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Swat 3 Developer Interviews:

These interviews republished courtesy of the former website "Toc Code 4: Mission Complete".   The content modified slightly for this website.

by Spac3Rat and Joruus


 Wanting to know more about how Swat3 was built, we have five interviews with some of the developers.

Covering Game Design, Art, Sound, Programming and Production, the main goal was to have an inside-view of the overall process as long as knowing what should we expect in future gaming releases.


Part 1. Game Design - Tammy Dargan

Part 2. Art Director - Cyrus Kanga

Part 3. Music and Sound Effects - Evan Buehler

Part 4. Programming - John Anderson

Part 5. Producer - Rod Fung



Development Team - Part I - Game Designdev tammy




We're starting with Tammy Dargan. Tammy is the designer of the team. From game features to missions, scenarios, manual, box, etc., Tammy is the one behind it.


:: Ok, this is a basic question that I'm sure lots of people would ask: what was your role in the making of Swat3?
I'm the game designer. Being a game designer is different at every company out there - so here's a brief run down of my responsibilities: I come up with the game concept & the write game proposal; I determine game features, design storyline, game characters, and write dialogue. I design levels / scenarios that are then built by artists and programmed by engineers. I cast voice talent & direct voice recording. I write game manual, box copy. The job of directing and maintaining the central theme of the game is my responsibility also. Though it sounds like I do everything to determine the game I don't. Our producer, programmers & artists come up with great ideas that are incorporated into the game as well. This is a team effort.


:: What inspired you to establish the overall feeling of the game? I know you guys spent some time with LAPD SWAT but did you watch any movies, or read any books?
SWAT 3 represents a real group of individuals. I wanted to be as respectful as possible, after all these guys are real life heroes. I learned a lot about tactics from our various tactical advisors and created environments where those tactics could be employed. I read as many tactical operation manuals as I could get my hands on and participated in tactical training. The training was very helpful - its one thing to watch tactical officers run a shooting house but it's quite another to actually run it yourself. I'm also an avid reader and a huge movie buff so I read lots of books and watched everything related to police. Of course, some of the best movies tactics are those done by the bad guys (check out the movie Way of the Gun).


:: Was it difficult for you to adapt your skills to this "Elite Police Force" scene? I mean. Did you have to somewhat "force" yourself to doing this or you just love the concept and it came all?
I worked on FOX's America's Most Wanted and spent a good deal of time with police officers (mostly detectives) prior to working on the Police Quest series. As a matter of fact, I was assigned PQ4 & SWAT because of my prior police experience. I have a healthy respect for what police officers do, and I am especially impressed with tactical / emergency response teams - they're highly trained and must work very cohesively. So making games about tactics and the men who employ them has been interesting and fun.


:: Did Swat3 come out as you wanted it to be? Is it everything you wanted to put in the game actually inside that CD-Rom (and patches)?
SWAT3 was missing a whole lot of features that I had originally designed for the game - they were cut due to time constraints. With the release of SWAT3: Elite Edition and the various updates we've probably been able to create at least ¾ of the game I originally designed. Look to our next game to incorporate many, if not all, the features that were left out of SWAT3.


:: Let's imagine that we buy a weird car and travel to the past. What would you change about SWAT 3 and the development process in general?
We spent 90% of our development schedule building an engine. That left very little time to create the application. It was incredibly frustrating. Also, there was a lot of hard coding that went on - making the game rigid. When we began work on Elite Edition our programmers re-wrote a bunch of code to make the game more 'mod' friendly and the game more flexible. I wish we could have done that from the ground up. Honestly, I wasn't sure we "had game" until a few months before we shipped the original SWAT3 CQB. My idea of how the game would play (and my belief that it would be fun) wasn't tested until the summer before we shipped. That meant I spent approximately 16 months praying the game would work out. Did I mention it was a frustrating experience?


:: But if you had to change it, what and Why would you change?
I don't know if I'd change anything - all games ship with flaws -- whether they're actual game design flaws, interface issues or downright programming bugs. We were really lucky after we shipped the original SWAT3 CQB in that Sierra supported the dev team's support of our fan base. We were allowed to keep working on the game and create Elite Edition as well as needed patches. Often times after a game ships the team is split up to work on other projects - we were kept together and continued to improve the game. Overall, I'm really proud of the game and the guys I work with.


:: What are you working on now? Do you keep on working as a Swat3 developer or are you in some other Sierra project?
Well, I can't say what I'm working on because Sierra hasn't officially announced it. I can say that I'm working. always a good thing.


:: Are you any good at the game yourself? Or do you spend so much time watching the textures and architecture that you get yourself shot without even noticing? ;)
I'm pretty good - however, I have to admit that I am a bit of a rogue. I know tactics inside and out and yet, in the heat of the moment, I often put myself in jeopardy. It was the same when we trained for real. I would often rush a room and, of course, suffer the consequence by taking a simunition round (and those things are painful).



Development Team - Part II - Art




In the second interview to the Swat3 Development Team, we'll learn about how the in-game environments were created.

Cyrus Kanga is the Art Director. Born in Bombay, India, he has been in the industry for about 13 years, he has already worked in over 30 projects like Red Baron, MechWarrior I, Earthsiege 2, Tribes and Outpost 2 to name a few. His skills have been more that proven and now he opens up a little of his secrets.

:: With Bungies new game, Oni, an aspect of it that they are really pushing is the fact the locations have been designed by real life architects. Yet SWAT 3 manages to be much more realistic with it's levels. How did you approach the design of the locations?
Well, for starters we knew that the whole swat3 game concept was based on realism: real tactics, real looking locations, and real looking characters. This basically meant that the art team's primary focus, given the strengths and limitations of the game engine, was to "design a look and feel that immersed the player, as an LAPD swat team operator, into a crisis situation in a LA location (around the year 2005)". That focus/idea meant that every visual detail, in the game, had to be addressed with a critical eye, specifically, the environments.

:: How did you handle the design of real life locations? Did you manage to get buildings blueprints and such? How did people react when you asked them and told them that it was for a computer game?
Each environment posed different challenges i.e. unique game-play, and architectural features. However, we devised a four-stage development process that progressed us systematically through the construction of each level.
Stage one, was a research and pre-production stage. We got the ball rolling with a thorough review of the design document, for the mission. After which we spent an intensive week on research. For reference, we photographed actual physical locations (and yes, we did get some crazy looks from people when we tried to convince them that we were shooting reference photos for a computer game), used the library, the Internet, and did some concept sketching.. and let me tell you, our digital camera was one of the most valuable art tools on the project.

Stage two, was blocking-out, also known as 3d massing, in our level editor (Worldcraft). Here we laid out the basic floor plan of the entire level. This gave the art team a first look at the space. However, more importantly, it allowed us to determine if the level met all the designer's game play and tactical requirements.

Stage three, was the main construction phase. We spent a significant amount of time in this phase modeling, texturing, and lighting. We tried to approach the construction phase the same way an interior designer might look at decorating a house. in layers with a cohesive theme/style. The walls, floors, ceilings, doors, windows and any architectural pieces were built and textured first. Then came the furniture. Next came the wall hangings, rugs/carpets, and window coverings. After that a first pass at the lighting. Finally, we added all the details or accessories i.e. papers, plants, stain marks, and overall clutter.

Stage four, was the entity and polish phase. Here we added AI waypoints, audio nodes, smoothing groups, character start positions and fine tuned entities i.e. doors, triggers, . Once everything was in we recheck and tweaked the lighting and finally called it a wrap!

Levels took anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months to build and usually involved one, and sometimes maybe two, artists.[/a]

:: Which is your favourite map and why?
Visually, I don't have one favorite map. but my top three are Chang's Chinese Theatre, the Subway, and the Import-Export store missions. However, on the game play end, the Whitman Airport has to be my all time favorite.

:: With the characters, the animation is surprisingly good. As we know, motion capture was used, but what is it with the victims' psycho eyes?
Yup, motion capture was used extensively, unfortunately the data had to be massaged continually to work within the game engine parameters. As for the victim's psycho eyes. we implement a simple facial system that animated eyes and mouth positions based on the character's state. sometimes the combinations of these animations did give us some bizarre expressions.

:: How on earth did you manage to get the levels loading so fast?
That's a question for the programming team! Actually, the artists did have some memory parameters that the characters, the animations, and the environments had to stay within. which really helped with fast load times. But to be totally honest, we continually pushed the limit, always trying to add more detail. which inevitably meant that the programmers had to optimize their code and keep the load times up. (Those damn artists!)J.

:: Are you working in any new maps for swat3 right now?
Nope. However, we did, recently, wrap-up a couple of maps that are great tactical challenges (or to be less PC. great killing grounds).

:: What can we expect in future releases either for maps for the game, or other projects?
We are currently researching/implementing a slew of new visual and technological concepts i.e. a physics engine, particle systems, next gen. dynamic lighting, shadowing and rendering, sophisticated character interaction with the environments, dynamic IK (inverse kinematics) systems, a scripting engine. hope I'm not giving too much away.

:: Thanks for everything.
No problem.

dev cyrus3 dev cyrus3



Development Team - Part III - Music and Sound Effects




One of the most important aspects of game environments is sound. It makes you going more into the game and, of course, appreciate it even better, giving you the feeling of actually "being there".

Evan Buehler is the man behind Swat3 sound and music. He was a jazz musician and a freelance composer before joining up with Sierra and working in his first title: Swat3.

:: The gunshots sounds in the game seem fairly realistic. What methods did you use to get these effects?
The gunshots sounds are very realistic. Each weapon sound in the game is derived from a recording of the specific weapon firing. We actually did a recording session at a firing range with all of the weapons and configurations used in Swat3: Elite Edition.

:: What about the other sounds like wind, doors and cars?
Most of the other sound effects done in the game are made through several different methods. Sierra has an extensive sound effects and recording library that I get material to work with. I also made some sounds by "foleying" the sounds in a recording session. Some of the footstep sound were done this way.

:: What do you recall to be the most difficult sound or sounds to record/edit?
The gunshot sounds were definitely the most difficult to record and edit. One thing that most people do not realize is that gunshots are extremely loud. Recording gunshots is extremely difficult as a result. It's also very difficult to get good isolation of the guns sounds in recording session. In a studio you have a well-controlled environment, but in a firing range, there is no easy way to eliminate the reflection of the sound in the room. Also, a recording of a gunshot does not capture a lot of the actual sound that you hear, or more correctly, that you feel. I had to edit the samples we used so that they "felt" right compared to the real thing.

:: What gear do you use to work sounds and make the music?
Hear is a list of some of equipment that I used for SWAT 3: Mackie 1604-VLZ Mixer, Panasonic sv3000 DAT recorder, Lexicon PCM90 reverberator, a couple Roland S-760 samplers. I also have a Roland XP-50 that I use mostly for MIDI input. I also have a KAT MIDI trigger which is a mallet MIDI controller. This is great a great tool since my background is as a jazz vibraphone player. On the software end, I use Cakewalk Pro Audio 9 for sequencing and Soundforge and Vegas Pro for editing/recording.

:: With the voice acting, some of it actually seems good, which is rare for a computer game. Did you use professional actors, or was it just the development team messing around?
All of the characters other than the SWAT officers are professional actors. The voices of the officers in the game are actual LAPD SWAT officers. Also, the dispatcher's voice in the game was an actual Police dispatcher.

:: You've used a style of music first pioneered by Lucas Arts in their games (one that reacts to in game events). How important do you think music is to the whole gaming experience? Are you improving this system for future games? What can we expect to hear in future productions?
Music is, of course, very important to the gaming experience. However, the functionality of the music varies from game to game. SWAT 3 really focuses on realism and thus the music is probably not as present as it would be in a different style of game (SWAT officers do not have a sound track when they are on the job). However, I really tried to make the music in our game represent the emotional states that the player could be feeling when they are playing. When playing SWAT 3, you are really in one of two modes: Stealth and Dynamic. I tried to make the music in stealth mode create as much tension as possible and the dynamic mode music create a feeling of action. In future games, I would like to see the music be an even greater interactive experience for the player. Instead of having music based only two different modes, it can be based on many different factors such as location, nearby threats and the action the player is taking. Ultimately, it would lots of fun to have a game where you can close your eyes and tell what is going on in the game just by the music.

:: During quality assurance testing, what was the most amusing bug that reared its ugly head from your area of development?
Thankfully, there were no real bugs that where in my area. The only thing that was amusing is that during multiplayer QA, I increased the level of the sound the flashbang canister makes when it hits a surface. When playing multiplayer, I really wanted someone to hear the "tink, tink" of the canister before it goes bang.

:: What are you working on now?
I am working on an as of yet unannounced game. I would like to tell you, but then I would have to kill you. ;-)

:: Thanks for your time Evan. Take care.
You are very welcome.

  dev evan3



Development Team - Part IV - Programming




We all know the importance of art, sound, and all the other in-game visible factors that provides us the large amount of fun we all have with Swat3. But what's behind all that? What really gets the pieces together? Yeah: programming.

John Anderson is one of the programmers behind Swat3. He started is programming career programming Telemetry Switches for the Air Force (although he really wanted to work on games). He finally got to work on Close Combat, up to CC III where he developed the game system and Tactical AI. Fortunately, he got married and his wife dragged him to the Pacific Norhwest where he was forced by some extraterrestrial forces to work on the excellent AI for Swat3: CQB. Lucky us!!!

:: Tell us about the overall gaming engine. Did you use an existing engine or did you create it from the bottom-up?
The core of the engine was initially developed for Gabriel Knight 3. It was worked over quite a bit and had a lot of additional features added to make the "g" engine that we used for SWAT3.

:: What was the coding part that took you more time to complete?
For me, it was the Officer AI. Getting 4 other AI characters to all work together and with the random interactions of a player was very tough. The organization they have to have to know which one is responsible for what, how to keep out of each other's way, and still effectively clear an area took months of work.

:: How did you test your work? Were you guys always playing and verifying it or do you have any other means of debugging and testing code?
Play, play, play. Because the game play is so open ended (i.e. not scripted sequences and fixed starting points), the only way to test was to just play it a lot and see how it worked. If we ran into problems on some maps or some situations, at first we could adjust the code to handle the new cases. As the game developed we had less desire to muck with something that was working so well, so in the few instances where we had problems, we tried to change the map to make it work right.

:: The AI in the game is surprisingly good, with a good balance struck between hostages and terrorists. What challenges did you face during the design process?
The first problem was how to get suspects to "see" the world they were in. Most 3D games use waypoints to define where you can move and where good cover is. This works fine for linear shooters where you generally know where the player is coming from, or for run and shoot Deathmatch games, as cover doesn't really work well. For SWAT3, not only did they need to know where and how to move to cover, but they needed to know this based on multiple threat points and numerous approaches. Trying to do this with waypoints would have required a ton of map development to place and identify all the nodes correctly. Instead, SWAT3 uses helper nodes, which aid in path finding, but primarily it uses a Cube Celled Map technology which I created which allows the AI to actually see the map spatially, and know intuitively where cover is.
The second problem was the interaction with the AI Officers (see question #2). There were also a lot of problems with frame rate and CPU consumption. I had to rework the pathfinder to be re-entrant. That is, it would spend however many milliseconds it was allowed to look for a path, and when it was out of time, it would save the current information so that when the next time slice came around, it could continue looking. This kept the frame rate from jerking when a long path was being computed.

:: What are the main differences between the Officers/Terrorists/Hostages AI?
Officer AI is order based. Depending on the order, each officer has a role to play and they act out that order unless something overrides it, such as the appearance of a suspect or hostage. When that occurs, officers have very basic reactions - issue compliance, shoot, or take cover. Terrorists and Hostages use a fuzzy finite state machine. That means that they choose one of several states that controls their behavior, but which one depends on their aggression, stress, and situation.

:: After the launching of Elite Edition, you (the team) came out with several patches to correct and improve the game. Are you still working on this? Is this all you're doing now or are you working in any other project?
Yes, we are still working on some more advances. A 10-player patch is what's in the works now. Brian Johnston and "Between the Wheels" Jason Olander or finishing it up. David Sanderman and myself are working on the framework for an unannounced title.

:: What main advances do the programming team expects to have in future game releases?
Improved animations - especially shot reaction and wounding / dying animations and facial expressions. Better, dynamic lighting. Fully open (read mod-able) scripting system which will allow detailed interactions between characters. (Imagine shooting Martin Brenner and having his girlfriend run over to him crying, kneel down, then pick up his gun to shoot you.) Physics system to handle knocking over tables / chairs and using them for cover, or opening a door and having papers blow off a table. Even more enhanced AI. Maybe even some outdoor levels. Multiple campaigns. Etc.

:: During quality assurance testing, what was the most amusing bug that reared it's ugly head from your area of development?
We had some interesting ones during net-play testing. Dead bodies sliding off the map. Players that were only guns floating about a foot off the ground. My favorite was in DM where a player could go to a certain part of the map and become invisible and invincible. Talk about power-ups.

:: That's all for now, John. Thank you for your time and keep up the excellent work.
I'm just glad I get to design and play games and get paid for it. :)



Development Team - Part V - Producing




After covering several aspects of the making of Swat3, we finally come to an end with the man behind them all.

Rod Fung is the game producer (A.K.A. the boss who nags the team to make everything right). Before joining Sierra (where he's been for the past 11 years holding several positions inside the company, including Studio Director, Lead Artist, Art Director and now Producer). Rod has worked in the motion picture industry as a cinematographer, filming TV commercials and shows.

Among others, he has work on Police Quest 4, Police Quest SWAT and Phantasmagoria 2 before SWAT3.

:: How did you become involved with the Swat3 project?
SWAT 3 was a natural progression for me as I had worked on many of Sierra's previous Police Quest series of games. Tammy Dargan and I were also the founding members of Sierra's original SWAT game and together we came up with the whole SWAT game concept. Since working on the Police Quest/SWAT series for the past 8 years, I've been fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with police special weapons and tactics teams, as well as military special operation personal. Through the past 8 years, I've attended a number of SWAT training exercises, as well as advanced firearms and tactics training. All of the "extra-curricular" training and exercises that I was lucky enough to attend, gave me an insiders perspective of the overall SWAT culture and it has become very beneficial to the overall SWAT franchise; adding an extra touch of reality that most games in the genre lack.

:: How many people are now part of the SWAT 3 development team and how many were there in the beginning?
Team size changes throughout the development cycle. At its largest stage, my development team probably hits 30 people. Typically when the game starts it's initial development, I have about 12 people on the team, mostly leads and senior staff members.

:: When you first came to develop SWAT 3, what made you and the team decide to move away from the previous incarnations, and go for full 3D?
3D was a natural progression for the franchise. Technology had reached a point where we could create a 3D SWAT game that met our expectations. This was a very good move for the franchise because it has kept us current with gaming technology. The Police Quest SWAT franchise is the only original Sierra franchise left from the vast library of "quest" games that Sierra On-Line is famous for.

:: Obviously, with the acclaimed Rainbow Six and it's sequel out, Spec Ops and Delta Force all being in the newly created 'soldier sim' you were facing some stiff competition. How do you think SWAT 3 succeeded where these titles failed?
I think what has lead to the SWAT franchise being a great success is it's originality; both in form and function. I think that many games are unsuccessful in the genre because they are derivative of the competition. We get many of our visuals not from other games, but from film, photography and other visual media. Story, character development, and dialogue, and overall game design all come from Tammy Dargan our Game designer. Tammy is a methodical researcher, an avid reader, and a very talented screenplay writer.

:: Where do you see the SWAT series going from here?
In future games, you'll see us move toward more realism, yet increase gameplay. You'll see us hit both of these milestones in our future product. We have great plans for the franchise and other products associated with the genre.

:: With a major online community slowly building up around the game, especially since the release of the Elite Edition, where would you like them to take the game?
We really want to build up and strengthen the SWAT community. This game is one of Sierra's best selling titles and we want to make sure that we keep it there.

:: If someone were to develop some major mod's, as in total conversions (which the Armed Forces mod is heading towards), what support do you feel you could offer the teams working on them?
Depending on what a "Modder" would like to do, we can offer a tremendous amount of support. If someone is serious about creating something of the magnitude of Counterstrike, we'd certainly be interested in talking with you.

:: Do you keep on working in Swat3 or are you into any other project? Swat4 maybe? Can you tell us if it's being done or planned or at what stage it is now (if any)?
I'm sorry, Sierra policy does not allow me to talk about what I'm currently working on.

:: The MOD community must be asking themselves this same question: what are you planning to do about future games releases (Swat4 for ex.). Are you working in the way of making it easy to mod (like Half-Life, Quake, etc.)?
Yes, we will continue to support the MOD community as much as we can. We really want to support our loyal fan base. For any future games that we develop, making it "Mod Friendly" will be one of our major objectives in the game.

:: What can we expect from Swat3 right now? Just bug hunting or do you have any other expansion packs to release?
I can't really say at the moment. Part of the development team is working on enhancements to CQB and Elite Edition. Other members of my team are busy doing other things

:: Thank you very much for your time Rod.
Sure thing. I'm happy to answer any questions that you have.