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An Interview with Rob Elam

Part 1

A week or so ago I received an e-mail from Judy Elam, Diversions Entertainment's business manager. She'd read my review for the original One Must Fall 2097 and offered me the chance to interview Rob Elam, one of the two programmers and main driving force behind the original OMF.

Considering how much I loved OMF, I instantly agreed and was delighted at the opportunity to interview a developer I hold in much reverance. With the help of MobyGames founder Jim Leonard I compiled a list of questions, which Rob was gracious enough to answer.

Note: If you are not familiar with the latest happenings in Diversions Entertainment, I suggest you go and do some reading at their website, which is also the home site of the upcoming One Must Fall: Battlegrounds. OMF:BG is the focus of this interview.

Visit the Diversions Entertainment Website

1. Please specify name/age/occupation.

Rob Elam, 30, Game Developer.

2. First, a little background. Please share your story with us; what made you choose game development for a career?

Hmm, I really don't recall making any choice. It's just what I always wanted to do.

3. How long had you been programming before OMF? What projects (other than the unreleased initial version of OMF) had you done before OMF?

Umm, started programming on a TRS-80 Color Computer, I guess I was 10 or 11. Did all kinds of different things, like spending about 2 years on a role playing game before realizing there was no way I could do it by myself. I decided to do something simpler, so I made OMF after getting hooked on Street Fighter 2.

4. Now for some questions about the original One Must Fall. To begin with, what was working on the game like?

Hehe, well, engine was pretty simple, so that wasn't much of a chore. For the artwork I had a video capture board (captured 1 frame at a time, and cost $500), a $50 video camera and an $80 VCR (both of which I got from a pawn shop). This was used to capture me doing various moves, then cleaned up the images in Deluxe Paint (as if any other graphic editor existed at the time :)). While delivering pizza, I toiled on it until it was done (with a good deal of help and support from my brother), then threw it out on the street.

5. At what point in the development cycle did OMF switch from humans to robots? What was the reason for the switch?

Well, when hooked up with Epic I'd already decided to use robots, the biggest reason was artwork, I simply couldn't hand-draw all that was needed for that many characters. However, I was pretty good at doing animation in 3DStudio, and ok at modeling, so that was the best choice. The ability to combine pilot abilities with the robots came later, a fairly obvious byproduct of the robot choice.

6. Was OMF ultimately considered, financially and otherwise, a success?

I think so, I made about the money I expected, and I really can't complain, I think it's pretty good for a first game. If stacked against larger games with more experienced and better funded teams, I don't think it really holds up, but when put in perspective I'm quite happy with it.

7. Moving on to OMF:BG. What are the guidelines for Battlegrounds? (For example, a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, are there any plans to more heavily implement a storyline in the gameplay etc.)

Well, the game definitely has a heavy concentration on multiplayer. OMF:BG is really the first step in a very long term strategy we have. We're concentrating the bulk of our efforts on a solid engine and engaging as well as balanced gameplay, so efforts relating to plot are assuredly getting less effort. We have several hot game concepts that take place in the universe OMF takes place in, so we're definitely interested in building a deep set of characters and environments, but much of the true depth of the universe will not be realized in OMF:BG. OMF:BG is definitely more about the gameplay than anything else.

8. Will OMF:BG chronologically predate OMF or the other way around?

OMF:BG takes place roughly 20 years after the first, which allows us to implement new technology easily. Also, many of the pilots from the first game will be returning, and will have matured somewhat (well, about 20 years :)).

9. What robots from the original OMF are to appear in Battlegrounds? Why did you choose these particular robots?

Jaguar, Pyros, Chronos, Katana, and Gargoyle are the only ones that are slated for this release. The decision was assuredly more a technical choice rather than an artistic one. We chose the ones we thought we could get done reasonably and make cool with current technology. Shadow is an obvious problem because replicating himself could cause some serious slowdown, and Flail is just so freaky he'd take twice as long due to all the custom animation work. It's really a shame, but that's what sequels and add-ons are for :).

10. In the promotional video for OMF:BG, the Desert Arena is shown with the camera pointing at the airplanes. This brings an interesting issue: with the freedirectional 3D gameplay, how do you intend to keep the player alert to environmental hazards?

Ahh, well, someone's been paying attention :). Ok, first off, there are several types of hazards. In OMF 2097, the fire pit had a globe that you hit that launched a fireball at your opponent, this would be a player triggered hazard. The fighter jets in the new desert are player triggered hazards as well. The way it works is you grab a pickup and carry it around, and when you throw it at someone, and hit them with it, a squad of 5 fighter jets is "called" to attack that target. When this happens, the leader of the squad informs the target that he's their next victim, so even if you didn't notice the target hitting you, the pilot of the jet would let you know you're in danger. IOW, in the new desert the jets don't attack randomly. Now, the blade pit is a different story, in there the spikes spring out randomly, but there's a red indicator on the ground that should make it obvious when it'll happen, you get about a 5 second head's up (you should be able to spot this in the video).

Continued: Part 2

Table of Contents: An Interview with Rob Elam