Sub Culture interview with Sarah Bincliffe from Criterion by Al Giovetti

 

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By Al GiovettiThursday, June 12, 1997 12:25 PM
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Sub Culture interview with Sarah Bincliffe from Criterion

Alfred C. Giovetti (AG): Today we have, Sarah Bincliffe, Marketing Manager for Criterion Studios. Thanks for being with us and sharing with us this great information on a brand new game

Sarah Bincliffe (SB): Hi Al, Sorry it has taken me so long to set up this meeting and respond to your questions. I asked different members of the team to answer the questions on the specialist area. I hope this will be useful. I would love to meet up with you after this interview and take you through the game, let me know when you're available and I'll sort something out

AG: Please give us a short history of your company?

SB: Launched in December 1993, Criterion Software is a wholly owned subsidiary of Canon . Criterion's executives are Dr David Lau-Kee - Managing Director, Adam Billyard - Technical Director (both formerly of Canon Research Europe); and Dr Michael King - Marketing Director.

From our humble beginnings in 1993, Criterion has gained an unrivalled insight into the world of 3D graphics software - an insight we are unashamedly exploiting with the development of our own 3D games.

AG: Criterion is known for the RenderWare 3D engine, what games has it been used for that the readers would recognize?

The Renderware 3D engine has been used by 7th Level to produce G-Nome, Criterion Studios for Scorched Planet, Sub Culture, and AquaTak, Davidson Associates for 3D Jungle Train, Electronic Arts for 688i, Hasbro for Yahtzee, Maris Multimedia for Space Station Simulator, Military Simulations Inc. for Back To Baghdad, Rocket Science Games for Rocket Jockey, and Zombie for Locus.

AG: Please give us a run down on who is composing the music, who is the project director, lead programmer, lead artist, and any of the other important people on the project.

SB: The Project Director, Jamie Macdonald, did Scorched Planet. The Lead Programmer, Marcus Lynn, has long history of Amiga demo coding and other things we won't mention. The Lead Artist, Mark Rendle, has a mysterious past and no one wants to dig into it. The Narrative writer, Mike Williamson, is an ex multi-media writer and artist, but we are unsure why he switched to writing games. The Concept and 3D engine was done by Jonathan Small who also has a mysterious past. The Music Composer, Neil Shepheard, has donesession work for The Enid, UFO and lots of TV work, but this is his first game.

AG: Please give us a brief biography on the program director?

SB: Jamie Macdonald has been crazy about games ever since Pong but ended up Project Managing for DEC before he got the chance to do what he loves best.

AG: What is the game play like?

SB: It's an action-adventure. In some ways it's similar to something like Privateer. Except the action side is more in-your-face and accessible. The trading is also very accessible... point-click-sell, point-click-buy.

The adventure side comes from both the need to explore the world, but also from the narrative. There's an email/news system which, when you dock, updates you on the state of the world. For example, Procha News Network, which we call PNN, might provide a bulletin on a violent march to Procha city hall, where the protestors are demonstrating against the continuing shortages of fish in the stores. Or, if you've successfully completed a mission to rescue the occupants of stranded sub, you might find this making the news headlines.

The action side comes from frequent battles with pirate sub packs, mutant fish, military bases and secret 'machines of war'.

Missions are offered by each Procha and Bohine base. You are a free agent, and so you're quite at liberty to pick and choose who you'll work for and when. You may decide to remain a free agent and treat each side equally, or you may want to align yourself more closely with one particular tribe. You're also free to subvert missions... you may start off a mission working for one tribe, but along the way something may persuade you to finish the mission to the favor of the other tribe.

In order to complete missions, you'll need tools and weapons. These are available at the bases. Each base will only stock certain goods, and the prices may vary substantially, which adds to the trading and resource management aspects of the game. You need credits to buy goods... and credits come from trading and/or from rewards for completing missions.

AG: Please describe the game controls?

SB: You can control the Sub's attitude, depth, speed and turn. There are various tools and weapons you must use to complete missions.

AG: Please describe the graphics and tell us how they were done, their resolution, and special effects, like light sourcing and transparencies?

SB: The engine we're using is called 'DIVE'. DIVE was created from some of the advanced technology we are putting into future versions of RenderWare. Dive uses an exceptionally compact representation for polygons by compressing the data and then expanding it in realtime according to where the player is looking. We can encode about 80,000 polygons in 2Mb. This means that the terrain can be extraordinarily complex... over 100,000 polygons at a time are being processed by the engine. Oof course, many less are actually drawn each frame.

Perhaps the most startling innovation is that whilst previous games have had to resort to using simple height fields (a regular grid of points at varying heights, which greatly limits how natural, interesting and complex the terrain can be). But there's no limitation to the types of terrain structure that can be used in Sub Culture... I don't know of any other engine which allows arbitrary structures like arches, caverns, pipes and cave networks, rock overhangs etc., to be used.

All of Sub Culture is entirely perspectively correct textured and lit in real time. You'll see shafts of light coming down through the ocean and dappling across the sea bed. You'll see the entire world gradually becoming darker as night falls and brighter as day breaks. You'll see true alpha-blended transparency in the sub cockpits and air bubbles. You'll see bands of light on cavern walls when you shoot off a flare.

This will all be available in software on a P90 right the way up to a P200 with hardware acceleration (faster machines will do it at a faster framerate, higher spatial and color resolution, and more accurate hidden surface).

AG: Please tell us about the interface?

SB: Extensive trading and mission briefing in interface. Different graphical styles for the different races. Pop down panels in the game give information on weapons, tools, attitude in water, shield strength, heading and map.

AG: How was the animation done, and how many frames per second are there in the animation?

SB: The sub itself was created as a heirachical model. The bit`s that needed to move were created as separate little models joined to the body with pivot points . The programmers could then move the bits on those pivot points as required - ie - the engines rotating up and down and the propellers going around .

The basic seascape is about 100,000 polygons. Other objects vary from about 20 polygons for small, shoaling fish, through to 500-600 for some of the 'special' subs which appear later on in the game.

AG: How many frames of animation in the models?

SB: Most fish are only two, others are three , sometimes four.

AG: Tell me about the cut scenes

SB: There is not a lot I can tell you about the cut scenes. Besides if I tell you everything, we have to kill you. Criterian contracts with the National Security Agency.

AG: What is the music like, what style is it in, how much is there of it, and is it responsive to the game play?

SB: Various pieces of ambient music have been composed. These change according to whether you're in caves, pipes or open water. There's about 40 minutes of original music. There is also context sensitive music such as attack music, tension music, victory music and so on.

AG: Is there human speech in the game, who did the voice work, are they known for any other work, how much script was there in pages or words, and where does the speech appear in the game?

SB: Only in FMV sequences, final recordings to be made using Shakespearean actors.

AG: Now you have done it. You told me about those secret cut scenes. Are there any special features such as automaps, autotravel, autonotetaking?

SB: There is an auto map. Lots of special lighting effects..

AG: Can you save anywhere, if not where can you save your game?

SB: You can save when you dock.

AG: Incremental saves are becoming less popular with game players. Please Tell us something great about the sound effects?

SB: The game has full 3d sound, which is emotive, engrossing and immersive.

AG: What excites you about the game play and graphics?

SB: Sub Culture first of all succeeds in the basic blend of game components of action, trading, exploration, exciting and fun missions, but the real kicker is Sub Culture's accessibility. During game testing, players were up and running on all of the components which make up the game mechanic in a matter of a few minutes... getting started in Sub Culture is exceptionally easy... excelling is really a lot harder. And whilst there's an over-riding coherence across the entire game, individual missions stand on their own. 'All nighter' play is certainly the most rewarding approach... but a quick lunch-hour mission or two also works extremely well.

For example, the second stage in Sub Culture is driven by both the Procha and the Bohine trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. Now there's a thread which runs between all the different stage two missions which might suggest certain strategic associations and implications, but each mission can also stands alone as a self-contained piece.

AG: Did anything funny happen during the production of the game? Please tell us about it?

SB: We all dressed up in suits with masks, snorkels and fins and spent the day in a swimming pool being photographed.

AG: Tell us about the phone modem, null modem, internet, network and other multiplayer enhancements for the game?&

Tell us about the cooperative or competitive multiplayer features. Can my buddy get into a sub and help me like in Diablo?

SB: We thought long and hard about this, since 'multiplayer' is such an 'in' concept at the moment. In the end, we felt that the core gameplay mechanic would be compromised by introducing multiplayer options. However, we are exploring both a multiplayer spin-off game and an on-line version.

AG: What is in the future for this title and Criterion and the people who worked on criterion?

SB: It's gonna be the biggest PC game since Quake. We're already working on the sequel and the team are all going on a week long party to celebrate.

AG: What is the most fun about designing games? I mean you have one of the most coveted jobs in the universe, do you like it and why?

SB: It's just the coolest job, also the pizzas and coke are free.

AG: What are your favorite games?

SB: Our favorite games at Criterion include Sub Culture, Quake, Elite, Mario64, and C&C

AG: We have enjoyed having you here. Thanks for being with us and talking with us about Sub Culture. We would like to have you back.

SB: Thanks for having me. Please let me know and I will be there.

AG: Well when we get back. . . .

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