There's a number of developers located in my hometown, and one of them happens to be SEK Ã‚– the Spieleentwicklungskombinat. Which means something along the lines of 'Game Developing Company/Studio', but the charm of the name and its acronym - usually referring to a German special task force - goes lost in translation. The team was founded in 1998 and premiered with the strategy game Diggles (aka Wiggles in Germany). Currently SEK is busy working on an RTS title called Paraworld. And while I'm usually reporting on smaller projects, this one is being made by a not-so-very-small team with a fairly big budget. Curious? Well, read on as managing director Carolin Batke talks about the game and the company developing it!
Carolin Batke: Looking back I have to say that the game we're currently working on should have shipped by now according to our original plans. However, in early 2002 we decided to develop our own technology, especially the engine, which again resulted in a delay. The time we invested was definitely worth it though since there's no other engine available to this day that would meet our demands.
Q: The game is said to incorporate historical characters. Who would that be? And how do they fit in the setting of Paraworld?
CB: That's correct. We incorporated characters such as Charles Darwin. These historical personalities are an integral part of our broad story. After all, in the broadest sense the plot also is about time travel in Paraworld. (Well, actually travel between dimensions to be more precise.) The play will encounter these characters throughout the game and can hire them to take advantage of their different skills/abilities.
Q: What was the source of inspiration for this scenario?
CB: When we started doing some investigation for our story we came to notice how many tales and legends our culture has to offer Ã‚– from man's fall from grace over medieval stories about dragons to the myth of Atlantis Ã‚– seem to hint at a parallel universe. And the mysterious disappearance of some scientists and other historical personalities only supports this thesis. And we ran across all of them again in the story of Paraworld.
Q: What races are we going to get to play? What are the pros and cons of each one?
CB: Altogether there will be three races, each of them offering a different approach. Right now there are no final names for them yet, so I'll just give a brief description of the differences. It's basic elements like the technology tree and the resources required they differ in. The first culture stems from Nordic tribes. They rely on their attack and defence skills. However, they're not particularly experienced in livestock breeding. Unlike the second tribe, who have specialized in animal husbandry among other things. That does come in handy in some parts, but developing new technologies will be more difficult without dinosaurs. And while we're at the topic of technology, that's what the focus of the third tribe is. For instance, they're the only ones capable of producing larger amounts of combustible material.
Q: Each tribe will feature some kind of hero. Are these units going to be as dominant as let's say in WarCraft III? What's their purpose?
CB: There are no race-specific or exclusive heroes. You'll have access to any of them no matter what nation you've chosen. Each hero has individual skills, providing different bonuses to the party they're siding with. Of course, it is in the nature of a hero to be the leader Ã‚– and that's not going to be different in Paraworld.
Q: Will you be able to take units other than the hero from one level to the next?
CB: Yes, in addition to the hero the player can also select other characters to accompany him to the next region.
Q: Are the different climate zones affecting the units or other gameplay elements?
CB: Yes, an example of that would be the day/night cycle that affects the AI of the animals. Some of them prefer attacking at night. That's why one has to be especially careful at that time.
Naturally, there also are effects depending on the climatic conditions of a level, e.g. less trees (one of the resources) in very cold, ice-dominated regions.
Q: What kind of approach are you going to use for troop/unit management?
CB: We've implemented a new approach to unit management, which is simple and accessible. Of course, it would be easier to demonstrate it rather than having to explain it.
[Spun note: at this point I tried to dig deeper and obtain some more information, but neither follow-up questions, blackmail nor satanic rites helped it as SEK appears to be very determined to keep their idea under wraps for now.]
Q: Supportive units such as scientists or 'peons' are promised to not be completely useless (prey) in battles. How is this going to be achieved?
CB: That's right. At this point we don't want to spill the beans about it yet. You may rest assured though that no unit will be useless in battle.
Q: Judging early footage of Paraworld, the game seems to have a nice graphics engine running beneath it. It's number game time, so, what can you tell us about the engine? What specs and specific features does it have?
CB: Our 3D engine is called PEST and was specifically designed and developed to be used in strategy titles and RPGs. That said, it's capable of managing and displaying an abundance of objects at a time. And still, one should be able to turn and move the camera around freely and zoom in on something very closely. Which means that objects have to be detailed enough. An example of that would be character models, which can consist of up to 6000 polygons in the PEST engine Ã‚– despite many units being on the screen at the same time.
However, it also was important to us that everything runs smoothly on a wide range of computers. And we're particularly proud about the general look of it, the way the landscape is being rendered. We received a glowing feedback from the press people who got to see it in action at the E3 2003.
Q: From what I've read up to 8 players can battle each other in the game. Is there anything you could tell us about the multiplayer mode at this point?
CB: The multiplayer mode is an essential part of the development. We've started testing and playing Paraworld over the internet already a year ago! There will be 3 different multiplayer modes in the game, playable via both, LAN and internet. Even if your connection isn't that fast. Still, it's one of the aspects of the game we can't talk about too much yet.
Q: How long has Paraworld been in the development so far? When is it expected to ship? Also, do you plan to release an English version at the same time or are the Germans going to get a head start on this one?
CB: We've been working on Paraworld since spring 2002, so basically for 2.5 years now (wow, time flies). We're going to finish the alpha version this year, but it'll take at least 6 months of testing, tuning and balancing before we even start pondering releasing the game. You can be sure though that the German and the English versions will be available at the same time.
Q: Of course, it would be way too early to talk about projects you're going to work on once Paraworld is done. What about the general outlook though? Do you see SEK as a developer focussed on strategy games or do you also intend to cover other genres some time in the future?
CB: We'll keep on looking into the development of games that combine new ideas with proven concepts. There's no denying that SEK's slightly on the 'strategy side' of things, but we're also leering at the RPG and action genre.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
Take note that Paraworld is the working title of the game and still may or may not change as it comes closer to its release. If you'd like to see some more screenshots, head over to our gallery. More information on Paraworld and SEK can be found on their website. There also is an official homepage of the game, however, there's not a lot of content to be consumed yet. The official website of the publisher, Sunflowers (1602/1503 AD), can be found here.