I'm trying to avoid regurgitating each and every press release, so if you'll bear with my cherry-picking, here's one that's worth a quick read if you were fortunate enough to play Ukrainian developer GSC Gameworld's S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl earlier this year.
GSC today announced Clear Sky, a prequel to its critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic Euro-shooter set one year before the events in Shadow of Chernobyl. Instead of a S.T.A.L.K.E.R., you play as a mercenary whose actions lead to the birth of the "Zone", the anomalous swathe of "reality" whose creation in the original was linked to the historical Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster.
Addressing player feedback that faction membership felt superficial in Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky's story integrates a global war between eight S.T.A.L.K.E.R. factions -- you can join whoever you like, then lead your faction to victory, marrying the original's nonlinear geography with an ostensibly more dynamic plot.
Clear Sky will render roughly 50 per cent of the original's territory, while adding 50 percent that's entirely new. Complementing new areas like the Red Forest, Pripyat Undergrounds, and Limansk, the NPCs inhabiting these desiccated hinterlands are supposed to be less scripted (always a tough one to vett without the design team's "behavior" sheet). There's also mention of an "advanced A-Life system," which in the original, was GSC's attempt at a dynamic ecosystem (it was frankly more hype than reality). Again, don't hold your breath for lifelike behavior, but maybe we'll at least get NPCs that follow basic day/night schedules this time.
What made S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fascinating, I want to say particularly for non-Europeans, was the vision it presented of a bleak, fantastically corroded world quite unlike anything we'd seen in a computer game before. So I'm more excited than usual to note that Clear Sky's new game engine bumps Chernobyl's (X-Ray) up to v1.5, and while some sites are speculating about DirectX 10 support, Clear Sky's official Web site lists it as a bullet point feature. I'm assuming therefore that Vista with souped up effects is a done deal.
Fear not XP stalwarts, Clear Sky will offer improved DirectX 9 rendering, including parallax bump-mapping, soft particles, depth of field, motion blur, and eye adaptation effects. Oh, and if I'm reading "inverse kinematics" correctly, characters will move in sync with terrain, i.e. lean into a hill they're climbing or lean back when descending a slope.
With apologies for the wobbly translation (GSC's, not mine), here's the text from the intro montage that plays when you visit the official game site:
"A group of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.S reached the Zone center. They got to the places no one reached before. A massive blowout shook the zone...to change everything. No more familiar routes through the Zone, no more rules you used to live with. What awaits you, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., in the Zone that changed?"