Interview with Andrew Beletsky, Developer for Scorpion
Recently, FileFront got a chance to ask some questions to the development team behind Scorpion, and Andrew Beletsky of B-Cool Interactive was nice enough to answer them. Check out how development is going in this exciting first-person shooter, and a bit about the roots of inspiration as well.
GT: First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in the production of Scorpion?
AB: Hey! Sure thing. My name is Andrew Beletsky, and I’m working as game-designer and PR manager in B-Cool Interactive. I’ve started my career on news TV, later worked with several CIS game developing and publishing companies as game designer, producer and PR. Not so long ago I joined Scorpion team. Currently I’m working on hero’s abilities and psychic powers of his main enemies, ‘Hounds’.
GT: What sort of influences would you say went into the development of the game?
AB: The idea of the project and the basis of the game world were designed by our project-leader, Eugene Duranin. Hard to list everything that has influenced both concept and the development of Scorpion, but sure can name thing or two – great games like F.E.A.R, The Chronicles of Riddick and Deus Ex, some books and movies (more on them later).
We are constantly reviewing various related media to further improve our feeling of the world the game takes place, Scorpion’s characters and the game in general. And I’m trying to spare a minute now and then to write a piece of fiction set in the game world too (some recent updates on Scorpion’s homepage are based on it, and we’ll post more; check http://www.scorpionthegame.com/blog for details).
GT: Were there any particular films or books that you drew from for the “cyber-punk” futuristic experience you are going for?
AB: Yes, of course. William Gibson’s Mona Liza Overdrive and Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix novels were keys for our understanding of cyberpunk setting. I can’t skip Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash too, as this novel is very important for the project. Films? Johny Mnemonic and Bladerunner jump into my mind immediately for their atmosphere and picture, but this is just a head of the iceberg.
But using so classy sources we deviated from canonical cyberpunk as we made player’s character much more heroic as is customary in the genre. He is not positive teddy-bear of course, but we also can’t say that he’s anti-social or fight with society on any level, at least not from the start.
Same time, main cyberpunk idea, formulated by Gibson, kept intact: ‘Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats. This is hard thing to think about, but it’s the truth. It won’t go away because we cover our eyes. That is cyberpunk’. This citation can be considered some sort of motto for Scorpion.
GT: The music on the site is very eerie, and I like it. What sort of stuff is the composer into?
AB: Accessing profile: Composer… Listing…
Andrew Mishin, also known as Esolate.
Alcohol – cognac, whiskey;
Drugs – nicotine, caffeine;
Food – rice, vegetables, seafood.
Movies – drama, science fiction, anime.
!!!ERROR: Access to additional data denied!
Connection to remote host terminated!
Well, on more serious note, Andrew is professional composer and DJ who is well known here in Ukraine for his work with several popular local bands, and as sound producer and arranger. He’s working as composer and FX engineer for Scorpion now, and we like what he’s doing.
GT: It looks like there are a lot of similarities to Doom in the use of lighting, or in the least the flashlight with the zombie-like creatures. Was there anything during development that you specifically strayed away from where you said, “No, can’t do it. Too much like Doom?”
AB: To be honest, Resident Evil series played much bigger role then Doom as an orienteer. Surely we all played Doom, so I can’t completely negate its influence, but I never heard sentence ‘Too much like Doom’ from our team members. So, similarities with Doom in scene’s lightning or flashlight usage are more accident then a rule.
Mutants who are indeed zombie-like are not playing the role of leading, or even common, enemies in the game. They can be found here and there, mostly in desolated and polluted areas of Slums (you can read more on that on our web site). Corporate guards of several types, robots etc are much more common then mutants throughout the game.
On other hand making most in-game scenes dim and poorly lit we tried to reproduce the atmosphere of dark future where Scorpion is set, give the player the feel of danger and suspense. Even luxurious Zenith (corporation-antagonist) bosses’ estates share the same approach to lightning, making them look decadent and depraved.
GT: How have you pushed the First Person Shooter experience?
AB: The main focus of the Scorpion is a compilation of several well-known elements into one whole thing. They are: main character with special abilities; stealth action elements; and intelligent, FEAR-like AI with minimal plot scripting. Let’s take a look on them.
Player’s special abilities are aimed to enhance gameplay experience, give to the player more tools and toys for every in-game situation. It’s like second arsenal, filled more with tricks rather than raw firepower. Abilities in Scorpion are divided into two large sections – based on hero psy-powers and powered by his armor. You’ll find quite familiar abilities, like time compression or shields, alongside with brand-new things for the genre, like Mind Control (allows you to make temporary allies from enemies) or Heightened Senses (allows you to ‘feel’ enemies in space and know are they aware of you or not). As hero’s abilities are most important element in the gameplay, I’ll tell more on them later.
As Scorpion represents the situation where you are fighting against powerful organization in and around its own headquarters, you can expect very heavy resistance. In many cases brute force is not an option – and here comes stealth. Like in many stealth action titles you can hide in shaded or dark places and silently sneak past enemies. Of course as this is not only focus of the game, system is simplified. Stealth is another tool we are offering to the player, powerful but not ultimate. And no, one can’t expect to stealth-run through whole content
And last but not least – AI. Your enemies can use objects, both static and dynamic, for cover, and retreat when wounded. Many types of the enemies know how to work in groups and support each other; know when to use fragmentation and smoke grenades and how to avoid yours. They all have individual senses so they hear and spot you fairly when you are hiding. Every combat decision is AI decision. This means that you’ll never face same challenge like in heavily-scripted titles, and every single encounter will have very different dynamics on consecutive tries.
In conclusion, we are not bringing to the market many unique gameplay elements, but we offering unique mix of well known elements instead, as well as some distinctive gameplays.
GT: Are the supernatural abilities of the players going to really enhance the gameplay above and beyond what has already been done before?
AB: We see the player’s supernatural abilities as one of the most important aspects of the Scorpion. Thus, the game is designed so that player must use his entire supernatural arsenal to survive. Of course at first, when his Psy is weak, he must rely on normal weapons, gadgets and medi-kits more then on his abilities. Further in the game the relative weight of abilities grows, they become more and more important, and near the final roles change – player must rely on his powers, supporting them with other resources.
There are 9 abilities character will get access to during the game. They cover all basic needs as direct damage, support and healing abilities are present. While player progresses through the game, his Psy-energy pool grows, allowing him to use more abilities in combat or create combinations to further enhance his gameplay experience. The usage of psy-powers becomes truly crucial when player encounters his main enemies – ‘Hounds’, special forces of Zenith, who possess their own supernatural arsenal.
By the way, the whole idea of supernatural abilities is perfectly adjusted with cyberpunk ideology. In classic cyberpunk we can see opposition of the personality and corporations-ruled society. In the game player’s supernatural abilities, their development, are underlining main character’s personality, bringing him aside and above the mass of his enemies. They are result of the conflict with Zenith and they are main tools of resolving this conflict at the same time.
GT: What did you do to ramp up the AI in the game?
AB: Answer is pretty simple: we combined Kynapse Kynogon and creativity of our programming team.
From the early stages of development we were aimed on creating intelligent, dangerous opposition to the player. At the moment, we have three generalized types of enemies present – low-intelligent monsters (guard dogs, mutants of all kinds, unfinished clones etc) whose actions are based on primitive instincts; moderately-intelligent combat robots, who act in quite predictable manner; and Zenith troops. The last are representing the most dangerous enemies in the game.
As I’ve said earlier, bots can use static and dynamic objects for cover, support each other with fire and grenades (and later in the game with psy-powers), flank and encircle player to drive him out of safe positions and so on. AI can adapt to players actions in combat, changing its battle-plans on-the-flight, so you’ll never see two similar battles even on same spot. As a result, our combat AI is as good if not better then famous FEAR AI is.
On the other side of the coin are enemies’ stealth-detection capabilities. Each enemy character has individual senses that depend on his type and equipment (as various characters can have various gear – noctorovisors, flashlights, movement scanners and noise detectors etc that you actually can see on their models). They react on noises and spotted movement differently, so prowling to the trooper who is watching TV and sneaking past patrol on alert will be very different experience.
GT: Can we expect any interesting add-ons or multiplayer features which might present players with a completely different experience to the game?
AB: In the Scorpion there is no multiplayer at this moment, and we are not going to include it to release version either. We are thinking about the add-on already but it’s too early to speak about it yet. Only one thing that I can tell for sure – if we will add multiplayer, it will be added in the add-on.
GT: Have there been any moments in development where things really came together for you?
AB: Well, I think our team had many ‘Eureka!’ moments. They are always spontaneous, can happen in any situation. Think anyone knew that feeling when you are doing something and giving to the task everything you can and then it comes, like flash of light – bang! This is it! Gotcha!
And after each situation like that we’re feeling that Scorpion becomes better and better.
GT: Are there any parts of your team that have been working far in excess of expectations?
AB: I’m glad that you asked this question, and I want to use this opportunity to thank our programmer’s squad in public for their diligence and hard work. We are proud to have them in our team.
GT: Have there been any huge obstacles that you didn’t expect come up?
AB: Unfortunately, the answer is yes. When Scorpion team was formed, we’ve hired many veterans of Ukrainian game industry. To our huge disappointment soon we have found that brilliant looking portfolio and rich CV not always means fast and high-quality work for some people. It has forced our management to discharge those people and start to look for replacement. Can’t say it was positive for the game production. But now it’s in the past.
GT: When can we expect a demo?
AB: This looks more like a question to our publishers. But if it will be decided to make public demo, its release date will be announced.
GT: Anything else you’d like to add?
AB: I want to thank you for the interview; it was a pleasure to answer your questions. But despite we have covered many topics, there are many still untouched – and I’ll be glad to further extend our conversation. Hope to see you again soon!