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by Eric Arevalo

Xenus is an exciting 3D action-rpg developed by team Deep Shadows and to be published in Q3 2003 (July-September) by Russobit-M. Our thanks to Irina Semenova; Head of International Public Relations at Russobit-M for helping us with this interview with Xenus script writer Alexander Khrutsky. Our appreciation goes out to Alexander Khrutsky for taking time out of his busy schedule to tell about the intriguing and captivating world of Xenus. Also look below for 4 exclusive screenshots of Xenus as well as a link to our new preview of the game this week.

XENUS INTERVIEW WITH SCRIPT WRITER ALEXANDER KHRUTSKY

THE COMPANY AND DEVELOPMENT BEHIND XENUS

Your company is uniquely named Deep Shadows. Please tell us how you came up with this name as well as informing us of the team creating Xenus.

The history of Deep Shadows traces its roots back to the moment when the main studio founders started the development of a new version of the Vital engine for our new project. The creative working days often lasted until night. In one such evening an accident on the closest electric power station happened, and the light suddenly turned off. The developers did not go to their homes, though - they hoped that the light would soon be turned on again, so they found a candle, drank some tea, looking at the jumping flame of the candle, and then – at the lively, moving, thrilling shadows, which came to life suddenly. That's how the first idea of our name "Deep Shadows" appeared.

Talking about the staff, now its backbone - excluding hired workers and testers - consists of 12 people, and Sergey Zabaryansky who is leading the team - he is our ideological and official leader. All Deep Shadows team members came to the team with the experience of working in the gaming industry, and the first team members were working on the well-known project Codename: Outbreak two years ago.

Please share with us a bit of the development history behind Xenus. What goals did you have in mind when creating this game?

When we created our team, we had some experience in creating a finished game of the action genre. Moreover, we had a powerful engine and many ideas for its modernization and development. Vital engine allowed us to make high-quality graphics, but that was not new to action games. Counting this, and also the fact that most part of our team liked RPG games, we decided to take an unusual step. We decided to make a full RPG game, mixed with action and made with great graphics. We understood that that there was no single FPS with such a powerful role playing system, dialog tree, and communication with a great amount of NPCs before Xenus. Moreover, we knew that before Xenus there were no single RPG games with such high-quality and realistic graphics. To create something new is the everlasting aim of creative people, and that's the aim of the entire Deep Shadows team.



THE STORY IN XENUS

Tell us about the story that we will find in this game.

The story in Xenus begins with a troublesome phone call. The main character, Kevin Myers, finds out that his sister disappeared mysteriously, when she went on her journalist trip to Colombia, and that contact with her has been lost. Kevin's warlike past demanded urgent decisions, and he starts searches by himself. From this moment his way leads through the sunny expanses of Colombia, where he has to investigate the complicated tangle of events, in which all main powers of Colombia take part. With his investigation, Kevin finds himself at the territory where those groups rule and lead their wars, and he'll have to have some relations with the different forces. He'll have to choose his friends and enemies, time of changing his location, time of being devoted to one force. The story of a sister's disappearance builds new questions with every step forward, and it seems that there will be no end to secrets and quests - but it'll make the ending much more interesting!



THE ENGINE POWERING XENUS

The game looks very beautiful, seeing things like the waterfall in certain screenshots as well as the detailed character animations. Tell us more about the Vital Engine 2 that is being used to power this game as well as the many environments that we will play in.

We use the advanced version of the Codename: Outbreak engine for Xenus, which has already made its presence felt in the games graphics. The last modification extends the graphic possibilities even more, giving us up to 3000 polygons per screen. Based on that models of characters can contain 4000 or more polygons, there's a great potential for environments and, particularly, nature – that’s why they are so highly detailed in Xenus. Our know-how is multi-texturing technology which allows up to 32 textures on terrain, and this is the first precedent of this kind. The thorough approach of texturing allowed us to obtain the greatest realism in our game; you'll see that in soft passages from road to roadsides, lawns, bruised city pavements, dilapidated buildings, flanks of hills, etc.

And here is the list of the main engine features:

  • Unique technology of rendering huge (but very detailed) territory 25x25 km
  • Skeleton animation with blending between up to 3 bones
  • Facial animation
  • Multilayered textures 512x512
  • 5000 faces per character
  • Lightmaps
  • View-independent progressive mesh for models and view-dependent progressive mesh for level geometry
  • Rigid body physics comparable with Math Engine (a set of predefined models: car, helicopter, box, and player).



THE GAMEPLAY IN XENUS

The game is said to have equal amounts of action and RPG elements together. Can you tell us more about this?

Right, we already noticed this feature as the main distinction of our game from forerunners. At first, I'll name some role playing elements. The character has 20 parameters and a harmonious system of experience. The system of weapons upgrade depends on special skills too. The character starts with a 20% skill of weapons upgrade. Each new experience of such actions improves his skill, independently of the result. But if you want to be sure of success, you can forget about the development of that skill and go to craftsman - but don't forget to take money with you. By the way, the close permanent communication with NPCs is one more powerful role playing aspect in the game. We prepare the branching dialog tree, which if often very funny. Moreover, some characters play important parts in events and others can reveal many interesting details about the situation in Colombia, help in your searches, offer to earn you a little money. One more important detail is the opportunity to find an ally. Everything can be discussed, and NPC will help you - because of the ideology, or because of a favor you had done for him, or for money.

The player can see the list which contains information about the current state of every mission and total list of all tasks from the interface. Also he has a diary for notes, inventory, etc. Talking about action elements, this is, at first, powerful AI of the enemy, precise system of damage, dynamic battle moments, wide arsenal of the player, including 20 kinds of weapons with the ability to upgrade and additional items.

Please tell us about the six different groups that we will find in the game.

CIA and guerrillas, gangsters, coca mafia, officials and Indians for years and years stew in their own juice of relations over all of Colombia. These six forces are in some kind of balance. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, and it's impossible to make the right decision the very first time and to decide which cooperation will be better. Each force can support the player or confront him in different moments of the game. Another fact is that it's not profitable to avoid all forces, because each one of them has unique flows of information, and, particularly, the information about the strange events connected with the disappearance of Kevin's sister. Different groups prefer different ways of action. For example, Coca barons prefer money and blackmail to brute force. They favorably change their protection, and can expose, for example, their allies - guerrillas, when they need help of officials. At the same time usual criminals, who filled out all Colombian towns and settlements, never use only one tactic, sometimes they join different powerful groups, expose everybody, learn by others' mistakes, and never pay their bills.

Guerrilla and officials are two different groups with the most pronounced opposition. These two forces are the oldest bosses in Colombia, and, moreover, they divide the country into parts, which are under their control. Because of their number, they can allow themselves to put pressure upon other forces, use their help and protect them. Colombian Indians are weak and unprotected. They are aboriginals and can be the real force in the country. But don't come under the first influence - the cooperation with Indians looks unprofitable often, and their promises look too fantastic and improbable, but, plunging into the mysterious and somehow mystic story of Xenus, the player will feel the need of support of the ancient magic powers. Talking about CIA - remember, entire Colombia is against this intruders' force, but who else has the newest weapons, so much money and such objective and detailed information? The player always has the opportunity of choosing what they want to do in Xenus, the main thing is to approach each decision tactically.

I am especially eager to learn about the vehicles that we will be able to use in the game, such as the helicopter and tank. Tell us more about the use of these vehicles in the game.

It is worth mentioning that, indeed, all types of vehicles will be drivable in the game. There will be some kinds of helicopters, different cars, trailers, military vehicles and even the bus in Xenus. For fast moving on long distances you can use two airplanes, and boats and yachts will help you over water. For heavy actions there is the tank "Abrams" in the game. Driving will be easy, with mouse and some buttons, but vehicles can be used not only for faster movement over the map, but also for defense/attack and just to vanish fast. That's why some kinds of vehicles (not only the tank) are equipped with the weapons.

What kinds of weapons and items will players be able to use in the game?

Gamer's arsenal includes 20 kinds of weapons, and each is based on real prototype: pistols, rifles, carbines, and others. We have been trying to use as many documented materials as possible, ask weapons museums for help, etc. while working on the weapons in the game. Among the additional equipment one can find is armor, health, details for weapons upgrade, different sensors, etc.

What kinds of missions and objectives will we find in the game? How long do you think players will take to complete Xenus?

In Xenus you'll see different kinds of missions, including standard ones - "kill", "steal", "guard". But, moreover, the game is filled with completely unusual tasks, based, for example, on different groups' expectations. Often the task can demand the renunciation from all moral principles, but the player always has the choice - to complete this task or to find another way. There will be some plot missions in the game and, besides, many different quests, which will be optional, but which can bring many interesting moments to the game. The amount of gameplay fully depends on the player's behavior and tactics. Passing the additional quests (which will make the game longer), forcing your way through and holding to the terms of the game, you can spend about 60 hours on the gameplay. The thoughtful player, who is interested in secrets and traits of this world, will need much more time.

The world of Xenus is said to be contained on one very huge playing field in which vehicles will be needed to reach from place to place. Tell us more about this.

I've already told you about the kinds of vehicles, and now I'll tell you about the place where they will move. All level, as you've heard already, will be about 600 sq. km. It is as varied, as Colombia is. The player has to familiarize himself with different cities, visit coca barons' villas, get to the underground factories, secret military bases, look in Indian villages, get down to jewel mines, etc. And all these areas will be alternated with beautiful tropical landscapes, roadways, rivers and streamlets. Each of sub-locations has its coloring and atmosphere, each receives the original approach from our designers.

What kind of economic system will we find in the game?

For relations in Xenus we have the deciding phrase: "Everything costs money in the world of Xenus". We understood in the beginning and we're still making sure of it. By the way, economic system in Xenus works at the easiest level - any help, information, actions, weapons costs money. Every movement to the goal is tied with this financial scheme, and, when the wallet gets empty, the player has to become a mercenary to earn money. By the way, if the player performs the task for the group which he has good relations with, the fee will be bigger.

Tell us about the enemies that we will be finding in the game as well as to their AI. Please also tell us about the ability of being able to target specific body parts on enemies for increased damage.

There will be a big enemy side, and after some contacts and missions each trespasser can be an enemy, killer, etc. We worked out the powerful AI of the enemy. The enemies calculate the location of the character by the sound of headshots, and throw grenades on him if their bullets cannot reach him. The injured are trying to run and hide, and all enemies’ dash aside from grenades. The system of team attack is worked out. The system of character's damage includes six main zones of injury, the headshot is mortal, other damages impede to aim, lower the speed, cause limping, etc. The effect of a headshot is spread on enemies. If the character suddenly gets into a clash of two confronting forces, he is able to join any of these groups and fight together, and ask for their help in the future, but he is always able to retreat neutrally.



SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY

I am impressed by the constant updates that you keep making to the games official website. What more can we expect to see in the future?

We plan to continue showing the designers' progress, new models, new parts of locations to our fans and press. We really do appreciate the attention of gamers to the development of this project. We are always glad to see you at the Xenus forum and ready to answer all the questions! For the moment we are preparing for the world exhibition at E3, where we'll be presenting the playable build of Xenus. By the way, we invite all exhibition visitors to our worldwide agent, Russobit-M's booth #6427 in Kentia Hall. Moreover, we are working at the special site devoted to the game, and we'll be glad to present it to you shortly. There's one more surprise planned before E3, but we will let it be a surprise for now :).



RELEASING XENUS

What do you see as the best feature in this game? Finally, what do you think gamers will enjoy in Xenus over other games like it?

We are proud of the fact that Xenus will be the unique mix of two favorite genres of gamers, action and RPG. These genres have achieved great results, and to make action more fascinating, many developers have added RPG elements to the game, and role playing games aimed at FPS games in graphics. But, Xenus contains full scopes of both games. Xenus has new graphic advantages, and we continue to support ping-independent technology, which optimizes the multiplayer and was presented in Codename: Outbreak for the first time. We probably could speak about our project forever...

What are you currently working on in Xenus? When can we expect it to be released?

For the moment we are paying a lot of attention to preparing and animating the models, weapons and other types of transport in the game, and also work on the game world. The programmers are finishing off the AI system. We have been working on the project for 1.5 years, and for now we have extended our team greatly in comparison with Deep Shadows' first steps. And all of our worn team thinks that we'll be finished in time to release in Q3 2003. So, long for the release in autumn!



Official Xenus website

Xenus Preview



Exclusive Xenus Screenshots






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