UFO Aftershock Interview

by on 9th Jun 2005

Interview with Robert Hoffman and Martin Klima of ALTAR Interactive, with post interview comments from Jiri Rydl.
E3 Conversation with Ondrej Laba, Cenega's producer of UFO:Aftershock.
Interview by Mike Nino.

- About the game
- Publishing
- Game play
- Producer

About the game:

Q: Do nighttime missions differ significantly from their daytime counterparts in terms of the game play experience? Are changes limited to reduced visibility?
A: They will be darker, thus the need for the new infrared and night vision views.

Q: Might some creatures be more commonly found after dark?
A: Maybe

Q: Can the soldiers climb over obstacles such as fences or walls?
A: Solders need ladders to change levels.  I did see one soldier climb a short ladder (½ a story) then walk up 2 ½ stories of stairs to get to the top of a refinery-like structure as well.

Q: Will it be possible to shoot through an obstacle (inanimate or otherwise) and hit whatever is behind it?
A: No.  The player will need to destroy the obstacle first before hitting the final target.

Q: How is facility placement handled and how many buildings can you have in any given base?
A: The player chooses from a list of  researched buildings.  The numbers of buildings varies slightly by base size.  This feature still needs to be balanced, though.  The selection of buildings effects research, manufacturing and military preparedness.

Q: Will there be any creatures present that, due to their smaller size, are able to use attack/escape routes that humans can't?
A: No.

Q: Have any animations been implemented for the wounded or do characters/creatures simply go from movement to stillness/unconsciousness/death as was the case in UFO:Aftermath?
A: Animations have been added to show characters being thrown about by explosions, falling off buildings, etc. The characters are generally much more effected by their state of health as well as outside factors.

Q: Have you implemented diplomacy? How does it work?
A: The diplomatic screen is an indicator of an overall feeling that this race has toward you. For example, if too many cyborgs are dying on your missions, the cyborgs will not like you.  Its not like there is some cyborg state that will declare war on you if they dislike you, its just that it would be more difficult for you to get resources from them or recruit cyborgs for your team.  Also, they will not be willing to ask you for help if their territory is invaded and so on.  But there is no cyborg state. They don't have a contiguous territory.  There might be one territory that happens to belong to cyborgs, and another territory - not connected to the first one - might also happen to belong to the cyborgs. Its not like diplomacy in Civilization where you can trade technologies or resources, although you can give other races resources to make them happy towards you or ask for resources and make them like you less. If they do not like you at all, they won't give you anything. But if you do something that is very good for them,  like give them help when invaded, they will like you very much.  You can then go to the diplomacy screen and ask them for resources. Since they like you they will give you resources, but your relationship will suffer because they feel like they've paid their debt to you.  Or you could go to them and ask for recruits, and they would then offer you some cyborgs for your team.

Q: How are soldiers placed at the start of a mission?
A: When starting a mission, the player is provided with a top-down mini-map that gives a general idea of the battlefield for troop placement.  The missions themselves are now constructed more intelligently. The battlefield is no longer made from somewhat randomly computer-selected tiles, but instead ALTAR's game designers have carefully laid out each battlefield. Now that the missions are better designed, the player can be told that this location must be defended, this area has the best cover , and this is where the enemy will most likely come from.  This pre-designed layout also allows the AI to be much smarter and gives the player a chance to place his soldiers, rather than having the game scatter the players squad as in UFO:Aftermath.

Note from StrategyCore: ALTAR has developed a very nice looking (if not beautiful) 3D mini view of the entire battlefield, but they do not plan to use it.  From what I understand, the problem is two-fold: the ALTAR artists don't like the 3D view and there is a performance hit.  The Aftershock demos were running on top-of-the-line Dell XPS GEN 4 gaming machines (P4 640 cpu with 2mb cache, a gig of fast DDR2 memory, Nvidia Geforce 6800 w/256mb memory video card) and were running at 20 fps. For a setup screen, it looked fine to me.  On slower machines (which includes 95% of PC's out there), however, the lag would be noticeable. As for the ALTAR artists, no disrespect intended, but are they the target audience for UFO:Aftershock? This is one instance where the marketing dweebs need to make themselves heard.

Since both maps are already developed, I suggested than the fans be given a chance to vote on which map presentation they prefer. ALTAR did mention that they can make a better mini-map and that was the way to go.  But that 3D map was sweet, like something out of a top quality science fiction movie. If there is a concern about performance, maybe the player could choose between the two maps: people with slower machines could choose the top-down view, while others with fast machines could choose the 3D map.  Everybody wins!  Can you tell that I'm fixated on the 3D mini map? In any event, ALTAR does not intend to use the 3D mini map in the game. I guess they were just teasing me!


Q: Who will distribute the game in Western Europe and the US? When?
A: Aftershock will be released in September. The distributors are TBA, although in the US, TriSynergy will not be distributing Aftershock

Q: Will UFO: Aftershock be released worldwide simultaneously?
A: Yes

Q: What sort of advertising will Aftershock receive?
A: Go ask the Sales/Marketing person. (Whoops! forgot to follow up with her! She was busy with some retail chain bigwigs and I didn't want to interrupt.  Then I had to go interview Ubisoft about HOMM5. )

Q: Will it be DVD or CD? Is a Mac version planned?
A: It will be released on two CD's. A Mac version is not planned, but if they got a good enough offer, then they would. They are working on an export version for Xbox.

Q: When will a demo be released?
A: Three weeks after the game is released.

Game play: ALTAR demos troop outfitting and base creation/design

ALTAR: Right clicking an equipment slot brings up only those items which are eligible for that slot. For instance, if you select the weapon slot, only weapons come up. If you select the armor slot, only armor comes up.  With cyborgs, you can select various power-ups (advanced dexterity, etc.) and armor which are not viable to the Psionics, which cannot use either.  But the Psionics can use other equipment that is not available to the other races.

StrategyCore: Wow! This is really different than Aftermath. I wasn't expecting so many changes. I thought it would just be a little bit changed.
ALTAR: No, we wanted to change everything. We wanted to see what features the players missed the most in Aftermath and so try to implement it in Aftershock. The biggest three changes are that we have resources, the addition of Human, Cultist and Psionic factions, and base building. We've also added more RPG elements, more tactical options, and strategic part has also been enhanced.

StrategyCore: I re-read the reviews of Aftermath to see what the experts felt about the game.  After the poorly received voice acting, the lack of base building was the number two complaint about Aftermath.
ALTAR: Your first mission in Aftershock is to build your base.  From the Laputa orbital base (which got its name from the floating island in Gulliver's Travels), you select your base location.  Then you select the buildings you want to build there. At first you have basic buildings, but as you research you can build new ones as well.  You can choose from approximately 30 buildings to build in your base. Because of size limitations of the base, you can build about 4-6 buildings per base, thus you have to think twice about what buildings would be the most useful. When you choose more scientific laboratories, you can research faster, if you choose manufacturing factories, you can build weapons and other equipment faster, etc. And there are many special buildings for researching or manufacturing special equipment or for the military, such as base defense (like bunkers) or for training.

StrategyCore: Can you upgrade buildings, or do you have to replace them?
ALTAR: You have to replace them. You also need to connect your bases.

StrategyCore: How do you do that?
ALTAR: As you capture other territories and build bases, you connect them to your main base, which serves as a hub.  It takes time and resources to connect your bases. You can also make sea routes. All the bases need to be connected to contribute resources to your operation.  If the base hasn't been connected to your main base, you cannot collect that territory's resources. I have a short cut to build the base (Martin enters some code on a pull-up screen).

StrategyCore: (laughing) Will these short cuts work in the game, or are you going to take them out?
ALTAR: (smiling) I am not so sure yet. But you get the gist of base building.

StrategyCore: When the buildings are finished being constructed, can you walk around in the base after you've built it?  Say, during a base invasion.
ALTAR: No. In case of attack on your base you fight with aliens around the entrances or around bunkers or other defensive buildings. Each base invasion is different, with the invaders attacking different sections of your base.  So the invasions each occur in different surroundings and the tactical battle is always different, with new enemies, weapons and equipment.

Lastly, checking out some of the screens shots and seeing a Psionic woman reminded me of something Robert Hoffman mentioned earlier. It seems he spent two weeks driving across the Western United States before E3, visiting a number of historical towns and scenic wonders. He mentioned that he had visited the Grand Tetons.  If your not from the US, next time you meet an American woman you should ask her to show you the Grand Tetons.  Have a digital camera ready to photograph her (or the Tetons, as the case may be), so that you can share with the rest of us.

Conversation with Ondrej Laba, Cenega's producer of UFO:Aftershock:

StrategyCore: I asked you earlier about which company was responsible for voice recording for Aftershock.  I had mentioned that prior to attending E3 I had re-read Aftermath's game site reviews, and that even those reviewers that gave Aftermath a high score complained about the quality of the voice acting.
Cenega: Cenega will be responsible for the voices used in Aftershock. We will provide the voice acting and ALTAR will implement it into the game. Cenega knows about the complaints and the quality of the voices in Aftermath. We will do our best to record suitable voices for Aftershock, and will be done in a different manner than for Aftermath. We would like to be more involved in the recording, and to have some members of the developer in the studio to control the quality.

StrategyCore: Thank you. Thinking about it, I have another question. In order to build excitement in the fan base, would it be possible for a contest in which fans send in their voices, with the winner's voice to actually be used in the game? That way fans couldn't complain about poor voice acting.
Cenega: Maybe we could find an interesting voice, but its generally not the way to record voices for the game. Quality would suffer.

StrategyCore: Not all the voices, maybe just one voice.
Cenega: As an award? Its not a bad idea. We can think about it.

StrategyCore: Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Cenega: Would you like to do it?

StrategyCore: NO! Or I should say, no thank you.
Cenega: (laughs) Ok.


From what I saw, ALTAR and Cenega have made UFO: Aftershock into a much better game than UFO: Aftermath. Its a more interesting game in terms of graphics, has an improved interface (especially in outfitting soldiers), has a better strategic game with the addition of resources as well as base building and has more varied game play.  If the voice acting is improved as dramatically as promised, and the battlefields are better designed (which given that game designers are taking a more active hand in their layout seems likely), and the role playing aspect works, then the success they had with UFO:Aftermath should be only the beginning.


Add Comment Comments

14 Jun 2005 - 4:28pm

Thorondor, on Jun 14 2005, 11:58 AM, said:

As long as there is no hard s.c.r.i.p.t.i.n.g. *shudders* involved, I shall be a happy camper...


Please rest assured there will be none. We have no time for that, anyway.

Mike is right, the system works with designers creating the layout of the mision (we call it "ground"), then specifying "slots" in the ground, for example: "here is slot 'Factory 1' and here 'Garage 2'". Then they go on creating 'Factory 1'. It can have several different outer walls (all of them of the same size, of course) and different possible arrangements of rooms inside.
14 Jun 2005 - 10:58am
"For the game AI, it now knows what needs to be defended and/or attacked. No longer will the enemy be scattered throughout the map haphazardly, but they can now be more strategically placed."

Thanks for the added explanation, Mike :grr:


"Some would argue that Thorondor should have understood what you meant instead of being a nitpicker :confused:"

Har, har... 'Vewy' funny... *right back at you :borg: *

As long as there is no hard s.c.r.i.p.t.i.n.g. *shudders* involved, I shall be a happy camper...
Accounting Troll\
13 Jun 2005 - 7:36pm
Accounting Troll
Definate good news.  If the AI has a basic understanding of positioning and tactics then missions are going to be very interesting.  It sounds like the players are going to have to develop tactics like a feint attack to draw the enemy out of position :confused:
13 Jun 2005 - 4:37pm
Done Mike!

Some would argue that Thorondor should have understood what you meant instead of being a nitpicker :confused:

Nice little explanation, sounds like good news all the way for me!
13 Jun 2005 - 5:50am
I should have written "game designers", not "programmers". Slaughter, could that be fixed?  :confused:

From what I understand, with pre-determined missions both the player and the game AI itself benefit and in much the same way.

For the player, the squad can now be manually placed at the start of each mission to achieve the objectives of the mission as the player sees fit.  If you want to start far away and sneak up, that's ok.  If you want to start on top of them with guns blazing, that's up to you as well.   You will have control of where the squad starts.  

For the game AI, it now knows what needs to be defended and/or attacked.  No longer will the enemy be scattered throughout the map haphazardly, but they can now be more strategically placed.  The days of mutants and/or Reticulans wandering about by themseleves or a couple of buddies look to be a thing of the past.

It's a good thing . . . a good thing.  :grr:
12 Jun 2005 - 6:30pm
Well, and in any case, this is the first we've heard of pre-designed maps. I've absolutely no qualms with customising and optimising maps for the sake of improved pathfinding or non-repetitive gameplay.


How the aforementioned pre-designed layouts might work to make the AI "much smarter" is another business entirely... :confused:
12 Jun 2005 - 1:18am
First of all, his use of programmers isn't entirely correct I believe. Programmers made the system, but I believe it is level designers that make the pre-designed maps.

As for the maps not being random, that is partly true. Each map has several potential building layouts and so on for instance, that is randomly selected as far as I remember...
10 Jun 2005 - 4:12pm
'Bout time too... ;) :grr:



"The battlefield is no longer made from somewhat randomly computer-selected tiles, but instead ALTAR's programmers have carefully laid out each battlefield."
So, radomly-generated missions are not so random anymore. And hearing programmers are now being tasked with level design is also an interesting twist. :confused:

Perhaps more importantly, though, many things crossed my mind at the passage "pre-designed layout also allows the AI to be much smarter"; not all of them very pretty... :borg: :grr:


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UFO Aftershock Box
Developer: ALTAR Interactive
Publisher: Tri Synergy



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