Note: This is from Starship Repulse.
Starship Repulse: When you go about making a game like I-War, what order does the design process take? Story or engine first?
Glyn Williams: We started with the subject matter: we wanted to do a space combat game. We then went on to produce the design documents. Game publishers are very keen to avoid investing in projects that fail, so the design documents have to be very detailed. The game story-line emerged as we created that set of documents. At that time we were using the SubWar2050 engine as a prototype. It is useful to show publishers what a finished game will look like.
SR: What other genres can we expect to see Particle Systems revolutionize, or create?
GW: We are working on some new game designs, and some of those take us into new genres. As for the future, we are not ruling anything out, but I doubt we would ever do a soccer game.
One of the most well developed ideas being considered is very different from Independence War. It is not exactly a first-person shooter, but that genre is the closest to it.
SR: Is there anything more that you can tell us about what skews this FPS concept away from the standard model? Is the difference in a similar vein to the way Thief is different from the Quake-genre?
GW: Our aim is to do something like we did with I-War; namely to to introduce more diversity, realism and thinking into the genre - while still keeping it emotionally exciting.
SR: I-War seems to take much more inspiration from written SF than other 'space-sims.' As we understand Particle Systems is developing I-War 2 now, what are you, or have you recently, been reading?
GW: We are all science fiction fans. The last big title was the latest in Iain Banks culture series: Excession. My teenage years were spent reading classic SF: Larry Niven and E.E. Doc Smith - that kind of stuff. Right now, I read very little fiction at the moment. But I have started to read a lot of books on how to write fiction.
As games get better, I think game developers have to pay more attention to story structure, character and dialogue. So we have a responsibility to get good at this sort of stuff.
SR: In a similar vein, are there any universes from written SF for which you have some urge to transform into a game?
GW: A culture based game would be cool - but I wouldn't want to write the AI. I think it is useful to borrow ideas from other sources too. The mission storyline ideas in I-War came from a whole bunch of historical events. It's not SF but I'm also interested in Hornblower. The Hornblower novels, which feature a lot of tactical sea battles were one of the influences on Gene Roddenberry when he created Star Trek. Transforming those big sailing ship battles into a kick-ass space setting would be a lot of fun.
SR: Do you have any thoughts about the yet to be released space RTS 'Homeworld'?
GW: Yes. We are officially sick as a parrot. We wanted to do that! We intend to develop the Independence War universe into more than one title. One extension would be into a real-time strategy game. I'm eager to see how Homeworld turns out.
SR: The orbital tower in the opening movie was a very nice touch, will we be seeing any further examples of mega-engineering in I-War 2?
GW: Oh yes indeed.
SR: Reportedly I-War 2 will be more free-roaming than I-War. What changes is this going to bring to your narrative approach?
GW: We still strongly believe that having a story line is vital to a game like I-War. The player needs a clear role and an objective. But at the same time we want the player to feel like the title is not on rails - and allow them to go out and explore the world.
I-War 2 will be a hybrid featuring big heroic set pieces within a free roaming world. We describe is as the chocolate chip cookie model. The free roaming is the cookie and the adventures are the chocolate chips.
SR: How have sales of I-War/Independence War been? Particularly in the US?
GW: It has only been on sale since September. But sales are still strong and we continue to get excellent review scores. We are hoping that by next year the US sales will overtake Europe. The US product got a makeover. We were delighted that we were allowed to design the US packaging. Some US stores took a lot of units simply because they liked the box.
SR: If you were able to go back in time and do I-War all over again, what, if anything would you do differently?
GW: There are a couple of lines of dialogue in the intro movie I would re-write because I cringe every time I hear them.
To be fair, with all projects, there is always stuff you would do differently. The trick is to write them all down, listen to criticism and then make sure they don't go into the next project. We have collected a huge number of Emails and Newsgroup postings about I-War and we read them.
SR: The I-War engine's power and adaptability make it seem like it should be ripe for licensing to third party developers. Have there been any nibbles?
GW: Yes from quite big names. But it is not an avenue we are actively following. At the moment we are a games company and not a technology company.
SR: The name 'Dreadnaught' has taken some degree of flack for seeming to denote a very large ship. As far as I can tell the association of the name with large ships dates back only to the 1906 launch of HMS Dreadnought, the ship which kicked off the ultra-heavy battleships, oft called dreadnought battleships, or just shortened to dreadnoughts. How did Particle Systems come to decide on this name?
GW: In all truth, we wanted Dreadnaught to be the title for the game - mainly because it sounded cool.
But I do have a defence. The ship in I-War is supposed to be quite old.. so when it was new it was considered to be a big warship, but within its lifetime the introduction of much larger ships made it a medium sized warship.
In the British Navy the name tends to get used for the first big ship of an all-new class. I know the commanding officer of the Dreadnought Nuclear Submarine (which sailed under the North Pole). In discussing this with him he pointed out that his "Dreadnought", is now completely dwarfed by present day Trident Subs.
M'lud, I rest my case.
SR: Particle Systems' release of the deslabber tool was a wonderful thing for all us I-War fans, will some sort of mission editing be supported in I-War 2?
GW: We are toying with the idea of having a mission editor built into the product. This would be particularly useful for the multi-player stuff. I like the idea of a bunch of people thinking up a combat scenario, then being able to create a script and then play it out.
SR: We've seen a lot of inquiries about fan fiction on the I-War/Infogrames message board. What is the official Particle Systems line on fanfic?
GW: I'd very much like to encourage that sort of thing. - Although I do think that it might be a good idea to release a style guide or writers bible.
SR: Does the I-War series have an overall arc planned out, in the fashion of Babylon 5?
GW: To some extent. There are future histories, maps etc. But we want to continue to develop and extend the universe. We are planning to release more information on the IW universe.
There are also a set of rules about the types of story that fit into the Independence War model.
SR: Can you tell us what the minimum system requirements are that you are targeting for I-War 2?
GW: This is a moving target, so no promises. The likely spec is fairly modest. But would include a P233 - processor and some kind of hardware 3D accelerator. We also plan to support DVD and MPEG 2 hardware.
SR: Will the primary player ship in I-War 2 will be a Dreadnaught-class corvette, or will it be a new type?
GW: Hold on to your horses - we are planning to offer the player more than one type of ship.
SR: What advice do you have for fans who are building their own missions?
GW: How about: please don't hit me.
SR: Will the engineering station have more to do in I-War 2?
GW: The original I-War design had a lot of engineering stuff in it. Some of the missions required a clever tweak to the ship. But as the game was developed we dropped a lot of this stuff, because it wasn't really a lot of fun. We are planning on completely overhauling the user interface for I-War 2, and I think the design is a lot more sensible.
SR: What forms of multiplayer gaming can we hope to see in I-War 2?
GW: Multiplayer gaming is very different to single player gaming. Our aim is to allow a group of players to design and act out a combat scenario, whether that is from the game, or one of their own design. If we do that one thing well, then I think the multiplayer mode will be very successful.
SR: What one element of gameplay do you most want to push to the next level in I-War 2? And how?
GW: I reckon that good gameplay is as much to do with stuff that isn't there as much as stuff that is. What I mean is that a game may often have brilliant design and clever implementation, but it will be perceived as weak if some niggling little flaw gets in the way when you try to play it.
With I-War we want people to become engrossed in the game. The most difficult challenge is taking down the obstacles that stop this happening.
I think a lot of Japanese software is particularly good at polishing titles so that these rough edges are absent.
SR: Any chance that we'll be seeing the I-War franchise expand onto our bookshelves in novel form?
GW: Possibly, we have had discussions with some novelists. We'd obviously want to have a strong story which kept the same flavor as the original game.
SR: 3D sound APIs seem to be popping up all over these days, which, if any, are you hoping to support in I-War 2?
GW: We are building a new game engine called Flux. Flux includes its own sound API which should do some neat things.
SR: The physics modeling in I-War was excellent, as anyone who's spun up, and spun down an object by shooting it knows. What additional physical effects do you hope to add in I-War 2?
GW: The I-War (although good) was based on Euler (pronounced oiler) angles. Flux and I-War2 uses a quaternion based model - which is more physically correct. The dynamics has been completely overhauled so you'll notice things like long objects will tend to tumble end over end. The physics model is all new, so there are improvements in every aspect of the dynamics. For instance all the ships will have working thrusters.
SR: Will Infogrames also be publishing I-War 2?
GW: Yes indeed. We have established a very good relationship with Infogrames. The are a very developer friendly company - and we are delighted that they have increased their US presence by acquiring GT Interactive.
SR: Is there any chance that Particle Systems or Infogrames might start selling merchandise, like say, more posters?
GW: Particle is not really set up to do that sort of thing. Infogrames has already started selling some T-Shirts, but I for one would like to see mugs, posters and bumper stickers.... the works!
SR: Will Particle Systems provide a multiplayer server in the vein of Blizzard.net, or PXO, for I-War 2 games?
GW: In the long term - we see the future of the I-War franchise being a large scale persistent universe. But to be honest that kind development takes a lot of research and development to get exactly right.
I-War 2 will offer a more immediate form of networking, allowing groups of players to act out scenarios with their own rules. So players will be able to setup different multiplayer games. From deathmatch in space, to more tactical scenarios.
SR: Will wingman control change much for I-War 2?
GW: Yes. One of the areas which we felt we could improve upon with I-War is the whole user interface. Fighting space battles is always going to be difficult, but it should be the content which provides the difficulty, not the interface. We particularly wanted the game to be accessible without the requirement to learn lots of keys. - so we have designed a system which hopefully will retain the depth of the original title, but be more accessible to new users.
SR: In all your time developing games, what project has given you the most satisfaction?
GW: Apart from I-War, Warhead was the most rewarding. Warhead was a single person project. Just myself doing practically everything. I enjoyed that a lot, and I was able to produce a very satisfactory game. However while working alone on a project can be very entertaining it is very very hard work.
SR: What sort of games do you play when you get a chance? What other titles get played about the office?
GW: At lunchtime the office turns into a warzone ( Network games being played almost exclusively). I got completely into Forsaken. I liked Decent - but Forsaken multiplayer is really well designed. The office is usually split between the driving camp and the shooting camp. Half-Life is the flavour of this week.
SR: What are your three favourite movies of all time?
GW: Could I pass on this one? I am a big movie fan with a growing collection of DVDs and Movie scripts. My favourites change from week to week.
SR: What do you see in store for humanity in the next few hundred years? What fears and hopes do you have?
GW: I-War presents a quite pessimistic view of the future: Mankind is destined to repeat his mistakes.
On a personal level I am much more optimistic. I think each generation has a better standard of living than the last, and that generally speaking, the world is a better place for having human beings on it. My only regret is that there is only 21 years left until Blade Runner and we still haven't got flying cars.