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After the huge success of the Unreal series, Digital Extremes have a lot to live up to with their latest first-person shooter Pariah. Especially when claims of an immersive storyline penned by Hollywood writers, compelling first-person action and the ultimate multiplayer experience are bandied about.

We talked to James Schmalz, founder and creative director of Digital Extremes, to get the full, gory details: upgradeable weapons, multiplayer map editing... and just what's happening with that PS2 version.

How did your initial approach to the development of Pariah differ to that of the Unreal series?
We had a lot more experience making games and we had the solid foundation of the Unreal engine to work with, so this time around we had a much better grasp of what we needed to do from the beginning.

There was a lot more experimentation on Pariah, almost a year's worth, just trying out new ideas. The best thing to come from it was our next multiplayer game type (Front Line Assault), the editor and the upgradeable weapons.

The combination of action and stealth is now fairly common in games. What is it about Pariah that makes it new or different?
The upgradeable weapons really kick ass! The more we played with the weapons, the more we wanted them to become a focal point of the game in both single-player and multiplayer. The stealth aspect has certainly been diminished; it's much more about full-on, in-your-face action.

On Xbox, the truly new and exciting part is not just the easy-to-use editor but the ability to then take the maps you make and publish them on Xbox Live. You can then download your friends' maps or official published maps. We recently got this working to its full capacity and it's a very exciting feature.

How will the Xbox and PC versions differ?
We are spending a month or so adapting the PC version. We'll adjust the AI to suit each platform and polish the PC version for mouse and keyboard, and the Xbox version for the controller. Overall they will be similar in story and gameplay modes; it will be the polish that makes them differ.

What were the problems involved with designing a level editor for the Xbox version?
There is a very good reason why you haven't seen too many console editors and why there have been none that allow you to share maps - it's an enormous challenge! Just debugging it for the infinite number of combinations you can make is an incredibly daunting task. Getting the large amount of content to fit into memory is difficult.

The other tricky aspect was optimising the size of the map file so it can be transferred in a few seconds. The list of hurdles we had to overcome was immense. But it has finally come together and it's something we think a lot of people will enjoy.

What's happened to the PS2 version - is it still going ahead?
I don't think we can officially say the status. The project is alive and looking fabulous, I can tell you that.

How important a role does the narrative play?
We wanted a compelling story that drew the player in and gave meaning to their role. The story nicely ties everything together and gives the game a unique and satisfying conclusion. We're extremely pleased with how it's come together.

How would you compare Pariah's multiplayer game to that of other recent first-person shooters, like Halo 2 and Half-Life 2?
It's fast, it's fun and it's exciting. It's definitely different in that it's focused around the upgradeable weapons. So it's a fresh take on multiplayer.

Plus there is the editor, which gives a different spin on things, and there is our new game type called Front Line Assault. So if you're a fan of multiplayer, we definitely have something exciting and different from what you might currently be playing.

How close to completion is development of the game and what aspects are you still working on?
We are done creating. We are just killing bugs, polishing and balancing the game at this time.

Pariah will be released for PC and Xbox this spring