Interview: Zero hour approaches
18th Mar 2003 | 15:29
All things being well, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero should be with us soon. The game is penned in for a spring release and both Ritual Entertainment, which has taken over the development reins from Gearbox Software, and interested party Valve Software seem confident that the title will now make this rather broad deadline.
We managed to catch up with Valve Software's Erik Johnson recently to chat about the game and find out where it's currently at.
Can you give us a brief overview of Condition Zero?
Erik Johnson: It's an encapsulated singleplayer experience in the Counter-Strike universe. The game is broken up into roughly 20 missions, each with about three or four levels each. We're trying to focus on a lot of cool cinematic events, the kind of thing we're noted for with building singleplayer first-person shooters. This game will be along the same lines as Half-Life or Opposing Force, except it's in the Counter-Strike universe.
What changes were incorporated when Ritual took over development of Condition Zero from Gearbox?
Johnson: Without going too much into the reasoning behind the change, what Ritual's done is basically step back and figure out what the type of gameplay we can build for Condition Zero that our customers will really like. The answer to that is the kinds of things we know how to build as a story-driven game. Counter-Strike is really cool and all that, and all the weapons are really familiar to people, but we wanted to build an actual story. So that's what Ritual is doing.
Are the game's missions linked via the narrative, or are they stand-alone?
Johnson: They're more or less stand-alone. There's a little crossover between a few of them. But it's more you running around and working with a bunch of different characters. Operations are conducted in different locations around the globe. We're trying to give the player the feeling of moving around the world. Some missions are set in South America, some in Hong Kong - all over the place.
What work has gone into new player models?
Johnson: There's a new terrorist, the Militiaman, and there's also the new Specnaz character for the counter-terrorists. There's a whole mission based around the Specnaz. We've tried to keep the art style pretty consistent but tried to make everything look a little better. It's very important that existing Counter-Strike players recognise who the characters are.
What can you tell us about Condition Zero's multiplayer side? How will it differ from the Counter-Strike mod?
Johnson: People that buy Condition Zero will get Counter-Strike multiplayer; and then they'll get higher resolution player and weapon models, all that kind of stuff. And then they'll be able to play with the millions of other people who already play Counter-Strike. So as far as multiplayer is concerned, it's pretty much a high-definition pack for multiplayer Counter-Strike.
We're also adding a few new items to multiplayer. There'll be a riot shield that you can use when carrying a pistol, and you'll be able to block shots.
Obviously the riot shield is going to alter tactics employed in the game...?
Johnson: Yeah, we've playtested it quite a bit and we're really happy with it. It really promotes teamwork.
Where are you now in terms of development?
Johnson: We're heading into beta now with the product. The best thing about the Half-Life engine is that it's really matured. So it's all about building gameplay really. Since we've got the gameplay locked down it has started to come along really fast. We've also made a few enhancements and improvements to the Half-Life engine. We've added a few more cool effects and such.
And an Xbox version of Counter-Strike is still in the pipeline...?
Johnson: Yes, there will be an Xbox version of Counter-Strike.
And this will be Condition Zero?
Johnson: That's correct.
How will it compare to the PC version?
Johnson: Well, we're not talking about the Xbox version right now.
We assume there are still plans to release an update for the Counter-Strike mod that will bring it inline with Condition Zero's multiplayer component?
Johnson: There'll be a Half-Life update to coincide with a Counter-Strike mod update, which will in turn coincide with Condition Zero going gold. It means that everyone will be able to have the same multiplayer experience when Condition Zero ships.
Will Counter-Strike continue to be updated after the release of Condition Zero?
Johnson: Our user-base is still growing, which tell us that our customers happy. As long as our customers remain happy, we'll keep adding to the game.
How confident are you that Condition Zero will make the given Q2 2003 release?
Johnson: I would say it's pretty well set in stone. We're building the kind of gameplay that we could ship at this point.
Are you confident that Condition Zero will meet the high expectations placed upon it? Certainly it's looking a little dated graphically. Do you think this will affect its popularity?
Johnson: We're not trying to win the war on the visual front, we're trying to build strong gameplay. Counter-Strike isn't the most impressive game visually on the planet, but it is the most popular online first-person shooter. Clearly people are looking foremost for good gameplay.