Gamersinfo.net: How did the idea of Maelstrom come about? Why another sci-fi strategy game?
Carl Johnson: When we worked with KDV Games on their worldwide release of Perimeter, we were really impressed by the game and the technology they were working with. After the release of Perimeter we remained in contact with KDV and they eventually presented us with their Vista Game Engine, which is designed for high-end RPG and RTS games. From there we pretty much decided that we wanted to do a Sci-Fi based RTS game with a lot of action to really show off what the engine could do. The Vista engine allows for fully destructible and malleable landscapes and incredibly simulated real-time weather effects.
Gamersinfo.net: How does Maelstrom differentiate itself from the other sci-fi games out there?
Carl Johnson: For the most part I think players are going to be interested in what they can do with the environments within Maelstrom. As I’ve mentioned they are totally malleable, you can destroy anything you can see and you can shape and form the terrain as you see fit. We’ve dubbed this term “terraforming”. This whole idea really came into its own when Perimeter was released, as terraforming was a key element of the gameplay. Now we’ve allowed it to take a step back from “required” and made it an option that can open all new dimensions of play. Not only is the environment incredibly interactive but you‘ll also be able to control of natural disasters like tornadoes and meteors as well. We really tried to take the best aspects of RTS games that are already out and add new features that are totally unprecedented in the RTS world today to create a new genre of “action RTS.”
Gamersinfo.net: James Swallow is working on the storyline, he has been known for writing episodes from Star Trek, will there be any references? Is there a heavy emphasis on the storyline rather than gameplay?
Carl Johnson: James is an extremely well rounded writer, especially when it comes to his work with the sci-fi genre. Not only has he worked with Star Trek as well as Dr. Who but has his own complete set of original novels as well as a slew of credits from literature to television and games. When we sat down with him and began the creative process we presented him with some core influences that we wanted to see within the game, then left the rest up to him. We mostly focused on movies like RoboCop, Aliens and Mad Max rather than Star Trek, so I don’t think you’ll be seeing too much in that way. However we have taken some of the best aspects (at least in our opinion) of popular Sci-Fi movies and combined them in Maelstrom. The story and gameplay are very much interweaved, and you’ll see that when you play, but there is no real stress on story over gameplay. I mean, after all it’s still a game and that’s the important part.
Carl Johnson: We’ve made the game in hopes that everyone will get their hands on it and give it a shot. I don’t think there’s anything within the game that’s so hardcore or far fetched that any average player couldn’t grasp and get into. The action of the game will certainly draw in anyone interested enough to give it a try. On the other hand I think a lot of the hardcore fans out there will really appreciate the storyline by James as well as the attention to detail that we’ve put into the game. Overall I’ve seen people pick up the game and be proficient within 20 minutes of handling it, so I’m quite comfortable in saying it’s an easy game to play, and the storyline is very accessible since we’ve done a lot of work both explaining the history and unfolding the plot in-game.
Gamersinfo.net: One of the most exciting features is the ability to manipulate your terrain, and the elements. This was used in Perimeter as well, how has it improved since? How will it change the way people play RTS games?
Carl Johnson: The terraforming in Perimeter was a forefather of what we’ve got going in Maelstrom. I don’t know if you’ve seen Perimeter, but it was somewhat primitive compared to Maelstrom. As I’ve said it was a requirement in gameplay for Perimeter but now we’ve stepped away from that to give players more options. The terraforming is meant to add to the gameplay should you want, but not detract if you choose to opt out. One of the major leaps forward in the Vista engine is the graphic detail we’re able to attain. Everything in the game is incredibly detailed from the landscapes to the units themselves. It’s evolved quite a bit from what they first designed in Perimeter, but the outstanding gameplay still stays true. The fact that you can terraform really brings a new dimension of gameplay into light. Whereas typical RTS games made you deal with the landscape given to you, now you can totally change and form it to your liking. Create chokepoints to ambush enemy troops, create man-made water hazards to slow their movement or even flood out entire sections of the map.
Carl Johnson: We’re currently working on the optimization of the game and they should be ready just before launch. Suffice to say, we obviously don’t expect everyone to have top of the line machines to run the game. Basically we want it to be accessible to everyone at any level. We’ve made sure that there are a ton of options you can specialize in order to get the game running at its peak on almost any system.
Carl Johnson: James McWilliams. He works for one our internal teams. He’s a very talented guy and likes to work in a variety of media. Having heard several of his compositions in the past I asked him to pitch for the work. I’m pleased to say he came out top, beating several external companies in the process!
Gamersinfo.net: So far we know that the game will feature a 6 player multiplayer, how will this work online?
Carl Johnson: We’ve got a fully integrated online as well as LAN multiplayer system in the works. You’ll be able to have the usual modes of play as well as a few additional modes to spice things up a bit. These extras should be ready for launch, if not after as a free download.
Gamersinfo.net: How are the campaigns set up in single player mode? How many are there and will the storyline progress from viewpoints of all the factions?
Carl Johnson: There will 23 single player missions broken down into 4 campaigns. The storyline is entirely linear, so you’ll start out with Remnant, move to Ascension and finally a final campaign to wrap things up. This way you’ll get to see all sides of what’s going on as time progresses and finally in the last campaign you’ll have a taste of the grand picture.
Gamersinfo.net: Perimeter was described as innovative and new to fans of the RTS genre, how does Maelstrom compare? Do you expect a positive reaction from the Perimeter fans?
Carl Johnson: We’re certainly hoping that Perimeter fans will feel as strongly about Maelstrom as we do. Perimeter was a breakout hit with some incredible gameplay. We’ve taken some of those gameplay facets and grafted them onto some RTS staples in hopes that the fusion will create a unique synergy that can hopefully bring some new life into the RTS genre. Drawing from experience with Perimeter we have the terraforming aspect of course, as well as transforming units (almost every Ascension unit can transform) and the environmental aspects which are all phenomenal assets for the game. We’re really hoping that the mixture of intense action as well as core RTS aspects will make an even bigger splash than Perimeter.
Carl Johnson: The team is currently working out the last bits of proper balancing as far as the programming is concerned, however I feel comfortable saying that each faction has its strengths and weaknesses. Everyone in the game is equipped well to defend and attack their enemies through units and tactics. Remnants are well suited to attacking the robotic armies of the Ascension with their hackers who can take control of the enemy mechs and use them as their own. The Ascension have transforming units and high level technology that can easily beat any enemy in direct combat. The Hai-Genti have unbelievable numbers and control of nature which allows them to have a firm standing amongst the other two factions. Things are very well matched, and I don’t foresee any problems in either single or multiplayer aspects.
Gamersinfo.net: Gamersinfo.net would like to thank Mr. Johnson for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out our interview with James Swallow to find out more about the game's storyline as well as what it is like for an experienced writer to delve in to the world of game storyline writing.