IG: Ship-to-ship combat is obviously a key component of the X games. How will this differ in X Rebirth? I realise this is especially hard to do in text, but if possible can you describe the ‘feel’ of the dogfighting in the game?
BL: There are many subtle changes to how dogfight works. Most of them are the result of big improvements on the AI and pathing. One of our highest priority game design goals for X Rebirth was to get the action of fights into interesting environments like the space cities. Instead of mostly just fighting in empty space, the AI is now able to navigate around very complex stations and even inside of them.
The second big change are the interactive elements on surfaces that I mentioned above. Turrets and shield generators, or lots of other components of ships as well as stations can be attacked, scanned, sabotaged individually. This changes the way you fight massively, because you can now investigate large objects in much more detail. An important game design change that was necessary to achieve this was that the playership will gradually enter the relative movement area of a capital ship when it comes in close proximity of that ship. This means that when the player is near the ship’s surface, you steer relative to the surface and can focus on these surface objects even while the whole capital ship is making quick turns.
IG: Will X Rebirth have an over-arching plot or ‘main quest line’ to follow? If so, can you elaborate on what this central narrative might be?
BL: The short answer is yes. We definitely wanted the player to have the option to play a great campaign mode in X Rebirth. For new-comers and veterans alike, it represents an extremely engaging way to get to know the X Rebirth universe, and how the different gameplay elements work.
I don’t want to give away too much, but to give a brief overview, X Rebirth is set in a time of extreme uncertainty. The impact from the shutdown of the gates has caused the collapse of the long-standing systems of government, and among the leading powers to fill the power vacuum are the corporations. In the campaign mode, the player must work to counter the corruption and avarice that is threatening the freedom of the people.
Of course the player can decide at any time to play X Rebirth as an open sandbox. However, we do feel that the campaign mode is something every player should do as well.
IG: The screenshots you’ve released so far look great, and are presumably the game running at the highest possible settings. You’ve already shared the recommended specs for the game, but how scaleable will the game be to different levels of hardware?
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BL: What we currently specify as minimum specs should be good enough to get a decent frame-rate with minimum LOD settings. The one graphic settings that has the biggest impact on performance is the “LOD” (level of detail) and the closely related view range. These don’t really change the look, but of course you see less details in a distance with a slower machine. There are a few graphics settings that we have set to “off” for the default (e.g shadows) and only if you have a real high end CPU and GPU should you turn these on.
Then we invested quite a lot of work in low and medium quality shaders. This has no effect on the CPU but can help with mid range GPUs quite a lot without reducing the visual quality a great deal.
IG: How did adding a controller option to X Rebirth inform the re-design of the overall control scheme? Are players able to do everything through the controller, or is a keyboard still necessary for some of the additional functions?
BL: It was extremely important to us that the UI be easy to use and streamlined in X Rebirth. We like to tell people that with X Rebirth, you won’t need a PhD in space game menus to play. For example, the player will find interacting with NPCs for his ships and stations will be a more realistic and intuitive way to control gameplay.
The player can play X Rebirth with just the controller, and of course players can also play with a mouse and keyboard.
IG: Recently, we’ve seen people willing to hand over large sums of money to collectively fund games like Elite: Dangerous and (especially) Star Citizen. It’s tempting to deem this period some sort of open-ended space game renaissance, but from your perspective did the genre never really go away?
BL: I would start by saying that it is great to see this level of enthusiasm for the genre. As you imply, there has always been a large community of space sim fans out there. I think its safe to say that Sci Fi is a big part of the cultural landscape. While we’ve been able to connect with this community over the last 15 years, we do know that over time the X games had become seen as a something of a niche for hard-core space sim fans. A big reason for that was due to the limitations we encountered when adding new features to the game’s original design. Overcoming this limitation is one of the most important things we wanted to address with X Rebirth.
With that said, we are extremely excited to see the level of game development currently underway in the genre. Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen looks amazing, as does Elite: Dangerous. And I would be remiss in not stating our respect and admiration for what CCP has been able to accomplish with Eve. We certainly feel that the heightened focus on open sandbox space games is great for all involved.
IG: Games like those in the X series are huge in scope. Are we still waiting for the point at which technology (or the general quality of PC owned by players) will catch up with the wilder ambitions of developers of space titles?
BL: No not really. The PC is already tremendously powerful and the only main factor that drives the technical development is the graphics quality. For that of course we always want more. More detail, more quality, more stuff on the screen. But if I look at the long long list of features we would love to add after the release, the majority of them are all about gameplay itself. Adding more cool things to do in this universe. Then again, yes there are exciting new technologies like the Oculus Rift and stuff like that can be a much bigger game changer, than just faster machines.
X Rebirth is due for release on 15 November.