Paul Hughes, Tony Stockton, Brian Marshall, Programmers

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Q. Have you all been worklng on Privateer 2: The Darkening from the beginning?

HUGHES: No. None of us have, really.

STOCKTON: I started about two months after the project actually started taking off. We began getting code together.

MARSHALL: I started in January of 1995.

Q: So what happened when you came in? You sat down at your computer and somebody said. . .

HUGHES: "Here's the deep end." And then they threw you in.

STOCKTON: I started when they were doing the financial review to get the money for the film. Basically, we had to produce a demo to prove that we could do something that was as good as or better than Wing Commander III. And off we went.

Q: And when did you come in?

MARSHALL: Much later. I applied for the job and was rushed through the interviews in seven working days from start to finish. I started working a month before I was officially hired.

Q: So what does a programmer do? For instance, what's an "engine"?

HUGHES: Oh, I hate that term, I hate that term! An engine is basically a collection of routines for one specific purpose. A 3-D engine is a bunch of routines that perform 3-D transformations and projections. A video engine takes compressed video and decompresses it and takes the sound and tries to get it together on the screen. Graphic engines do graphics. There are a lot of routines to one specific area in a program.

All three of us worked on the 3-D engine part of the game. I also did all the gameflow ― the video interaction and the low-level routines.

Q: Where does the 3-D engine come in?

HUGHES: Basically from the moment the player launches into space, the 3-D engine is working. It controls all of the 3-D shapes flying through space, how things are blown up, what protecting a ship involves, and so forth. Anything that you do in space, basically, is covered by the 3-D engine.

Q: Obviously artists create the ships, but how do you get them to fly around?

STOCKTON: The artists do the ships in 3-D Studio ― they create the geometry and the mapping. Then we have a conversion process that converts these objects using the internal game engine's method of creation, which simplifies the object. Basically, a 3-D universe is a giant cube, and we say, "Put these object in these positions in space and render them all from this viewpoint." And the engine actually draws it there. And before long, it has the ship flying around ― that's the basis of creating a ship in 3-D.

Q: Do you as a programmer get to help design the game?

STOCKTON: Yes. In these last stages we get to conceptualize it. When they bring all the artwork in, we have input on what is possible to do with the computer and what isn't possible. The designers compromise too and come up with new ideas. So we have some input into the look and feel of the game ― more the feel. We come up with new little graphic "routine-ettes" every so often ― the morphing in the booth and other little touches like that.

Q: So you guys did the morphing?

HUGHES: Yes, "Stitch" decided he would like to add morphing to the screens. It was up to me to work out how it was done.

Q: Who comes up with things like the interface and the buttons?

STOCKTON: It's a joint effort, really. In the case of the buttons, it was Stitches' idea to have them as lights, and it was my idea to move them between screens. It's backwards and forwards all the time. We come up with an idea, try it, and then show it to Stitch and see how he responds.

Q: What part of the game can you point to and say "that's mine, I did that"?

HUGHES: That would be the booth at the moment.

STOCKTON: I'm trying to make the 3-D game engine the best there is. We want the people to play the game for the 3-D game engine only ― instead of the standard, "It's a movie, and oh yeah, it's got a 3-D game in it," we want this game to be a 3-D game that has a movie in it. We're doing a good job.

Q: Marshall, have you been here long enough to say what your crowning achievement is?

MARSHALL: Yeah. It would be this sort of routine I knocked out in a couple of hours ― it seemed like such a small thing until they hooked it into the game, and suddenly it ran missilres and flew ships. It also started doing some quite weird things. But everyone that's seen it has had a very nice reaction to it.

Q: What other kinds of games have you worked on?

HUGHES: This is my thirteenth commercial product. I've been doing this since I was thirteen. The likes of Bug-Bite in Liverpool, Ocean in Manchester and Firebird in London. It's all I've ever known?

STOCKTON: You are a sad man.

Q: How about you? What did you do before you got into games?

STOCKTON: I use to work at British Aerospace, designing planes.

Q: And so you're doing the flying around bit, and he's doing the planes?

STOCKTON: We're all doing the "flying around." I did the booths until it got to the stage when it was nearly complete and then we started doing 3-D engine, so we're all three on that now.

Q: Was it a big switch to go from aerospace to computer games?

STOCKTON: Yes. Very. I used to do the programming as a hobby. And when I left I thought, here's my chance to use my hobby to earn money.

When I left British Aerospace I gave myself some time to do a demo that I could show people, which I did. That got me a job at Hand-Made Software, from there I moved to EA.

Q: And what did you do before?

MARSHALL: I was trained to be a traditional software engineer. I had a few problems and lost my financial aid for the university, and I was lucky enough to get a job working on the conversion of International Soccer Team Media, which was a big title back then. That was two years ago. Then I did a few games, some research bits. Then a couple of months a go I decided I had enough where I was, and applied for a research and development post, which is what I was doing two weeks before I came here.