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Interview: Tick, Tick, Boom - Nuclear Dawn Reborn

Gamasutra sits down with the principals at InterWave Studios behind FPS/RTS hybrid Nuclear Dawn for an interview regarding their drastically rebooted, community-led Source engine title.

Mike Rose, Blogger

April 4, 2010

7 Min Read

[Checking out one of the most professional-looking Half-Life 2 mods turned fullblown games out there, Gamasutra sits down with the folks behind FPS/RTS hybrid Nuclear Dawn for an interview regarding their drastically rebooted community-led Source engine title.] Back in February 2006, a Half-Life 2 mod emerged and instantly began to gather big community support and press coverage. Nuclear Dawn, described as 'a first person shooter/real-time strategy hybrid', looked exciting enough to warrant over 15,000 unique visitors in the first hour after the initial announcement, and the promise of an upcoming beta build brought the masses in. Led by project manager David Lyon, the Nuclear Dawn team looked destined to create something special. Yet only half a year later, cracks in development were beginning to show. Updates were few and far between and concerns were voiced, leading to Lyon stepping down as project lead just before 2007 broke. However, the team continued to grind away, picking up and losing team members all the while. Eventually at the start of 2008, development came to a standstill, backing up theories that Nuclear Dawn would end its life as vaporware. InterWave Studios approached the original Nuclear Dawn team in November 2008 and discussions regarding the fate of the mod were under way. The following April saw not just a new lease of life for the game, but a whole new team and premise, as the handover was sealed. Nuclear Dawn would now be released as a full-blown commercial product, aimed at Windows PC (via Steam) and Xbox 360 releases. rsz_vyksa_gamasutra_colour.jpg The InterWave Studios team and Michiel Beenen, its managing director, are currently working hard to hit their target of an October 2010 release, and Gamasutra talked to them about their product and plans: How and when did InterWave Studios come into existence? InterWave Studios came to be when the most active part of the SteamFriends.com community decided to stop talking about mods on Steam, and to start making one. The original line-up went through several iterations, before it settled on a core team that stuck to their guns and started exploring the wonderful world of Half Life 2 total conversions. After more than a few game designs, their first production was Stargate: The Last Stand, possibly one of the most complete and well received Stargate-themed online mods to date. rsz_ny_gamasutra.jpg How did the Nuclear Dawn takeover come about? Are any of the original team still working on it? In October 2008, we got in touch with every developer from the original development group. Talks developed, offers were made, bounced back and forth and refined, and eventually a deal was signed in April 2009. No members of the original team participate in current development, though they offered their assistance and advice through the early stages of planning and development. Why did you decide to take over development of the game? We were already designing a game with similar characteristics, as a Half Life 2 mod, in preparation for the completion of Stargate: The Last Stand. When we heard that Nuclear Dawn project was being abandoned, we could not help but merge our own vision with the original team's. The premise of a true RTS/FPS hybrid, the setting, the name and the character concepts are extremely powerful, and we were thrilled to continue work on the game's vision, powered on by some fresh takes of our own. Of the original concept and programming, how much has been used and how much binned? Several of the core design concepts have, of course, remained intact. Nuclear Dawn still is a class-based tactical shooter- the classes still follow the basic setup that the original team envisaged, and there still is a seamless fusion between FPS and RTS game play elements. With that said, the greatest part of the game has been rebuilt from the ground up, and just about every in-game resource, with the exception of a few weapon concepts, has been remoulded to completely fit our own vision of Nuclear Dawn’s premise, world and game play. rsz_tokyo_gamasutra_colour.jpg Are you using the Source Engine as with the original, or has that been upgraded? The Nuclear Dawn mod ran on the public Half Life 2 Deathmatch code. The first hurdle to pass was porting everything to the Orange Box code base, and as many developers know that is not an easy task. Currently, the game engine falls somewhere in between the Orange Box and Left 4 Dead feature sets, with several fresh updates such as new shaders and a few other additions of our own. On top of the vanilla (or orange, as it were) upgrades to the engine, we performed several tweaks so that we could run our own vehicle physics, AI, and custom special effects. How difficult is it to pick up from another team rather than develop from scratch? Did you find there were any hindrances in what you wanted to achieve due to prior work? The original team behind Nuclear Dawn consisted of some extremely talented individuals, who moved on to very prestigious positions in the gaming industry. We did not actually have to deal with picking up a game halfway, as we instead opted to rebuild the entire game from scratch. Having some of the art and code and resources that the original team worked on as references was a powerful aid in setting the standards for the game, which we like to think we managed to make our own, and even raise that bar ourselves here and there. Has it been difficult gaining trust from the community who have been following Nuclear Dawn for years? While there were some less than enthusiastic voices, most of the community reacted rather positively to the news of resumed development on Nuclear Dawn. This is, after all, the same Half Life 2 modding community that saw InterWave roll out a prototype of Stargate: The Last Stand in under 8 months, so there was surprisingly little negative talk. Mostly people were interested in knowing whether we'd take a new direction, and just how far we'd stray from the original game concept. rsz_primary_gamasutra_colour.jpg You've added the sub-title 'Modern Combat Rising'. Are you looking to follow in the successful footsteps of the Call of Duty (and upcoming Medal of Honor) series, or are we looking at a completely different time setting? The time setting is completely different, and 'modern combat' in Nuclear Dawn's case does not refer to the in-game combat style, but rather to the experience we're trying to re-create. As gamers we're very frustrated by the fact that too often modern shooters play like a heavily tweaked version of the venerable Quake deathmatch, and with Nuclear Dawn we've attempted to advance that game play paradigm, building squad cooperation and fast tactical decision making right into the very core of the game's design. In Nuclear Dawn, considering the status and load out of your squad mates, the general well being of your team, and what your commander is up to will become second nature to gamers, and while there are several pure adrenaline, free for all game modes, the full Warfare game play rewards true strategic thinking, along with quick wit and well tuned reflexes. That is, for us, the true dawn of modern combat, the rising of a new gameplay form that's far more powerful than the usual, rehashed war games. How will the real-time strategy element be incorporated into gameplay? Nuclear Dawn lets the commander freely roam the battlefield through remotely operated cameras that give a free 3D aerial view of the level, at just about any height and angle. As the rest of his team fights for resource points, blueprints and just plain old carnage, the commander is able to plan strategy and direct his comrades. He can group them into functional units that are assigned specific tasks, or he can dedicate himself more fully to researching new technology, getting equipment and outposts out in the field, and fortifying his defences. In action, that translates to a hectic command experience, where the elected leader will have to juggle resources, upgrades, defensive and offensive systems, and an ever shifting battleground where he's pitted against a far more volatile and cunning enemy than any AI. Is a single player game mode planned or will Nuclear Dawn be a multiplayer only release? We currently have no plans to release a single player campaign for Nuclear Dawn at launch.

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