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Jagged Alliance 2 Basis ( Ja2 )

mit Ian Currie:

Interview by: UnionJack

Take an addictive tactical engine where you can do virtually anything from crawling stealth like behind bushes, to climbing rooftops to operating vehicles. Add a rich story line most RPG's would envy. Then add a good dose of a war enthusiast�s knowledge of the various implements of destruction, not to mention a strategic twenty four-hour real-time campaign. That�s Jagged Alliance 2 from Sir-Tech. Well, to be fair that�s only the first impression. Jagged Alliance 2 features some truly bizarre characters and loads of options that cross over various gaming styles. Fans of this great game have followed its development for quite some time as at long last it is nearing completion. Being a rabid JA fan myself I felt this was a perfect time to ask the men responsible for this killer game, Ian Currie, Shaun Lyng and Chris Camfield a few questions about Jagged Alliance 2. Enjoy everyone.

  • We have not seen any advertising for JA2 since late last fall. Information regarding the product direct from Sir-Tech has also been sparse until recently. What is your plan with regards to publicizing this product?
Ian: Sir-tech Canada is just a developer and it is not our function to do Marketing and public relations - that is the function of a publisher. When we lost our publisher (Sir-tech Software Inc) last fall, we lost advertising. We're a very small company and have our hands full trying to get JA2 finished.
  • There has been a lot of talk regarding design changes late into the game. Things like the Sci-fi elements were scaled back while the air strike option was removed completely. What other elements were removed and what if any new elements were added in?
Ian: There haven't been too many design changes. The sci-fi elements were half the game when we started, but we scaled them back about a year ago because while we knew they would appeal to many, certain hardcore JA fans were upset by the idea. Then we had the notion to try and make everyone happy by making it an option. To make it an option, we had to reduce how much there was of it for game balance reasons (this is the reduction I just mentioned a year ago). More recently we made other changes to it to refine game balance. Going into these details would only be confusing as you haven't played the game yet and also I don't want to spoil too much. Chris: Well, actually, I'm extremely happy with the way the game has turned out. It's my hope that nobody will regret the design decisions that we've made. For instance, we've had requests for extremely powerful weapons, like miniguns, or for that matter, tanks. It's my feeling that giving the player access to such powerful weapons would make the rest of the game very difficult to balance. And I think there are some fans who will be happy with nothing short of tactical nuclear weapons!
  • Many people have posted messages on the net regarding the limitations of the use of alternate methods of killing (a great topic to be sure!). The common complaint was that knives caused too little damage and made non-gun based combat too difficult. Similar comments were made regarding hand to hand combat. How do you feel about this? Are there many effective ways to dispatch the Queen�s army?
Ian: Well, in refining the game balance, we too thought knives should get a little more usage, so we've removed all of the automatic weapons (burst fire) from the game and drastically shortened the range of all the rifle-class weapons. We've also limited sight ranges for mercs and enemies so that now most of the battles are fought within close proximity. When you're already close, you're more likely to run up and either stab or punch someone. While this may seem disappointing on the weapons side of things, we felt overall it gave a better sense of game balance - and the end result was more fun. Also, instead of scrolling around to each merc, they're usually all within the same area (along with the enemies) so battles are tight and exciting! And now, you use your knives! They're so deadly - we had to add lower class knives so that you can build up to the better ones later in the game. For example, you can explore towns in Arulco and find typical kitchen knives - even a butter knife which doesn't do that much damage, but with enough stabs can kill.

Another thing I should point out is that entire paragraph above is bunk -I'm just waking up after a long marathon a work session yesterday and I'm Indulging in some fun. I really should get more sleep! Anyway, hope you're All awake now! Seriously, we've tweaked the knife formulae such that we Think it's much better. We've added "critical knife" hits, so you'll like Knifing more in the full game than you did in the demo.

  • You did give me a little heart palpitation there I must admit! I was thinking no automatic hmmm I guess (pause) that won't be missed!!!! I have a quick question regarding critical hits and crucial numbers. Can you explain what these are and how they play out in effecting your ability to inflict damage?
Ian: Critical hits are hits that cause more than just "health" damage - they can cause a victim to lose points in a category such as dexterity, agility, etc or have other effects such as making the victim fall.
  • A similar comment was made regarding the shotgun, which despite being a powerful weapon did not do a lot of damage. Has this issue been addressed?
Ian: Hmm. To be honest, I can't recall - I don't ever remember the complaint, but since everything has been tweaked (how can we resist playing with crucial numbers when it's so much fun?).
  • Due to the extra time devoted to making the game better has the team continued to add more weapons into the game? The rocket rifle is very clever (as well as being very effective at killing with one shot to the head), but are there other new weapons that we have not heard about?
Ian: Tsk tsk. You shouldn't KNOW about the rocket rifle! Grrrr. Well, I should probably tell you that the hacking of the demo is the real reason the game is late - we had to change all the weapons so you guys would still have some surprises; and of course to tell you what they are would defeat the purpose...
  • Speaking of hacking the demo, did you guys expect that people would take such an active interest in it as to actually dig into the demo and find every last ounch of info about the games (like the various weapons, characters like Matron etc)?
Ian: No, we didn't realize. When we did we were pissed (at ourselves for making it so easy) and for the patch we encrypted it.
  • I think that the fans of this game have had their share of ups and downs with the delays and the shutdown of Sir Tech publishing, I think many fans were worried that this game might never make it to completion. Now that this great game is almost ready is there anything that the fans can do to make the release of this game a success?
Ian: Well, I guess the obvious one that comes to mind is "buy it, play it, enjoy it, rave about it, etc., buy another copy for your dog" type thing so we get to make another one!
  • There is such a large market for games like Ja2. It�s a great way for a lot of people to live out their J.I. Joe fantasies from childhood. In an industry that is expanding into new areas constantly, from RTS to first person shooter why is it that the type of game like Ja2 is still so unique and unchallenged. Fans are frothing at the mouth to get the game in their hands, the fact that the demo is till popular after 6 months is a testament to this. Fans can't get their fix elsewhere. Why do you think the JA series stands alone in such high regard and why other attempts to create a similar gaming experience has mostly been unsuccessful (images of Soldiers at War by SSI come to mind)?
Ian: I'm not sure the Soldiers at War comparison is fair. They have not attempted to inject personality into the product such as we have with JA, and this alone would make JA stand out. However, they also have made those games very quickly (if I'm not mistaken) and therefore haven't been able to spend as much time on things like interface and game-balance. JA is also a true hybrid of gaming styles whereas many other products are not. I don't the market has seen a product that is direct competition with JA yet (but I'm sure we will); whenever I'm asked to describe JA and compare it to another product, it's always difficult as I have to mention many products and point out which aspects of them are similar - there's no easy answer.
  • I�m very surprised at how active you guys are in making yourselves available to the fans. There are really very few companies out there with this philosophy. I appreciate your attention to detail in making this game as good at it can be and I think that the majority of consumers have been holding out for a satisfying product. Gamers remember the old days when companies like Microprose were churning out great games from Pirates!, Sword of the Samurai, Civilizations to the Masters of series and want those days back instead of unpolished, hurried products like the ones coming out of Microprose now (Masters of Orion 2 etc).
Ian: Well, I think the reason we're all making games is because we like the idea of providing entertainment for people. It's a form of interaction. We don't do it to get paid - we do it because we like games and we like to please. That last part is very hard to do these days because expectations are always so high. The harder you work at trying to please, the higher you set your sights, the more obstacles (problems) you have to deal with and, inevitably, it takes longer to do - which is a dangerous catch-22 because the public's sights are set even higher. But because making anything for other people is a form of interaction, it's only natural that we try and interact with the public before the product is finished so that we are truly building a product for them (as well as ourselves). We have to like it (to be passionate about making it) and so do you. I know we've succeeded with the former, and very soon we'll know about the latter.
  • I'm also curious how Score magazine managed to get a review out so quickly since you guys are still working on the game? Is it a Beta?
Ian: They were supposed to do a preview.... yes it was an old beta, not even close to the final version.
  • Since the sci-fi element had to be scaled back last year, did you have to rewrite the story components?
Shaun: Not really. The sci-fi was scaled back because we started to notice a bit of an uprising on the Terra Virtua JA forum. The purists didn't seem too keen on it. So, we decided to make it an option. Once it was an option, we couldn't justify putting in the complex design and creature evolution that I had created. The animation requirements alone were astronomical. So, it was more a case of cutting out a large chunk of work, rather than having to rework anything extensively.
  • Jagged Alliance two boasts from what we hear almost 150 unique characters. how long did it take you to create these characters? That must be a lot of lines of dialogue!
Shaun: We did a count at one point, unfortunately I can't remember exactly what it came to, but it was definitely more than 10,000 line of dialogue. It was an intimidating amount of work, yet I was lucky enough to have Brenda Garno and Josh Mandel help me out by writing some of it. Both are extremely talented writers, whose contribution made the project feasible.

As for the amount of time it took to write the characters, it's hard to say, since I do so many other things too. But JA2, as a whole, required roughly 18 months of my time.

  • Are there multiple endings and more importantly is there more than one way to win the game?
Shaun: There is more than one possible ending. As for winning, well... the goal of returning the country to its people must be completed, but like all JA games the way the player goes about it is limitless. The game is truly non-linear.
  • In the first JA, mercs were at the very least eccentric. Would you consider that the characters in JA2 have more depth and detail than those from the first?
Shaun: Yes. Most definitely. With each game in the series, I've learnt from my mistakes. And when I didn't, somebody was kind enough to point them out to me. ;-) Every time you finish a product, you sit there and almost immediately think of the all the things you would do different if you had the chance to do it again. Being able to go on to do a sequel allows you to implement them.
  • I have heard that you can for the first time drive vehicles in JA2. How important are vehicles in this game and how much variety is there in what you can drive?
Shaun: The vehicle aspect of the game is important for transport, as Arulco is a rather large country to have to walk around in. Vehicles serve their purpose, but due to time and animation limitations were not exploited to their full potential.
  • From what I have heard many of the old Mercs won't be coming back for the sequel. Why did you choose not to keep many of these "old favorites"?
Shaun: Actually, we tried to keep all the old favorites. We even did a survey on the newsgroups to find out who the favorites were. Roughly twenty of the old mercs made into JA2. To qualify, they had to be a favorite and somewhat useful. But don't worry there's plenty of new wackos to choose from.
  • Can you describe what the JA2 fans can expect out of the story experience when they finally get to play this game?
Shaun: Somewhat the same as the first JA. A premise, a goal, and an non-linear gaming environment, which pretty much allows the player to create their own story as they attempt to return Arulco to its people. Of course, there's plenty of side quests and the player's actions, as always, do have an impact on the story possibilities.
  • Regarding characters, is the system the same as with JA or has it been altered. I have heard on the newsgroups allusions to special skills? Can you elaborate on this?
Shaun: It's been slightly altered. Two new attributes are leadership and strength. Characters can also have up to 2 skills, ranging from night ops to knife throwing.
  • One of the innovations in JA2 is the ability for the first time to create your own custom merc. Can you elaborate a little on this?
Chris: At the beginning of the game, you receive an email message inviting you to use an on-line "psychological profiling service". (Remember that the game includes a "laptop" system where you access in-game email, web pages, and so forth.) The answers to these questions - which are extremely funny, by the way - allow us to determine the skill traits and personality of your custom merc. You are then allowed to choose your merc's stats and skills using a points-based system.
  • Again, referring to this character creation option, what type of special skill tags are possible?
Chris: Well, I can mention a few. They range from Heavy Weapons, which gives the character a bonus to hit with mortars, grenade launchers, and so forth, to Night Ops, which gives the character some improved ability in night battles, to Electronics, which really helps a mechanic who has to deal with an electronic item or lock.
  • Ian and Shaun mentioned that with the use of vehicles mercs can now travel faster. Can you elaborate on other uses for vehicles, can one use them in combat (like a tank for example)?
Chris: We did do some research into allowing the player's vehicles to be used in combat, and determined that we would have to invest a lot of time to get them to work right - in addition to the balancing issues I mentioned earlier. But the Jagged Alliance games are first and foremost about individuals fighting, and in the end we decided that our time would be better spent on other aspects of the game.
  • Are there any safe guards against making your Merc a super hero? I can see the potential for many people trying to soup their alter ego up and thereby unbalance the game.
Chris: Well, your custom merc only has so many points to spread around amongst the different attributes. You can make a character who's a very competent marksman or doctor for instance, or a jack-of-all-trades, there's no way to start with a character who is great at everything.

You could TRY to give your alter ego the best equipment you have available, and run around playing solo hero, but I'd wish you lots of luck, because you'd need it!

  • What's the economic system in the game like?
Chris: You get money from mines that you control, according to how popular you are in the towns near the mines. So you have to defend your towns and the mines from outside attack. Also, there are both honest and unsavoury characters around the country who might pay you for various reasons.
  • From what I have seen in the demo enemies look more or less identical. Are there variation in enemies? Are there different types of military units in the Queen's army (like an elite core, a royal guard etc.)?
Chris: Yes. At the beginning of the game, you'll be faced with "Administrators" -goon squads stationed in all of the towns to keep the population in line Once the queen realizes what you're up to, though, she'll start sending the army against you. And yes, she also has an elite force waiting in the wings...


I want to thank the whole Sir-Tech crew for speaking so candidly about this fine game. The fans surely know that a developer this close to their fan base is truly rare. I would like to conclude by lifting the first line from the Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games manual: "load your Uzi�s and prime your grenades - It's "SOON" time to lead a band of quirky mercenaries into battle. I for one can't wait.

Union Jack

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