S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.

By Jim Rossignol on December 10th, 2007 at 8:42 am.

This interview with Anton Bolshakov of GSC Gameworld looks at this history of the company, the inspirations for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the nature and mythology of Chernobyl, and the development of the “A-Life” living world system found in the game.

I originally conducted this interview earlier this year as research for a feature on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. commissioned by PC Gamer UK (click through to read it in full). Although I was pleased with the final, published draft, little of the material from the interview was used, and so I’m republishing it in full here.

RPS: Can you tell me a little about the background of GSC as a company?

Bolshakov: The company was originally formed in 1995 in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. From 1997 we got down to computer games development and forming the team. At this point there started the development of a historical real-time strategy, Cossacks: European Wars, which was released worldwide in late 2000 and sold over four million copies to date.

This was an amazing success for our start-up company, especially taking into account that the main work on the project was made by a team of four. Cossacks served a start to a whole lineup of historic strategy games with over ten projects released in it. In 2005 the full-fledged sequel to Cossacks, named Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, was released. Additionally, we were behind the strategies Alexander (Oliver Stone’s movie tie-in) and Heroes of Annihilated Empires (self-published worldwide).

Our second, top-priority direction was 3D action games. In year 2000 there started the development of Oblivion Lost, subsequently named S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. We set our mark very high – the game ought to be the best in everything. We targeted creating the best engine, attaining realistic graphics, developing innovative concepts and delivering innovations to the genre.

It took us seven long years to develop and despite all the difficulties, the game came out and was praised by journalists and players. We expect a similar commercial success as with Cossacks.

At the moment sixty people work within the company. It is a very solid and professional team. Now, inspired by the success of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. we work on the development of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. world and the next projects in the series.

RPS: How did the idea for the Stalker project originally come about?

Bolshakov: Splinters of Soviet Empire are plentiful in Ukraine – forgotten productions, catacombs, neglected military facilities and so on. Even our office is located at an ex-military factory with no more active production. When walking around such areas you can’t but think how the time froze at this place of man-made catastrophe. Logically, it struck us as a cool game setting to explore.

Next, the Soviet system was sealed, many facts were kept secret, so even the most harmless objectives or events generated unbelievable rumors and legends. For example, it is still not determined what exactly caused the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl Power Plant. The official version claims the regular testing went out of control, however some say CNPP served a battery for secret laboratories, so what happened is an overload during one of the experiments being held. Another example is an existing gigantic antenna located within the Chernobyl exclusion zone. [The “brain scorcher” of the game – RPS]. On some of our photos taken during the trip to Chernobyl, the body of the antenna is seen on the horizon spanning several hundred meters across. As some unofficial sources claim, the waves emitted by the antenna were psycho-active. The antenna was directed onto Western Europe and preoccupied with a long-lasting military experiment on psychotropic influence onto human psyche. Similar examples can be found in batches. It was around this sort of experiments and theories that the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. story was evolving. We’ve got room for both conspiracy theory and the opposition of special services. Our game sort of expands onto what could have happened in reality. It’s a story about a post-apocalyptic world with its own tragedies, heroes and laws.

After that, [our inspiration] was the accident in Chernobyl itself. A murky and terrifying example for mankind of thoughtless use of high technologies.

Living among this all, we came up with the idea of the Zone and s.t.a.l.k.e.r.s. living within. Then we generated the idea of A-life which controls all the characters in the Zone and makes the world a living-and-breathing one. When all these components were imagined together, we realized it was going to be an amazing game concept.

RPS: How important was the book ‘Roadside Picnic’ and the film ‘Stalker’ to the development of your game?

Bolshakov: As important as an inspiration can be. We are old fans of Strugatsky brothers’ creations, however the game in no way repeats the book or the movie. We created our own game world, story, characters and so on, so considering S.T.A.L.K.E.R. an adaptation of the “Roadside Picnic” and “Stalker” movie would be wrong.

RPS: Can you explain a little bit about the decision to set the game within the Chernobyl zone?

Bolshakov: The accident in Chernobyl of 1986 is one of the black pages in the history of Ukraine. When it happened, the entire world was alarmed by the radioactive contamination danger. Unfortunately, many facts about the accident and its consequences were concealed by the USSR government. As time passes, people start forgetting about the accident and the related problems which Ukraine has to cope with, now virtually independently. So, for several reasons Chernobyl has been a very unique and an amazing game concept: global public awareness of the setting, mysteriousness of the place, radioactivity dangers, talks about mutations – all combines into a solid concept of a horror-filled atmospheric shooter. The motif behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was to create a game which would remind people of the Chernobyl accident and at the same time warn mankind against any possible fatal mistakes in the future.

RPS: Do you think that the existence of the Chernobyl has helped to create a more authentic game than you might otherwise have produced?

Bolshakov: I think Chernobyl was very important to create the kind of environment, architecture and other details S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is particularly known-for. Ruins of old Soviet industrial complexes, blocks of flats, military and civil facilities, vehicles and so on are still plentiful around ex-USSR. However, those traces of old empire can hardly be felt as keen and striking as in the Chernobyl zone. To me it’s living history, as life has been still there for over twenty years now, ending back in USSR times. It was only after visiting Chernobyl that we were able to render the atmosphere of true post-apocalyptic Soviet world which we intended to deliver.

RPS: How did the idea for the Stalker concept change over time? How did THQ influence its outcome?

Bolshakov: Until year 2002 the initial concept (back then the project was called simply Oblivion Lost) was oriented on fifteen linear levels, similarly to classic adventure shooters. An anomalous Half-Life, if you like. However in spring-summer 2002 the concept got drastically changed and Chernobyl was made the center of the game. We decided to implement a huge world of the 30-square-kilometer zone around the Chernobyl Power Plant, split it into locations and use a feature nobody ever used in shooters – life simulation. We had a very strong concept to go in line with our robust engine. It was a concept which, in our estimations, would remain relevant and innovative even after a decade.

Then in 2004 there was one more change to the concept when we rejected the fully “A-Life”-driven game without the story and obligatory tasks, where any [NPC] s.t.a.l.k.e.r. could complete the game ahead of the player. When we had assembled a playable prototype we realized that such a concept would barely be understandable to the players. It was either too much or too little of gameplay content, while everything was under the control of A-Life. It was frequent that the players didn’t understand what to do next. Such a concept required considerable improvement and a search for a form both understandable and involving to the players. In May 2005 such a solution was found – we placed the storyline within the A-Life world. It is this very concept that you can see in the game today.

We started working closely with THQ’s Producer Dean Sharpe in early 2006. I respect Dean’s professionalism: when he joined the project he understood that drastic changes to the game at this development stage may completely ruin all the deadlines. Therefore, we focused on finalising the current concept and the features which worked 100%. Some of the features were cut from the game or put aside for the next iterations. We concentrated on polishing up the gameplay, balance, difficulty levels…

RPS: So what were the biggest problems you faced during development?

Bolshakov: There were many tough elements to do, however hardly any of those compares to the AI system implemented in the game. Despite all the bottlenecks, however, the AI done is neat and dynamic. A-Life, as part of the general AI, proved one of the most challenging, of course. At some points we even thought the A-Life was just impossible to do. However, it’s there and now the A-Life can happily control a huge number of characters in the Zone, their traveling, life cycles. The A-life is responsible for creating background events, so as multitude of secondary tasks.

Also, combining the storyline contents with A-Life part wasn’t a trivial job. The thing is, all the story events must be played-through and experienced by the player, but A-Life is a totally dynamic system constantly in motion. We managed to find an elegant solution where the story tasks are put inside the A-Life world, however until the player has interacted with the former, no A-Life events could be happening in the area. Once the player has accomplished his quest, the A-life gradually fills up the spot previously inaccessible to the system. Hence, when you come back to the level previously completed, each time you will find a new A-Life-driven playthrough and new secondary missions.

RPS: And this A-Life/story hybrid is what you are most proud of?

Bolshakov: We are proud to have been able to implement the ideas of a huge living-and-breathing world where the player obtains a great deal of freedom; he is not limited by shooter-standard corridor limits; the player can act at his will and see how the outer world reacts to his doings. We are very glad we managed to implement the unusual mix of FPS and RPG, integrating the elements of stealth, horror, so as provide a unique playthrough to each of the players. This what makes S.T.A.L.K.E.R., undoubtedly, stand out from the rest. It should be noted, the ideas of A-Life, AI independent of the player bear great potential for the future development.

RPS: Will GSC be attempting another project of similar ambition in the future?

Bolshakov: The experience gained while developing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is hard to underestimate. We have learned a lot, made a lot of trial and error – it was an excellent school training for the team. Now we are a solid and professional team. And we already have such an ambitious project in mind – it’s going to be S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2!

We’re aiming to discuss the possibilities of a sequel, GSC’s independent status, and the forth-coming expandalone for S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Clear Sky, in the next couple of weeks.

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65 Comments »

  1. arqueturus says:

    I can never get into Stalker, which upsets me massively because, on paper, it sounds like my dream game.

    I try every now and then but the horrible interface puts me off each time.

    *Sighs*

    I shall give it another go.

    • Stevostin says:

      … wait. The interface ?

      I can get being put off by the fight, which are very enjoyable once aclimated to but still are so different than the usual shooter it can be a cold shower.

      But the interface ? Really ? I mean, it’s not perfect, sure (especially in first two), but it’s not like you’re spending an awful lot of time with it. It certainly is less than 1% of your play time.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    Yeah, I definitely think Stalker has the kernel of the perfect game in there. More writings on Stalker to come…

  3. Kast says:

    I have trouble seperation what Stalker should have been from what it is. Like so many other games it suffers from promising the new coming and actually providing a mere saint.

    It was very rare that I ever saw solid examples of A-life – perhaps because I followed the storyline and little else. Because I wanted to finish the story, I missed out on Stalker’s most important feature and it all felt far very linear, more like the original concept for Oblivion Lost.

    Still, I consider Stalker a key point in game development history and look forward to the next release with relish. I’m sure GSC will iron out the problems with desired features and get closer to what has been promised.

  4. Mark-P says:

    Oooo, STALKER!
    I finally picked it up a month back and it blew me away. This game reminds me why I love my PC and can’t seem to get into any interation of consoles. It’s complicated, it’s demanding, it’s clunky doesn’t hold your hand much and it’s rough round the edges. It’s also mesmerizing. The atmosphere in the game is second to none. It does the outdoor post-apocalyptic decay motif better than HL2 and the indoor spooky flashlight stuff better than Doom3 or FEAR. It demands to be played alone on cold, dark, stormy nights accompanied by a mug of tea. You must resist the evil of quick-save.

    And the whole Ukranian/Russian vibe is great. We need more games from non US/Japanese developers, or at least ones that don’t target those markets. I even love the way they left much of the NPC speech in Russian – you can pretend the other stalkers are saying anything.

    It’s given me several of the most vivid and memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had, one of which involved something as simple as a guitar. ( Everyone loves the guitars, right? )
    I’ve had to stop playing because it crashes my PC on the army warehouse level. And I’m not mad. I’m just quietly waiting, with a smile, knowing that I can finish it whenever I get a new box.

    I’m really happy to hear you’re going to be talking about the team and future games.

  5. Ash says:

    I was interested in this game when it first came out, but was sure my machine wouldn’t run it properly. I might just give it a try now that i’ve upgraded my rig.

  6. Jickel says:

    I can only agree wholeheartedly with Mark-P. The game’s roughness only made it feel more vivid, alive and realistic for me. It also has one of the best and most permeating atmosphere of any PC title I’ve played.

    Also, keep up the great work! This is by far my favorite gaming journalism site EVER. I’d buy you all Kool-Aid, reindeer meat and party hats I could, if I could.

  7. james b says:

    Stalker had a couple of really great moments for me…i have a feeling they were unscripted other than triggers..however i think the big problem they had was this large sprawling world… i saw little of the ai as i was busy with the plot and the ‘life system did not seem to do much..

    … i would be much move convinced by developers claims of great ai…’life systems’..whatever, if they could just show me it on a small scale…actually working

    …for example a house on a hill with four opponents in… i as player have to approach and kill them..the game has a day and night cycle…if i approach at diffrent times the ai is doing diffrent…appropriate things…sleeping–eating..2 guards..1 guards…lights on, lights off etc etc..they go out –come in etc etc… i dont need to see all this (but it would be nice) but they need to be acting appropriately and in diffrent states of readyness and performance…. a lot of this can be done scripted i spose but good ai should be able to handle it….i think as a player once i see everything pretty similar on a couple of occassions i lose interest in playing the ai for whats its worth..

    ..crysis does a good job of getting me to replay -just cos my suit powers give me a few good options to approach the ai..the ai itself only seems ok…but i have had a good few play throughs of the first half of the game because of the diffrent variables to play with…

    I think a really good ai game will come when developers approach it on a smaller more human scale…a good scenario for a first person shooter adventure should perhaps only have 2 towns of say 100 key people,,it could be padded out with cannon fodder for the player to kill..

    .fear had great combat ai….who cares if your only fighting in corridors if that play is great….it had a few scenes in it that i played the same save 30 times just cos it was fun…the overall ‘fear’ story- bored me but i had a lot of great shoot outs..with decent opponents…it felt like play….

    if i was the stalker guys i would be trying to make stalker 2 not big but deep….on the ai front…one final note in this rant..stalkers atmosphere was one of the main things that kept me playing…it was great…that side of things they did really really well…. any way i look foward to their next game

    regards

  8. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    Bad translations, NPC’s switching between english and russian , no way to repair your gear, bizarre graphical anomolies (i just pretend these are part of the world)….The whole thing is riddled with issues, yet it’s one of the few recent games thats kept my interest.

    I picked it up on release and shot through the story. Since then I’ve done a few more play throughs, just wandering about…. It’s just got that *something* that grabs my attention.

    Although, i suppose, in mother russia…..

  9. I_still_love_Okami says:

    I’ve been waiting for this game ever since I’ve first heard of it (which was sometimes around 2002 or 2003). When I got it at long last I discovered that my pc just wasn’t powerfull enough to handle it. I only played it for a few hours and allthough I was able to glimpse at the greatness that was surely in there somewhere, the poor performance just ruined it for me.

    It’s funny that I played that game roughly around the same time as Gothic3. Both games promised an open world, with different factions, non linear gameplay and whatnot. Both games had technical problems (neither Gothic3 nor Stalker had visuals that justified their hardware hunger), feel very rough around the edges and had tons of bugs.

    The difference between them is: I’ll surely return to Stalker once I’ve upgraded my rig, but nothing short of large amounts of cash will convince to play Gothic3 again.

  10. Mickiscoole says:

    Stalker had what I believe to be a great feel. It just felt like you were in a chaotic place. And there were a lot of little things that just felt right. Like the flashlight. It didn’t just turn on when you pressed the button, it turned on at a slight angle and moved towards the center, which made it feel like you were actually pulling it out rather than having it always out.

    That being said, the games biggest problem was the integration of the storyline to the world. It had a great story in concept, however it didn’t really fit and as people died too easily there was no real sense of any characters.

  11. Ben Hazell says:

    I don’t look at games the same way since Stalker. I’m less patient with linear restrictions, have less time for weightless combat.
    The atmosphere’s amazing, it generates anecdotes with every development. It was one of the few games I managed to play through without stepping out of character – I hated to die, regardless of quicksave – and that’s a very powerful trick in a game.
    My only regret is that there was a limit to your involvement with the factions.

    WCAYPAHWAT; I also treated the russian language as part of the game – hearing russian really added to the atmosphere. I also liked the decision not to allow you to repair gear – it made you keep careful track of what you used, and it added pressure to avoid hits – you could heal wounds but your armour got steadily less useful if you took damage. It also stopped me overusing any of the unique weapons. The Thundr that fired AK ammo was waaayyyy too useful early on to allow unlimited use.

  12. The_B says:

    Without making this seem too much like an advert:

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R only £4.99 on TheGameCollection.net at the moment.

    For if, like me – you still haven’t got this yet. Or want to drop monumental hints to loved ones for a cheap Christmas present…

  13. FaceOmeter says:

    The_B: Thanks for the tip-off! But! That site just recommended me the following potent combination:

    “Buy Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl (cdrom) and Walt Disney`s The Jungle Book: Groove Party (PC)”

    ¿non comprendere?

  14. Zeh says:

    Mark-P, I wholeheartedly agree with you. The game was awesome and it turned out to be a huge surprise for me. It seems it was rushed towards the end of development, so I can’t help but think what it could have been – the Oblivion of FPSs – but it’s good enough the way it is.

    The atmosphere is terrific, and the combat AI, as crazy as it sounds, is some of the best I’ve had to face. Screw FEAR and its soldiers jumping around in slow motion.

  15. Janek says:

    Mark-P: I had that problem with the warehouse. I think it’s something to do with saves made in that area becoming corrupt. If you save just outside the area (ideally in the sewers at the manhole up) and run through that whole section without saving, you should be fine. Alternatively the patch might fix it, dunno.

    I need to replay this at some point, possibly with some cherry-picked mods. It’s yet another fantastic example of the rough gems that come out of the Eastern Bloc.

  16. The_B says:

    Thanks for the tip-off! But! That site just recommended me the following potent combination:

    “Buy Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl (cdrom) and Walt Disney`s The Jungle Book: Groove Party (PC)”

    ¿non comprendere?

    “Now I’m the King of the Swingers oh,
    The Jungle V.I.P.
    I’ve reached the top and had to stop,
    and decided to play S.T.A.L.K.E

    …err R.”

  17. Dr.Gash says:

    I clicked on that link to order but I get some random shipping address in Hartlepool and no way to change it. How the hell do I sign up for my own account?

  18. Mr Pink says:

    B: That link seems to have logged me into an account. Probably yours? I’d change your password or something mate ;)

    Dunno what kind of security they’re using there, but it’s clearly pretty shocking.

  19. Dr.Gash says:

    aha, nevermind, I eventually found the log off button. Time to open a new account.

  20. The_B says:

    I don’t live in Heartlepool.

    And it’s not logged in to any account for me? Odd.

  21. Mr Pink says:

    Clearly two of us having the same experience there. Did you copy and paste the link from somewhere?

  22. The_B says:

    Looking at it, it appears to be something to do with the fact I had put it in my basket already – it’s not spefically going to my account but does seem to be doing something weird with the cookie. I’ve sent the guys a corrected definitely safe link but I will point out that I don’t think it saves your card details, just address.

  23. Mr Pink says:

    Ah well, hopefully nothing has been compromised :) Great tip though, considering this game isn’t even a year old I can’t believe you can get it for a fiver. I’ve been curious about it for a while.

  24. Alec Meer says:

    Link-o-fixed. Click in confidence.

  25. The_B says:

    They also have Psychonauts for £2.95, Lego Star Wars 2 for £5.99 and Hitman Blood Money for £3.75 but I fear of turning into a Spambot if I digress anymore – go find yourself some Christmas cheer.

    (Or indeed, there is also the awesome Savapoint offer of Beyond Good & Evil for nothing more than postage and packing (£2.99) which makes you DEAD INSIDE if you do not purchase post haste.)

    -Please don’t blacklist me RPS. Think of me not as a spammer, more a Christmassy Elf.

  26. Junior says:

    For me, the best bit about Stalker? Zone craft.

    When I’m playing (I’ve completed it twice) I’m exploring, hunting, looking. There is no other game I’ve played that rewards watching carefully before you move, that pack of dogs, only a few of them but that one looks like a pseudo dog, best to go around and save my ammo.

    But whats this? To go around I’ll have to face these bandits, unless… Unless that pseudo dog spots the pointman and attacks, leaving me either a confused and distracted opponent, or a nice diversion for my sneaking antics.

    The A-life system DOES work, but it is compromised by the spawning system they had to put in. But, you still can’t run around knowing that dogs usually spawn here, because they might not be there anymore, something more deadly may have moved in. The longer you play, the more unusual things you will see, I saw a poltergeist being hunted by dogs in the wild territory yesterday. I saw a pair of bloodsuckers attack the freedom outpost the day before. I saw the strange and inexplicable things that belong in The Red Forest today, don’t ask what, I’m really not sure.

    Stalker isn’t a game, it’s a place, an experience, a myth. When GSC went into the zone to take textures, they brought back so much more. Nothing has a sense of place like Stalker, and the fact that it all ties up into one big soviet era conspiracy just drags you further in.

    And has never let go, Thanks GSC!

    *Dons mask, readies AK, pats vodka pocket*

    (oh yes, and you have never played Stalker if you haven’t played it drinking vodka)

  27. dhex says:

    stalker, for all its holes and faults, was easily one of my favorite games of the year. the atmosphere was impeccable, the look was solid and it was creepy as hell.

    the float32 mod was tremendously helpful too.
    http://www.thefloatingpoint.org/main/news.php

  28. Mark-P says:

    Thanks for the tip Janek. I’m not sure how far back my last alternate save is. :(

    I totally agree Junior. One of the things that makes STALKER great is the unpredictability that the A-life AI creates. It’s such a refreshing change from an over-designed rail FPS like HL2 and its episodes. You never know what you’ll find over the next hill. You never know if you’ll run out of ammo before you can make it back to an outpost. There’s whole areas that you don’t *need* to explore but can if you’re curious.

    You’re constantly having to stay alert, move from cover to cover and eye the world around you. Your binoculars are as important a tool as your gun and turning and running like hell is an acceptable solution to many encounters.

    I’m really looking forward to the Freeplay patch although, again, it’s taking it’s sweet time coming. I really want to play that mode without ever reloading saves, Diablo II hardcore style.

  29. dhex says:

    will there still be a freeplay patch?

    if so yay!

    also i hold out hope for the clear sky prequel. post apocalyptic gang warfare.

  30. Mark-P says:

    The last I read, Freeplay had been pushed way back, close to the release of Clear Sky. It sounds like they’re focusing on that for now.

  31. roBurky says:

    I don’t know about the artificial life stuff – I never read the previews for Stalker.

    But I thought it was a waste of the location. The thing that makes the chernobyl exclusion zone interesting, to me, is the abscence of humans, how it’s empty, a snapshot of time being reclaimed by nature.
    The Zone in the game isn’t the Chernobyl exclusion zone because it is packed full of human life, with as many warring soldiers crammed in as the space will allow.

  32. Chris says:

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is the only FPS where wide-open spaces made me more nervous than narrow corridors. There’s something about being out in the countryside, alone, even in the daytime that just fills you with anxiousness and dread. It’s an amazing feel and atmosphere they created. Other games can scare you, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R. just filled you with a constant sense of unease that was remarkable.

    Combat was also challenging and required a lot of planning and caution. A single assault on an outpost could take a good hour, which was refreshing after a lot of run-and-gun FPS games.

    That said, the game was disappointing in a lot of ways, with the bugs and glitches, the completely disappointing and cosmetic RPG elements, lack of memorable characters, and nothing terribly enjoyable to spend your money on.

  33. terry says:

    Heh, Oblivion Lost was a pretty unfortunate name to choose.

    FWIW I expected to like STALKER a lot more than I ended up doing, simply because it felt like the developers had come up with an incredibly atmospheric environment and premise and then shoe-horned a structure over it that left the game feeling restricted and underwhelming. I don’t blame THQ for this – presumably their deadlines dictated the game being completed at all – but a cynical part of me just can’t help thinking what might have been had they not been involved.

  34. Solario says:

    I liked STALKER, but the sheer amount of almost aimless running, means I haven’t even gotten halfway through yet. Some of it is just too tiresome. And some of the missions were horribly buggy. Otherwise, a great game.

  35. jbrandt says:

    arqueturus: Don’t think of it as just a bad interface– think of it as a simulation of using a crappy Russian PDA, cloned half-assedly from Western PDAs…

  36. Junior says:

    *gets in, takes gasmask off, puts AK on table, necks a bottle of vodka*

    Just got back from Yantar, that place is horrible. Seeing the number of totally failed assaults, the number of bodies of people who have simply crawled off to try and find somewhere to die. They’re the lucky ones. For the second time this game I’ve failed to go back underground, and saved and quit.

    It’s the underground that scares me, the first time you’re sent down, you just think “oh, an instanced dungeon sequence, I wonder what I’ll find?” (that is if your cynicism has survived that long) And when I got in there? OMG, Doom has nothing on x18! No spoilers, but basically, everything down there was totally incomprehensible, scary, dark, noisy But most importantly, new. I’d never seen anything like it, after fighting mobs of soldiers and stalkers all with those handy 3 bandits left tags, when you’re left without them, it’s terrifying. Especially when *OMGWTF SPOILERS*

    I think while I agree with roBurky about the most interesting thing about the real exclusion zone, It wouldn’t work in a game, not yet. It still shines through the gunplay in Stalker though. In the long moments of peace, as you survey the terrain, surrounded by abandoned construction projects and crumbling buildings.

    And as for the rpg elements Chris? I personal LOVE having an rpg without a skills system, where I get better in the zone rather than my character, it’s another of the things that draws me back in.

    *Suits up, grabs AK, steps out*

  37. bobince says:

    > They also have Psychonauts for £2.95

    …out of stock! Curses, foiled yet again in my attempts to procure a copy. This is getting ridiculous.

    If STALKER is not an adaptation of Roadside Picnic, I would love to see a game that is, it’s great! Someone seems to have put a translation up, too.

  38. roBurky says:

    Bobince, you can buy Psychonauts off steam. They won’t run out of stock.

  39. SwiftRanger says:

    STALKER may have its issues but I’d still consider it as the most atmosperic shooter of 2007.

  40. Garth says:

    “lack of memorable characters, and nothing terribly enjoyable to spend your money on.”

    I agree about the money, but I had an opposite reaction to the characters. To this day, I’ll say “Hey, don’t just stand there!” with a Sovjet-Bloc accent whenever my friends come over. I loved checking the top Stalkers (I’m not doing the fucking abbreviation) and then finding/killing them. There was also some Freedom guy I had the longest firefight of the game with. We fucked eachother UP.

  41. Hump says:

    The only thing that can do this IP justice is a full blown MMOG. unfortunately the only one who would be able to play such a game would be my grandchildren :(

  42. Ben Hazell says:

    The Stalker rankings could have been better developed. They were a little static and the leaders were still just random stalkers who had been asigned higher scores. I overtook them all too quickly because they wern’t improving. I wanted to really fear the top guys, but they fell just like the rest.
    Sure there were some who became characters as I encountered them, but they didn’t retain personality the next time you met them.

    What made the game was watching the enemy through binoculars planning your attack, but knowing that wherever you were watching from, you wern’t safe.

  43. Garth says:

    Out of curiousity, what the hell does Float32 actually do? The website doesn’t seem to have a description (at least one I could find.)

  44. Zeh says:

    Garth: float32 originally “fixed” some shaders by using float32 values on color correction or whatever. So it looked prettier, faster, and actually ‘more’ correct. It also adds a few other ‘tweak’ features. Apparently the float32 changes were also going to be added on a future patch, but I don’t know the state of that.

    http://www.thefloatingpoint.org/main/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.4

  45. mezz says:

    Stalker was a spectacular, definitely my favourite game of the year.

    It has SO many flaws, and yet despite them it still ends up being really, really special. You rarely feel like you fully get to experience the A-Life, but when you do, it’s spectacular.
    I remember a moment just after I’d first left the base camp, I was low on ammo and to reach my objective I needed to get past some dogs. So I creept around, hoping they wouldn’t take any notice of me, but suddenly I realised I’d almost walked into one. We then just starred at each other, me worrying about how much ammo I had left, and how much I needed to get back alive, and I saw him could see him considering weather or not to attack, could he take me? After what seemed like an eternity he walked quietly away. Leaving me behind, lost in awe at what had just happened.
    Add moments like that together with incredible atmosphere, and the fact that it was a FPS that actally felt fresh and new and you are left with the most important game I’ve played in a long time.

    I’m greatly looking forward to what they (and hopefully others) can do with A-Life in the future.

  46. Will Tomas says:

    I liked it, but I never fell in love with this game the same way that I did Half-Life 2 or Oblivion, despite completing it. I agree that the atmosphere was fantastic, and it certainly had some great moments, some A-Life inspired, some not, but ultimately it just didn’t have enough to keep me wanting to play it. Too much treking, too little to buy, and not enough variation in the characters to give me anyone to be interested in (except, tangentially, the story of Strelock, [SPOILER] although I found the twist to be fairly obvious – not really a spoiler but some people get antsy about such things…[/SPOILER]).

    Good, and certainly unique, but it didn’t do enough to make itself feel consistently fun and surprising (I know, the setting didn’t really allow it, nor was it supposed to), but it was an “I’m glad I played that” rather than an “I desperately love this game.”

  47. Lou says:

    Interesting interview, thanks.

    Absolutely loved Stalker, it’s my game of the year, by a distance. One of the most atmospheric and sinister games I’ve ever played, and the most modern FPS game out there with its structure.

  48. Nick says:

    I thought most of the actual A-life stuff is deactivated in the released version of the game?

  49. Tim says:

    I still get chills thinking about the last few levels — the blowoffs and the ambient voice left me stunned at how much the game had affected me.