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Interview with Matthew Gosling of the Caspian Software team.
Out of all of the games that Telegames is releasing, one really catches my attention...that's Zero-5. From what I've seen, it looks sensational. Now, from what I've read, it sounds great as well.
I want to thank Mr. Gosling for being so kind in letting me do this interview.
Note: There is some adult language at the bottom of this interview as Matthew gets angry (not at me of course!)
>1)First off, who developed Zero-5? What did the team consist of?
Caspian Software, a tiny development house. In-house, there was just 2 of us working full-time:
* Chris Dillon - MD, producer, head honcho
Everyone else on the project was freelance, they were used as an when they were needed, (some a lot more than others):
* Dave Pratt - programmer
>2)Can you tell us a bit about the game's story?
There are aliens. You shoot them.
The general storyline is that you've got a load of aliens attacking earth (mould-breaking concept, I know), and earth sets up Defcon (Defense Control), a network of defense craft around the earth. All the alien activity comes from sector 0-5 hence the name. I think that's roughly it, I had nothing to do with the ST-E/Falcon version, and we chucked in a cut-down storyline for the Jag version fairly late in the project.
>3)There's been a big discussion about whether or not this game is onrails....from the vid-clip I saw of the game, it looked close. Can youclear this up?
Basically, there are 3 completely different styles of game in there.Your mothership is called a Hit-Pak, and it holds a small figher called a Bam-Bam (stands for Break-away mode). Sometimes you are in a gun turret in the Hit-Pak craft, other times you go into break-away mode and control the Bam-Bam craft.
The three game types are:
(1) BamBam space dogfight
I'll go through the 3 in turn.
(1)Bam-Bam Space DogFight
In this mode, you're flying in outer space - you aren't actually GOING anywhere as such, so there is no exploration involved. Aliens attack on pre-set patterns (Atari were touting it as a "Virtual Galaxians" which is a pretty good definition). You have complete freedom of rotation with your ship, you can point anywhere you want (flying "out" of the screen if you want).
When they shoot at you, they hardly EVER miss, so you have to shoot the incoming fire. This is made quite easy because when one of your "bullets" collides with an alien bullet, the alien bullet explodes but yours keeps going, so you can easily take out a whole stream of alien bullets with just one or two of your own. Collision detection between bullets is tweaked HEAVILY in the player's favour so you don't have to be perfectly accurate, you just have to shoot in roughly the right direction.
We went for this style of play because we found that most 3D polygon shooters (such as Cybermorph) were based on exploration, and you have to sort of wander round for ages trying to find some action. That sort of game is fine, but we wanted to do something where all the action comes to you, a more intense blast. Basically we wanted to create the same sort of frantic blasting action you had in games like Graidus and R-Type, but in 3D.
BTW, this mode also has an "intelligent" camera, which moves slightly depending on which way you're pointing, and zooms in/out depending on the action. For example, if an alien appears somewhere where it can't be seen (e.g. "out" of the screen behind the camera), then the camera will zoom out until the alien is visible. The player can then see the alien, rotate around to point "out" of the screen at it and blow it away.
(2)HitPak Gunner Sequence
In this mode, you are in a mothership (a HitPak) which is constantly drifting forwards through space, with aliens attacking on pre-set paths. You, the player, are situated in a gun turret on the underside of the ship. Moving the d-pad will move your sights on the screen, but when you reach the far left or right side of the screen, continuing to move in that direction will start to rotate the gun turret around. The angle of the gun turret can only rotate on the Y-axis, but has 360-degree freedom. In this sense, I think that means it is "on rails" not like Galaxian 3 (where you just guide a 2D crosshair) but more like Panzer Dragoon where you can rotate your viewpoint and shoot stuff that's coming up behind you etc.
If you've seen screenshots (up-to-date ones) you'll see that when in the HitPack gun turret, there is like a radar screen on the console, with 2 lines making a "V" shape. This shows the player's field of view, and as you rotate the turret, the "V" on the scanner will rotate.
When you get onto the harder levels, this gets a bit like Defender, in that you spend more time watching the scanner than you do watching the main screen. When a new alien warps into the area, you hear a sound, so the first thing you tend to do is look at the scanner to see where it is, rotate around to it and shoot it.
Another thing you should see in the screenshots is that on the scanner, there are lots of small lines around the outside of the scanner "screen" on the console. These give the shield status for your HitPak craft. If a bullet hits your ship, the part that got hit will have its shield strength turned down. If any one of the shields goes below critical, it's game over. This means that you have to monitor your shields closely, so for example, if the shields along the left-hand side of the ship are weakest, then you need to defend that side of the ship more, even if it means taking a bit of damage on the right-hand side.
As in BamBam mode, you shoot incoming fire from aliens.
(3)BamBam Trench Sequence
This mode crops up 3 times during the game, and is a bit like a cross between Tempest 2000 and the bonus stage on Sonic 2! It's completely on rails, a texture-mapped trench/tunnel flies at you, (you're supposed to be strafing along the top of a huge mothership - this is straight out of Star Wars) and you use left/right to rotate around the walls. There are some walls which you have to shoot through, some are invincible and must be dodged around (you can tell these because of how they look, and the metal "clang" noise they make when one of your bullets hits them). Somewhere in the trench you will come across the reactor core which you must blow up quickly, as colliding with it = instant death (no matter how much shield strength you have).
This section is put in as a bit of eye candy, and to give the player something a bit different, which is why we didn't use it too much.
>4)Is this game single or 2 player?
1 only. We originally planned to put in a 2-player mode but time didn't allow.
>5)Is the ProController supported?
We were going to, but it became obvious that the Jag was dying, we didn't think there was any WAY that the 6-button pad would ever come out, and we just didn't have time for it.
>6)Can you select different ships?
No, that's all fixed.
>7)Can you tell us something about the different weapons?
In BamBam mode, killing a complete wave of aliens without missing any gives a powerup globe. You have to point towards it to fly into it. The player can choose whether they want to take it as a weapon powerup, a shield powerup, or a score bonus. Powering up your weapons makes your bullets start to get faster and do more damage, then they start to get bigger, and eventually you get to fire 4 shots of super-powered bullets (instead of 2 shots of weak small bullets).
You also have 3 smart-lazers. This is like a smart-bomb, and you are invincible when you activate it. It makes a blue stream of bullets (a bit like a bolt of lighting) fly out from your ship and automatically lock on to all the enemies that are active. Its power is spread amongst the aliens, so using it when there are 8 aliens out there will do less damage per alien than if there was only 1 out there. It automatically destroys all alien bullets (without absorbing any of its power) as well. We usually put in at least one virtually impossible wave in the levels somewhere which is your cue to make use of your smart-lazer.
There are no powerups or smart-lazers in HitPak mode. In Trench mode, it's like the BamBam dogfight with the exception that you get no smart lazers, and you can't power up to the stage where you fire 4 bullets per shot.
>8)How many enemies are there? Levels?
There are 15 missions. Some will be in only one of the 3 modes, others combine several of them. When you complete a mission, the next mission is "unlocked" (if your cartridge EEPROM works), same system as in Doom.
>9)Are there selectable views?
No, there is intelligent camera zooming in BamBam mode, and also there are link animations between levels (can't do FMV off a cart!)
>10)I've heard that the game has a driving soundtrack. What kind of tunesdoes the game have, and how big is the selection of tunes?
There are 4 tunes, 1 for the title screen, 3 in the game. The music is sorta techno-ish. It's not quite the same style as Tempest 2000, but it's similar.
The sound driver is 8-channel - that's 4 channel music + 4 channel sound FX. There is also realtime audio filtering, the user has a slider control for bass/treble.
>11)How big is the game (specify megabytes or megabits)?
It's a 2megabyte cart. I think I read somewhere that it is 4meg, but that might just be Telegames trying to justify the $60 price tag.
>12)What resolution does the game run in. What color depth?
256 colours. Most of the polygons are flat-shaded, so running in 8-bit colour gives a blitting speed around twice as fast as 16-bit.
>13)Can you tell us how fast the framerate is? i.e. FPS.
It's usually around 30fps. The display is triple buffered, so it can simulate any frame rate - if we're running just below 30fps we don't have to drop to 20, it can do 29.
The frame rate is limited to a maximum of 30fps on NTSC, otherwise the slowdown would be too noticable. On the PAL version, we allow it to run at 50FPS but not for 2 consecutive frames, so the max limit is around 35FPS on PAL. It needs this, as the engine stretches all polygons vertically to keep the aspect ratio the same as NTSC, and 25fps is just slightly too jerky.
The polygon performance is around 20,000 per second if I remember correctly. That's when it's around 10% textured, and with 8-channel sound over the top (this affects performance). We used a very fast Z-sorting algorithm, we found that Z-buffering is really really slow, although Atari said Z-buffering was the fastest way of doing it, unfortunately that's complete crap. Z-sorting does mean there's a few polygon glitches, but at least it's not running at 5fps =)
>14)Are there any special effects in the game? i.e. Light sourcing,animated textures, etc.
There is no lightsourcing. Some people thought there was gouraud shading, but this is not even possible in 256 colours, the effect comes from the high polygon count in BamBam, with subtle colour changes between polygons.
>15)How did you pull off those explosions?...How were they made? Theyseem to be somewhat pixelshatter.
The blitter can scale a bitmap out by spreading out the pixels - it's quite a straightforward thing for the blitter to do, I actually had the idea before I saw T2K, then I was really pissed off that it had already been done!
The main reasons why we used particle explosions were:
(1) speed. It doesn't matter how big or small you scale the bitmap, the speed is only affected by the size of the source image (in our case 32x32 pixels), so you can spread the pixels out really wide for a huge explosion without slowing down.
(2) gameplay. Because of the way that the camera can sort of zoom out (when in BamBam mode) when your ship is surrounded by aliens, what often happens is that you shoot "out" of the screen at aliens that lie between your ship and the camera. If we put a huge solid explosion there when you took out one of these aliens, it would completely obstruct the screen and you wouldn't be able to see what the hell you were doing. So basically it allows you to still see what you're doing, as you can see through the explosions.
In T2K, it scaled up static images (like the "2000" thing and the "excellent" text), but what I did was to scale up an animated image. The explosions use something like 20 frames of animation, so you have an animated explosion being particle-exploded at the same time, it's a nice effect.
In BamBam mode, when you take out an alien, it actually triggers about 4 or 5 particle explosions on the same spot, but with slight differences in the scaling speed, so each pixel in the explosion appears to have a "trail" of about 4 other pixels. (Wes says that sounds awesome)
>16)What kinds of improvements were made over the Falcon game?
It's a completely different game! It shares the title, parts of the storyline, and a few graphics (such as the 8x8 font!), but in general it's a different game. I wasn't even allowed to see the ST-E/Falcon version when I first started at Caspian, in case I got the wrong idea about what was wanted for the Jag version!
>17)How much time was spent on the project?
It started towards the end of January '95. We delivered the beta to Atari towards the end of February '96. We then spent about a month waiting to be paid for the beta, fixing a few small bugs, and trying to tie up a publishing deal with a giant publisher (I can't say who) for a Playstation version of Zero 5. This deal fell through because the publisher was already handling too many projects - we could probably have done it if we'd waited for a few months, but Caspian just couldn't afford to stay afloat for that long.
>18)How difficult is it to program a Jaguar game? compared to othersystems?
It's really nice. I came from an Amiga demo coding background, so I went straight from Amiga to Jaguar and I was just completely blown away by the hardware. It's just like an Amiga that's miles better at EVERYTHING. The only thing that caused headaches for me was the GPU bug that stops it from running out of main RAM, so you have to keep splitting code into 4K segments - that is a real pain, but it's necessary if you want your code to perform well.
>19)What's this I'm hearing about you guys not getting paid for thisgame?....Did you guys get paid salaries for working there?
All the people involved in the project were paid by Caspian software, we all got our salaries. When I say we didn't get paid, I mean that Caspian software was not paid money owed by Atari for the development.
There was a milestone due when Atari received the beta version, and they didn't pay it. All of a sudden, they decided that they didn't like aspects of the game that had been in there since day 1, and unless we completely change everything they won't accept it as a beta version. They kept us hanging on for a month, coming back to us with utterly ridiculous "bugs" (there was a very very small number of genuine bugs, but most of them were just Atari being stupid), and in the end, the company couldn't carry on, and was "put to sleep".
I was laid off, and both me & Chris got new jobs.
A couple of months ago, however, I got internet access at work, and nearly had a heart attack when I saw people on rec.games.video.atari talking about Zero 5 being published by Telegames. We thought that someone must have just spread some bullshit rumour, but the Telegames website suggested otherwise. We had absolutely NO idea that this had happened, we were not consulted at all, and we are still not getting paid for it (Caspian still exists, it never went into receivership).
Atari still maintains that it was not a beta, and sold it to Telegames on the understanding that it was an unfinished product. This doesn't stop Atari from getting a royalty on sales of the "unfinished product", but that royalty is so embarassingly low that if they're that fucking desperate then they're welcome to it as far as I'm concerned.
There are legal reasons (that I can't go into) as to why Caspian is not suing the ass off Atari/Telegames.
Hopefully you can see why the tone of my usenet post came across as a bit angry, you have to understand that I spent a year working flat out (the latter half of which was working around 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week) on a game that never came out, and that is now being published and cashed in on without any of the people who created it being consulted in any way. It's Atari that are the scum here, I don't think that Telegames knew the situation, they just bought the rights off Atari.
The money doesn't really bother me, it's the principle - but hey who gives a shit, I got my break into the games industry, Atari are welcome to their $1.50 per cart (oops ...)
> I want to thank you for doing this interview Matthew....
Buy it, it's so rare it will be a collector's item in a few years!