As Star Trek Elite Force II is going through Alpha testing right now, we thought it would be great time to chat with Doug "PingEnvy" Pearson, Activision's producer on the game.
Doug Pearson (right) demoing EF2 at E3
Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Let's start off with introducing you. How did you end up at Activision and what games have you been involved with prior to Elite Force II?
My name is Doug Pearson and I’m the producer at Activision on Star Trek Elite Force II. I also go by PingEnvy on the boards, but that name falls more out of the days when I had a dialup modem more then anything else. I’ve been working at Activision on games for the past 9 years. Games I’ve worked on (from oldest to the latest) include: Spycraft: The Great Game, Interstate ’76, Interstate ’76: Nitro Pack, Heavy Gear II, Interstate ’82, Call To Power 2, Dark Reign 2, Star Trek Armada, Star Trek Armada II, and most recently Star Trek Elite Force II. I’ve pretty much run the gamut of jobs within the different production teams I’ve worked on as Production Coordinator, Associate Producer, Game Designer, and now currently as Producer. I spent between 4-5 years as a designer on several of those projects before making the final decision to become a producer.
What are your duties as producer?
I work directly with Ritual and also the management and infrastructure here at Activision and I also directly interact with our liason at Paramount on issues concerning the license. I’m involved on all levels of game development, review of all materials used in the game, story approval, budgets, and coordinating with all those involved with making the game and managing the support side of making the product such as getting the game through the quality assurance testing process. Other duties include getting the actors signed, casting, scheduling and managing the recording sessions, acquiring any necessary external talent for the game including the music (or as necessary sound or CG work). In the end it means I have to be familiar with all aspects of the game’s development.
Why was Ritual Entertainment chosen to develop Star Trek Elite Force II?
Ritual is a very talented first-person-shooter developer. They have a great team of experienced, dedicated guys who know what it takes to make an AAA game. Ritual’s UberTools is also one of the best Quake III Arena-based toolsets. Their tools were effectively used with Medal of Honor, FAKK2, Alice, and several other titles. Activision and Ritual have worked together on previous titles, and we’re excited to work with Ritual for EF2.
When Exomorphs attack..
How much freedom was Ritual given when it came to developing elements like the storyline and the game's style?
Ritual has been directly involved from the beginning in all creative aspects of the game including developing the game design, working together with the writer on the story, and developing Elite Force II’s new races including the Idryll, Attrexians, and Exomorphs. They’ve also been given a lot of leeway on the game’s style. Throughout the process we have also worked with Paramount with story revisions, locales, races, game concepts, and style. The quality and complexity of the environments and characters within the game really make it stand out from other Q3A games.
Elite Force II is the sequel to one of the most successful Star Trek games, both critically and commercially. What are the main improvements over the original game?
Before Elite Force II was designed, we put a significant effort into finding out what players liked in Elite Force, and what they wanted to see in Elite Force II. We’ve added new features and made a number of improvements and enhancements based in part on that feedback. Elite Force II will be a significantly longer playing experience than the original (our target is to make it 1.5 times the size). It will go beyond Elite Force’s confines of starship or spacestation halls, and out onto planet surfaces and larger areas in general. The player will now have more of an opportunity to drive the story based on their interactions with the different characters they meet along the way. The game is more diverse, with a bigger variety of alien types. We also added more complex and challenging level-bosses. Beyond that, we built on all the great features that players would expect from the next Elite Force game, including a story that makes you feel part of an episode, and top-notch graphics.
How interactive are the environments going to be? Are we going to get to use consoles the way they were meant to be used™?
Throughout the game the player will utilize consoles in the ship and on missions within the different environments. There are also several different kinds of tricorder view modes that are activated under certain circumstances throughout the game. In some cases you’ll need to use the tricorder to diagnose the location of a structural integrity breach, scan for cloaked or phased creatures, detect bio-scanning lasers, call in an orbital strike, etc. Additionally there are enhancements to your hazard suit that allow the player to have limited nightvision capabilities.
In the end we are working towards having great gameplay and an immersive story. That won’t mean you can decide on a whim to recalibrate the field for the warpcore in Engineering, or sit at the helm on the Bridge and fly the ship around. (That just isn’t what the game is about!).
The single player story features decision points, sort of similar to the action-based outcomes in Ritual's last first person shooter, Sin. How many are there going to be and how much of an impact on story and gameplay will they have?
There are quite a few instances throughout the game where the player will decide how to interact with the other characters within missions and while onboard the ship. Some of these interactions will have more of an impact on the story than others. Also in some cases you may learn more or less information depending on the tact you take while interacting with the different characters.
Meet the Hazard Team.
While we're talking about single player, Patrick Stewart was confirmed pretty much from the start to reprise his role as Cpt. Picard. Has anyone else been signed in the meantime?
We’ve recently signed Tim Russ for the role of Tuvok and we are now in the process of signing several additional Star Trek actors to other roles within the game. Some of the voices will be for the roles they played on Star Trek while others will fill out the remaining roles within the story (as characters unique to Elite Force II). As found with the Star Trek TV show, Star Trek actors often come back as different aliens. It’s fun hearing a familiar voice or figuring out who it is “behind the makeup”.
Obviously multiplayer is of great interest to the online community. Can you give us any details on the gameplay modes included?
Game types available in Elite Force II include HoloMatch (i.e. deathmatch), Team HoloMatch, Capture the Flag, and Plasma Bomb Diffusal. Additionally, modifiers we have planned include Specialties, Domination, Elimination, Action Hero, Disintegration, Control Points, Power Struggle, Auto Handicap, Weapon Score, and One Flag.
In Plasma Bomb Diffusal, one side plants a bomb in the enemy’s base. The enemy will need to diffuse it before it detonates to win, or successfully wait it out till the game timer expires without the other team planting a bomb. The additional modifiers add a variety of enhancements from requiring you to control multiple areas of the map simultaneously, guarding and repairing your base’s power source, and other variants on existing gameplay.
You regularly post over at the official Star Trek gaming message boards. How seriously do you take community feedback?
We’ve actually been addressing feedback from the community for a long time, and provided Ritual with a wealth of Elite Force information gathered from the community. We’ve paid attention to what gamers said they would like to see in a sequel, and we performed an extensive survey of hundreds of Elite Force owners to get their thoughts. Beyond that, Ritual, our team at Activision, and our Paramount representative pay attention to the boards and we often discuss those topics as we proceed through the production of the game. We aren’t always able to implement everything that the fans want, but we listen and take the feedback to heart as we develop and refine the game.
Are there any plans to port Elite Force II to the Macintosh or console platforms?
We are definitely considering bringing Elite Force II to other platforms. As soon as we know more we’ll talk about it online.
Lastly, the official website for the game was supposed to go online this summer. When's it coming?
We are working on setting this up now. I can’t give out a date till it is nearing launch, but I can say that the materials have been created and it’s just a matter of laying it out and getting all the necessary approvals prior to it going live.
That's all for now, folks. We would like to thank Doug Pearson for taking the time to answer our questions and PR machine Michael Larson for making this interview possible.
Keep visiting Ritualistic for the latest Star Trek Elite Force II news and announcements!