An Interview with Mindware Studios
Written by Michael Larabel in Linux Gaming on 21 August 2006. Page 2 of 3. Add A Comment

Phoronix: The game engine for Cold War is using Mindware's MENG engine, could you please shed some light on the benefits or technical features of this engine, and why it was developed over going with something like the Doom 3 engine or Unreal Engine 3?

P.R.: Well, there were several reasons for taking this path, with both advantages and disadvantages of their own. In the beginning, remember we were going to develop MMOFPS, so developing the engine itself was the goal -- buying something like that was not an option. That's why Mindware has a relatively strong programming department so it can cope with the task -- everyone here is a university graduate with focus on computer graphics, networking, audio processing, artificial intelligence, or similar.

When we later decided to develop Cold War, we already had some technology in place, and the cost of licensing some engine over the minimum of the new features it would bring favored our own engine. Remember we are talking about the year 2002, so the engines you mention were not existing yet, and the engines of that time didn't really outshine our own considerably.

Finally, choosing our own engine allowed us to develop the Xbox version simultaneously, something which dramatically reduced the development costs. The Meng was developed with multiplatform support in mind from the very beginning. This way, we could use the same code and data assets for both versions, without any major drawback. The graphics feature set was given by the Xbox hardware, though, so we couldn't really show off much more. But this will change with the upcoming titles - the Voodoo Nights with the dynamic shadows just looks awesome.

Phoronix: Some gamers have criticized the game as simply being a clone of Splinter Cell. Do you have anything to say that, to clear up any misconceptions on the part of gamers?

P.R.: Oh yeah, we often hear that. It's kind of funny, as Cold War was inspired mostly by Thief and marginally by Metal Gear Solid. There were not really many stealth titles at that time. The truth is that the first Splinter Cell demo appeared more than a year after the Cold War development started, long after most of the design decisions were already set. However I admit there is one thing we have changed after seeing that demo -- we allowed the player to go towards or sideways to the camera. Until then, the camera was fixed behind his back, like in Max Payne. On the other hand, going towards the camera is quite common in console games, so Splinter Cell hardly pioneered that either. Apart from this little thing, I am not aware of anything else we have done as in Splinter Cell, at least not consciously. In fact, we have several times tried not to do things as in Splinter Cell, as we immediately knew that Cold War is going to be compared to it no matter what we do. And obviously we were right...

Phoronix: When playing this game myself, Cold War had offered a fairly unique style of gameplay from first person to third person mode as well as the comic-like cut scenes. What had inspired Mindware Studios to go against the status quo of traditional gameplay by offering this different style, and can we see similar styles coming in future Mindware titles?

P.R.: The idea was to give the player more freedom and let them choose the way they want to play the game. We didn't want to create another game where you just have to follow given path, like any other player did before you. When I say freedom, I don't mean "Oh, look, you can shoot him either with a pistol or a submachine gun!" or "Wow, man, you can go left OR right here!". Of course, there are multiple ways of enemy disposal as well as multiple paths through most of the levels in Cold War, too, but a large degree of freedom comes from the tactical and strategic decisions you can make and then successfully execute in Cold War. We wanted the player to think "Hmm, what I would do now if I were there", come up with whatever idea fits his[/her] nature, and let the game allow him to accomplish that idea. Of course, there are some limits to this as it is just a game, not a real world, but still I think we have managed to fulfill this to a large extent.

Unfortunately, we didn't stress this degree of freedom enough in the tutorial. We expected that people will experiment on their own, however many people, especially the FPS crowd, just grabbed their guns and tried to shoot their way through. This inevitably lead to frustration, as the enemy AI is way smarter than that of an average FPS. You can win over one or perhaps even two enemies in the earlier levels, but once you face a group of them, especially those special units, you are dead meat. I really pitty the players which gave up at this point, they could really have had some fun and a much stronger atmospheric experience if they started to use their wit and behaved as if they were there. Well, I do not know about you, but I wouldn't really run head to head against a bunch of Specnaz guys myself if there was some other way...

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