Monolith Stud - Craig "Momma said knock you out" Hubbard recently took time out of his hectic schedule to smooth-talk a bit with Billy.

Continuing my quest to secretly get a job in the "real" gaming industry :), I put the moves on Craig Hubbard of Monolith - Craig is the main stud-boy on the Riot: Mobile Assault team. Remember, these are the guys that kicked out the sweet-ass Blood and as mentioned are working on Riot which is using the DirectEngine technology (which they developed (along with MS)).

Also, the exclusive pics of Riot from our buddy Craig are at the end of the interview.

posted on 9.29.97

VE: For people that have been living in a cave for the last few years, do you want to give us a brief description of who you are and what you do (besides the work with Greenpeace and such)
CB: Well, I spend most of my time running illegal firearms between Southern California and Porto Alegre, Brazil--assault rifles and high explosives, mainly... er, maybe I'm revealing too much here.

Actually, I'm lead designer on Riot: Mobile Armor. Basically, I sit around and drink shitty beer and eat Cheetos while everybody else works their asses off. Then I take credit for everything. ;)


VE: For people that don't know, what exactly is the DirectEngine? How much work has Microsoft put into it?
CB: DirectEngine is a true 3D game engine being developed by Monolith (Microsoft will be licensing it). The lead engineer, Mike Dussault, is the kind of guy who can look you bravely in the eye and issue a resounding, 20 second belch, then go off and code an elaborate, flexible keyframing system in an afternoon. A true Renaissance Man.

Information on the engine itself is available at www.directengine.com. The bottom line is that it rivals most other 3D game engines and is readily adaptable to a lot of different uses. It's also an ongoing project, which means it will be constantly evolving to take advantage of the latest technology.


VE: What games are currently in development or are planned for the DirectEngine?
CB: Riot, Blood 2, and another project that is still in the hush-hush prototype stage. We've got other ideas kicking around, but we're pretty busy with the projects we've got.


VE: Do you think Chelsea could kick Bill's ass? What about if we threw Newt in the picture (on Bill's side)?

CB: I was Chelsea's martial arts trainer in Thailand back in '73. I've seen her snap a grown man's spine without breaking a sweat.

Of course, if Newt had a chance to wolf down an egg salad sandwich with onions before the fight, I think Chelsea would be in trouble.


VE: What is the suggested base system for Riot/DirectEngine? What is the optimum system?

CB: It hasn't been set in stone yet. I've heard P90 and P133, but a lot will depend on the optimization phase. We're also planning to make the game as scalable as possible so that someone with a slower system can cut back on some of the detail settings and get good performance.


VE: What is the story (both behind the scenes and of the game itself) behind Riot?
CB: Well, the basic premise behind Riot is that you're a once-respected lieutenant in the UCASF (United Corporate Authority Security Force) who's been assigned to assassinate a rebel leader known only as Gabriel. Cronus, the planet upon which the game takes place, is rich in an organic material that is essential to contemporary space travel--imagine the difference between walking from New York to San Diego and flying there in a Concorde. The outcome of your mission will affect all of humanity. Needless to say, there are a lot of opposing factions jumping into the fray, some with admirable causes, many who are just plain greedy.

The game is inspired by some of our favorite anime films--Patlabor, Macross Plus, Venus Wars, Ghost in the Shell, etc. You'll get to run around in a giant suit of transforming combat armor with insanely powerful weapons. You'll also spend a good deal of time on foot with a completely separate arsenal. Riot is goal-oriented, which means that instead of looking for exit switches, you'll be trying to complete certain objectives in the face of tremendous odds.

The in-game story is based very much on the core group of characters. The thing that distinguishes good anime is that no matter how epic the struggle may be, it always comes down to the people involved. There's a lot of humor and emotion mixed in with all the huge explosions and balletic violence.

More information is available at riot.lith.com. (Notice how I use URLs to substitute for answers? Pretty lazy, huh?)

As for the story behind the scenes? It's a sordid tale of the variety that they used to print in dime novels. Not really fit for an upscale venue such as this. :)


VE:What web sites do you visit on a regular basis (if you say Billy's sweet-ass Voodoo Extreme I'll give you a set of Ginsu knifes!)
CB: Let's see, some of my favorites include Blue's News, sCary's Shuga Shack, Billy's sweet-ass Voodoo Extreme, OGR, Jaspur's Half-Life site, and Gamespot. Oh, and did I mention Billy's sweet-ass Voodoo Extreme?


VE: Will Riot supporting any online/multiplayer options or is it built more around a single player model? If in the case of single player, and AI enhancements that you can discuss?
CB: Riot has buit-in multiplayer support with up to 32 players and possibly more. It's server-based, so you can play over the Internet like Quake.

We're definitely devoting a lot of attention to the singleplayer aspect of the game, though. The anime influence in Riot isn't limited to character and vehicle designs--it's also very evident in the game story, the level design, and the overall feel of the game. We wanted to make a game that would play like an anime film rather than a Doom clone with mecha.

With that in mind, our main goal with the single player game is to make you feel like you're in a living, breathing environment. We want the enemies to behave like people with lives and families they care about, not like automatons that sit around in closets waiting for the good guys to show up. They'll use cover, conserve ammo, and do their jobs--unless they panic or go psycho, that is.


VE: Typically how many polygons are busting da' moves on the screen at any one time on Riot? Does it vary with the level of the machine (a faster machine would display more while a slower machine would display less to keep the frame rate up?)
CB: We've got built-in level of detail on our characters and will most likely do the same with the environments--the foundation is there, it's just a question of implementing it. We'll also probably include some sort of fog option for people with slower machines (note, however, that certain levels will have built-in fog for atmosphere and scale rather than framerate).

I'm not sure what the max polygon count will be, but it should be comparable to what you see in most other games. Fortunately, our 3D modellers--Peter Arisman, Ben Pierre, and Matt Allen--use their triangles well. ;)


VE: What is you entire take on this Dave Perry patent thing? What do you think of Messiah from what you've seen and his whole "going to nurbs" bit? Why not use nurbs over poly's?
CB: From what I've heard of the game's concept, it sounds like it could be pretty cool. I hope they explore the subject matter in an interesting, thought-provoking way instead of playing it for gimmicks.

My feeling about technology in general is that it's a tool, not a goal. I like games that are immersive and fun, which requires that the technology basically be invisible to the player. If the average gamer is paying more attention to your renderer than to what's going on in the game, you haven't done your job as a game designer.

Even worse, if your awesome technology simply underscores how incredibly crappy your conceptual designs are--a certain candy-colored, over-hyped portal engine game comes to mind--you could end up fucked. The market is getting too competitive for developers to cruise on their flashy feature sets. Technology ages fast, but good games stick around for years. I still get a lot of joy out of playing Joust or Tempest, whereas I've deleted a lot of glitzy demos after only a few minutes of playing them because they just aren't fun.

A good game makes you forget about everything except for what's going on in front of you. You should be wrapped up in overcoming the next obstacle and striving to attain the next goal, not in the rendering tricks or the overzealous architecture. Look at Goldeneye--the technology isn't especially groundbreaking and the architecture is pretty simple, but it's a great, innovative game.

The bottom line is that if Messiah isn't engrossing, I don't care about the technology because I won't play it. :)


VE: What other little goodies such as surround sound, etc. are you planning for Riot...what about the DirectEngine in general?
CB: Most of the technology you'll see in Riot is listed on the DirectEngine site. As for gameplay goodies, those are a surprise, but I assure you that they're relevant to the genre and quite unexpected. :)


VE: What games do you have high hopes for and are really looking forward to? Which games do you think will fall on their asses?
CB: The three I'm jonesing for most are Quake 2, Half-Life, and Jedi Knight. I've already resigned myself to the impact each of them will have on my productivity. :)

I suspect Daikatana will kick ass, as well, especially if it delivers on the Final Fantasy/Chrono Trigger influence. The screenshots are looking very sharp and the design sketches I've seen really capture the wacky, over-the-top weirdness that distinguishes the best console RPGs. Sin looks beautiful, too, but I expect no less from Ritual. I'm sure it'll rock.

I'm curious to see Unreal. The weapons didn't really excite me at E3--I prefer visceral, readily identifiable firearms to novelty weapons--but it's a very pretty game. I'm sure the texture alignment will be quite impressive, for whatever that's worth to the average gamer.

Beyond that, Metal Gear Solid for PSX and N64, which is due next summer, looks to be one of the coolest fucking games ever made. The attention to detail is breathtaking. Developers who think something as juvenile as offensive subject matter qualifies as innovative content need to take a look at this game.


VE: Is it true you were the stunt double for Corky in the tv series "Life Goes On"?
CB: No, but I played the Professor on Gilligan's Island.


VE: What effects will Riot and/or the DirectEngine be using on either the MMX or a 3D accelerator (fogging, etc.) that won't be available otherwise. For intsance, if somebody has an MMX but not a 3D accelerator, or visa versa, will they have features the other doesn't?
CB: I think the MMX version is currently capable of dialing into your bank account and transferring all your funds to a bank in Switzerland, but that might only be in the Glide version.

In other words, I'm not sure at this point. :)


VE: On average, how many poly's are there for each character? At this point, how many of da' nasties are there (bad guys (in Riot))?
CB: Most characters are between 400 and 800. Bosses tend to be more complex since they'll usually be encountered one-on-one.

The final number of enemies depends on time. We've got plans for more than we can possibly do, so we've prioritized to get the essential ones in first. It'll be over 20 distinct models, I assure you.


VE: what kind of things can we expect to see in the AI? Anything like they are hyping with SiN and Half-Life where the baddies actually run away and get some of their buddies to help kick your ass?
CB: That's the plan. We're doing a variety of things to emulate realistic behavior--limiting enemy ammo, giving them goals and attitudes, working on group behavior, and so on. We'll also help them where possible in the level design and through some limited scripting.


VE: Have your humanitarian efforts taken you back to the streets of Compton, where you grew up? What about back to Harlem where you spent your teen-age years as a globetrotter?
CB: I think you have me confused with somebody else. I grew up in a suitcase in an attic in Topeka. I got my big break when I was invited to move to a high rent Samsonite in New York. Little did I know I was soon to cross paths with an angry gorilla. (Well, actually, it was a guy in a gorilla suit, but he was definitely in a bad mood.) It got me into television, though, so I can't complain, despite the fact that you can't see me in the commercial and they edited out my screams.


VE: Why did Monolith go with developing a proprietary engine such as DirectEngine rather than sticking with something that has been tested out, such as the Quake Engine? Were there limitations or something about the engine that you didn't care for?
CB: DirectEngine was already in development by the time Quake came out, so it was never a question.


VE: Will the DirectEngine be using an 8-bit or 16-bit palette as the standard palette?
CB: DirectEngine supports 16 bit color.


VE: Currently, how far into the Riot project are you guys? When can we expect to see a beta?
CB: We're in the death march. We've got a pretty inflexible content complete date that we're busting our asses to meet. There's still a lot of work to do, but a little pressure is good for ya.

The game is due on shelves before the middle of next year. A demo should be out around the time we ship.


VE: Do you want to hire me? I'm kinda cute, make good coffee and can entertain your guests! :)
CB: I'd have to okay it with my concubines. They're a bit territorial.


VE: Anything else that you would like to say about either the DirectEngine, Riot, Monolith (Blood2???) or anything else?
CB: Ultimately, Riot has to speak for itself, so I'll leave it at that. I could tell you about Blood 2, but Jay is right across the hall from me and would probably come in here with a shovel if I leaked any secrets. Suffice to say that it's looking awesome and will definitely be much more a horror game than its predecessor. They're doing some creepy shit.

Thanks! :)

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A big thanks goes out to Craig Hubbard, once again, for being such a smooth-mofo to take the time to chat with somebody as annoying as me :) -Billy

Oh, and check out these exclusive screenshots courtesy of Craig!