Void War Interview (PC)

Si: For start please introduce yourself and the team behind Void War.
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Jay Barnson: I'm Jay Barnson, designer and project lead for Void War, and founder of Rampant Games. I worked for six years in the videogame industry, developing several titles for the PC, Sony Playstation, and Sega Dreamcast. I left the games business to pursue other opportunities at the end of 2000, but part of my reasoning was that I was tired of working on other peoples' games and wanted the freedom to work on some neat game ideas that I'd always wanted to see done. Even if that meant working part-time on a shoestring budget. Rampant Games was the result.

I wasn't alone. After Void War began to resemble something more than a technology demo, I found people willing to help on the project, and thus a team was born. I graciously accepted help from another veteran game programmer (well, actually, I had to all but crawl on my hands and knees to beg him to help, but that's splitting hairs), and managed to get help from some friends who had experience modeling for CAD engineering and TV commercials. I was also lucky enough to be related to a talented IT professional who moonlights as a musician and composer. We contract out or license what we can't do on our own. It's a real "garage band"-style arrangement, but its worked out tremendously, and we're very proud of the results.

And to me, a child of the 80's who became hooked on the old arcade games like Pac-Man and Asteroids, it feels like the way game development ought to be.
Si: When will the game be released?
Jay Barnson: Next month, assuming beta test goes well.
Si: Please introduce Void War to our readers. How would you describe it?
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Jay Barnson: Pure fun! The best game ever!!! The greatest gaming value to grace your hard drive!

Okay, you probably wanted something with a bit more substance to it, didn't you? How's this: Void War is a single-player and multi-player 3D Space Combat action game, emphasizing ease-of-play and exciting, challenging dogfights in space fighters.

The game features six playable fighters, each with unique flight and combat characteristics such as armor, speed, maneuverability, shield strength, etc. Each ship also features a unique 'special ability' they can use in combat against their opponents. For example, the Renown features a "vampire attack" that drains a nearby enemy of power to augment its own. The Tempest has a special shield that renders it practically invulnerable to attack for a few seconds.

The battles take place in unique environments filled with obstacles, gravitational anomalies, and objects you can pick up to augment and resupply your ship. This is not unlike a multiplayer first-person shooter, except that you have to contend with a full, open 3D environment in the weightlessness of space. You also have a level of physics to contend with, as your ships won't stop or turn on a dime. Successful players will have to master flying and fighting in space.

Void War features two multiplayer game modes, and two single-player modes. One of the single-player modes is a "campaign"-based story mode where you'll encounter ships and battlefields not seen in other parts of the game. So there should be plenty to enjoy even if you have no intention of playing it multiplayer.
Si: Which games have insipired you into making Void War and so how unique will it be compared to the games in its genre?
Jay Barnson: The obvious comparison comes from the great 3D space combat games - of which I'm a huge fan - such as the Wing Commander and X-Wing series. I loved the simplicity and pure fun of the earlier games in both of those series, and I also am a fan of more recent offerings, like Freespace 2.

But Void War's design actually has just as much in common with the old 80's 2D space shooters, like Asteroids and Space Duel, the outstanding Star Control series, and the great-grandaddy of all videogames, SpaceWar. Our intent was to take the fun, cool, exciting combat parts of those games and make them just as fun, cool, and exciting in 3D. It wasn't as easy, but I think we pulled it off.

The main thing that sets Void War apart from other multiplayer-capable space combat "sims" out there is our focus on making combat unique and interesting. Really, that was what set us off working on this project in the first place. Other games offer interesting mission-based gameplay that require you manage resources, wingmen, and timing to take on the other team. But when you get down to pure dogfighting against another player, it's BORING. It comes down to pointing and shooting, or unleashing the first salvo of missiles. If you do manage to mix it up into a dogfight, it's just the two of you circling each other until someone falls asleep and makes a mistake.

For years we waited for a game that would make the one-on-one (or many-vs-many) combat element as exciting as, say, a World War II era combat flight sim. We finally got tired of waiting and decided to make it ourselves.
Si: Which game feature are you most exited about?
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Jay Barnson: I think I'm most thrilled about the way we managed to get the "space physics" under control and make it such a fun part of gameplay. It was a tall order - it's hard to drive a car on a slippery, icy road in real life. Now try to do the same thing in three dimensions on a little 17" monitor, and you are really in for a tough time. We spent a lot of time massaging the physics and the player controls to try and make it simple and intuitive, challenging enough to be fun but not out-of-control and frustrating.

The end result, especially when combined with the presence of 'pick-up' items in the battlefield and objects that exert gravitational forces on your ship, is some really fascinating gameplay that just gets deeper and deeper every time I play. An example I like to use is the "hypergravity well" (or just "grav- well") - sort of a miniature black hole in space that pulls nearby ships in. If you get trapped, it drains all your energy, leaving you incredibly vulnerable, and spits you out in a random direction. At one point, I just thought that the grav-well would be 'yet another obstacle' in space --- you have things you don't want to crash into, the the hypergravity wells that you wanted to avoid getting too close to.

One night during an early playtest, two of the guys got annoyed with me stomping on them so soundly, and so they decided to team up and clobber me. They were succeeding. I put my power into the engines and tried to flee, but they were still hitting with their lasers at long range as they gave chase. I didn't dare turn much, because it would give them the opportunity to close the distance. But flying straight, I was a very predictable target, and my shields were already gone. In desperation I aimed for the gravity well. I was able to use it's force to effectively "slingshot" my way along a different vector, screwing up their aim without turning. More importantly, they couldn't just turn and follow me exactly because the grav-well was in the way and pulling them in. They had to turn and try to escape its pull before they were trapped. They ended up flying off in different directions, and so I was able to fly back around and pick them off one at a time.

After gloating about my clever tactics, I found that in future battles people were actually CHOOSING to fight near the grav-well. They could use it as an escape route if things got tight, and it would also punish anybody who wasn't paying attention. As time has gone by, we've watched ever more interesting tactics emerge out of these really simple gameplay elements.

One other thing I'm really proud of is our controls. We've worked hard to keep them as simple as possible. It is my hope that this will make the game more accessible to beginners to the genre. I feel part of the reason the 'space combat' genre has died away has been because of the increasing complexity of the controls. It gets to the point that you can't attract new players to the game because you are trying so hard to challenge the 'pros.' I think Void War offers something that is challenging and exciting to the 'seasoned vets,' but is also pretty easy to pick up and enjoy for people who have never played other games like it.
Si: What sort of machine will the game require to run at optimum performance?
Jay Barnson: We designed the game so it would play adequately on older hardware --- you should be able to get it to play reasonably well on an 800-mhz machine with a TNT-2 card (or equivalent). But I'd recommend a G-Force 2 or equivalent and a 2 ghz CPU for optimum performance... though if you want to play with a LOT of players at once, you'll want a beefier box and a lot of bandwidth for multiplayer.
Si: Would you like to add anything?
Jay Barnson: Void War has been an interesting experiment in a genre that the big publishers have mostly given up for dead. The cool thing about being an independent developer is that you have the kind of freedom to explore these wildly unique ideas and areas within gaming. I hope that more players can discover the indie gaming scene and discover the kinds of cool, innovative ideas you just won't find on the store shelves of your local game store.

I'd like to thank you for giving me the chance to talk about Void War... it's one of my favorite topics!


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