The Guys Who Set Phasers to Frag;
A Digital Game Developer Interview with Brian Pelletier and Mike Gummelt
by Michael Carney





First Person Shooters are nothing new, and neither are Star Trek-franchise video games. However, First Person Shooter Star Trek-franchise Video Games . . . well, let's just say there was an obvious market. Activision has now released "Star Trek Voyager - Elite Force" to critical acclaim and good gamer reception. This type of game begs a few questions, however . . . how do you successfully recreate a world that's so firmly created in Science Fiction fandom?

Brian Pelletier
Mike Gummelt

Brian Pelletier has been developing computer games with Raven Software since 1992. His credits include nine of Ravenís 11 games (not counting the mission packs). He was actually working on finishing up Heretic II when Elite Force got started (he is Project Leader on Elite Force). Activision had just acquired the Star Trek license and approached Raven right away to do a Star Trek shooter. The EF team started out with 4 people, a number that would grow in the months to come. As far as the story, an extended version of a Voyager episode, Pelletier laid the groundwork for Mike Gummelt (programmer with film background and Trekspert) to write the actual dialogue from. Digital Game Developer recently managed to question these two on the creation of "Star Trek Voyager - Elite Force".

DGD: The staff here has played the game, and it plays impressively even on a 333 MHz machine . . . how were you able to create such fluid movement?
Brian Pelletier: We would love to take credit for this but ultimately it is the Quake III Arena engine that does a great job at rendering, even on lower end machines. Granted we kept the frame rate speed in mind when designing how complex the game content was. We stayed within the parameters set by the Quake III engine for fast frame rates.

DGD: Why did you choose to go with the Q3A engine? What advantages did this provide? What disadvantages?
Brian Pelletier: Using Quake3 was a natural fit for us since we have used all of id's technology engines in the past and we are familiar with how to work with them. There was really no decision to use Quake3, it was just more of a given. The advantages are that the Quake3 Arena engine has a solid core for Internet play and optimized pipelines for rendering to 3d accelerated cards. The engine has many features built-in for scalability. This means that the low-end user can run the game quite well, while the high-powered system can handle higher detail textures, models, and world geometry (curves). Disadvantages were that the engine wasn't done when we started our development and our production was slowed down because we had to wait for new engine improvements while still sticking to our schedule.

DGD: Tell us about the skeletal animation system and how you used it.
Brian Pelletier: We used SoftImage to produce our character animations. We wrote our own tool to take a 3D mesh character with texture mapping coordinates and bone weights from 3DS Max, and merged it with a bunch of XSI files from Softimage to produce an animation file called an "mdr". This basically takes the information of the animation of the bones and not the animation of the mesh. The program then only has to calculate movement of a small number of bones versus hundreds of 3D mesh vertices and polygon faces thus keeping the memory requirement down and optimization of animation in the game high. This is how we are able to have thousands of animation for a character and therefore make the character look more lifelike and believable.