Q: Which graphics revisions do you like best? What were the main goals behind the two designs?
A: We're really pleased with the new interface, which displays lots of information in an intuitive way, and is also flexible enough to be used for most all of the report screens. The first design was centered around the concept of moveable, resizable windows. To accommodate this, the graphics had to be simple and modular, so the user could move them around, stretch them, etc. Our artists told us that they could make a much cooler interface if only it were fixed in place. After a lot of playtesting, we decided that no one really resized their windows or moved them, so we would go ahead and make it fixed in place. Dave Inscore, a very dedicated artist who also created the cityscapes in the diplomacy screens, took it upon himself to redo the interface with excellent results.
Q: Were the portraits done from models, or just drawn up?
A: We usually had a model in mind for the basic features of each faction leader, although the clothing, accessories, and hairstyles of each person were pretty much from scratch. The portraits were done by our ace 2D artist Jerome Atherholt.
Q: How much time was spent on the movies and the in-game graphics? How about for the different display revisions?
A: We spent about 60% of our art time on the movies. The first display pass took maybe two months, while the second took two months of more intensive work.
Q: Why did you go to 8-bit color depth instead of 16-bit?
A: We played around with 16-bit color depth, but found that there was actually not that much of an increase in overall art quality, while we would have cut out the lower end of our target machine spec. Since Firaxis really strives to make our games playable for as many systems as possible, we decided to stick with 8-bit. Had there been a significant increase in art quality with 16-bit, we might have made a different decision.
Q: In previous games (not metioning names ), the GIF file format was used for images. Why did you switch to PCX?
A: I don't think any specific thought went into this! :-) We just went with the .pcx format.
Q: Will people be able to create and add their own 3D components? Will some kind of editor be built in, or will people have to go get, for example, 3D Studio Max?
A: People won't be able to create their own 3D components, as they are drawn using proprietary Caviar technology. We are exploring giving people the option to create their own 2D sprites, as with other games by this team. We haven't looked at all the issues yet, so we're not sure if we are going to be able to support this functionality. Everything else in the game (text files, sound files, 2D art files) is in a common format of some kind or another, and is fully modifiable.
Q: How is the Art Team responding to criticism regarding the graphics?
A: The only issues we've really heard about the graphics concern the terrain and units. We feel that, given the large amounts of information we wanted to display through modular terrain and unit pieces, the art team did an excellent job of balancing the need to express information and the desire to create a cool alien environment. All the other art aspects of the game (interface, static art, Secret Project movies, etc.) have been highly praised in reviews and on the boards, and we're really happy with the job the art team did.
Q: What are your plans, if any, to enhance the graphics of SMAC? The new version of the demo already brought better graphics. Does it stop here?
A: We're working on versions of the art for those with red\green colorblindness, in response to requests from the boards. Although these won't look particularly pleasing to the average person, it will allow everyone to play our game and be able to understand the information. We may tweak the art further as we modify the code in response to customer feedback, but we have no specific plans to do so at this time.
Q: Was there anything the team wanted to include in the game, graphics-wise, but couldn't? What was the determing criteria?
A: The one thing we'd have like to have done would be to make seven killer interfaces, one for each faction. In the end, we decided that it would be better to put our efforts into one great interface than have seven good but different interfaces.
Q: What is the team's future plans after SMAC?
A: At Firaxis, Sid and Brian alternate design duties--one prototypes and plays an advisory role while the other is working hard on a project with a full team. On SMAC, Brian was the lead designer while Sid was the advisor and prototyper. Sid always has two or three prototypes going at any given time; right now, we haven't settled on which of the possibilities should be the next Firaxis Game. The only thing we know is that it will be very cool!
That was all ladies and gentlemen, We hope you found it interesting. Questions by John Bell, Jason Beaudoin, Daniel Quick, Markos Giannopoulos. Our thanks to Tim Train for answering and Lindsay Riehl for her help on arranging things.