www.krawall.de Krawall Interview (english)

1 May 2003

André Peschke interviews Lisa Tunnah

Who are you and what you do?

My name is Lisa and I am a director of Vulcan Software. My other roles include game design, model building and texture artist for Hybrid.

Before we get to the game, please tell us a bit about "Vulcan". Who are you and what have you done before starting work on Hybrid? Do you have any experience in the creation of FPS games?

Vulcan was established in 1994 by myself and partner Paul Carrington. We started out as Amiga developers and over a period of 5 years developed and published 15 titles. One of these titles was an FPS called Genetic Species, which was our last full game release for the Amiga platform before we migrated over to PC in 1999. Since then we have been working on our Mother3D engine and game development tools, which will form the basis of all our future PC releases. During this time we have also developed a digital distribution application called the Vulcan Portal, which uses Mother technology for the 3D avatars which reside within it.

On your homepage you're promising an "Adult Theme For The Serious sci-fi Gamer". What can you tell us about that already? We're especially interested in the "adult" part of course.

Hah of course you are! Hybrid is placed in the context of an encounter with an alien race which ensures it's survival and successful colonization of planets by creating hybrids of other species, combined with it's own bio-technology. In order to carry out their objectives, the aliens require a constant supply of biological material. To that end the player will witness many disturbing scenes as they venture further into the Nereid based mining facility where the aliens have taken up residence, using the original human inhabitants as the latest addition to their organic supply chain.

The player will encounter these "human victims" at various stages of their transition from human to hybrid, so nudity will be a factor in the context of laboratory situations. The vulnerability of the human victims is designed to psychologically disarm the player thus adding to the terrifying atmosphere of the game as a whole. In essence Hybrid is a violent game with explicit and disturbing content, and we expect it to be age-rated accordingly.

Will the game be story based ? If so, what can you tell us about its characters and story line?

Hybrid isn't story based in the traditional sense of the word. Rather it adheres to a running theme, which expands and becomes more involved as the player progresses through the various locations. The game is given an initial context of the Navasota resource and cargo ship en route to Neptune. The player (who takes on the identity of engineer Lieutenant Marek Hale) is thrown very suddenly into the game as the ship is attacked by a hostile alien species, who proceed to board the vessel and begin harvesting the crew. The Navasota sustains damage in the attack and the self-destruct sequence is initialized, Marek must find the means to abandon ship before this eventuality, whilst defending himself against the initial onslaught of the alien hybrid race.

Having abandoned the Navasota, we find ourselves in the mining facility on Nereid, the aliens have taken over the complex and have begun to hybridize the original inhabitants. This second location is heavily populated with an array of alien character types, who mostly comprise the hierarchy of the species, a hierarchy that is largely based on intelligence quotient. These characters are in essence the outcome of successful hybridization, the player will encounter some less successful and occasionally grotesque examples of experiments gone wrong within the mining facility. The player must negotiate his way through the complex in order to carry out his main objective of sending a message back to earth, and ultimately destroying the facility. Details of the third and final location will be revealed at a later date.

It seems that "Hybrid" is inspired by the "Alien" movies. What other sources of inspiration did you have?

Thematically Hybrid has its roots firmly embedded in the science fiction of the Alien movies. One of the reasons these movies are so popular is because of the believable way in which the stories are handled. They played on all our most basic fears, and in Alien 1 and 2, successfully made what was in effect a bunch of actors in alien suits appear to be nothing less than completely terrifying. In comparison many science fiction movies are disappointing, because when dealing with futuristic and imagined scenarios they fail to make them believable.

Creating believability in the context of computer games is just as difficult if not more so, for we are not a passive audience, we get to take part and influence events as they unfold. In all honesty it is often the seemingly mindless behavior of the characters in games that destroy our sense of suspended disbelief, along with environments that allow little or no interaction.

We have created solutions to these typical game problems in Hybrid, with AI rich characters, and fully interactive environments creating an experience as believable as it's possible to get. Other sources of inspiration would have to include 2001, for it's awesome atmosphere, and Star Trek, particularly the Voyager series for it's exploration of the borg and their constant striving for domination of every aspect of every race they encounter. Personally I've been a science fiction fan for as long as I can remember, so many of the books I have read have contributed to the overall feel and atmosphere of Hybrid, from classics writers such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Karl Sagan and my current favorite writer Greg Bear. All of these factors have contributed to the design of Hybrid.

How much firepower will the player have on his hands? How many weapons are there, are any of them rather extraordinary (examples?)

Well I guess the short answer to that question would be plenty! I don't have a definite figure of exactly how many weapon types will be available just yet but I can tell you there will be a mixture of standard weapons and more outlandish types, which incorporate the aliens own technology. One kind is a DNA reversal weapon, which produces a grotesque metamorphosis of the unfortunate victim. Then there's a force field implosion weapon, which can enclose an enemy in a force field, that gradually gets tighter and smaller, crushing the victim to a cellular level.

You're planning to extend "AI Boundaries To New Levels" and we read something about "Unparalleled Environment Interaction". What will your AI be capable of that others are not ? And what possibilities of interactions will there be, especially beyond "blowing everything up" and "talk to everyone"? Extending AI boundaries is dependant upon environment interaction.

The enemy characters in Hybrid are as aware of their 3D environment as the player. They are programmed to recognize the models that comprise their immediate surroundings and understand the various ways they may interact with those models in order to best achieve their goal. Each character type is assigned a brain within the Mother engine, the brain contains information pertaining to the characters skill set, needs and objectives, and provides a reference for the interactive capability of the other game models, and the available animations to allow those interactions to be realized in real-time.

A typical skill set would include factors such as the ability to smell, see and hear, which are defined at varying levels, so some characters would have exceptional hearing but poor eyesight, others would rely almost totally on smell and so on. How a character uses these skill sets would then depend on his objectives and his needs. Some characters are designed to be killing machines, and their objectives are to disable other life forms within their vicinity. These characters would pursue the destruction of the player above all other things, and will use their skill sets to track him down in order to fulfill that objective, however, they may have other objectives which will influence how they go about this.

All the characters have an objective of survival, because it is realistic for any living thing to wish to prolong it's own existence. Combine that with a character 'whose main objective is to kill you' produces some interesting results, especially within an environment in which that character has interactive abilities. The ability for our characters to interact with the game environment is the main reason why we have stated our AI boundaries will extend to new levels.

Hybrid's game characters will be able to interact with every object the player can interact with, they will be able to open and close doors and airlocks, operate computer consoles to start or stop machinery, or change the dynamics of a location, i.e. By turning off lights. They will be able to move objects around to create obstacles in your path, and they will be able to hide behind or inside them. Forget ambling towards another crewmembers dropped weapon, knowing for sure that it is yours for the taking. An enemy character may very well kick it out of reach, or worse still pick it up and use it against you. All of this is made possible by the way in which we build and define our game models.

Part of the Mother3D engine and development tools is an application called the Mother Model Creator (MMC). We build all our game models in here and because of the high level of control we exercise over their creation we can add many more definitions within each resulting model file than would otherwise be possible. The MMC allows us to define every animation for a model, and every sound it may ever emanate, it allows us to set up tagging information which is subsequently made available to AI based characters so they can interact with that model without us having to generate any further code to allow them to do so. The experience of encountering a game character that is aware of it's environment to this degree is nothing less than extraordinary, and makes for some truly amazing game play scenarios.

Will Hybrid include any digital distribution features such as auto upgrade order downloading of additional content?

As mentioned previously, we have developed digital distribution software, but if and how it will be used for Hybrid is a little too early to tell at this stage.

Will the focus in "Hybrid" be single or multi-player mode?

The focus will be on single player initially, we won't be discounting the possibility of a multi-player mode, but this would be handled as an additional project at a later date.

Dare to take a guess on the release date?

Hah! Personally I've a great fondness for the line.. 'it will be done when it's done', unreasonable and arrogant as that may sound. We don't have a release date for Hybrid just yet, but I promise you will be the first to know when we do. We are aiming for a technology demo to the end of 2004, as to when it hit's the shops will be down to the publisher for which none is assigned at this stage.