that wanted to learn the long tedious process. When Mark joined the community in 2005, his interest in doing bridge sets for the game ended up bringing him to me, and that's when we met. John Hardy (our Lead Programmer from the UK) and I got acquainted sometime later. I was hunting for a good coder to help me develop a new version of a super weapon I intended to add to a ship. Actually, that ship was the Excalibur 0.9. By that time, John was already a respected coder at the community, working at BC Scripters team.

MW: Luiz and I had been working together since we met and by early 2006 we were already setting the foundation of what became Excalibur, but it was only at the end of 2006 that the game really came to exist, initially as a BC mod. There’s a pretty in depth article about the origins of the project in our news and blogs section, it gives a lot more detail than we have room for here.

- Give us some background about yourself.

I live in Brazil, and attended the University at my hometown, graduating as an Architect in 2002. Since 1999 I’ve studied 3D-modeling, but only started interacting with it seriously in 2003. Since then I have been working with 3D-visualization.

MW: I live in the UK and I also studied in my home town, qualifying in Computing in 2006. Since then I have been working as a lecturer at the college I studied at, and I now teach many areas of Computer Studies including Games development.

- What do you consider as your biggest personal achievement in life?

Hmm, I can't say that gathering the Excalibur team was a big step, but the biggest achievement will be getting the project finished.

MW: Yeah, I think if we pull this off it will be a pretty big achievement.

- What are the main difficulties you’ve encountered during the creative process?

LA: Well, the first big challenge was to find a story that we all agreed was worthy to spend many years of your free time putting together. Then, the real challenge is actually to produce it using the limited free time we all have. It's a great thing to look back and know that the project is still being produced after all this time only with all the efforts based on the love that the members of the team have for it.

MW: Another big problem is that the Star Trek universe is so detailed and complex that it's very difficult to faithfully recreate it even for a professional games development team, it's probably both the best and worst thing about Star Trek and it's a cause for a lot of debate right now with the new film and Star Trek Online (2010). For certain, a lot of our time is spent collecting and looking at reference from some of the great guys in the community.

Of course, even when you put everything together the final result is still at least partially based on your own concept of whatever you may have been working on, and there will always be someone who doesn't like what we have done. That can be a hard pill to swallow when you work so hard on something, but we will never be able to please everyone and we accept that.

- How do the team members follow the project’s schedule?

MW: Ok, well, first of all we have to keep in mind that everyone is working in their free time and asking nothing for it, so we are flexible about real life issues like exams and family that, of course, come first. With those things in mind we agree on a completion date for a resource by a certain time, and if anything comes up that is going to make that deadline impossible to meet we again discuss it and see about moving the date.

For members of the team who are persistently late and unreliable we talk to them to see why there is a problem with meeting the dates and where possible we agree on a strategy for fixing the problem. If the issue persists however, and we cannot find a way to fix the problem we are forced to drop that member of the team and any resources they may have developed for the project. We have only had to do that once in the last three years so the system does help to keep a balance between our developer's real lives and their dependability for the project.

- Have you seen the latest Star Trek movie (2009) directed by J.J. Abrams? How do you find it? Would you like to see its sequel in future?

LA: Yes, I have seen the movie. I think it is a hard thing to compare the new movie with the previous ones simply because it's a completely different approach; as with any reboot it flows the same idea in a different perspective, that sometimes offers more, others less. I think this difference on the perspective is what makes the new movie good as it offers a new way for the younger generation to see Star Trek. On the other hand, Star Trek fans are known to be conservative and like to keep things closer to the original concept, so it's more a matter of "You can't please everyone". Ultimately, yes I like it and I'd surely like to see a sequel. I think it is better for us to focus on the differences rather than if it's good or not.

MW: For me it has good and bad points. Obviously, the visuals, SFX and the general look of it is great. Some of the actors, in particular I would single out Karl Urban (Bones), deserve praise for the way they took on such difficult roles, but I think in some cases the acting came across a little slapstick and melodramatic. I'd also have to say that the soundtrack for the film was a disappointment, and the biggest let down for me was the story which had some pretty major plot holes. Overall I think it's a pretty good film, but if the story in Star Trek XI is anything to go by I don't think I will be a huge fan of this rebooted Star Trek.

- What games in the Star Trek franchise do you regard as the most and the least successful?

As a former BC Modder, it's easy to point Bridge Commander as the most entertaining game of all, but generally I consider Starfleet Command being the most successful as it's the only game in the franchise to bear 2 sequels and 2 expansions. As for the boring titles, I am inclined to put Star Trek Legacy (2006) here, but that's more a personal opinion than the reality, as this game has built such a strong modding community so, I give that crown to Generations (1997) with its Average FPS at most, it was a very bad space simulation game.

MW: I'd also look towards Legacy as a good example of what a strong community can do for a game if it remains open enough.

- What inspired you to create ST: Excalibur?

The whole idea behind Excalibur is to build a game made by fans, for the fans (and everyone else). Through the franchise there are lots of games like Starfleet Academy, Klingon Academy, Starfleet Command, Bridge Commander and Legacy which exceeded their realistic shelf life purely because of the efforts of the modding community. We want to harness that creativity, drive and equip the community with an engine that can cope with their ideas and development tools that can help them in developing new material rather than hinder them.

MW: I think it's also a pretty big thing, to be working with some of the people we are working with, developing a game that takes us back into that universe that we are all familiar with to tell everyone the next part of the story.

- What intriguing features did Bridge Commander lack?

LA: Well, in Bridge Commander the "bridge" mode is just a cosmetic effect to make the space simulator more immersive, it's completely dispensable which is the first thing most BC players do with it.

MW: Yes, that was my biggest gripe with BC, we have had many questions about the interiors in Excalibur and nobody has quite grasped how important interiors will be. Interiors form a core and functional part of the gameplay in Excalibur which is definitely going to make the game more immersive and authentic than any currently released game in the franchise, I'm, of course, avoiding comparison with Star Trek Online here since I haven't played it.

- Describe the concept of Excalibur.

LA: It’s a tricky question since the game doesn't fit cleanly into any particular genre. The concept is similar to Bridge Commander in the player taking the Conn and being the captain, but the genre is difficult to determine because the game is intended to be a First-Person / Third-Person RPG combined with a Space combat Simulator.

- What software do you use in your work on the project?

Generally we use whatever we have access to, for most of us that means a high-level model editor like Autodesk 3DS Max or Maya which we use for creating the models and preparing them before adding them to the game. Most of us then use Adobe Photoshop to create the textures that you see on the models, a plug-in called X-Normal is also particularly useful for us. X-Normal is an application to generate normal, ambient occlusion and displacement maps. It can also project the texture of the highpoly model into the lowpoly mesh (complete texture transfer, even with different topologies). Occasionally some members of the team who have access are able to use more specialized software like Z-Brush for face modeling or something like that, but generally that kind of work is confined to a couple of members of the team.

- Is it possible nowadays to make a game based on the Star Trek universe without buying any licenses?

Actually, it depends on what kind of license you mean in your question. If we are talking about a license for the Star Trek franchise there seems to be a tradition that as long as you don't plan to make any profit and you don't set about damaging the franchise in any way, you generally get left alone. It is planned that our game will be available to anyone for free.

In terms of licensed software, well, it depends on how much talent and time exist for the project. We are currently using a lot of open source software because we have a few really talented guys that can develop them for us, however, there are still occasions where we need clever software which only a few members of the team have access to. Overall, I would say that without some of that licensed software we would be pretty limited.

- What kinds of single-player and multiplayer game modes will be available?

LA: Besides the single-player Campaign which is the main focus of the game, we have a very special mode for Quick missions and play. Multiplayer is something that is a lot more complex to put together, and while we hope to add it eventually, it is not something we are able to describe for sure yet.

- What can you say about the game's plot?

The plot is set some years after the Nemesis events, but not so far that it is in conflict with the Star Trek Online storyline so you won't see anything linked to the Rebooted movie franchise. The story is based upon a new chain of events rather than something we know about from the canon and it is really firmly rooted in what we have seen in the films, shows up till now, so those of us who want to know what happened after the big events in the galaxy will get to see for themselves.

- What kinds of locations will we visit?

The game world includes the majority of explored space as of Nemesis, as well as some areas which surround it. Beyond that the player will still be able to travel to further stars but there will be no real "content" within those systems until, of course, it is generated by a budding community. During the story you will be taken to a couple of key sites within the galaxy, but we are really expecting users to explore the galaxy themselves to see some of the "great sights" in Star Trek.

- What can you say about the main hero of the game?

He is not your traditional Starfleet Captain, and it would be fair to say that his personality has some pretty rough traits, however, he is valued by the Admirals and has people looking out for him from high places.  I don't want to give too much away but I would say that as a character he is going to give you a lot of surprises.

- What races are presented in Excalibur?

LA: All the major races are included in the game, off the top of my head that includes the Federation, the Klingon, the Romulans, the Cardassians, The Ferengi, the Borg, the Breen, the Dominion, the Orions and probably a load more that I have forgotten. While all those races are around, the majority of them is unlikely to feature in the main story, so it's another case of expecting the player to go out into the galaxy and find these fractions.

- How many ships will be featured?

A lot, we are trying to do every major canon ship that is likely to be around at the time of the story, with the exception of the Delta Quadrant vessels, which we hope others will add later. In terms of non-canon designs, we are generally avoiding them unless we really need to fill in the gaps of a fleet, and in those cases, we still base ships on designs from the original artists of Star Trek. The only exception to that rule is the Excalibur herself, she is quite different from any Starfleet vessel before her. The first thing to understand is her purpose, she is not meant to take on the enemy single-handedly, but rather her purpose is to co-ordinate a fleet and to act as a base of operations for all fleet activity. Obviously all of that equipment and personnel means she has to be big with a length of nearly 1 km she is the biggest vessel in Starfleet. This size means that the Excalibur cannot maneuver particularly quickly and is reliant upon strong defenses and support from the rest of the fleet for protection. There is more to say about the Excalibur, but I think the rest can wait a while longer [smiles].

- What is the battle system like?

The major difference from Bridge Commander is that it has a real player system which is similar to what you would get in a modern MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). There is also more of a focus on fleet control because of the nature of the game, but more than that it’s a little early to tell.

- Which ship’s stations can be managed?

MW: We are working on the interface in a very natural way, so most of the major consoles will have actions assigned to them, however, in terms of active "LCARS" (Library Computer Access & Retrieval System) rendered into the scene that will be difficult to do and we have already decided to avoid that mostly.

- How the energy of the ship can be distributed?

The hardpoint system we are developing is built from power distribution concept, so unlike in Bridge Commander where the power is a bit more cosmetic in Excalibur the player will be able to change power flows throughout a ship and, therefore, to modify the characteristics of the ship. At the same time we also know we need to keep it simple so we will include some preset options which avoids fiddling with power management.

- What orders can be given to away teams?

General orders such as "investigate" or "capture" for the most part, if you want to do anything more complicated on an away mission you will need to do that yourself.

- Will it be possible to board an enemy’s ship and use it afterwards?

LA: Yes, we do intend to add a system that allows you to board enemy ships and stations, as long as their shields are offline. As for taking command and using an enemy ship, keep in mind that repairs in Excalibur will be a lot more realistic than in games like, let's say, Star Trek Armada (2000-2001). Most of the time when you are able to shoot an enemy ship down enough to take possession of it and disable all crew, it'll be way too damaged to be of any help. Of course, the Borg are an exception.

- What kinds of weapons and special devices will be available?

LA: We are working hard to recreate as many of the gadgets and devices used on the show as possible. Of course, we won't be able to have all the "special deflector beam of the week" technologies, but you can expect to see cloaking, tractor beams, ship separation modules (yes, we do have the Prometheus class) as well as some other tech like the Breen disabling weapon and the special cloaking device from the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).

-What tactical choices can be made by a captain during a space battle?

MW: Any, we won't be limiting the user to any pre-defined tactical sets during game lay so it’s really up to the player to decide.

- Will there be any scientific missions available?

Yes, but generally only when those actions fit into a bigger problem. I have a specific mission in mind, but I cannot explain it without saying too much, because is too early.

- What can you say about the in-game FPS mode?

Unlike Bridge Commander, in Excalibur the First-person mode will be a key part of the game or I dare to say, the most important part of it. The player will have to visit different areas of the ship to perform different tasks that will affect the development of the story. In terms of available areas, we intend to add at least a bridge, engineering and hangar deck to all ships in the game, but key ships such as the Excalibur will have a lot of different areas including the captain’s ready room, transporter rooms, holodecks, ten forwards and, yes, some crew quarters. Shuttles and small craft will feature cockpits that will also serve for combat. The way we will approach planetary landing is still being developed, but it's also a part of the main story to land a craft on a planet's surface to perform certain tasks there.

- Is it possible to issue all the orders to ship’s officers while being on the bridge?

Yes, that will all be handled by the Communicator, however, if you wish to do something with engineering while the engineer is not on the bridge it might be a better idea to get to the Engineering station and use your character's skills to save the day.

- What are the traits of the in-game Interface?

The Interface is being designed so it doesn't get in the way unless you want it to: Expandability is the name of the game there. If the player wants to put as much power to Forward weapons as the ship has, the UI will have a simple button for it, however, if the player wants to divert power from specific systems to other specific components then we will also make it possible to execute such an order. We carry that same idea through all the areas of the Interface as much as possible, making the game fit around the player rather than making the player fit around our game.

- What are the features of the graphics engine used in the game?

LA: We are trying to bring Excalibur to the visual level of any modern game you can buy at a store. To achieve that we are implementing Shaders that deal with normal maps, Specularity, HDR (High Dynamic Range Rendering), Reflections and much more. Another important thing is that the models will perform real-time animations which has never been done before in a Star Trek game what will allow us to accurately portray things like the Intrepid classes nacelle movements, the Bird of prey's animated wings, the moving arms of McKinley Station, the animated doors of Starbases, and moving turrets.

- What do you prefer more: CGI cutscenes or cinematics based on the game’s engine?

MW: Because we will be distributing this game via the Internet we need to keep file size down and one of the biggest problems with CGI cutscenes is the space that they take up on a disk. On top of that we also want to keep the game play as fluid as possible, so rendering cutscenes in real time enables us to reflect things like ship damage, injured crew or anything that might be different depending on how you have played the story. With all that in mind, we are going for 90% videos made as in game cutscenes.

- How's everything going in your sound department?

We are still looking for a composer, and while we have a clear idea for how we want the music to sound, it all obviously depends on who we might get to compose for us. If anyone has any composing background, please, get in touch with us.

- To conclude, what are the unique features of your game distinguishing it from other Star Trek games?

MW: A great story, immersive and deep gameplay, an open galaxy which is free to explore, true next-gen graphics with animations - take your pick. For me the best thing about Excalibur is that it’s going to be really open for the community so it should never get old.

- When do you expect the game to be released?

It's still too early to name the exact date, but we look at the end of 2011 in our plans.

- Russia has many creative talents. Are you looking for some kinds of specialists to expand your team?

Right now we are interested in hearing from people wherever they are from, we are particularly in need of good 3D-artists who can model and texture objects, as well as software developers with experience in C# programming language or direct "HLSL" (High Level Shading Language). We also need people to be able to speak a little English since we are an English-speaking development team.

- Have you ever been to Russia?

LA: It is a bit far away, but I would love to one day.

MW: Nope, I’m afraid not, not yet at least.

- Name 3 things which you associate with Russia.

The Kremlin, Vodka, and Russian Colossus from the X-Men series [smiles].

MW: The "Mir" Space Station, Ushanka hats, and, of course, Mr. Chekov!!!

- Thank you very much for your time! We sincerely wish you the best of luck with your very promising project!

16.09.2009 16:17, Unicorn


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Интервью: Star Trek: Excalibur. Интервью с Луисом Кордобой и Марком Уордом, Frontier Productions
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