Interstate '76 Gamezilla Interview

Local Ditch > Interstate '76 > Articles > Gamezilla

This article is originally from Unfortunately, the originating site is long gone, so I've reproduced the article here in its entirey. I take no credit for the work, but just wish to preserve a fascinating look into the history of Interstate '76.

There is obviously a fair chunk of the MechWarrior 2 engine underneath I76, yet it has been altered a good deal to fit a driving model. What challenges did you face in converting the engine and how has it changed from Mech 2?

We used the MechWarrior engine as a starting point, then over the course of the project rewrote it to the point of creating a new state-of-the-art real-time 3D engine. Early in production, we realized that the Mech engine as a whole would not support the overall driving model that we wanted in addition to other features in the design. So we decided to import each subsystem of the Mech engine one-by-one and decide whether we would simply modify the existing module or rewrite it entirely. Ultimately, we rewrote virtually all of the Mech engine and created a new engine that is leaps and bounds above the rest.

What was your inspiration for Interstate 76 and its characters? Are either Groove or Taurus based on any real-life or movie characters?

Groove is not really based on any particular character or person, but he was originally written with the notion that someone like Brad Pitt would play the character if Interstate 76 were a feature film. Taurus was inspired by Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of Jules in Pulp Fiction. The inspiration was drawn from a combination of the Jules character and Jackson's portrayal itself, which essentially captured the essence of how we perceived Taurus to be.

On that note, who wrote the script for I76 and how did the storyline evolve?

Zack Norman, our lead designer, wrote the script. Over the period of a month, he developed the characters, storyline and how the plot would unfold throughout the missions. Having a background in both screenwriting and games, Zack not only enjoyed the process but was experienced in writing a linear narrative for interactive media. The one major task he faced was how to make the story continually interesting and still make the mission objectives equally fun. Essentially, there had to be balance between the two with the ultimate goal being to create missions that were immersive and fun without being repetitive and boring. It took roughly three months to complete a full draft that was polished enough to record the initial voice over, which was then forwarded to the external art house responsible for the creation of the cutscenes.

The music with the alpha of I76 is unlike anything I've heard in a game—it's basically an entire soundtrack. Who composed the music and how did they arrive at the choices they came up with?

Kelly Rogers, our in-house music director, and I initially had trouble finding a band with the specific funk sound we wanted. But our search came to an end when Kelly hooked up with Jason Slater, a music producer based in San Francisco. Jason introduced us to Arion Salazar, who is the bassist for Third Eye Blind, a Bay Area funk band and an Elektra recording artist. Kelly and I listened to a demo and we knew we found our band. At that point, we gave Arion a list of classic '70s funk songs that were representative of the style we wanted for the game and he whipped out a slew of rough demo tracks in about a week. We made a few suggestions and within a month, we had flown the whole band to LA to record and mix the final tracks, which amounted to roughly 70 minutes of original funk music. The Interstate 76 soundtrack is definitely unlike anything heard in other games. Most games use one or two composers who record everything using a high-end synthesizer, which often sounds great given that the music style matches that of the game. But knowing that the funk soundtrack would be such an integral part of the experience, we opted to record traditionally in a studio using a full six-member funk band.

The vehicles, buildings, and landscape in I76 all take realistic damage and change appearance based on player interaction (e.g tire skids on the road, headlights broken out by gunfire). How did you accomplish this while maintaining the fluidity of the gameplay?

The damage occurs real-time based on changing hit point values. When the value reaches a given number (e.g. after a car is hit by a missile), a "damaged" set of textures and/or geometry is swapped in for the current sets. This greatly adds to the level of detail and realism experienced during gameplay.

When I go into a computer store there are askrally hundreds of titles to choose from, several of which already offer car combat themes. How is I76 different from, say MegaRace 2, Destruction Derby, or Death Rally?

Interstate 76 is different in a lot of ways. Firstly, it is not a racing game but rather a combat simulation at the core with action elements spread throughout. We use realistic vehicle physics for heightened sensations of skidding, jumping, rolling your car and other fun driving stunts-it's definitely unlike anything seen in previous driving games. The game also features non-track-based gameplay where players are free to travel over open terrain anywhere in the missions a la MechWarrior 2. Additionally, there is a detailed storyline interwoven into the game, where players experience a linear narrative incorporated into the mission objectives without any sacrifices to gameplay. Given the level of detail of the story, which is unique for a simulation, this further draws the player into what is already an immersive auto-combat experience. Another major feature is a components management mode, which allows players to fully configure their vehicles and salvage parts from the battlefield. And rounding out the package is a CD-quality funk soundtrack, over 25 minutes of cutscenes and multi-player options including network, modem and built-in Internet play.

Blizzard, Westwood, etc. have all been very successful of late in their offering free Internet multiplayer gaming sites. Does Activision plan to offer any such service with I76 (or in general) and if so, when?

With MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, we introduced MercNet and its free Internet play. Building on that technology, I76 will take advantage of Windows 95 and offer up to eight players free Internet play.

What kind of multiplayer support will Interstate 76 offer?

Eight-player network over a LAN, head-to-head over a modem or null modem and up to eight players over the Internet.

A cardinal sin of many games these days is to fudge the "minimum system requirements" on the box when in fact for decent performance a much better setup is really needed. Bearing in mind the graphical ambition of I76, what will the true "minimum" system need to be to really enjoy this game's full potential?

One major goal that we set for ourselves was to ensure that we had an acceptable frame rate for the minimum platform. We have devoted a lot of time to code optimization for this very reason. The game will run smoothly on a P90 as well as the higher-end systems. Also, players will have the option of adjusting the graphic detail settings and resolution mode in order to optimize performance for their system.

Most gamers only see the finished product once it hits the store shelves, but you of course are more intimately involved with the production process. Can you give us an overview of how I76 has gone from initial conception to (nearly) finished product?

Given that the production process for this project started in September of 1995 with its conception, this is a tough question to answer without writing a book! In short, we started with a design document, a script and conceptual art. Over the course of the next 15 months we created over 30 missions, hundreds of models and textures, over 25 minutes of cut scenes, over 250 sound effects, roughly 70 minutes of original funk music, several hours of voice-over and thousands of lines of code.

I've heard this game will be optimized for the 3dFX video cards--is this true, and will it support other chipsets like the 3D Rage, etc.? Are there plans to include drivers for the various 3D headsets on the market today?

Out of the box, the game will not support any specific 3D cards/devices; however, we are investigating accelerated versions for after the game ships. At this time, there are no plans to include drivers for the various 3D headsets on the market.

Do you have an estimated street (net) date for a playable demo and/or for final release?

The game is scheduled to ship in the last week of March. No date yet for the playable demo.

What's been the most fun you've had with this game and its development?

Seeing the script, conceptual art and game design only on paper in the beginning, then slowly seeing each component evolve into its final form.

Gamezilla wishes to thank Scott Krager, Elizabeth Capps and Activision for making this interview possible.
Interview Posted 1996