Interview: GSC on STALKER: Clear Sky

By Mathew Kumar on July 23rd, 2008 at 8:50 pm.

Well, we’ve had more than a week of E3 coverage, and I’m sure you’re sick of it by now. So I’m finishing up! I checked my huge pile of notes, recordings and press materials and found I have only one thing left to write about – Stalker: Clear Sky.

This sequel/prequel/remake of the acclaimed, if divisive, FPS is an interesting one because it’s the only game anyone at RPS specifically asked me to check out at E3. Jim Rossignol all but demanded I find out if there was going to be “terrible new English voice acting and music” in the upcoming title, and so I obliged by chatting with GSC Game World’s Valentine Yeltyshev.

First, tell us the bad news.

Valentine Yeltyshev: When NPCs are idling, for example around about a camp fire, you’ll hear them speaking in Russian. But all of the storyline or information the player will be told will be localized to the player’s language.

Oh dear. But will there be an option to keep the original Russian dialogue for everything?

VY: I’m not so sure we will be as we’re doing localization this time. We know that the atmosphere benefited by everyone speaking in Russian, but to us the most important thing is to make sure the information in game is understood by the player. Keeping everything in Russian but having subtitles isn’t good enough in our eyes because some players don’t understand a lot of the subtleties.

I actually think it’s going to be more atmospheric this way – characters are still going to talk in Russian accents just with English (or other language) dialogue.

So… What about that music in the trailer?

VY: That was just some music that we recorded specifically for the trailer. In the game there will still be all of the ambient sounds and music that players are used to. There will be an option in-game to also have “action music” but you can turn it off if you don’t want it.

Great. And there’s all the new stuff with Factions, right?

VY: Yeah. We’ve got a new storyline with two layers. On one you can be completely free. You can join any faction that you want, do whatever you want, and progress through the main story however you see fit. But on another layer there is the completely unscripted story of the zone. The factions, using AI, will be battling across the zone to capture territory or engaging in skirmishes – it’s completely unique to your game and you can take part, or not, as you wish. You’ll have complete freedom in the game to do whatever you want to do – you could even just join a roving group of bandits.

Have you been making other improvements based on feedback from the first game?

VY: We’ve made a lot of improvements as a result of that. You’ll now be able to hold things in both hands – so a gun and your anomaly detector, for example. You’ll be able to repair and upgrade all of your weapons. And it’s not really a gameplay change as such but there’s a huge difference in the graphics – volumetric smoke, wet surfaces – and we took some more trips to Chernobyl to get new pictures for new areas, but all of the old areas that we’ve kept in the game have been improved and redesigned too. There are about five completely new areas.

And fighting is a lot more realistic. You can see that when you fight enemies they’ll take cover behind rocks or shoot from windows.

The main thing is always to improve the atmosphere of the first game. Players who liked the first game will be pleasantly surprised by the changes we’ve made, and players who never have played it will not feel that they’ve missed something, because Stalker: Clear Sky is everything Stalker was and more.

Stalker: Clear Sky will be available on August 29th via retail and Steam. Oh, here’s that 25 minute in-game video, in case you missed it first time around:

Anyway, that’s all my E3 coverage done and dusted. What did we learn? Well, frankly, that the PC is pretty much alive and well, because there are a ton of companies out there making PC games. Fair enough that most of the big name games are what could basically be called Xbox 360 ports, but why complain when even EA are putting genuinely exciting titles like Dead Space out?

My game of the show? No idea. I really fancy Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning if it’ll turn out to be as pick-up-and-play as it seems (I don’t have time to sink into grinding an MMORPG) Left 4 Dead and Dead Space are (ahem) totally killer… But for sheer immediacy I probably had the most fun playing Street Fighter IV. But whatever! Don’t listen to the hacks. E3 this year wasn’t especially “good” (no big announcements, still hard to get around/lack of talent to interview/few business opportunities/etc.) but the games were.

And what more can you ask?

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47 Comments »

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  1. Joe Russell says:

    Great news about being able to turn off the action music. I’m not too fussed about the english dialogue, but we’ll see how it pans out.

  2. Ubernutz says:

    ‘And what more can you ask?’

    Cliffy B coming down a flaming slide, landing on a trampoline, which catapults him above the assembled crowd where he hovers and pulls off a slick (and incredibly complex) guitar solo, before crashing down in the midst of all the journo’s; killing and maiming several with his rusty-nail encrusted boots of +10 showmanship (did I forget to mention these? They’re what made him hover, they have mini ion jets in them which also allow him to deep fry anyone beneath him [most people – come on, it’s Cliffy B]). He then backflips back onto the stage and roughly deflowers 62 virgins all the while screaming for everyone to call him ‘Clifford the big red games developer’, which incidentally sounds much more mature than Cliffy B.

  3. MetalCircus says:

    I may be the only person totally non-plussed by Dead Space, but whatever. This was good news though. Can’t wait for the game!

  4. DSX says:

    Been replaying STALKER again, with an eye for Clear Sky’s plot points. I haven’t read anything yet specifically about the plot of the game, so I’m curious about things they will try to tie in to both.

  5. SwiftRanger says:

    Interview sounds comforting, only a month till the final game now.

    And good coverage Matthew, till next year or Leipzig then? :)

  6. anonymoose says:

    Epic have become the exact opposite of where they started; Lame. Console this, consoles that. Fuck consoles, locked down hardware may be the future of their wallet but it will not contain any of my money; UT3, didn’t I play this game three times already? Gears of Shame on the developers for making everything on a rail or an obvious cover.

    Back on this topic: STALKER is the best FPS ever, why? If you have to ask, you need to get a copy, patch it and be God-Smacked, for you are now standing on Holy ground.

  7. RLacey says:

    Man, I need to get back to playing STALKER at some point…

  8. Bhlaab says:

    I hope those new graphical effects arent dx10 only!

  9. Metsys says:

    I recently bought STALKER because I’ve heard so much good about it. Unfortunately I can’t get very far without it crashing, but I’m still going to trudge though it. I just really hope this one is a lot more stable than the original because what I have played so far is awesome.

  10. Daniel says:

    That sucks. If I have read english subtitles to english dialog, english not being my first language and effectively no localizations being available here, why the hell can’t I read english subtitles with russian dialogs?

  11. Pidesco says:

    They could just have the dialogue with an option for English voices or Russian voices with subtitles. How can they make a game as awesome as STALKER, and then fuck things up on such a piss easy design decision?

    I saw STALKER and Solyaris in Russian with subtitles, like everyone else who saw those movies, so I don’t see what the big deal would be to add subtitles.

    Also, Russians speaking with Russians in Russia, in English with bad accents is only atmospheric if you’re making a parody of bad action movies. Morons.

  12. Jetsetlemming says:

    The fanciest of the fancy Clear Sky graphical features are DX10, but the Clear Sky DX10 features will work in Windows XP with a DX10 videocard.

  13. zaibouglish says:

    I never finished STALKER… don’t think I even finished 10%… and it was long enough ago that I don’t really recall why.

    Annoying radiation maybe… hype that lead me to think the world was open for exploring, only to to feel like I am on rails – unable to really explore.

    I reinstalled last night to see if maybe I misjudged the game. Have not had time to play yet but the first thing that stood out… was how lame the crouch movment is. Compare with Crysis or Far Cry – I find the character controls in these two games to be the best yet.

    Anyway, this one promises to really let me wander around the Chernobyl area with a gun. This is all I really wanted so if this holds true then I am excited for this to release.

  14. Skalpadda says:

    I recently bought STALKER because I’ve heard so much good about it. Unfortunately I can’t get very far without it crashing, but I’m still going to trudge though it.

    Did you patch it? It was nearly unplayable for me until a few patches in. Beware that some of your old savegames might not work after patching though, so there’s a possibility you’ll have to start a new game.

    Also, thanks for the E3 coverage Matthew!

  15. Deuteronomy says:

    Dead Space needs to work on not being in the 3rd person. Then we can talk.

    Clear Sky:

    Available: August 29th, 2008

    This game will unlock in approximately 1 month, 1 week, 1 day and 10 hours

  16. Sprafa says:

    Metsys you did download the patches ?

    I had tons of problems before i downloaded them all (enough for me to postpone playing the game) but after i did it all worked fine. I also recommend getting the SHARPER texture pack and the SKY4CE graphics mod if your can run the game maxed out with high fps. Float32 might improve them if your fps are low

  17. Tim James says:

    Fuck, you were taking requests? Because I was really curious about this:

    The fanciest of the fancy Clear Sky graphical features are DX10, but the Clear Sky DX10 features will work in Windows XP with a DX10 videocard.

    Where did you hear this? Please God (or Jetsetlemming), tell me it’s true!!! Would really make my life easy not having to worry about Vista in the next 36 days.

  18. Chris R says:

    Oh stop fussing about the voices! It’ll be just fine if it’s the same way it was in the original Stalker. Seemed plenty atmospheric to me without hearing everything in Russian. The game will be good boys, everyone grab a martini and settle back.

  19. RobotLiberationArmy says:

    “When NPCs are idling, for example around about a camp fire, you’ll hear them speaking in Russian. But all of the storyline or information the player will be told will be localized to the player’s language.”

    I was under the impression that this is how it was in STALKER, you know with “get out of here stalker!” and all that.

    Am I misreading something?

  20. Muzman says:

    Jetsetlemming says:
    The fanciest of the fancy Clear Sky graphical features are DX10, but the Clear Sky DX10 features will work in Windows XP with a DX10 videocard.

    Er, surely that makes them categorically not DX10? What with all its special new data handling and so forth? Like how Crysis’ DX10 effects were DX10 in name only effects that merely detect Vista or something.
    I heard that only a couple of the new effects are strictly DX10; particulary the volumetric fog physics that can be blown around by fans etc and the rain slick surfaces (maybe god rays too ). If you can live without that then your XP experience is nearly top table (actually, what else was there?)

  21. Tim James says:

    Yeah I just saw an article where he comments on the volumetric fog, that it’s too slow to do in DX9. He was referring to hardware, but I highly doubt they would hack in their own API calls that utilized DX10 hardware on a DX9 platform (XP).

    I would love to experience this game maxed out, but it’s running up against my feet-dragging on Vista.

  22. hidden_7 says:

    I don’t really care about the voices, since it sounds like they are doing it exactly the same way as STALKER, I’m just hoping they have some kind of subtitle option for the incidental dialogue and signs maybe. It’s not very atmospheric to have a bunch of things my character is supposed to be able to understand be gibberish, and it’s even less so to have to go to some website to look up what Stalkers are saying around the campfire so I can get in on the joke.

  23. Tim James says:

    It wouldn’t be hard to provide options for subtitles, full Russian, partial Russian (like they’re doing), etc. but it takes time and money. I guess you have to give them credit for avoiding feature creep.

    Did you ask him off the record how solid the August 29th date still is?

  24. Grey_Ghost says:

    I want to know what the hell they are saying in those damn campfire jamborees!!!!!!!!! GAH!

  25. Jetsetlemming says:

    @Tim James:
    http://forums.mapcore.net/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=11008&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&start=15
    The first post at the top of this page. That’s a GSC Game World designer.

  26. Metsys says:

    @Sprafa & @Skalpadda: I bought STALKER it on Steam. I went ahead and checked the version number anyway so I know I’m running the latest one.

    I was getting that dreaded BSoD bug that a number of users were reporting. Apparently installing the newest nVidia and/or Audigy drivers fixes it, which didn’t work for me. Then I read on the Steam forums that another possibility for the BSoD was the buggy memory allocation, and there’s an app that is supposed to let individual applications allocate more than 2GB of Ram at a time, but seeing as I only own the 32-bit version of XP Pro, which can only use 2GB anyway (I have 4GB in my system so I ran render stuff in Linux) I don’t see how that program will help. I might give it a try though because I’ve read that it does work in 32-bit XP.

    It was suggested that if you got the BSoD to run the game in static lighting mode to see if it really was the memory allocation, and sure enough the BSoD went away—looks like crap, but hey it works—only to have it crash an hour later. At least it just froze up this time instead of the BSoD, but I still had to reset the computer.

    So yeah, it’s a little discouraging because I buy brand name components so I don’t have compatibility issues like this.

  27. Skalpadda says:

    @Metsys: Ouch, that’s a shame. The Steam version doesn’t have the latest patch afaik, it’s 1.5 while the latest retail patch was 1.6 last time I checked, but the 1.6 was just something about multiplayer if I remember it right. I thought 32-bit XP could allocate something like 3.5GB RAM, but then again I’m everything but an expert.

    (Also, I blame Jim Rossignol for owning both the boxed and Steam version of Stalker for making me want to play it so badly when the box was left at my ex-girlfriend’s place. Evil man!)

    About the DX10 features running under XP, could it be that they’re talking about the same thing David Speyer is talking about in this RPS article?

    DS: For this set of products we decided to use some DX10 features, but not through the API itself. It’s because we didn’t want to be Vista only. We didn’t feel there was an enough of an install base for the Orange Box launch. I’m sure we will use it – it’s pretty much inevitable. But this time, things like the hardware face morphing is implemented via a back-door API.

    RPS: DX9 can do what DX10 offers then?

    DS: Yeah, but through driver-back doors. And I’m sure we’ll rethink it at some point. For this roll out it was fine to do it as we did.

  28. Tim James says:

    Could be. That’s why I was hoping someone would ask.

    Metsys, did you try the registry hack?

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\ Session Manager\Memory Management]
    “PagedPoolSize”=dword:ffffffff
    “PoolU???aximum”=dword:00000028

    I think maxing out the pagedpoolsize was all I needed to do and I never had another crash. Do a Google search for more information.

  29. Zeh says:

    Woooo! Clear Sky news! My day is complete.

    Thankfully, you can turn off the dreadful “action music”. This is great news and pretty much the only negative I had about the game.

  30. Metsys says:

    @Tim James: Thanks for the tip. This was actually listed as one of the possible fixes in the Steam forums. I gave it a shot and now it’ll only blue screens when I walk into new areas, instead of randomly or after returning to the game after saving. So I think with this in conjunction with playing it on static lighting I should be able to play it a lot longer at a time.

    Still though, it’s kind of a bummer because the game really is fantastic so far.

  31. Capon says:

    Man, makes me wish I played the first STALKER (minus the horrible bugs described in above comments). Games with so much atmosphere, that make you feel like like you’re actually plodding along in a god forsaken wasteland… make me happy? Weird.

  32. gulag says:

    Such a wonderfully bleak game. I’m playing it again now with an eye to getting heavily involved with one of the factions. My first time through I avoided siding with anyone, which meant that after the BrainBurster was disabled, both sides ignored me and concentrated on murdering each other. Natch.

    Wonderful game. It’s like Fallout… with guns!

  33. wcaypahwat says:

    I’ve been playing bits and pieces the last couple of months with Oblivion Lost mod on….. great fun, even more atmosphere, especially at night, where you actually need your torch to see more than two feet ahead, and theres freaky noises everywhere. its rather scary at times.

  34. Charlie says:

    The 1.6 patch isn’t on Steam because apparantly it hasn’t been officially released. Anyway, I don’t think it has any single player changes anyway so I wouldn’t worry about it unless you plan on playing multiplayer. Which is shit.

  35. Spraaf says:

    from the edge preview – http://www.edge-online.com/magazine/preview-stalker-clear-sky-0

    “Most immediate are the improvements to the graphics engine – Yavorsky takes us into the game’s opening area, a ramshackle settlement. The models and textures are more detailed than in the original and it’s shot through with God rays, and this with just a DX9 build of the game (it will also support DX8).

    A later demo of the DX10 effects that GSC will be applying to the game demonstrates volumetric smoke and steam that has physical properties (swirled into eddies by moving objects and flowing around them) and ‘dynamically wetting surfaces’ – environments that wet in rain, with puddles forming, but that stay dry under cover.”

  36. Deuteronomy says:

    If DX10 add significantly to the game I’ll get Vista god help me.

  37. Tim James says:

    Sounds like it might just be the smoke and wet surfaces.

  38. moonracer says:

    I think another critical question that should have been asked is whether Clear Sky will be as mod friendly as STALKER. I recently played through STALKER again, only this time with the Oblivion Lost mod installed. The mods adds an incredible amount of features to the game and fixes a lot of limitations. Free roam friendly, improved AI, crafting, equipment repair, moving anomalies and regular blowout storms to name a few.

    What someone really needs to do is make a FPS game like STALKER in one large world like Oblivion rather than multiple open maps connected by a few gates.

  39. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Hooo yeah!

    Sorry if someone already mentioned this, but wasn’t “Russian for incidental dialogue English for everything mission related” exactly what was the case in Shadow of Chernobyl? I mean, all Russian would be great, but at least this is no worse!

  40. Tim James says:

    I’m sure Clear Sky will be mod friendly. It basically uses an upgraded version of the same engine. They’re not reinventing anything here.

    P.S. Just bought parts to upgrade my PC. Now release this stupid game in August, GSC… or else!

  41. frymaster says:

    Skalpadda says:
    I thought 32-bit XP could allocate something like 3.5GB RAM, but then again I’m everything but an expert.

    No, you’re confusing physical memory with virtual memory.
    By default, all processes on windows 32-bit can allocate themselves 2 gigs of memory. Even if the machine only has a 128 meg RAM stick in it, then assuming your swap file is large enough, you could have 10 processes each using 2 gigs. Your disk drive might jump out the case and throttle you, bit it’ll do it – slowly ;)

    IF the boot-time options is turned on, and IF the program admits to not crashing if the memory system is altered, programs can instead allocate themselves 3 gigs. If the program doesn’t admin to playing nice with that, you can use a 3rd-party utility to alter the start of the .exe file and lie about it :P (might make it crash, though)

  42. Erlam says:

    I’d love to see these guys do a full-on city. Imagine the crazy character it would have.

  43. ZeeKat says:

    This is actually first game I like the way it’s localised. In Polish version of Stalker: SOC all dialogs are original, only more important things are translated by Polish voice-over (tradition from our TV – lector dude reading translation over original sound – worse than subtitles but still better than ALWAYS horribly shitty and atmosphere ruining dubbing, sadly lot of games are dubbed now), with original Russian audible in the background. The voice-over guy is one of well known TV’s guys, so effect is striking for everyone used to Polish TV and remembering times where there were lots pf Russian movies on it.

  44. roryok says:

    Cliffy B coming down a flaming slide, landing on a trampoline, which catapults him above the assembled crowd where he hovers and pulls off a slick (and incredibly complex) guitar solo, before crashing down in the midst of all the journo’s; killing and maiming several with his rusty-nail encrusted boots of +10 showmanship (did I forget to mention these? They’re what made him hover, they have mini ion jets in them which also allow him to deep fry anyone beneath him [most people – come on, it’s Cliffy B]). He then backflips back onto the stage and roughly deflowers 62 virgins all the while screaming for everyone to call him ‘Clifford the big red games developer’, which incidentally sounds much more mature than Cliffy B.

    Lets cut out a few words there – how about instead Cliffy B just comes down a flaming slide and lands on a bunch of rusty nails.

  45. MetalCircus says:

    I echo Roryok’s sentiments; the man is a fool.

  46. Erlam says:

    Maybe someone could introduce Cliff there to the colour wheel.

    The 29th is too far off :(

  47. brad says:

    So I bought this through Steam. I get the BSOD when I launch the game. I can’t tell what version steam has, nor do I have any way of fixing the BSOD myself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my pc. 2gigs ddr2, quad pentium, 9800gtx ati, xp. My drivers are not an issue.