We sat down with Todd Vaughn, director of new busines development at Bethesda and fired off some questions about their newest combat flight sim (recently went gold), Echelon.
the Junkyard: Can you please introduce yourself to the community?
Todd Vaughn: Hi. Iím Todd Vaughn.
tJY: What exactly do you do at Bethesda?
Todd: When Iím not watching over products like Echelon, Iím the director of new business development, much of my job is searching for exciting developers and products and if itís something weíre interested in, follow it through to publishing.
JY: What's a day in your life at work like?
Todd: Lots of screaming and yelling and of course, playing Echelon.
tJY: What's the story behind Echelon?
Todd: In a nutshell, the game focuses on a pending war between the Galactic Federation (good guys), and the Velians (bad guys) which have both emerged from the ashes of a shattered empire. The backstory helps set the stage by telling of the destruction of the empire and the struggle of the survivors to reestablish civilization. As it turns out one group of survivors colonized their worlds with peace and prosperity in mind, establishing the Federation and another group (Velians) established an evil empire (details).
tJY: How will that prove for an enticing single-player campaign mode?
Todd: The struggle for survival against a superior and largely unknown foe is always a good backdrop for intrigue and twists, and the missions really attempt to highlight that wherever possible. Throughout the missions youíll learn more about the Velians, discover hidden allies and take part in the struggle of the Federation.
tJY: What separates Echelon from the other flight sims on the market?
Todd: The most notable thing of course, is that the game isnít set in space; it takes place over a planetís surface. As a sci-fi game it features a surprising amount of ďrealismĒ in the way the craft move and operate and the way support units such as tanks and transports factor into a battle. As a flight combat game it features a surprising amount of action packed into each mission.
tJY: What modes will be available in multiplayer?
Todd: Right now there are a few different modes of play and these are on track for the retail release. Team Capture, Team Deathmatch, and Free For All (deathmatch).
tJY: For games like CTF and Deathmatch, is Bethesda making any attempt at altering the gameplay?
Todd: We havenít taken any steps to alter the multiplayer gameplay forms, largely because there was already a lot of work on the developerís plate in creating and balancing the single-player and multi-player game.
tJY: Will Echelon come with an in game multiplayer server browser, or some other means of connecting to games (direct IP, internet browser services, etc.)?
Todd: There wonít be a server browser in the retail version per se, but there is a IP browser built into the game that searches for games hosted on local area networks. Hopefully weíll be able to extend this in the near future for the internet.
tJY: How 'MOD'able will Echelon be? Will Bethesda release editing tools with the game?
Todd: The editing tool is something weíve been in discussion with the developer about, and if it is released it will come after the retail version. The editor for Echelon is a complex tool without a lot of the user friendliness you find in some other game editors, so weíre weighing the benefits against the complexity of the editor.
tJY: Will Echelon support custom skins, graphics and textures? If so, how will these be handled online?
Todd: In its retail release we wonít supporting customized skins or textures, primarily because thereís not a lot of opportunity to examine the craft as theyíre whipping by at high speed. If thereís a lot of interest for that level of customization once folks have had a chance to try the retail version, itís possibly something we can try and work towards through an add-on or patch with the developer.
tJY: Will Echelon support deformable terrain? If so, to what extent?
Todd: Deformable terrain isnít supported, but thereís plenty of destruction throughout the game that more than makes up for it. Lighting effects, particle effects, damage decals and objects that can be destroyed are just some of the great effects weíve got in place.
tJY: A lot of people find flight sims to be rather difficult to control and often give up because of that. Is Echelon going to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and be a pain in the butt to control?
Todd: Not at all. A lot of thought went into the development of the controls for Echelon to overcome that problem. Though traditional joystick/rudder/throttle combo is supported and the controls are very well balanced and manageable, given that itís an action-oriented game - much like a first-person game - the designers wanted to introduce a method of control as close to FPS controls as possible. The game can be easily played with a mouse and keyboard and these can be customized to suit even the most finicky gamer. These are especially fun in multiplayer.
tJY: What's the 'ceiling' limit on the maps? How high will you be able to fly until you reach that invisible ceiling in the sky? Will you be able to fly around the maps forever, or will you eventually run into invisible walls?
Todd: From the playerís perspective thereís no hard ceiling or invisible walls in the world, and the only considerations that keep players from flying off into space are the operating characteristics of each craft. Some craft like interceptors can climb higher than the heavy attack craft or fighters. As for flying around the maps for ever, itís possible in the single-player campaign to head off out into the wilderness and attempt to fly off the world (which will continue to extend) but there wonít be much to hold your interest. The continent-sized campaign map is surrounded by water on all sides.
tJY: Will you be able to pilot anything other than fliers? Ground support perhaps?
Todd: The only vehicles youíll be able to pilot are the flyers, but thatís in keeping with the design of the game. The designers set out to create a very interesting atmospheric sci-fi combat simulation, and there were a lot of hurdles in doing so. Adding the ability to control ground support or other vehicles, wouldíve been a distraction from the core of the game.
tJY: What API's will be supported?
Todd: The game was designed to utilize DirectX.
tJY: Finally, is Echelon on time for release?
Todd: Last minute details can sometimes be the most time consuming and weíre working through those details right now, but we do expect Echelon to be widely available in North America sometime around the end of April.
Once again on behalf of the Junkyard, I'd like to thank Todd for taking the time to answer our questions!