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Mike Interview - 3rd Party Maps and Mods
 

MaD - Checking the way the maps in Z:SS seem handcrafted instead of tile-based, the map-making process seem to use many different in-house utilities. Or do you have a single software to do the maps? In any case, what's the chance of a map editor being released for the public?

Mike - We wrote our own mission editor which covers all of the aspects of the level making process, from roughing out the terrain, through populating the landscape with buildings and units, adding event/action systems to cover all of the mission-specific elements such as monitoring objectives, and finally art dressing the levels. It's quite a sophisticated package, but it's also pretty straightforward to use.
We are considering releasing the map editor, but it will take time to iron out most of the idiosyncrasies and put together some documentation and stuff, as we won't be able to support it in any official sense. We'll see.

MaD - Z:SS sports excellent ship balance, that currently available maps simply don't explore to its fullest. How much influence from Total Annihilation did you get, and will we see water-only maps like 'Two Coasts' and many great TA classics for Z:SS?

Mike - Most of the guys here had played Total Annihilation at some point and remarked on the sea battles that happened there, but it wasn't a direct influence. The balance of the ships really came from the same premise as everything else - getting the best interaction from the units we could, both between other sea units and between land-based units.
It's fair enough to say that ship battles aren't as prevalent as they could have been - one thing we found is that sea battles need an awful lot of space, so it was difficult to create maps that had enough sea without severely compromising the land battle.

MaD - I've read in one earlier enterview that you guys don't like the idea of people "messing" with a game that took so long to make perfect, referring to mods and 3rd party stuff. Taking into account the long development time between titles, don't you think that mods and 3rd party maps could be a great life-injector when the game starts to get thin on news, just as it has been for many other games?

Mike - Certainly. It's not just about extending the life of the base product though, it also generates a ton of new games for people to play. If it weren't for mods then we wouldn't have gotten our mits on games like Team Fortress or Counter-Strike, both of which the guys here play a hell of a lot during lunchtimes!
It's not just a simple case of giving the source away, though, the game needs to be written with mods in mind. The game code needs to be completely seperated from any internal engine code, and you also need a lot of stuff in there to organise mods and keep them seperate. The other issue, of course, is that allowing for mods needs a lot of back-end stuff if you're going to stop people using the system to just write cheats for multiplayer. Z:SS was just never written to be opened up in this way. Custom maps are a different story, it's mostly just a case of releasing the editor (though there might be some stuff in the front end to look at, too).

MaD - The Artificial Intelligence in Z:SS, although well tweaked, surprising and challenging for single player, simply doesn't offer enough obstacle for even average players on skirmish. Since skirmish AI isn't a big priority, what do you think of the idea of releasing the tools or SDK for enabling users the creation of 3rd party AI, and taking advantage of the many great coders out there?

Mike - As mentioned above, Z:SS was never written to be opened up. There just isn't any support in there for inserting user code into the game.

 

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