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Youíve read him in Computer Gaming World, but just how much do you know about George Jones? We recently got a chance to conduct an interview and George turns out to be more than just a pretty face and former Editor-in-Chief of Computer Gaming World. He sounds off about the gaming industry, being a game critic, the challenges of starting a new on-line gaming site, Jeff Greenís balance problems, X-Box, racism, nudity, and how he got started in the industry. Thanks for your time, George!

 

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Giovanni Caturano (DroneZ) Q&A Conducted by Omni

 

Giovanni Caturano, Project Leader on the upcoming DroneZ (XB) and President & CEO of SpinVector gave us some of his time to tell us what's happening with DroneZ, slick graphics over gameplay, the hacker ethic and how game development is different in Europe than in North America.  (DroneZ is scheduled to ship September 2003 from Metro3D.)  Thanks for your time, Giovanni!

 

Letís start with the introductions: Who are you, how long have you been involved in the games industry, and how did wind up working on DroneZ?

DroneZ is the crowning achievement of four years of dedicated work. In this time span we developed DroneZmarK (a free OpenGL benchmark) and a bundle-oriented version of DroneZ.  Metro3Dís DroneZ for Xbox and Xbox LIVE represents the evolution of these experiences.  Before 1998 our core team had worked together as a demogroup creating some promotional games, did R&D for DEC and finally moved to Paris where Zetha GameZ is based.

 

In your own words, describe DroneZ and its general gameplay.

In a near future, people will pass all their time connected to the V-Space Ė the future of Cyberspace. DroneZ, the software agents created to handle the physical needs of the human bodies will takeover. 

 

Itís up to each player to penetrate the structure of the V-Space with the help of Doku, a young hacker who disconnected before any other, exploiting a flaw of the main system while studying it. He is your partner in the destruction of the enemy defenses (represented as physical creatures) as you move through memory locations (revealed as platforms in the game) striving to reach the Master Brain and destroy its Controller. The goal is to reveal the truth and make people free to disconnect again.

 

Your character can move and aim independently. In addition, you will have to manage your ZNRG (read ďZenergyĒ) reserve to shoot bolts and activating a shield.  Along the way youíll meet numerous enemies with powerful secondary weapons, but if you destroy them, Doku will be able to access their code and upload the weapons to you! Moreover, he will always try to help you with additional bonuses like helpers or shields and by moving platforms, opening doors or activating buttons whenever possible.

 

In DroneZ, frantic shooting wonít work alone.  Players must also develop a sense of observation and think of a strategy (or maybe two) before facing your next enemy or be doomed to fail.

 

dronez xbox           dronez xbox

 

On the official DroneZ website, there is a lot of detail about the graphics engine.  Would it have been easier to license an established engine than making a proprietary engine?

The reason for the technical information being such a big deal is that the former PC version was a showcase for NVIDIA GeForce 3 and Intel Pentium 4, 2GHz. We still believe the visuals must be rewarding and that technology must be exploited as much as possible in order to provide the best possible gaming experience. Carmine della Sala, our technology leader always liked the idea of stretching the limits of 

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graphic systems and thatís why he loved to work with that hardware. With this engine we could really achieve the result we wanted.   In terms of illumination, whenever we needed a feature, we could add it and seamlessly optimize the engine for the latest hardware. In the end, itís something we like to do. Working on your own ideas and technology is surely a greater cost, but also a competitive advantage and a much more rewarding way to stay up at night with a computer. -:)  

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Does a shiny package and slick graphics supercede gameplay?

Never.  Sometimes a shiny package does attract buyers, and surely rewarding visuals are a must, but gameplay is the main focus.  This is why we have waited so long before releasing DroneZ.

 

What was the most difficult part about developing DroneZ?

Having such an original concept and quite unique controls, the hardest part has surely been to balance the gameplay.  DroneZ is really a smart action game, but with so many gamers of varying skill levels, we wanted to avoid frustrating some while not making the game too obvious for others.   After many hours spent fine-tuning the gameplay, I must say we are quite pleased with how DroneZ has turned out!

 

What inspirations were drawn upon during DroneZ development?

Most cyberpunk literature: the same where Tron and The Matrix have strong roots. Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling and, of course, William Gibson are all favorite authors of mine.

 

Will there be multiplayer features included in DroneZ?  (Or offered as part of an add-on?)

DroneZ for Xbox and Xbox LIVE comes with five online Death Match levels. The game also features 15 levels exclusively designed for offline multiplayer, with up to four players connected to the same console.

 

Obviously youíre proud of the engine DroneZ uses (nGenius 2), especially considering the amount of time and effort that went into its development.  Will we see it being used by other games?

We will soon be working on a new version of the engine, but we donít plan to license it to any third party, even if we had some offers in that respect after the GeForce 3 boom.  We might change our mind if we feel that the project and the team really match the features of the engine, but this has not happened thus far.

 

Is there anyone in particular that you look up to in the gaming industry?  Why do you look up to them?

There are so many bright-minded, creative people in the industry that itís impossible to name them all. From a personal perspective, I most look up to Peter Molyneux, not only for his achievements and very creative ideas, but also for his behavior as a person.

 

Is current hardware being used to its full potential?

It is my opinion that hardware is currently evolving so quickly that itís becoming almost impossible for people to exploit it at its full potential. If you think of what people did (and do) with the Commodore 64, youíll see that nobody does it with contemporary technology. I could recite the full memory map of the C64, but who could do that with a PC? Anyway, itís an irresistible temptation, when you put your hands on some new hi-tech hardware to try and do something beyond the limits of that machine, but first you need to know it very well, and this is surely easier with consoles. On the other hand, now the hardware designers are much closer than ever to the coders, and itís easier to share useful information with the designers and with other coders in order to find better ways to exploit the system. In this sense, I always find a good sense of collaboration not only with the engineers at NVIDIA or Intel, but also with the other developers around the world as sharing ideas and comparing techniques is often more important than reading code fragments.

 

dronez xbox          dronez xbox

 

To what extent do you subscribe to the hacker ethic?

Iím glad to have the chance to answer such a question.

 

Doku, the hacker in our game, found a breach into the V-Space system while trying to explore it and stretch its capabilities (Iím almost quoting the Jargon File) and this brought him to discover a scary truth.  Now, he wants to bring the benefits of his discovery and the information he discovered to the advantage of all mankind.  To do this, heís trying to locate or create other breaches from inside (thatís what the player does) in order to destroy the software agents that limit the freedom of people.  Heís a hero of course not a criminal.  So, Doku is trying to share the information he has and hack up a system with a good intent, which is why we never use the word ďcrackĒ.  We hope this will give a better perspective to the people who are scared of the ďHĒ word.

 

What does it mean to Zetha gameZ that DroneZ was being used to benchmark performance of new PCs? (i.e., was used to showcase Intelís Pentium Chip?)

As I said before, present technology doesnít let you run after it. You have to ride it or watch it pass. For us, itís a great experience to work closely with NVIDIA and Intel on their new processors, not only because they produce the most exciting consumer hardware in the world, but also because of the people we meet in those companies -- truly passionate engineers who love what they do and like to be challenged.

 

How is game development different in Europe than in North America?

The hardest thing here is to fund games. Not that itís easy in the U.S., but the financing system in Europe is often affected by an outdated logic and project financing is seldom a valid option for a bank. To make things worse, here in Italy most traditional actors in the financial world have a blurred idea (if any) of what game development is. On the other hand, too many developers for too long have underestimated the importance of the technical factor in a game, but this is quickly changing as you can see from events like the GDC-Europe, etc.

 

(July 20, 2003)

 

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