Jagged Alliance 2 interview with Ian Currie
Interview question by: Janne (Eki) Pirkola, Erik Blake, and Carl C Knoos This interview was done to The Voice of Arulco Jagged Alliance 2 fansite at http://www.listen.to/thevoiceofarulco/ on October 5th 1999.
Q: Are you happy with the way Jagged Alliance 2 turned out?
IAN: Yes and no. I'm very happy with the fact that the concept didn't change much from inception to implementation. It's a big, solo game in a multiplayer dominated market. We knew we couldn't deliver the same scale of solo entertainment by adding multiplayer and we were able to avoid that and devote the necessary time to make the solo experience what it is. I'm happy about that. We might not do it again because we enjoy multiplayer games too, but it sure was nice to make this one.
I'm unhappy about mistakes we've made. We can tell from all the feedback we received the game is too hard on Novice level for most people. I wish we could have made more improvements in the AI than we did. I also wish we were able to fully implement the vehicles - as in being able to drive them during combat. We originally had done this but the implementation felt cheesy and we didn't have the time to do it properly, so we removed it. I'm unhappy about some the implementation of certain characters and their purposes - we could have done better planning. I could go on, of course. Hindsight is 20/20 - especially considering the fact that this product has generated lots of email. Many have pointed out some areas that could have been improved that I hadn't realized. Live and learn, I guess.
Q: What do you think are the coolest and best aspects of the game?
IAN: Even though it wasn't the focal part of the game, I found some of the NPCs to be the coolest part - especially watching people theorize on how the game worked in this respect. Whether it be Pablo, Kingpin, Deidranna, or any other NPC, there was more talk about this aspect of the game than the actual combat. And I'm happy with that, the combat in JA is a given, so it's the "extras" that I get off on.
Q: Are you pleased with the public's reception of JA2? did it meet or exceed your expectations?
IAN: Quantitatively, it was better than I had thought. It's still falls into the hard-core game category, and today that can be the kiss of death, so it was a pleasant surprise to find out that it had become as popular as it is. Of course, like any game, there are people for whom it has no appeal to, like the reviewer from PC Gamer who wrote a review without playing the game, but overall, it has done very well. From a quality perspective, it came together pretty much like I expected. There's some shaky aspects to it and some solid ones, but overall the end result is an enjoyable, immersive diversion for most.
Q: Any significant elements you would have wanted to implement in JA2, but couldn't because of time or technology constraints?
IAN: The AI doesn't employ teamwork and this is one area that would have made the tactical combat much more interesting. I already mentioned vehicles. From a technical standpoint, the whole isometric thing was a big pain in the ass and I was disappointed with our lighting scheme. Thankfully, it'll be the last time working in 2D now that 3D has evolved to the point where we can make 3D graphics look as good.
Q: What do you think of players hacking JA2 to expand the lifespan of the game? No one has yet made possible to add more guns or edit maps, how about releasing an "unofficial editor"?
IAN: I think it would take a lot of work on the part of a hacker to do that sort of thing. We thought about adding the editor, but as we already know for DG, it takes a lot of work to make it robust enough for the public. We learn how to work around bugs because we don't have time to fix them. Releasing it to the public is another story. We ended up re-writing our JA1 editor for JA:DG. It's just not that easy.
Q: Before I ask the obvious question about an expansion pack or a sequel, can you comment about your feelings regarding the current gaming environment and any changes you see on the horizon? Do you have any criticism you can share about the nature of the games now being released and planned for the near future?
IAN: Well, in one sense, nothing ever changes. There's always good quality games along with a lot of schlock. People have learned to be skeptical, but we're all victim to hype. Even I can't wait to hear the word on the street when a new game that I have been looking forward to hits the shelves - I buy it! I wish there was more originality in the games out there, but that's easier said than done. In general, I'm happy with the quality of games coming out. With 3D technology only getting better, there isn't too much to complain about.
Q: What is the future of Jagged Alliance series, is there a JA3 or JA2: DG on the drawing board?
IAN: JA3 is in progress. We already have a multiplayer prototype working! I can't tell you much about it (other than what I just gave away) other than it will be a much different product than people expect. JA2 was a natural evolution from JA1, but JA3 is totally different. Chris Camfield is heading the design, and dramatic changes are taking place (all for the better of course). It will be controversial to those who think JA2 is perfect the way it is. We aren't planning a JA2:DG because we can make JA3 in the same amount of time (JA2 is not suited for multiplayer in any way, shape, or form) and JA3 is being *designed* with multiplayer in mind. However, we are working an expansion pack for JA2. It's not yet official, but hopefully will be very soon. Stay tuned for an announcement...
Q: What type of multiplayer are you planning?
IAN: We've been thinking co-operative multiplayer, but we haven't closed the door on competitive. We're not doing a massive multiplayer environment like EverQuest (in case anyone was wondering) yet. That's my dream product. I have so many ideas for that one. If only someone would give me the time and the money to make it!
Q: Many current players are concerned that the 3D trend will impact your design decisions regarding JA3, or, perhaps even more likely given the design of JA2 and the success of titles like Starcraft, real-time play. What do you think of going 3D or making a future Jagged Alliance a real-time strategy game?
IAN: I think it would be crazy to stay 2D. Just about every review of JA2 criticized the graphics because of this. Besides, now that 3D is looking real good (and will look even better by the time JA3 comes out), why would anyone not want to go 3D? Sure, there have been some games that implement 3D very poorly (where you're constantly fighting with the interface to get your angle of view right, etc), but that's just bad implementation - it's not necessarily a limiting factor of 3D. Regarding real-time, that's a very tricky question. There are always pros and cons. Real-time is much better for multiplayer and much better for realism (interrupts are a way of trying to simulate simultaneous action but far from perfect). Turn based gives you the level of control that a tactical battle cries for. What if you could do both? Would it be a weak compromise or a strong combination? Depends on the implementation. Who knows... :-)
Q: Do you plan for the sequel to be evolutionary or revolutionary?
IAN: Definitely revolutionary. We're not going to be accused of doing "more of the same". It's going to be different. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Q: You are monitoring the player feedback on boards and discussion forums, am I right? Can you name few comments from player feedback that you are looking forward incorporating into the sequel?
IAN: We definitely monitor the boards and we get a lot of email every day. There are some very good suggestions made. A lot of them are in the context of JA2 and not applicable to JA3 (like I said, it's going to be a little different), but a lot of the feedback helps us make a better game in general. As the designers, we can take certain knowledge for granted and make the mistake of planning around that. It's important to be able to put ourselves in the place of the gamer. Feedback helps a lot in this regard. We can find out what "worked" and where we missed the boat.
Q: It seems Jagged Alliance fans weren't all excited by the new sci-fi aspect, what do you think?
Was Jagged Alliance 2 the first and last Jagged Alliance game with sci-fi features?
IAN: Some people definitely didn't like the sci-fi aspect. To some fans, the JA series has become the tactical battle simulator and want realism only. Personally, I can't relate to that, even though I understand and appreciate it. I've barely even seen a gun in my lifetime, let alone handle one and am not interested in that. To me, JA is the characters, the role-playing and the intense battles. Great tactical battles don't necessarily have to come from first hand experience and familiarization with firearms. I would rather worry about what makes a great game than a great simulation. If that means having a weapon that does action x and has qualityy y, then so be it; I don't want to be restricted by reality - it's too limiting and can be detrimental to gameplay. Personally, I think one of JA's weaknesses are fighting the same type of human after human. There's only so much variety. At this point, I guess that's the best I can do answering this question.
Q: Any more you can tell us about the sequel and the expansion pack?
IAN: I think I've said all I can about JA2.5 and JA3. I am working on a fantasy "spin-off" that is nowhere close to a green light yet.
Q: Approximately when do you foresee the next Jagged Alliance game coming out?
IAN: When it's done. We haven't committed to any dates yet. Anyhow, you can't win on this one. You try to keep the public in the loop as to your expectations and if you miss your date, they get mad at you, accuse you of toying with them, and swear they won't buy the game to punish you. It's getting so bad that I wish we could keep the fact we're working on a game a secret until it was ready, but obviously that's not possible. Sooner or later a date will be set, but for all I know it could be 6 months later than when we finish it, so I'll keep my mouth shut for now...