Interviews

Looking Back... X3: Reunion

Jon Blyth goes beyond the frontier, avoids the threat and joins the reunion

EgoSoft's managing director is Bernd Lehahn, and he presides over the company who're responsible for the many adventures you might have had in the freeform X universe. The X series have been scoring Classic awards in PC ZONE since issue 83. X3: Reunion picks up where X2 left off, with the insectoid Kha'ak determined to sod up the universe for anything without a carapace. Lehahn talks to us about the series, the difficulties of forcing a storyline into a freeform universe, the pursuit of realism and the dedication of some of their players...

X2
Lehahn: X2 was a good step ahead from X: Beyond The Frontier and X-Tension, but in retrospect we made a couple of bad decisions. In particular, the way we presented the plot in X2 could have been better. The cut-scenes were a problem, the dialogue was sometimes too long and the plot in general didn't come across as good as it should have for these reasons. This is a constant dilemma that we fight with through all episodes of the X games: how can we encourage the player into a linear story in an otherwise freeform game?

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RAISING YOUR GAME
Lehahn: The X series has become our only project and source of income. It's almost a child, and we all love working on it. So the moment it became successful, we knew we were going to continue working on this. There are so many ideas and things to improve that we knew, even in 1996 when the series was started, that we could work on this game for a very long time.

In 2004 we started working on an expansion for X2 - new missions, stations and ships, but inside the same 'hull' (gameplay, interface etc). At the same time, we started work on a new graphics engine and a modified user interface which we internally named X3. In March 2005, we decided to concentrate all our work on a single project and scrapped the idea of an expansion for X2.

X3
Lehahn: We looked at what failed in X2 and simply did that better. So, the top priority was a well-told storyline and good missions. We wanted to make the game more appealing to what we call the 'Wing Commander audience'. That is, those people who don't know Elite-type games and play our game because of the freedom and economy, but also expect a story and cool fighting missions. So we added content that we thought would help make the game more appealing to these type of players. I'm sure that an audience like this would then also begin to love the freeform gameplay and the advantages that a realistic economy adds to such a game, but we had to catch them first...

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GOOD GRAPHICS
Lehahn: Pushing the limit graphically is always a top priority for us. But with X3: Reunion, for the first time we used the chance of the engine switch for a redesign. We wanted to overcome some things we didn't like about the old games, such as the scale of certain objects. From X:BTF to X-Tension to X2: The Threat, we always had to stick with the same scale of objects and didn't redesign the game graphically from scratch. With X3: Reunion, we had the chance to do just that and could correct a lot of logical scale problems. For instance, does a person actually fit into this cockpit? Do the ships fit into the docking bay? Does the carrier really carry that many ships? We always wanted this to look realistic, but with X2, we still couldn't quite do it.

GUIDING THE PLAYER
Lehahn: Our attitude to guiding the player within our freeform universe changes over time. If you'd asked me during the making of X3: Reunion, I would have said it's very important to guide the player, as we wanted to make the game more accessible to the Wing Commander types. But right now, my answer would be different again. As X3 has been out for a while, we've had a chance to rethink entirely how to put a story into our otherwise completely non-linear game, and also where these priorities are. The game is designed entirely for the freeform aspect, but a linear story exists inside of it.

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