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Interview: GSC on STALKER: Clear Sky

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:

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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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