We recently got to talk with Julian Eggebrecht, President of Factor 5, and asked him about all things GameCube, and Rogue Squadron 2. Here's Part II! Techies drool on!
Planet GameCube: What were you guys up to between finishing Battle for Naboo and starting Rogue Leader? Working on tools, Thornado, sleeping?
Julian Eggebrecht: There was no time because we had to finish Indy N64, port Naboo to the PC and get the first version of MusyX out of the door for other GameCube developers. In addition to that quite some tools needed updating for Rogue 2. We were absolutely swamped with work - believe me, if there would have been a way to start with Rogue Leader earlier, we certainly would have done it because we knew that we had to be done for launch.
Planet GameCube: What is Factor 5's current relationship with Nintendo?
Julian Eggebrecht: We like Nintendo a lot and we have quite a few good friends at Nintendo Technology and NOA. We love the GameCube hardware and really would like to stay single-platform for the time being. You can squeeze so much more out of the GameCube for second generation games and to maximize that there is nothing better than focused development on one platform without the worries if a certain trick will work on a different machine. In the end it of course comes down to the success of the GameCube and I hope we helped its birth a little bit with Rogue Leader.
Planet GameCube: Looking back at Battle for Naboo and Indiana Jones on the N64, what are your thoughts about developing those games and how they were received in the industry?
Julian Eggebrecht: Battle for Naboo had a few very strong things going for it but it also had weaknesses. In hindsight the space controls should have been much better. We focused on fixing the problems for Rogue Leader and I think the controls have come a long way in merging 360 degree movement with the simplicity of arcade controls.
Indy was a great technical challenge on all levels. We learned a lot about camera and character-control. It was extremely tricky to implement a completely new control and camera into an existing game and I think within the given constraints it worked out better than most people expected. Hal Barwood, Director of Indy PC, was very skeptical about transforming the game into a console experience but after our initial work he really came around and actually ended up doing a tremendous amount of work on the new save system.
As for the industry reception - the end of the N64 lifecycle was a quiet one so most people didn’t really take notice of these last few N64 games.
Planet GameCube: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the GameCube controller?
Julian Eggebrecht: The least favorite aspect is the Z-Button. I am not sure if it could have been better, though. In my opinion, everything else is just about perfect.
Planet GameCube: What are your thoughts on the competition? GameCube vs. PS2, GameCube vs. Xbox?
Julian Eggebrecht: On a technical level, GameCube is stronger than the PS2 and on par with the X-Box. This means porting from PS2 and X-Box to the GameCube is very, very easy. This will work to Nintendo’s advantage because third parties can easily implement a multi-platform strategy if they want to. GameCube has the huge price advantage going for it and it is arguably the easiest of the three to develop for. I hope that this, combined with the strong first-party titles and third party exclusives like Rogue Leader will give Nintendo an edge in the fight.
Planet GameCube: If there was something you could change about the GameCube hardware, what would it be, and why?
Julian Eggebrecht: Nintendo struck the balance almost perfectly, so aside from increasing every feature hundred-fold we don t have any complaints.
Rogue Leader Questions:
Planet GameCube: What was it like working with the original Wedge Antilles? Did you use any other original actors for voiceovers?
Julian Eggebrecht: You would have to ask the LucasArts voice director about that - we only wrote the lines and did the post-processing for the audio files. To answer the second part of your question - Dennis Lawson was the only original actor we used for new recordings. We are also using a lot of lines directly from the movies. All of Han Solo’s and Princess Leia’s lines are taken straight from the originals.
Planet GameCube: How do you think Japanese gamers will respond to Rogue Leader?
Julian Eggebrecht: I hope they like it. Rogue Squadron scored pretty good in Famitsu back then. We very carefully localized the complete game this time, including Japanese voice, so players hopefully will have the same experience as US-players do.
Planet GameCube: How much creative license does Factor 5 have within the SW world? Do you draw only from the movies themselves or from the entire expanded universe?
Julian Eggebrecht: We usually have as much freedom as the specific game and its placement in the universe allows. We deliberately tried to stay close to the movies for Rogue 2, whereas Rogue 1 was almost completely set in the expanded universe. Whenever we work in the Star Wars universe we have LucasArts check from day one if what we are proposing will work. It’s an ongoing, very organic process during the development. What makes it easier is of course the amount of years we have been working with the property and the respect everybody here has for Star Wars.
Planet GameCube: Rogue Squadron featured original missions that took place in-between the SW movies but Rogue Leader recreates several missions within the trilogy. Did this enable you to provide some of your own interpretations / twists to these classic cinema battles or was much creative freedom limited in trying to stay faithful to the source material?
Julian Eggebrecht: That was an interesting aspect of designing Rogue Leader. It’s easy to say "we recreate this battle" but if you dig deeper it has to work within the game mechanics and the overall game still needs to have a natural flow. Hoth was a huge discussion point, not only because we wanted to show more than you saw in the movie but also because we had to shift from Luke Skywalker to Wedge Antilles during the course of the mission.
At the beginning of the design process I was a bit scared how much the movies would restrict us but in the end it was the opposite - the movie scenes inspired some really great gameplay elements.
Planet GameCube: Is Rogue Leader using sub-pixel anti-aliasing?
Julian Eggebrecht: Yes, it’s using the GameCube’s 3-point sub-pixel anti-aliasing and of course the excellent deflicker hardware for the interlaced output.
Planet GameCube: How does Rogue Leader utilize the GameCube's internal clock? Would you like to use this feature in future games?
Julian Eggebrecht: We always try to use as many hardware features in our games as possible, so we early on discussed how we could use the clock. It is quite fun to be surprised by it.
Planet GameCube: Are you happy with GameCube's memory bandwidth? Have you ever had to back-track and maybe trim some effects or textures down due to lack of bandwidth?
Julian Eggebrecht: There never were any problems with bandwidth. It really is the single-most impressive feature about the hardware and makes very reliable predictions about performance possible.
Planet GameCube: How flexible and useful is Gekko in assisting Flipper with custom lighting and geometry? Are you using this feature? Does it compare to the vertex and pixel shaders on the Xbox's graphics chip?
Julian Eggebrecht: Maybe without going into too much detail, we don’t think there is anything visually you could do on X-Box (or PS2) which can’t be done on GameCube. I have read theories on the net about Flipper not being able to do cube-mapped environment maps, fur shading, self-shadowing etc... That’s all plain wrong. Rogue does extensive self-shadowing and both cube-maps and fur shading are not anymore complicated to implement on GameCube than on X-Box. You might be doing it differently, but the results are the same. When I said that X-Box and GameCube are on par power-wise I really meant it.
Planet GameCube: In a recent IGNinsider article, Greg Buchner revealed that Flipper can do some unique things because of the ways that the different texture layers can interact. Can you elaborate on this feature? Have you used it? Do you know if the effects it allows are reproducible on other architectures (at decent framerates)?
Julian Eggebrecht: He was probably referring to the TEV pipeline. Imagine it like an elaborate switchboard that makes the wildest combinations of textures and materials possible. The TEV pipeline combines up to 8 textures in up to 16 stages in one go. Each stage can apply a multitude of functions to the texture - obvious examples of what you do with the TEV stages would be bump-mapping or cel-shading. The TEV pipeline is completely under programmer control, so the more time you spend on writing elaborate shaders for it, the more effects you can achieve. We just used the obvious effects in Rogue Leader with the targeting computer and the volumetric fog variations being the most unusual usage of TEV. In a second generation game we’ll obviously focus on more complicated applications.
Part III Coming Tomorrow! Stay Tuned!