Star Assault

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Frank Niemann kindly took the time to answer a few questions for this month's interview.


Q: How many members does GamesArks team have? How long did it take you to create Star Assault?

A: Right now there are 3 members in our team. At first there were 2 more team members, but they had to quit because of some personal problems. In the beginning we couldn't invest too much time into Star Assault because all the members were already working at other companies to earn their living. So the first year wasn't very efficient because of the other jobs. All the team members were self-employed during the 2nd year of development, so all their time was used for Star Assault. After three years of development Star Assault was finished at the beginning of 2007.


Q: Are the levels as big as they appear to be or do you trick the player into thinking that he or she is exploring a vast area?
A: Well, compared to a "normal" 3D Shooter game level we are using extremely large distances between the objects. It mostly depends on the level designer and on the scaling of all the objects that the game is using, but a normal game level with a few rooms joined together would be about 5000x5000 quants in Wed.

In Star Assault the planets can have a distance of up to half a million quants to each other. The game level is built like a cube and in all its corners can be waypoints where the player can fly. This guarantees that the player's ship won't fly through planets while in hyper-speed mode. Furthermore, the maximum speed of the player's ship was reduced to a certain point; it is big enough to guarantee that it doesn't look like the player isn't moving, but it is low enough to guarantee that the player won't able to fly from one planet to another without using hyper-speed. To enhance the illusion, the planets move with the player's ship if the player doesn't use hyper-speed; this makes it impossible to reach and "hit" a planet. All these tricks together make the player feel that he is in a vast universe; we hope it works fine.


Q: What was the most complicated part of the game? Why?

A: A really difficult problem was to give the player the illusion of the vast universe. With the first tries it looked like there was a high speed race in the universe. Later tries looked like a snake rally. Only the interaction of all the previously mentioned tricks helped make the player think that he is in a vast universe.

The integration of all those items and the ability to create an inventory that can hold up to 700 items which can be used by player's ship without using a database was also a big challenge. But the most difficult problem for us was the time, which was passing quickly.


Q: How did you create those great looking red engine jets for the ships?

A: We have created an mdl model which was built out of several crossed rectangles; you can see this in most of the older games. The jet sprites were always created out of several crossed sprites, so that the player can see them from any direction. The model is mapped with a grayscaled texture; it is scaled depending on the speed and size of the ships and gets any desired color. That's it!


Q: What shaders are you using and where?

A: Much to our regret we unfortunately didn't have enough time to create any shaders. The usage of shaders would have made Star Assault look much better. The only namable effects in the game are the bumpmaps.


Q: How did you create the in-game cut scenes?

A: All in-game cut scenes were created with Autodesk's 3D Studio Max 8.


Q: How well was your game received on the German market? Any plans for an English version in the near future?

A: We don't have any information at this time because Star Assault won't be released until the 5th of July in Germany. An English version is already done. Unfortunately, there isn't any information about a release date at this point.


Q: Please give us a few tips for the beginners.

A: The best tip we can give is this: plan your project! Even if it is a small project it needs planning. We had many problems because we didn't take the time to plan everything.

Don't be afraid to edit things out, especially if you have a small team. If you see that something isn't working or takes too much time to develop, then try to do it in another way or simply edit it out. We had to cut out a lot of things that we wanted to have in Star Assault, but would have taken too much time to implement.

Finally, don't give up. You will always reach a certain point were you think that nothing will work. Keep your head up and try to create a workaround for your problems. What we have learned is that most of the time the workarounds are better than the original ideas.


Thank you a lot, Frank.