April 5, 2000

LUXOFLUX INTERVIEW

Peter Morawiec Talks Vigilante 8 : Second Offense


When Vigilante 8 smashed it's way onto the Playstation in 1998 it received both critical acclaim as well as a cult following from hardore gamers. The gameplay was explosive and along with Sony's Twisted Metal added an exciting twist to the standard racing game. With the success of the first title, a sequel was guaranteed and the Sega Dreamcast appeared at just the right time for a conversion. With improved graphics the Dreamcast version is streets ahead of the rest. Peter Morawiec was kind enough to chat to me about Vigilante 8: Second Offense.

THE COMPANY

Peter, can you tell us what you do at Luxoflux, and what it was like starting the company back in 1997?
It was very exciting. After several years at Sega, Adrian Stephens (currently the president of Luxoflux and lead programmer) and myself were ready to take the leap. We signed up with Activision to convert their PC property "Interstate '76" to the PSX. What started as a quick 6-month port eventually turned into a lot more -- twelve months later we had "Vigilante 8" on our hands and were five people strong.

Where did you come up with the company name, Luxoflux?
A popular question! The company was originally called 'Alpha Channel' but we had to drop that name due to another multimedia company of the same name already in existence. Since we've found it very difficult to invent a name which was both descriptive, cool and not yet registered, we decided to simply focus on finding a truly unique name instead. We liked some of the retro names such as 'Electrolux' and so, after some brainstorming, 'Luxoflux' emerged on top of our list -- the name, from Latin, implies light-flow. Believe it or not, the name was still available for registration! :)

Where did you work previously and which titles did you work on in the past?
I was first involved with some early Genesis games at Sega i.e. Sonic The Hedgehog II. My first full design credit was on Sonic Spinball for the Genesis. Following that, Adrian and myself created an original title for Sega called Comix Zone and later we spent a year prototyping what was a super-secret Sonic the Hedgehog 3D game for the Sega Saturn. Unfortunately, the game never materialized due to Saturn's commercial failure.

How many people currently work at Luxoflux?
We were up to ten people during the peak of V8:SO development. There are eight people here now. We're anticipating a minor expansion when production begins on our yet-to-be-announced next-generation title.

Were most of the people in the company involved in developing V8:SO?
All but one. We've also worked with some contractors, mainly in the areas of music, sound and hi-res model creation (for the purposes of cinematics).

VIGILANTE 8: SECOND OFFENSE

What improvements/additions does V8SO have over it's prequel?
There are multiple improvements in both technology and features. At its core however, V8:SO remains true to its roots -- the basic gameplay principles are the same. Nonetheless, we've added support for water, added polygon subdivision (PSX) and implemented some nifty vehicle enhancement and upgrability features. There is a whopping 18 all-new vehicles to chose from, each of which can be upgraded to a new chassis by collecting salvage points from destroyed enemies.

V8SO is your first game on the Dreamcast. What was it like working on Sega's new system?
While I wasn't the programmer directly implementing the DC version, my perception is that it was both exciting and frustrating. The frustrations were mainly caused by Sega's constantly evolving libraries. Certainly, the boost in framerate and graphics quality alone were worth the effort.

Are there any limitations or problems which you would have like improved in the console?
Full hardware spec up front would've been nice. The Dreamcast is clearly a huge step-up from the ill-conceived Saturn, unfortunately by the time PS-2 and X-Box hit the shelves, its technology will be considered inferior.

What are the systems strengths?
It has some nice graphic effects supported in hardware e.g. volume shadows and bump-mapping. We weren't able to implement those effects on V8:SO, but are hoping to showcase them in our currently developed DC title.

The intro in V8:SO is very impressive and grabs peoples attention fairly quickly. How much planning and work went into the intro?
Since the cinematics on the first V8 were done externally, we wanted to attempt producing our own cinematics in-house for V8:SO. With the intro I really wanted to set up the story, as opposed taking the common approach -- creating some generic action-packed montage. We've decided against voice-over, so the challenge was to tell a story using only visuals and within a limited amount of time. Considering we had only two full-time artists produce over 10 minutes of CG video (including all ending movies), we are quite happy with the end result.

When you were developing this game did you ever consider including online gameplay?
Yes, unfortunately Sega's Shinobi/Kamui libraries did not support it. Though it has been announced, we are yet to see proper implementation of online play from Sega.

The 4 player split screen mode is quite a lot of fun. Was it hard getting the 4 separate windows working fast enough in such an open environment?
According to Cary Hara, our DC programmer, the game has been optimized from the get go to support 4 player split-screen. For instance, the entire terrain renderer was written 100% in assembly language. Initially, there were some problems with the definition of arbitrary screen boundaries -- credit goes to Sega for working closely with Cary on modifying their viewport API, to allow us to implement the split screen mode properly.

Was there anything that you had to leave out of the game due to deadlines?
Absolutely nothing! (kidding)

How do you think that V8:SO has been received by the press and public alike?
The press has been quite positive -- we've received some great reviews (see our website links), plus one or two not-so-hot ones, as usually happens.

Has the game met your expectations sales wise in America?
The game is selling well, especially considering we've had some incredible competition from established franchises and new big-name games.

THE FUTURE

Do you have any plans for another V8 game yet or are Luxoflux looking at moving in another direction for game development?
We are currently working with Activision on another vehicular combat game based on an exciting license, due out this Christmas. I think we're done with V8 for awhile, although I wouldn't mind taking it into another direction at some point. As a next step for Luxoflux, I'd like to see us expand into another genre. Nonetheless, Activision owns the rights to V8, so they might decide to have another V8 game developed elsewhere.

Will you develop your future titles on the Dreamcast?
Our current title in development is slated to be released on both PSX and DC, although final negotiations regarding the DC version between Activision and the Licensor are still ongoing, so keep your fingers crossed.

Have you had a look yet at the Playstation 2, Dolphin or recently announced X-Box?
Yes, we have some PS-2 kits and have been recently presented with X-Box specs -- both quite impressive. We haven't had much time to experiment with the kits, but it is safe to say we will be moving to these next-generation consoles as soon as our current title is complete.

PERSONAL

What are your thoughts on violence on video games? Do you object to games such as GTA or Kingpin?
I feel that most of the media and government censorship is undue. I also believe that video games are a fine way to have fun and release some aggression in a harmless way. I don't like GTA as a game, but I found Kingpin amusing and well done. I have a 9-month old boy now and although he is still too young to play, I agree that children are impressionable and without proper guidance they can be easily influenced by video games or movies or what have you -- but the answer certainly isn't simply banning violent games. Nonetheless, I take conscious steps NOT to have direct portrayal of human death or even blood in our own games, especially when you can do without it.

What is you favourite food?
Definitely sushi!!!

Thank you very much for you time....
David Warner ~ Future Games


Luxoflux can be found at : http://www.luxoflux.com

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did in conducting it. If you have any comments or questions E-mail me at : phantom@winshop.com.au