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 System Req.

Mike Interview - The new game

MaD - Something really impressive about Z:SS is its carefully crafted gameplay balance. Although I know it's a dynamic process in which beta testers feedback is highly important, who is the person (or folks) responsible for the stats management? Any comment about some difficult balance situations you've come across and how you've handled it?

Mike - When we initially decided on the unit types, the idea was to go for a relatively low unit count but to clearly define a space for each unit. Remember, at the time we were doing this, Total Annihilation was the RTS to own, and that had over a hundred and fifty units!
Sometimes those spaces are difficult to define when you're staring at a screen full of numbers that defines a unit's power and behaviour. It was the design guys who spent months and months writing, tweaking, scrapping, and rewriting unit's individual stats (and then scrapping them again!), but feedback came from everyone involved in the game. It wasn't just the stats that affected the balance either, there were many other things in the equation such as AI behaviour. It wasn't easy - an example of a problem we had was making the Missile Launcher feel sufficiently different from the Mortar Tank - that one went unresolved for a long time before the guys finally hit upon a setup for both that they were happy with!
[Editor Note: According to the credits, the "design guys" are Jamie Barber, Eric Mathews, Graham Sergeant, Neil Jones-Rodway, Ed Bartlett and Paul Hayworth.]

MaD - I'm pretty sure Z has been a great passion for the Bitmap team just as for many fans around the world. Nevertheless, making a really good and balanced RTS is so much harder than making three or four good arcade games.
How obsessed do you think you and your team got about the idea of making it as perfect as an RTS can get? Was it worth all the effort?

Mike - "Yes, Sir". Writing a game like Steel Soldiers takes a lot of time and patience, you really have to get involved. Some nights I can't sleep, I think I'm on the battlefield chasing Carver! Seriously, making an RTS game is a huge challenge, and we tried to make Steel Soldiers quite different to other RTS games out there, hoping that others would like the style of game. Having just spent four years living and breathing Steel Soldiers, I and the rest of the team are definately obsessed (although I don't think that any of them have changed their names to those of the characters so far).

MaD - After all the effort, which resulted into what any good RTS analyst would call a great gaming achievement, do you think press somehow let you down with some average scores and superficial analisys?

Mike - As a whole, the game was very well received by the press - you're always going to get the occasional bad review (that's life) but to be fair, when you read these it seems that the reviewer either didn't like RTS games, or just didn't understand the differences between Steel Soldiers and a more traditional RTS. Also, reviewing an RTS takes a very long time - it's really much harder than a lot of other genres - and do you think all journos have the time? I could be wrong...

MaD - Coming from a old-fashioned background, where great gameplay games would sell by themselves, you probably found a very different PC games market in the recent release of Z:SS. How different, and in which aspects, this market is nowadays from ten years ago, and what would you change in the Z:SS release strategy if you could do it again?

Mike - I wouldn't make the game different at all, but maybe I would try and find a licence to fit it, and sell ten times as much! It's a real shame that today's market is dominated by licences and brand names.


Next: Z:SS balance considerations






Mike Montgomery

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