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Interview with Carl Johnson on Maelstrom

Developer:KD Vision Games
Release Date:Fall 2006

Having discussed the game's storyline in the first part of the interview, the second part focuses on the game play mechanics of Maelstrom.

[AL]: Can you describe the core gameplay mechanics? How will players be able to wage war upon their enemies? Will there be base building and resource gathering aspects? What can you tell us about the balance between resource management and tactical conflict on the battlefield?
[CJ]: Anyone who has played an RTS before will be able to jump right in and, we’ve modeled the control scheme after some of the best out there, so hopefully core gameplay will be easy to learn and familiar. We’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible. You will be required to build a base and gather resources in order to fund your exercise on the field. You’ll build your force, defend your base and depending on your mission objectives you can carry on from there. The tactics and methods you use on the battlefield are really only limited by your imagination, the advanced gameplay options allow for a myriad of choices and countless outlets. Resource management will often drive your military actions, since water is one of the key elements and must be captured and held in order to derive its benefits.

[AL]: What are some of the innovations Maelstrom is bringing to the real-time strategy scene?
[CJ]: There isn’t much one can do to change the core of an RTS, there will always be units meeting each other in battle, most of the time with a base and resource management to boot. However, we’ve gone in another direction that we feel has never been done (or at least, done well). We’ve made the environment itself into a variable within the game. The environment is completely destructible, which adds another dimension to gameplay. Not only is it entirely destructible, but also malleable, build mountains, dig valleys, it’s up to you. On top of that we’ve included natural disasters (tornadoes, meteors, etc.) as viable weapons in the fight against your enemies. Imagine summoning a tornado and running it through a group of invading enemies, just to see them get sucked in and hurled across the map! The third person elements also set Maelstrom apart – it is nice change when a mission requires you to control a soldier or tank on the ground, and you get to have an intense up close battle.

[AL]: The development team behind Maelstrom previously worked on an innovative RTS title called Perimeter. How would you describe the game when compared to Perimeter? What are some of the key elements that have changed? How do you expect this to affect the overall experience?
[CJ]: On Perimeter we worked with KDV Games (formerly KD Labs), and we really enjoyed the experience. They had some really great insight into what could be done to progress the RTS genre. They used their Vista Game Engine which was terrific, and gave us some great user-friendly design facets. Perimeter utilized some of the terraforming that we’re working with on Maelstrom, but not really to this degree. In some ways, this game is a graphically polished, much more in-depth version of Perimeter that raises the bar and steps into a league of its own. Perimeter was the precursor for Maelstrom, so a lot of the things that worked we kept, and luckily for us a lot of what we put into Perimeter worked! We even managed to keep that “perimeter” feel through a Hai-Genti ability that activates a force field around their central base buildings. Perimeter was a cult hit, but we wanted to expand and reach out to not only our cult fans, but a bit more mainstream as well. We took some of the popular mainstream aspects of RTS games out there and fused them with the originality of our Perimeter ideas, and voila – this is what we came up with. Hopefully when people get their hands on the game they’ll be able to appreciate what we’ve done.

[AL]: The game promises highly destructible landscapes. Can you describe how this will impact the tactical aspects of gameplay? Can you discuss the implementation of terraforming in Maelstrom?
[CJ]: The actual Earth itself has become a prime player in the game, adding a fresh angle to the RTS genre. The fact that any faction, can at any time, “terraform” the land gives the players great opportunities to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. For example, you could easily use terraforming to build up a protective barrier around your base leaving one opening, sort of a choke point, where you could mount heavy defenses. Now your enemy comes to attack your base, goes towards the choke point, and voila you’ve got great base defense. Another great use for terraforming is in conjunction with the other environmental forces such as water. Many times, when facing a Hai-Genti opponent you’ll find yourself faced with flood waters throughout the map. In order to drain the water away, create channels and watch as the battlefield is drained and you even the keel once again. These are just a few examples of terraforming that you can use in the game, it really is up to the player, we just give them the tools.

[AL]: In Maelstrom players will be able to upgrade their units. Can you give examples of how this system will work? How will players be able to incorporate the upgrades into their strategy on the battlefield?
[CJ]: With the exception of Hero/Key characters, most units are upgraded through the common “tech tree” method. You’ll have a laboratory on your base where you can research new technology and have it implemented out on the field. For example, you will be able to upgrade weapons and armor for your infantry and vehicles, which will be automatically enabled. There are certain abilities and upgrades that are unit specific, once unlocked in the lab they must be manually activated by clicking on the unit and upgrading (such as Trooper to Marauder upgrades). Special characters, James Buchanan, Auriga, Maximilian, etc. will gain experience and unlock new levels of abilities that you must choose to activate. For example, Marcus O’Neil will level up and gain the ability to heal friendly units around him.

[AL]: What are some of the distinct units players can expect to control?
[CJ]: The units we’ve created are very unique, especially when it comes to the Hai-Genti. As far as the Remnants go, they represent a military force much like those in the world today. You can expect tanks, Humvee-style vehicles, etc. One of their signature weapons is the Paladin, which is modeled after the Paladin tank currently used in the US military. It is armed with a large howitzer, and used as a long distance artillery weapon. The Ascension have highly advanced technology, and at the heart of it is their transformation tech. Almost all their vehicles are capable of transforming, creating a duality of function that is unsurpassed in any game out there. Their Crusader tank is capable as a fully functioning, laser equipped tank. However, when need be it is transformed into a bipedal mech armed with a long distance, high powered laser rifle. The Hai-Genti are fully bio-engineered, so rather than vehicles, they have a second and third tier of even bigger beasts. Their Crusher unit is a large, bug-like creature with immense forward mandibles capable of grabbing units and crushing them. Their breath is corrosive as well, which can cause even more damage to anyone unlucky enough to come in contact with it.

[AL]: Will commanders actively participate on the battlefield?
[CJ]: Each faction has hero/key characters, which we’ve already talked about a bit. They’re both key to the storyline as well as gameplay. James Buchanan is the both strategic commander as well as field commander, being of military background he prefers to be on the front lines with his soldiers. Arlan Khan however, prefers to lead from the rear, utilizing his son Maximilian in the field. For the most part you will be able to control all of the key characters on the field at some point.

[AL]: What kind of tactics would you expect players to utilize while controlling the different factions?
[CJ]: Each of the factions utilizes their own set of tactics, like I mentioned earlier the Remnants tend to use guerilla methods, compensating for their lack in modern tech with their knowledge of the landscape to their advantage. They have some interesting tactics such as hacking enemy units as well, if you can’t beat em – steal em! Special units called Hunters can hack into and take control of any opposing machine, turning it into a friendly unit. The Ascension really focus on their overwhelming technology to drive their forces on the battlefield. They have cryogenic troops that can freeze water, allowing for troops to cross over the ice or freeze their enemies in place while their comrades finish the job. Finally the Hai-Genti are a race that is totally engineered from start to finish, and all are connected to one central Overseer, thus they have the hive-mind mentality. They rely on overwhelming numbers and wide variety in their troops. Like an ant colony coming to attack a beetle, they will swarm and attack with no reverence for your life or their own.

[AL]: What can you tell us about the multiplayer aspects of the game?
[CJ]: We’ve got the standard online/LAN multiplayer setup for 1-6 players, as well as a few added modes to spice things up a bit.

[AL]: Is there any additional information you would like to share with our readers?
[CJ]: First, we’re planning on having a demo ready and online by late August/early September. I hope everyone can get online and take a look at that, get a taste for the Maelstrom. Secondly, we’ve put a lot of work into this game and I really hope that everyone can appreciate the originality and unique approach we’ve taken. Maelstrom is one of the most amazing games I’ve ever worked on. From the graphics to the gameplay to the level of customization given to the player, it really is an astonishingly beautiful and well rounded game.

Adventure Lantern thanks Carl Johnson for providing us highly detailed information on the upcoming Codemasters project Maelstrom. Judging by the aspects of the game discussed in the interview alone, it looks like Maelstrom could deliver a quite unique and memorable experience. With its interesting setting and imaginative gameplay mechanics, Maelstrom could be a real treat for real-time strategy buffs. If you want to find out more information about the game, visit www.Codemasters.com/Maelstrom.

Back to the first part of the interview