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Interview with Carl Johnson on Maelstrom

Developer:KD Vision Games
Release Date:Fall 2006

The year is 2050. An ecological disaster has devastated Earth. The planet is a shadow of its former glory. Water is the most valuable resource in this desolate planet. The people who have managed to survive the disaster are divided. The two factions continually fight against each other to gain control of the water supplies.

The Remnants seek to protect the world from corporate domination. They fight against the corporations for a world where people can be truly free from oppression. The Ascension represents the epitome of mankind’s technological progress. The most influential corporate entity, the Ascension seeks to dominate the entire world, putting an end to the Remnants through the use of superior weaponry.

Yet the humans are not the only ones who want to rule Earth. Just when it seems internal conflicts could not get any worse, alien invaders descend upon the planet. The Hai-Genti are looking for a new home. They seek to exploit Earth’s resources for their own benefit.

A massive war is about to begin. The already-devastated surface of the planet will be torn further as the three factions collide. There is no telling which side will ultimately prove superior. Can the sheer courage and willpower of the Remnants be enough? Can the Ascension reign over the world with its superior technology? Or is the human race doomed to end at the hands of the Hai-Genti?

Maelstrom is a real-time strategy game currently under development by KD Vision Games. Scheduled to be published by Codemasters in Fall 2006, the game promises an engaging storyline, an interesting setting, and plenty of promising game play mechanics that could make for a greatly entertaining experience. As the publish date of the game draws ever nearer, we conducted an interview with Carl Johnson, the lead game designer for Malstrom at Codemasters. Mr. Johnson provided us with a great deal of detailed information on Maelstrom’s storyline as well as its overall game play mechanics.

The first part of our interview primarily covers the storyline and the different factions that will be involved in the conflict depicted in Maelstrom:

[Adventure Lantern]: What can you tell us about the setting of the game? How is Earth envisioned in the year 2050?
[Carl Johnson]: The Maelstrom refers to a period of time on Earth where horrific ecological and nuclear disasters have left the planet devastated. You can expect the Earth itself to be malformed and degraded from the ecological effects. The environment is post apocalyptic in the classic sense.

[AL]: What was the nature of the ecological disaster that left the planet ravaged?
[CJ]: Well without getting too far into detail, the Earth is struck by an asteroid in the early 2010’s which sets off a terrible chain reaction. From the initial impact we see tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, you name it. Essentially the Pacific Rim is destroyed in the wake. From that point on, the ecosystem of the planet takes a nosedive.

[AL]: What are the origins of the conflict between the two factions of humans? How does the war connect to our history?
[CJ]: Before the Maelstrom hit there was a great deal of corporate power building, large companies became more like nations than the nations themselves. They began militarizing and eventually were waging wars on themselves. When disasters ceased and the survivors came back topside, the only remaining corporation was Ascension Industries and the few survivors who became the Remnants. Ascension Industries is led by Arlan Khan who is a tyrannical dictator who wants to rebuild in his image, while the Remnants want freedom and peace. So as you might imagine, they’ve had a bit of a disagreement. As far as our history, I don’t think it connects in history so much as the future. The game isn’t meant to portray any sort of overt message, but I don’t think you need to be selling an ideology to realize companies are getting bigger everyday. Maybe someday these corporations will get so big that something like this happens, who knows.

[AL]: How about the alien invaders? What are their motives? What makes humanity unable to forget their misunderstandings and unite against the common threat?
[CJ]: The Hai-Genti is the alien race that wants to take over Earth and make it their own. It’s interesting because the Hai-Genti developed very similarly to humans, although they are from another star system. Their planet’s ecosystem had been destroyed by their careless use of technology. There was a civil war between those looking to save the planet and those hungry for power and refusing to stop using advanced technology. Eventually the “good” won out and they began revamping their entire race, bio-engineering everything from buildings to themselves. Unfortunately they were unable to save their planet, and as a last ditch effort, set out to find a new home. When they arrive at Earth they see what has happened, and realize that the humans are in disarray, fighting amongst themselves and are ripe for the picking.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the structure of the storyline? Will there be separate campaigns with different interpretations of the story or should players expect a plot that gradually unfolds over a series of campaigns as in Starcraft?
[CJ]: The story is totally linear so it’ll be working itself out over the 23 single player missions, broken down over 4 campaigns. You’ll play first as Remnant then Ascension, etc. Once the player has worked their way through the first three campaigns, there is a fourth and final campaign with plenty of surprises.

[AL]: The Remnants faction is lead by the former US Naval officer James Buchanan. Can you discuss his position in the conflict? How do you envision Buchanan approaching the war? How does he expect to triumph over superior technology?
[CJ]: First and foremost James Buchanan is a military man; James joined the Navy at a young age and quickly moved into working with the infamous SEAL team 6. In the Navy he became well known for his staunch stance on military over corporate control. His views often ostracized him amongst his peers and superior officers. Throughout his career as both a Navy SEAL and Commander of the USS Tiger in the North Pacific James made many friends, contacts which felt the same way he did about Corporations replacing nations and especially their militaries. When the Maelstrom struck, James found himself reaching out to his contacts, finding survivors and gathering them at Twenty-Nine Palms where they took shelter from the nuclear fallout. That day he gave a speech, dubbing the group “the Remnants of a great people” – the name stuck. When they resurfaced and realized that Ascension had survived as well, James knew there would be trouble. Never a fan of corporate power and certainly not one to bow out of a fight, James and his Remnants scavenged and scraped together an army to take on the Ascension. James is an older man who has seen a great deal in his time, both in military scenarios and in humanity. He’s wise in his tactics and knows the terrain well. The Remnants tend to utilize guerilla tactics against the highly organized Ascension, planning sneak attacks and ambushes over head on conflict. James knows they can never take out the powerful weapons of the Ascension in a head on attack, but he also realizes the fragility of technology and plans to exploit it fully. *cough* hackers *cough*

[AL]: What can you tell us about the interaction between Buchanan and his two key commanders Marcus O'Neil and Sasha Antonova?
[CJ]: Buchanan and O’Neil met through the Navy and fostered a student-teacher relationship from the start. However, for Marcus it’s often a bit more. Marcus lost his family to a terrorist attach when he was 16, so he has always viewed Buchanan as a father figure as well. They have great trust and mutual respect for one another, Marcus is the second in command of the Remnant forces. Sasha, however, is a former Russian Mafia Queen who allied herself with the Remnants rather than wage all out war with them. She is highly intelligent and uses her wits to get whatever it is that she wants. In the beginning Marcus doesn’t trust Sasha, but she begins to grow on him as time moves on.

[AL]: How would you describe Arlan Kahn and the Ascension faction under his command? What were some of the key technological developments that lead to their success? What kind of a regime does the faction impose upon humans?
[CJ]: Arlan Khan was born into a very wealthy family, and showed his intellect at a very young age. He had the best education that money could buy, but was never really cared for by his parents. As he got older he discovered his love for Bio-technologies and opened his own small, but very profitable Ascension Industries. Over time he became convinced that it was his calling to save the world through better technology. Utilizing his company, he orchestrated hostile takeovers of smaller competitors and eventually enveloped his parents KhanCorp under the Ascension umbrella. One of the key advantages that the Ascension has is the brilliant Kie Fujishima, head of research and development. Her genius has allowed for the transforming, cryogenic and electric technology that drives the Ascension war-machine. These advancements allowed Ascension to become the premiere corporation on Earth before, and after the Maelstrom. In the current day, the Ascension plan on rebuilding society in Arlan’s divine vision - bio-engineering and perfect technology, whether the people like it or not. In Arlan’s mind he is “saving the world” but to the people being used in his experiments and harvested for bio-matter, he is hardly a savior.

The first part of our interview with Carl Johnson covered the storyline behind Maelstrom. But where this real-time strategy game is really trying to offer innovations is its game-play mechanics. The second part of our interview gets into details about the unique aspects of Maelstrom. Click here to view the second part of the interview.