A First-Look at Sector 13
Ask anyone who grew up watching Star Wars what they wanted to be when they grew up; you can almost guarantee that you'll hear them mutter "Space Pilot" under their breath whilst trying to hide the familiar haze of nostalgia in their eyes. Now ask those misty-eyed few if they ever wanted to jump into a fighter and take on the might of an intergalactic empire. With people holding onto such dreams, space combat has long been a favourite topic for video games. Even the original arcade systems saw you piloting a space fighter and taking on a whole alien race with nothing but a single laser canon and a determination to win. With space combat being such a popular subject, it's hard to think that anyone can bring anything new to the theme and keep it fresh and innovative.
Reactor Interactive aim to bring this dream to everyone with their up-coming game, Sector 13. Their recipe seems simple; mix the freeform action of a space combat game with the breakneck pace of Quake 2's death-match, add a healthy twist of Counterstrike-style tactics and pour it into the cockpit of a high-powered space combat fighter.
Set in a remote, highly-desired corner of space known as 'Sector 13', the game sees you joining one of four corporate factions in their bid to conquer their opponents to gain absolute control over its resources. Sector 13 sees you teaming up with a number of like-minded allies to pilot a wing of space fighters and battle it out with up to 32 players in a range of multiplayer combat scenarios.
Each of the game's factions follow a unique technology tree, meaning you can fly up to 32 different space fighters, each with different flight characteristics, weapon systems and configuration options. The four main categories of ships are:
In addition to these, Reactor Interactive are offering a selection of unique mercenary ships for you to battle in. With all these different options, it's obvious that Reactor Interactive have gone to great lengths to cater for the various playing styles that different people have, allowing them to pick a ship that best suits them. In the words of Drew Clark from Reactor Interactive, "I wanted to make choosing your ship like picking your character in Tekken or Soul Calibur"; each of the game's ships not only look and handle differently but they also have unique configuration options that are specific to that ship.
Each ship has a number of "hardpoints" available which are used to add a combination of proximity bomb or projectile-based weapons, or to add special craft modifications, such as manoeuvrability jets or additional thrusters. The location of the hardpoints on the ship's hull dictates the types of upgrades you can add and how useful they'll be in specific scenarios. For example, you could fly a tactical fighter which has a selection of hardpoints located on its wings and fuselage. This placement allows you to attach long-ranged missiles, making it ideal for long-range support of other fighters. Conversely, you could opt to attach close-ranged missiles instead, thus resulting in a powerful craft that's perfectly suited to dogfighting and other close assault work.
The ability to customise your ships in this way opens up a huge range of possibilities in a team-based combat scenario and is one thing that makes Sector 13 so appealing. From the same basic hulls you are able to kit your ships out for straight death match battles, team-vs-team battles and even the hugely strategic capital ship assault missions. Although they won't be present in the initial release, the team-based capital ship assault missions are extremely appealing. These missions emphasise on strategy; players are required to work closely with their team mates to equip and lead a fighter squad into the very heart of enemy territory to destroy a series of capital ships.
Each capital ship has been designed to have specific geographic weak points which require a tightly-knit team to locate and destroy efficiently. For example, several players will need to pilot Interceptors to ensure the fighter cover is sufficiently low enough for the Gunships to weaken the capital ship's defences. Once breached, a squad of Strike Fighters are needed to fly in and attack the ship, using missiles that actually blow huge chunks of debris off into space until the ship's hull integrity levels fall low enough to destroy it. At the same time the opposite team is trying to achieve a similar goal, so you have to ensure that you're protecting your team-mates whilst trying to lead an all-out assault on your opponents. Sector 13 certainly sounds like the stuff dreams are made of.
For an exclusive video preview of Sector 13 in action, check out the new video Reactor interactive have provided for us.
Development Story of Sector 13
The game Sector 13 has come a long way since its original concept. Originally planned as a fully-featured MMO game similar to Freelancer, it quickly became evident that a clear focus was required in order for the game to be achievable. This focus was set specifically on the strategic combat aspect as it was this area that appealed most to the team. Led by Drew Clark and Ryan Buhr, Reactor Interactive developed the "Version Zero" prototype of Sector 13, which was seen at the GDC 2005 when the team joined GameDev.net on the expo floor. The prototype game was a huge hit with passers-by who picked up the joystick and engaged in one-on-one space combat; Drew recounts an amusing story that the dogfights people became engaged in were so intense that many people had to take their jackets off because they were sweating so much!
However being an independent team, Reactor Interactive discovered that many large publishers were simply not willing to take the risk and invest in a game that is still in development, especially by an unknown group. In despite of this initial disappointment, Reactor Interactive decided to push forward with Sector 13 and have spent a lot of time listening to feedback of their "Version Zero" prototype to deliver a game that rivals many commercial offerings. Reactor aim not only to develop a quality game, but to develop and support a whole franchise of quality games set within the Sector 13 universe.
The notion of quality is a concept that is built into the very essence of Sector 13; there is a great attention to detail that can be seen throughout the game. For example, each of the in-game factions have a very distinct 'personality' which is conveyed by the graphical style, handling of the ships and through to the stirring music that accompanies the battles they fight. When you choose to play a faction, you literally sign yourself into their world and fight as one of them.
As part of their quality control, Reactor Interactive have decided to stop writing engine code and focus specifically on the development of the gameplay elements of Sector 13. In order to move the game forward as they wanted Reactor have had to literally start from the ground up, scrapping much of their original codebase; Drew Clark states: "We have found out the hard way that making a game and an engine is almost impossible; many people don't realise that one or the other will suffer badly". Although it was a difficult decision for the team to make, their commitment and passion for developing the game they wanted demanded this sacrifice.
This new philosophy represents a maturation of the team, as they have shaken off the "must do it all" mindset that many Indie and hobby game developers possess. Reactor Interactive are now exclusively using off-the-shelf middleware components in Sector 13. For example the network code is based on ReplicaNet, the layer powering many commercial MMO games; the graphics engine now used is the popular open-sourced rendering engine OGRE and the sound system is based entirely on OpenAL, another open-sourced component.
Since moving to use third-party components, Reactor Interactive have allowed their team to expand in order to take advantage of specialist programmers in these technologies. Originally starting off with 6 members, the team has now grown to over 20 members recruited from all over the world; each of which specialise in a particular field. Reactor Interactive are continually recruiting for help in their project, often using message boards such as the GameDev.net Help Wanted Forum to find other like-minded, talented individuals who want to be part of an independent project with a high chance of completion.
Management is an important part of Reactor Interactive's success as an independent development studio. Since the original game concept, Sector 13 has been meticulously planned before any coding work commenced. The project is split into a series of milestones; within these, various tasks are planned far in advance which is what allows the distributed nature of the Reactor Interactive team to function so successfully. The team meet weekly on their team talk system to track progress, discuss issues and assign each other tasks. Outside of these meetings, the Groove Virtual Office groupware system allows Reactor Interactive to have internal forums which group members can ask questions about any aspect of the project. In addition to this, their system allows the team to share many documents, providing information on everything from gameplay fundamentals to graphics concept sketches, meaning that everyone is able to jump in and become a full part of the team.
With the maturity and strong managerial leadership that Reactor Interactive possesses, it's hard to imagine that a game like Sector 13 will not be successful.
Sector 13 is a multiplayer space combat game with an emphasis on combat strategy. Sector 13 is planned for an initial, self-published release in August 2006, with subsequent versions and evolutions to the game and story becoming available when completed.
Key contributors to Sector 13's development are: Drew Clark, Ryan Buhr, Tim Graupmann, Gilad Eisenberger, Tim George, Craig Edwards, Evan Arnett and Chris Sekorski.
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