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Exclusive interview: Cold Winter

The game is quite gory - why was this level of dismemberment included? Is it entirely necessary to be able to shoot away a dead soldier's legs? Also, why do flies collect around open wounds?
At the outset we very much wanted to create a gritty, hard, dark shooter that didn't pull its punches.

A lot of the content we were seeing on PS2 was relatively sanitised, designed for a large demographic and a low age rating and, although we didn't set out to make this an adult game, we were very aware that the world we wanted Sterling to live in needed to have a rougher texture, and that this would mean making decisions that could take it down the 18+ road.

Integrating a comprehensive gore system was part and parcel of this, really, alongside the decision to allow the key players to swear if and when appropriate.

This said, to truly see the dismemberment you have to make the decision to shoot a bot at point blank range with some of the more powerful weapons.

At the normal engagement range the gore really isn't in your face and as such there is a culpable decision making process needed to look at it.

Basically, it's all down to the individual player's level of visceral voyeurism.

As to whether it's necessary - well, no, it's not at all necessary but, then, the environmental effects aren't necessary, the guards talking in their native tongues isn't necessary, and the levels loading in one chunk, removing constant disk access, isn't really necessary.

But it all adds to the experience and to the sense of realism, and helps keep the player engaged and interested, making it a fuller, all-round experience.

As well as interactive levels, Cold Winter also boasts intelligent AI. Can you explain how intelligent it is? What separates it from regular enemies found in other games?
We always knew that in a first-person shooter, as is true for many games, the most important thing to get right is the core mechanic - the gameplay that's at the heart of the experience. Get this right and everything else is icing on the cake; get this wrong and the entire experience will be ruined.

For Cold Winter we condensed this core experience down to the controls, weapons, combat and associated feelings of combat, the physics, and the AI. The key thing with the AI in Cold Winter is that we've gone out of our way to develop an AI system that thinks for itself.

We very much wanted to create AI bots that have true intelligence and go through a decision making process before their actions are translated into on-screen action. In this way we hoped to create a more natural, dynamic, organic play experience that would unfurl differently each time.

This not only means the player can't learn the attack patterns of the bots, and therefore keeping the experience constantly fresh, but also means the player can't 'break' the AI by doing something the designers hadn't accurately predicted.

This is very much the danger with pre-scripted AI - when this happens it totally breaks the player's sense of belief in the world, it breaks immersion and disengages the player from the experience, something we've worked really hard to eliminate in all areas of the game.

In terms of what you will actually see the bots doing in Cold Winter, firstly, there's the use of cover - all the bots have an awareness of the environment, know what they can use as static cover, what they can use as physical cover, and know how to get into cover.

You regularly see the bots in Cold Winter drop behind a post and start firing from this cover position, then move up to a closer or better firing position when you're reloading. Words don't do this justice - it looks phenomenal and really has to be seen in action.

Then there's their awareness of other bots in the immediate area - if another bot uses a grenade they are aware of this and will act accordingly, sometimes charging through smoke and definitely holding back if a frag grenade has been put into play.

This awareness extends to their ability to learn from the other bots' mistakes. If a bot sees another bot mown down when it charges round a corner, for instance, it will take longer to make the decision to come round that corner itself, holding back to see if you will break cover first.

As the time a bot takes to come and give back up also depends on its rank and skill level, the end result can be different every time you play.

Take out all the lower ranked bots and the higher ranks will be very reluctant to come and flush you out - great if you're low on health and need some recovery time, but it does mean that they have the tactical advantage when you break cover.

Collectively these systems, and many more, give the AI in Cold Winter a really unique feel when you're playing.

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