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Hazard Team HQ interview with Joshua Weier
© 2000 Benjamin Boerner.

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Joshua Weier is Raven's youngest employee. He began in the industry at the age of 14 and got a part-time position at Raven when he was 16. After working on Hexen II, he finished school early and became a full time employee. His current project is Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. Now, here's the interview. Thanks again Josh! Enjoy!
(This picture was taken from Raven's official website)

<Benjamin Boerner> Could you please tell us who you are and how you came to Raven?
<Joshua Weier> My name is Joshua Weier, I'm 20 years old and I've been a programmer here at Raven on and off for about 2 and a half years. I originally started at Raven while I was a sophomore in High School, worked part time on Hexen 2, then finished school early and came to Raven full time early 1998. I've worked on Hexen 2, its Mission Pack, Heretic 2, and now Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force.

<Benjamin Boerner> You've already done (and are still doing...) many things on Elite Force (effects system, weapons effects, AI). Is there anything you enjoy most of those things?
<Joshua Weier> I've been fortunate to wear many hats on this project. I've done some technical systems programming, some game programming, and even some design work along the way. More than anything I enjoy the design aspects. Working with a team to come up with the ideas that form the game can be a very rewarding experience. I'm certainly looking forward to doing more of it hopefully down the road.

<Benjamin Boerner> Let's talk about the AI. What would you say is the most difficult thing for a programmer when programming an AI?
<Joshua Weier> Personally, I find the hardest aspect of AI is keeping the fine balance between believability and fun. There is a large movement these days pushing for the most "intelligent" enemies possible. I don't feel that intelligence necessarily produces fun game play though. At the same time, you don't want AI that doesn't seem believable. If you're fighting against a human, you expect that opponent to act in certain ways. They should run from grenades, duck behind cover if they can, and generally always respond in a manner that seems at the very least logical. Finding the balance between believable opponents and enemies who are also fun to fight against due to their weaknesses or tactics can sometimes be very tricky. I don't look to make enemies that are the most intelligent, but rather, enemies that never make you question their existence in the game. The minute the player says, "Why is that guy running into the wall like that", you've really lost something. The best AI to me is AI that people wouldn't even think about as little routines in a long line of code, but instead be so engrossed in the game that they simply accept them in their environment and enjoy the encounters with them. They'll certainly surprise you along the line, but they should never let on that they're really just a program.

<Benjamin Boerner> What FPS has the best AI and why?
<Joshua Weier> I think Valve did a great job with Half-Life. They certainly had believable enemies: they moved well, they responded to the player when he or she did things, and I didn't too often see them do things that ripped me out of the "world" of the game. But on the opposite end I'd have to say Doom. You could blast demons, imps and grunts all night and never get tired of them. Their AI was incredibly simple, but at the same time, very fun because it focused on desired game play of the title first. Imagine if all the grunts and shotgun toting Sergeants dodged all your rockets, threw grenades at you, and generally did a better job of strategizing and maneuvering than you did. They'd be pretty smart, but Doom wouldn't be a whole lot of fun, and that's another big part of AI: not worrying about what other games have done, but focusing solely on what makes YOUR game fun. Sometimes super intelligence just doesn't fit in, and sometimes guys being dumb doesn't either. It's all about the balance that makes the most out of the experience. At the end of the day, it's all about having fun, in whatever package you deliver it.

<Benjamin Boerner> Do you think Elite Force will have better AI than other FPS? If so, what's special about it?
<Joshua Weier> We always try and push the limits of what is possible. At the same time however I don't want people to have to buy new machines just so our little digital men can think. One thing we've been fortunate with is that ICARUS has allowed us a lot of creative freedom in terms of enemy encounters. Instead of trying to write functions that can deal with every conceivable situation, we're able to craft custom scenarios with our enemies to fit their environment, and make them smart in ways normal AI couldn't. We can not only make them take cover, but perhaps throw a switch to call in re-enforcements or trap the player in a room. We couldn't do those things in code very practically, but with ICARUS we have the control to really place the NPCs in their environments and present the player with a more refined experience than just NPCs placed into a room to fend for themselves.

<Benjamin Boerner> What's more difficult to do: The enemy AI or the AI of your teammates?
<Joshua Weier> It's most certainly been your teammates. The enemy AI is all about challenging the player, but the teammates are all about helping the player when he or she needs it, adding atmosphere to the settings, and giving you the feeling that you're part of this team of intelligent, well trained individuals. Making your team really believable and giving each teammate their own personality and character is a tough thing to do because unlike most of the AI in the game, you're really able to scrutinize it and if things are just a little bit off, it can make things seem wrong, even if you can't put your finger on just why that is. The teammates have been an evolving element of the game, but have really come to a point where they're adding quite a bit to the feeling of the game and really setting this title apart from so many others.

<Benjamin Boerner> Do Borg, Klingons etc have different AI and do they have special tactics?
<Joshua Weier> Most definitely! Borg are slower, more methodical enemies, bent on assimilating the player with little regard for their own lives. They'll doggedly pursue the player, looking to make him or her one of their own. Klingons on the other hand are warriors and fierce in nature. They'll use cunning when the situation calls for it, but if you get too close they may show you their exceptional hand to hand abilities. Each enemy is tailored to fit the mood of the level and the sort of game play we're looking to evoke on that level. Some enemies are fast and strategic, others are slow but relentless. The AI should be just as diverse as the levels they exist in.

<Benjamin Boerner> What about the rest of the Hazard Team? In other FPS you always have to look after your teammates, otherwise they get into trouble (or your firing line...)! Do you think this won't happen in EF?
<Joshua Weier> Your team has always been one of our concerns throughout the development process. We wanted the player to have some control of them, but not be forced to spend all their time trying to micro-manage the team to get them to do anything. As it stands currently, your team is well equipped to act autonomously. The player doesn't need to worry about his team, they'll respond intelligently to the situations and assist the player in ways that make sense. At the same time, we've been cautious to make sure the team doesn't do too much, and thereby "rob" the player. We don't want a team that kills everything in a room before you can blink, but we don't want a team that sits idly by, waiting for the player to do everything him or herself. Again, there's a fine balance we're constantly refining to produce the best experience. In the end our hope is to make you feel like you're part of a team, but that you're the team's star player, though you can't do it alone...

<Benjamin Boerner> If you think of FPS in general (Including upcoming titles like "Duke Nukem Forever" or "Tomorrow Never Dies"), what would YOU want to make better in future games?
<Joshua Weier> Personally I'd look to make games that are better able to present exploration to the player. So many games have presented combat, and nothing but, that'd I'd like to see games that presented exploration and limited, if any, combat. Myst and Riven were both games ahead of their time, even though "hardcore" gamers may just call them glorified slide shows. Cyan did a phenomenal job making those games have real, believable worlds and environments. A lot of people loved Half-Life, and I think that's because Valve really scratched the surface of exploration and immersion. I think that was a great step forward and hopefully the industry will follow that move and start giving the players worlds to explore, and not try and force them into a character or persona. At the same time, I'd like to see FPS's return to their roots (read: Doom). Lots of enemies, lots of action, lots of fun. Not worry so much about taking ourselves too seriously, and just present a game that is pure, raw fun. I think our own SoF team really did a great job doing just that. SoF is a blast and really presents the fun of Doom in a new and very pretty package.


Please feel free to send questions and comments to bebo@hazardteam.de

Hazard Team HQ would like to thank:
  • Joshua Weier, for answering every question.
    Thank you Josh!
  • Brian Pelletier and Activision, for giving their ok to post this interview.
    Thank you guys!
This interview was made in April 2000.
© 2000 Benjamin Boerner
   

       

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