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Interview: Michal M. and Sigvatr

JANUARY 16, 2008

An interview with Michal Marcinkowski (pic. left, Soldat) and Sigvatr, developers of the upcoming Link-Dead and Berserker. (Link-Dead FAQ)

Hi guys, let's begin with a short introduction of yourselves.

MM: Hey, I'm Michal Marcinkowski and I make computer games since I can remember. My most known project so far has been the multiplayer mayhem called Soldat. It was first released 5 years ago and it is still growing.

Sig: My name is Eric Vaughn, but I go by the monicker Sigvatr on the internet. I can't really pin down exactly what I do for a living because there are so many different things I do with my time. Generally speaking, I do whatever I want, but in this particular case, I'm working on Berserker and Link-Dead with Michal.

You've recently announced Berserker, which is currently being developed in parallel with Link-Dead. Can you describe both games in your own words, and how is working on two projects simultaneously even possible?

Sig: Link-Dead is about using your brain, while Berserker is about using your anger. For me, making Berserker is a bit of a political thing because the country I live in (Australia) doesn't have an R18+ rating for video games. Any video game that would qualify for such a rating is simply banned immediately. I want to challenge the Australian censorship lobby by releasing an explicitly violent and sexual game for free on the internet because they won't be able to do anything about it.

I want to put my best graphical efforts into Link-Dead, so Berserker has been good practice in the meantime.

MM: Working on these two games is possible because Berserker is like a mod for Link-Dead. It uses the same engine, character animations and physics. This is possible and fairly easy because of my new engine.

Your fans might be expecting a sequel to Soldat, but you're putting more emphasis on teamwork in Link-Dead. How will you convince the original Soldat players that this is an evolutionary process? Do you expect Soldat fans to gradually accept Link-Dead as a replacement to Soldat, or are they expected to spend equal amount of time on both games?

MM: Of course they should play both games! But if somebody doesn't like the new game I'm not going to force them to play it nor am I going to make Link-Dead more like Soldat. There is already one game called Soldat and it is awesome, no need for the same thing again.

Sig: Although both games are side scrollers, the game mechanics of Link-Dead are almost completely different from Soldat. You can't do flips or go Rambo style in Link-Dead, but it doesn't matter if you could anyway because you would probably just get killed immediately.

Can you give us a hint of when both games would be released? Berserker has an early 2008 release date, and we're already two weeks into the new year. How close are we to a tech demo for Link-Dead?

MM: One word of advice: if you get any release date from a game developer multiply it by 5 and add the square root of -1. It is impossible to predict a release date because making games is a constant set of suprises, new bugs and problems. One thing I'm positive about right now is that there will be a playable version of Berserker this quarter and Link-Dead will most likely also be playable this year but some time later.

Sig: According to the Aztecs, the world is going to end soon, so they might not even come out at all.

Since we couldn't get exact release dates, can you at least give us a percentage of how much work on Link-Dead (and Berserker) has already been done? At what stage are they currently in at the moment - playable?

Sig: Berserker is probably somewhere around 55% finished and it is playable at this point in time. Link-Dead is probably somewhere around 15% finished, although it will speed up a lot when we finish Berserker.

Hamish's War Angels is headed for the XBLA. Is there any chance of seeing Soldat, Link-Dead or Berserker on the consoles as well? Or are discussions already under way?

MM: There is no reason I see now to not get my new engine compiled on Xbox360. I never did it but I'm sure I could pull it off. The Xbox controller is great even for a Soldat-like game.

Sig: I don't think I will talk much about what Hamish is doing at the moment, but I'm pretty sure he isn't working on War Angels anymore. Someone else might, though.

What are the minimum resolution that Link-Dead will run on? Since we're on the subject, has the minimum requirements stated in your FAQ changed? Will you create campaign modes for Link-Dead, or are you sticking to your guns with the decision to implement multiplayer (and bots) mode only?

MM: I think there will be a high resolution version and a low resolution version which will have a less glossy look but will allow people that can only play Soldat for example to experience the games too.

Sig: Both Link-Dead and Berserker are set in what we are calling the "Cyborg War" universe, which is an anthology of interconnecting stories. Berserker is set slightly before Link-Dead. I'd like to make a single player game set in the Cyborg War universe someday, but we are too busy with two games already. Believe me when I say Michal and I get awesome ideas for new games all the time. That's probably the easiest part of being a game developer.

Will Berserker incorporate the same 2D side view?

MM: Yes, it's the same thing as Soldat and Link-Dead.

Why aren't you including any female characters in Link-Dead?

MM: For me it just looks stupid. If there would be one thing I would change in Quake 2 it's the female multiplayer models. It just doesn't look right. Play Tomb-Raider if you need to look at computer generated women.

Sig: I'm tired of seeing overly sexualized females with grossly exaggerated behaviors and attitudes in computer games. Most of the female characters you play in computer games these days are simply men in a woman's body with gigantic tits and skimpy clothing.

Most of the Link-Dead maps have been designed by your own development team, and you have stated that the game has very few maps at this point. Will you be accepting map contributions from the community to speed things up, or taking up the task of map making yourselves to keep the look and feel of the game streamlined?

Sig: Actually, I'm designing all of the levels for both games. Making levels takes a pretty long time, although it is sped up significantly by the technology that Michal has made. Making levels for most games is fairly mechanical and streamlined, but in this case, it is more abstract. It's kind of like painting a landscape.

When I was in school, I was always drawing hills with soldiers running across them shooting each other and blood and body parts everywhere. I got sent to the school counselor more than once because my teachers were disturbed by what I was drawing on the back of test papers. Anyway, today I am still drawing hills with soldiers running across them shooting each other and blood and body parts everywhere.

Does Link-Dead have a fixed number of character classes, or can we expect more in the future? (either official or modded)

Sig: There are six classes, and they are the hacker, officer, engineer, recon, soldier and heavy. I don't think is ever going to change.

You've suggested the use of shields in Link-Dead. Is that idea still being pursued? Do you have concrete details on how that will work?

MM: I had an idea to rip off Another World. The shield gun in that game is one of the best examples of good game design ever. I want to see that implemented in a multiplayer game, we'll see how it works out.

Sig: The heavy class also has a special ability that he can use from time to time that briefy generates a forcefield capable of withstanding any force, including a direct nuclear strike.

Can you share with us some details from Link-Dead and Berserker that has not been made known to the community yet?

Sig: I think I blew it already, but officers are capable of initiating nuclear strikes in Link-Dead.

Anything else we should know about your upcoming projects? Are you working on anything else which isn't actually announced officially? How can we prepare ourselves adequately for the upcoming apocalypse named Berserker (and Link-Dead)?

Sig: Watch a few violent movies to get pumped up. Also, Zombie Smash isn't dead.

What do you see yourselves doing in the next two and five years? Still making freeware games, or developing for consoles? Between the choice of making it big (by selling out) and staying loyal to your fans, which would you choose?

MM: Believe me I could sell out numerous times but I didn't. I want to create my own games that's the only thing I care about. I know the fans will appreciate that. I would love to hit the mainstream with my games, but it is a hard battle. The battle I have in plans right now is to hit it as big as possible in the current indie/freeware/shareware games community. I want to create an enterprise with smashing games, a dedicated fan and modding community and most of all a brotherhood of people that have the same expectations of entertainment and ideas on how to spend time with each other, play games, be creative and have fun.

Sig: I want to make bigger and more ambitious games in the future, and if that requires a lot of money, I'm prepared to get it. I don't make games for financial gain but because I love doing it.

Thanks again for this opportunity, and best of luck with your upcoming projects!

Additional questions by Golds, Lez, Movius, KareemK and Knight66. Thanks to Michal and Sigvatr for actually answering all of the questions forwarded (even the inconsiderate ones).

Why do you think you're better than every other person out there making games?

MM: There are a couple people I consider that make (made) better games than me. But most of the game developers and games are bad. I like my games more than most games I encounter, so that's why I think I am better. This is just my opinion (and I agree with it completely).

Sig: We don't wait for good games to come out, we make them.

Why do you think parallax scrolling is 'bad', except when you use it just like everyone else?

MM: Haha. It is a cheap 3D emulation. Parallax scrolling was invented in times when there was no real 3D graphics. It looks fake to me. I implemented it in Link-Dead to see if I could do it better, so far the results are satisfying.

Why do you smell?

MM: That's a question to Sigvatr.

Sig: I don't shower much because all I do is make games in my basement. No one ever comes over so I don't care if I smell bad.

Was Link-Dead inspired by Dystopia? Because that looked like a stole there.

MM: Is it that HL2 mod? If yes, it is cyberpunk. I don't know enough about cyberpunk to even consider stealing ideas from it.

Sig: I get inspired by lots of different things. The heavy guy was actually inspired by the bosses from Wolfenstein 3D. I like to go for walks through abandoned and destroyed buildings to get inspiration for level design.

How is the dynamic lighting different than things we've seen before in Gish?

MM: I use ambient lighting, fog effects and some neat HDR effects.

Sig: I don't know, is it even different at all?

Why do you feel the need to make realistic games? One-hit kills are much more fun.

MM: I will MAKE it fun.

DirectX or OpenGL? What features?

MM: Both.

Why is the art left to an apparent psychopath?

MM: Nobody normal wanted to work with me.

Sig: Is that a problem?

What kind of resources or papers do you use to learn shaders and shadows?

MM: This article was an inspiration for the lighting system. I use a method that is a little bit different. I base my effects heavily on hardware blending techniques.

How are you going to price the games?

MM: For now we plan to go with the Soldat model. Meaning it is free but pay to get cool features.

Will we ever see a console release for Soldat?

MM: Soldat not soon. But Link-Dead and Berserker can be probably ported there. But Live Arcade has probably some complicated policies and Berserker would be too violent for it. I guess you can always hack it, it's your XBox.

Sig: I think porting games to things like that would mean we would probably have to sell them. I don't know how that works because I don't play console games.

What programming language do you use and why that language specifically?

MM: In Link-Dead I use C++. I use it for the simple reason that there are the most libraries available for that language. I made Soldat in Delphi and there aren't so many good libraries available for it.

Do you have any plans to commercially release a game or to start a gaming company?

MM: I don't want to become corporate. I see myself and my teammates as something like a rock band. We're a bunch of guys making something valuable.

Sig: I'm not ruling out the possibility of starting a company one day, but if I were to, it wouldn't be for my own personal financial gain. I just want more power to make more ambitious games.

How can you possibly hope to outperform your greatest achievement by making a game based around the same concept?

MM: What concept? Running around and killing other dudes? How can you go wrong with that concept? If I were to create this universe I would make all games revolve around the same concept: running around with a big gun and shooting monsters or other people, everything more is rubbish and unimportant.

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