Q: We understand that Alien Crossfire is sort of "your baby". Who from the SMAC team is also working on this?
A: Chris Pine is our lead programmer for SMACX. He was a key part of SMAC's programming as well. Greg Foertsch is our lead artist; he handled quite a lot of the art tasks on the original SMAC. Jerome Atherholt, now our company's Art Manager, signed up to do all the new portraits in the same high-quality style of the originals he did for SMAC, along with many other miscellaneous tasks. Mike Bazzell has returned for some new unit animations, and Mike Ely is putting together the multimedia and backstory for the project. Dave Evans is responsible for all the new sounds in the game. Finally, Doug Kaufman, now full-time at Firaxis, is reprising his role as a designer on SMACX. And of course, Brian Reynolds has chipped in both his programming time and his invaluable design advice. All in all, most of the talent responsible for SMAC is working in some capacity for SMACX!
Q: How did you come up with the name Alien Crossfire? Was it just a coincidence that it has the same initials as SMAC? In the end, what should we call it to differentiate it from SMAC (Alpha Centauri, that is)?
A: We call it SMACX here, for SMAC Expansion, or with the x standing for crossfire. It is actually complete coincidence that the titles have the same initials (and virtually the same word count, as well). I just wanted to come up with a title that summed up all the 'coolness' of the expansion, and that one just seemed to fit. Happily, our marketing gurus at EA liked the title as well.
Q: How did you (the team as a whole, or just Jim Ely?), come up with the main plot of SMACx, and can we expect to see the popularly classic "one episode every couple of weeks until release" series? What can you tell us about the next episode?
A: I'd thought a lot about what could be done with the universe of Alpha Centauri while working on the original. The whole Planet backstory was pretty darn cool, but of course it left open all kinds of questions--who built the monoliths, the artifacts, etc. So when I wrote up the initial design doc, I thought we should answer some of those questions and expand on the 'alien' theme. In describing the ideas to people, the 'aliens return' storyline got everyone really excited, and seemed the natural direction to go. So I did a basic outline of the new backstory, which was then fleshed out and refined by pretty much everyone on the team. Brian Reynolds, Mike Ely, Doug Kaufman, and Greg Foertsch were particularly creative in their ideas. Mike E. will be doing the 'one episode per week' story, which is already shaping up to be really cool. All I can say about the next episode is that you'll finally meet one of the alien factions
Q: Can you talk more about the specialities of the new factions, or should we wait to see them on the official site?
A: Weeeeell, let's just say there will be 5 human and 2 alien factions. Almost every faction will have at least one cool new power that was not possible with the original SMAC code...so we expect that playing the new factions, or mixing and matching them with the old, will be one of the most fun aspects of the expansion. Also, since you now have 14 total factions, you can pick 'random 7' for the ones you want to play against, so you won't know who's out there or what strategies you will need until you get out and talk to some people. This adds another element of exploration to the game.
Q: Are there new ideas when it comes to the effects from space, underground or "the fungus"(for the latter we've heard that there will be 2 new life forms)?
A: We're adding quite a few new units, native and otherwise, that significantly alter the early stages of the game. There will be more things you can do with fungus, and a new space improvement that improves your defensive capability.
Q: Will there be any fixing of original SMAC bugs in Al. Cr (assuming that any is needed)? Speaking of which, do you plan on making a "Patch 5"? If so, has a timeline for it been discussed at all to date?
A: We have no plans for a patch 5 at this time. That's not to say we would never do one, but other than a possible problem with missile ranges that I haven't had time to check out yet, I'm not aware of any major outstanding bugs in V4.
Q: Can you promise a better AI in Al.Cr. than in SMAC?
A: We'll be doing a lot of work on the AI in between now and the release; it certainly should translate into an AI improvement.
Q: What is the "Construction of the Singularity Beacon" victory condition?
A: There are two alien factions of the same race who land on Planet following a battle in the skies above the surface. They hate each other, and the humans have to choose whether to band together to fight the offworlders or side with the aliens for temporary gain. Each alien faction has the goal of contacting their homeworld for reinforcements. They contact their homeworlds by constructing a Resonance Beacon (new name . The Beacon consists of six Subspace Generators, each located in a base of size 10 or higher. This condition lends itself to interesting counter measures to hold up its construction, including Genetic Warfare to reduce the bases' population. It also requires a nice balance between growth and building, as opposed to the Ascent to Transcendence, which is all about building.
Q: Will SMACx's faction editor be better than ACEdit? Different even? If so, can you elaborate?
A: We'll be doing a lot of additions to our faction editor, not the least of which is that there are quite a few new powers for factions in the SMACX code that our editor will handle. So we expect it will be better! Having said that, I think the ACEdit guys did a great job on their program, and we used it for all the prototypes of the new faction files since ours wasn't ready yet.
Q: What's the current status of SMACx's development? Can you give us an estimate on release date (or possible release dates)?
A: We're actually in the beta phase (versions have gone out to our beta test team last Thursday, in fact). So we're down to pounding on the AI and polishing up some of the loose ends. This part of the project is actually the most exciting phase--when everything is coming together and you finally get to see how much fun it is to play with all the new stuff. It's hard to predict a final finish date for any product, but I think we're safe saying that SMACX should be available sometime in the mid-fall.
Saw that ending? "Mid-fall"...
Questions by Markos Giannopoulos, helped in some cases by SidGames' Tim Train chat transcript. Our thanks to Tim Train for answering in almost real time