EAWFiles Exclusive Phoenix Rising Interview

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First I’d (Enceladus) like to welcome Chandler into the first of what will hopefully become a series of mod interviews exclusively on EAWFiles. For those that do not know who Chandler is; he is the creator of the Phoenix Rising Mod. This mod adds on to the struggle for control of the galaxy. He has introduced new units and completely re-vamped many aspects of the game to allow for more tactful and realistic game-play. Version 1.1 was released recently. It can be found here.

Enceladus: Thank-you very much for taking the time to do this interview, we are extremely grateful here at EAWFiles. First off, congratulations on the newest release of your mod; Phoenix Rising v1.1. It introduced many new aspects to the game-play of EAW. How pleased are you with the response of the EAW community to this newest release? Is there anything that you wish you could have done to this particular release before it was made available for download?

Chandler: Well, thank you for taking the initiative to make this happen. We certainly appreciate the extra publicity you’ve given us between mirroring our news and doing this.

Version 1.1 was, in essence, a massive polishing effort. We added quite a lot of brand new content in v1.0, so I felt it necessary to take the time to not only ensure that all of this content was in balance, but that it was also held to the highest standards of authenticity, game-play, and aesthetics. While I wouldn’t call the resulting release “perfectâ€, it is a marked improvement on the original.

As to the reception, I can’t say that I’m necessarily displeased; only that I didn’t expect the performance of galactic mode to become the lightning rod that it has. I actually spent a considerable amount of time working on Skirmish in conjunction with the upgrade tweaks, but that aspect of EAW seems to have been largely written off by the community. I feel it’s at the point with v1.1 though where it could foster a serious multiplayer scene – something that’s really been lacking with EAW.

In hindsight, there’s nothing more I would have really added prior to the release. You have to understand that the month leading up to the launch was a marathon taken as a sprint. I’d say we put in at least 500 man-hours over that time period between two people, so we did all we conceivably could to get a quality product out within our window of opportunity, which I think we did.

There is one project I regret attempting for v1.1 though, which are the land changes. Those were never originally slated to begin this soon, but that’s another story entirely.

Enceladus: What pushed you as a modder to push the EAW/FOC game to its limits as shown in the latest release of Phoenix Rising? Surely undertaking such a grand project must have taken some personal motivation.

Chandler: I’ve been modding for roughly twelve years and I came up with a general concept for a Star Wars RTS about eight years ago. That sort of evolved into what you see today as Phoenix Rising. But a lot of factors had to be right at the same time for it to even get underway.

I think the motivation comes from seeing, at present count, four official titles not quite do the franchise justice. I’m not saying that they were bad games, only that they didn’t really capture the feel of the movies in my eyes. So that’s what I’m trying to do with PR.

Enceladus: There were quite a few complaints still about lag resulting from the changes made in the Phoenix Rising. Even though lag reducing efforts were introduced a number if people still found that the release was “laggyâ€. Would you mind going over the minimum computer specs required to play this mod? I know you have stated this in the past but some may have missed it and this could possibly explain their problems. Is there going to be a patch to possibly reduce the lag present in the mod?

Chandler: Well, we’ve come to understand that the galactic lag concerns are more deep-seated and complex than we initially realized, but that’s what you learn from a wide release. Most of the efforts we took to reduce lag were actually geared towards tactical though, with fire-linking the projectiles, among other things. The recommended specs we came up with were done between two people and it turns out they were largely irrelevant, so I’m not going to repeat them.

However, I am confident that the problem can be fixed one way or another, but it’s going to require more than just saying it’s “laggyâ€. We’re currently running a benchmarking test on our forums and, given the amount of people willing to complain in broad generalities, the response has been underwhelming. We won’t be able to improve it if we don’t know the extent of the issue on various systems, which means getting quantitative data. The onus is really on the player right now, because that’s who we rely on for testing.

Enceladus: Would you ever consider releasing a “slim†version of Phoenix Rising for those that simply can’t handle the lag on their computers?

Chandler: Not as such. We will continue to make changes to the official version until it’s widely deemed “playableâ€. However, expecting it to run as smoothly as vanilla with the amount of content we have is not realistic thinking.

Enceladus: What has it been like working with such a small staff? Has it made you cut back on any ideas for the mod?

Chandler: To be honest, it’s been extremely efficient. I doubt we would’ve made it this far had I devoted more time to managing a larger staff than to just producing the results myself. Everyone knows their focus and there’s no overlap. I also try to recruit directly from the PR community if possible, so the team is highly motivated.

I’m a fierce advocate of reusing third-party content and thereby not “reinventing the wheelâ€, so that’s really allowed us to spend our time on the important issues, like game-play, rather than being stuck on basics. It’s perplexing to me when a team sets out to build something from the ground up when viable alternatives already exist – it’s contrary to the whole concept of modding. We don’t get paid like professionals, so why try to emulate them? But I digress.

So far, the limitations of the engine have been more of an idea-killer than the small team size, but that’s beginning to change. We’re notably lacking in unique maps for new planets, and although we are making due with recycled vanilla ones, that’s not going to change unless people are willing to step up. Furthermore, any sort of significant revamp to ground combat is on hold indefinitely until we can get a dedicated art team, because third-party models for land units just don’t exist in the same quantity as those for space.

Enceladus: What made you decide to remove the hardpoints from the units in the game? There have en mixed opinions about this particular part of Phoenix Rising. Do you think that it has subtracted or added to the game-play in any particular way?

Chandler: It wasn’t ever really a choice of doing targetable hardpoints or not doing them; they just never made sense with the rest of the changes we were making to space combat, either from a game-play standpoint or a development standpoint. I have nothing against hardpoints in theory, but when you’re using an actual weapon count, that means you could be looking at over 100 different targeting reticules on one ship – it’d be impossible to pick the right one. The weapon stipulation currently translates into more than 6000 space hardpoints for the entire mod, the vast majority of which would require additional code, props, and meshes in order to be made targetable. I don’t consider that to be a good use of my time.

I wouldn’t say this decision has necessarily subtracted or added to the game-play, but rather it simply has changed it. We’re different from vanilla – something I take great pride in as a modder. But that doesn’t make the game-play any less interesting. I guarantee I can beat anyone in a battle who claims we have no tactical depth, because I know how to use no-hardpoint tactics. It requires more than just blowing out shield generators.

Enceladus: What are your personal opinions about the current EAW modding community? Is it beginning to decay or is it about to enter its “Golden Age�

Chandler: Sadly, I’d say it’s beginning to decay. You don’t have to look any further than the download counts to confirm it either. We did a fairly substantial news blitz leading up to our current release and our numbers are still down from the same time a year ago. It would seem people are moving on to newer games.

Enceladus: Are there any mods you particularly want to see be released for your own personal enjoyment? If so please tell us which.

Chandler: Frankly, I’d like to see any of them make it to a full release for the sake of the community. I think the number of big projects with no release in sight is one of the contributing factors to our decline. But for me personally, it’s hard to single one out. I’ve crafted PR to my own specifications, so it represents an ideal for me. I’m perfectly content with it.

Enceladus: Can the public expect anymore “full†releases of Phoenix Rising with more additions, new units, game-play changes, etc.?

Chandler: We hope to do a version 1.2 that will address the performance issues and provide better context help and documentation on our game-play. I’m sure a few things will also be added or changed along the way as well. After that, well, always in motion the future is. Ask me again when we get that far.

Enceladus: Do you think the release of an “Empire at War 2†is at all likely or probable? If it did happen would you mod for it?

Chandler: If a game like this is a commercial success, it’s pretty much guaranteed an expansion. We got that with FOC. However, EAW wasn’t just a commercial success; it was the fourth-best selling PC game of 2006. That alone should indicate that there will be another Star Wars real-time strategy game some time in the future, but the question of whether or not that will be the sequel to EAW, I think, really hinges on Petroglyph. Is their current project a sign that they’re moving away from the real-time strategy genre for good? That’s a question I can’t answer.

As to my future, Phoenix Rising will be my last mod – but hopefully not my last game. I’m looking to move on to the “big leagues†of game development, that is, to do this professionally.

On behalf of the whole EAWFiles team I would like to thank you for this exclusive insight on your opinions and workings of the Phoenix Rising mod for Empire at War. I’m sure the public will greatly appreciate this.

~Enceladus~ ~EAWFiles Head News Poster~

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