Jagged Alliance is in a dire need of good
luck. One of the best strategy series of the 1990s, which is
still used as reference material by many developers, aspiring and
mature alike, faced numerous problems upon entering the third
millennium. The bug-fest that was Jagged Alliance 2,
bankruptcies of two (and if you count Interplay — three) its
publishers, cancellation of Sir-Tech's version of JA3,
A year ago, many thought that the sad story would soon reach
its happy ending. Strategy First managed to stabilize its
condition, while MiST land seemed finally on track to deliver a
Or so we believed. Alas, that was just an illusory reprieve, a
brief intermission in a frustratingly drawn-out drama called
«The Birth of Jagged Alliance 3D». In
September 2005, Moscow-based GFI lost the rights to develop Jagged
Alliance 3 and Disciples 3. Nearly two
weeks ago, a second lightning struck when Strategy First
inexplicably terminated GFI's license to develop, publish and
distribute JA3D. Neither party gave
Today, we're giving you an exclusive opportunity to see the
conflict through two lenses at once, as well as a glimpse of what
the future may hold for the much-maligned series. The view from
Moscow is presented by Vitaly Shutov, GFI's head of PC
product development. From Canada, an alternate take on things is
offered by Richard Therrien, VP product development of SFI.
AG: Why did Strategy First pick MiST land to work on the next Jagged
Alliance title? We heard that SFI was considering Nival,
but that deal didn't work out for some reason.
Vitaly Shutov: I won't claim that someone else was
taking part in tender to work on JA. It is
rumored that other Russian companies also aspired to develop the
game, but I can't comment on what conditions. MiST land was
chosen thanks to several reasons. At that moment, we and SFI
shared the same vision for the Jagged Alliance franchise, plus, they were our North American publisher for Cops
2170 and ALFA: Antiterror. Note that
all this had happened before SFI got into financial difficulties.
So, they were publishing our tactical strategy games overseas
and had their own brand of a tactical strategy game that they
wanted to make a sequel to. Besides, Cops and ALFA
were not the only common grounds for both companies — GFI
published many SFI titles in Russia (distributed by Russobit-M).
As you can see, all the necessary prerequisites for a successful
jointly-developed project were there.
Richard Therrien: The deal was done with GFI. I was not
personally involved in the signing of this deal but what I gather
is that it was felt the early ALFA prototype
showed to be promising and there was interest for both parties
involved to get into a mutually beneficial agreement both on
development and publishing.
AG: What was the original plan for the Jagged Alliance franchise to develop? What design document was used for Jagged
Alliance 3D — the original work by the Sir-Tech
development team, or a brand-new creation of either SFI or MiST
land? In fact, was the Sir-Tech's design document for JA3
used at any point during the development process?
VS: We created the design document under the supervision of
Strategy First. We were discussing all the details directly with
them. The initial concept and vision of the game were suggested
by SFI. Our task was to put some «meat» on the bones.
We were offered to build on the stuff created by the team that
tried to make JA3 before us, but there were no
useable materials, so none of them went into our game.
RT: Basically, the design documentation was worked onto by me
and Yaroslav Astakhov who was the project leader on Jagged
Alliance 3D for MiST land — South at the time. He has
left MiST land a good while ago.
The original design doc for JA3 was not
directly used although I wished to include several items but the
team felt these additions would make the project too ambitious or
so I was told. Then again, we were supposed to get a JA2
game in 3D, not a JA3 game so I did not insist
AG: There is a rumor that MiST land proposed a very drastic
re-imagination of Jagged Alliance in a first
version of the JA3D design document — it was
more of a traditional RTS game, complete with large battlefields,
light armored vehicles and artillery. Later, some of the ideas
surfaced in another MiST land's game — Warfare.
Can you either shoot down this rumor or confirm it?
VS: Yes, we planned to have long-range artillery, but it would
be available only to enemy forces. They would be able to launch a
strike if the player had failed to destroy artillery in an
adjacent sector before taking on a next mission. We wanted
playable tanks and some other vehicles. But we, as trite as it
sounds, didn't have enough resources to pull that off, because
it's really hard to realize this kind of stuff in a game where
everything can be broken, destroyed or razed. That's why these
ideas were saved for Jagged Alliance 3.
RT: I don't remember having been approached with a RTS model
for JA3D. This is something they may have
discussed internally and apparently did since they later came out
with some sort of real-time version.
The idea that did come up was to have a 'smart pause' system
fairly early on and MiST land's argument was that the game needed
to evolve. To this I had to apply my veto, as I did not and do
not want to have multiple Jagged Alliance games
with different tactical rules and since the turn-based system of JA
is not broken, I would rather build on it.
It is not unusual when a new developer gets to work on a known
game system or franchise for them to tend to steer its essence in
another direction. I guess this is one way of appropriating the
project, marking it with one's own touch. It is probably a
challenge too to deliver something that would outdo the original
making it a different beast in the process.
I do not believe that just wanting to be different is the
solution. The question to ask ourselves is not 'is it different'
but 'is it better'. This would have been a radical departure from
the known JA system rather than an evolutionary
move. This was especially not a good idea, given that there was
no true Jagged Alliance game that had been
published in a long time.
The fans know that the original team is not working directly
on the project and are looking at all this suspiciously. They are
expecting a better, or at least an equally good Jagged
Alliance game, not something else they could have gotten
from another title out there.
I don't remember hearing about large maps with armoured
vehicles. There was to be some fixed artillery in some maps, like
mortars, but that does not sound like what you are describing.
Having not seen Warfare, I cannot comment. It
might have been built on top of what was done to create a
real-time JA but only MiST land or GFI could
give you the answer to this.
AG: When and why it was decided to have Africa as a setting for Jagged
VS: We had several ideas ranging from Latin America to the
Middle East. In the end, we settled on Africa, since it was the
closest match for the tropical setting of the original JA.
It's hard to say whose idea it was. We were just sending various
ideas to SFI, and this one got approved.
RT: This was MiST land's idea from early on and I had no
problem going for it.
AG: Who came up with the idea of having JA3D
in real-time with «smart pause»? Also, there were
rumblings about using phase-based combat [like in ALFA
or Combat Mission]. Was it actually on the
board, given the fact that early incarnations of JA3D
used a modified version of ALFA: Antiterror's
VS: We had no plans to have phase-based battles in JA3D.
The uncertainty with gameplay modes began when SFI filed for
Chapter 11 bankruptcy. During that time, the game switched
several coordinators at Strategy First. Sometimes a person would
write us a letter and then leave for another company shortly
thereafter. We felt the project was almost on hold, because the
news we were receiving contradicted each other. It was hard to
tell what game we were making and for whom.
RT: I can't say who actually came up with the idea. All I can
say is that I made it clear from the beginning that it was out of
question. Initially, the game was supposed to be built over a
modified Cops engine, at least which is what I
was told. The choice to move over to a modified ALFA
engine was even a surprise to me at the time and I do not believe
I was all that comfortable with the idea. They were the ones who
knew about their technology so I let them decide on this.
In any case, the only base I imagined that could be useful for
a conversion to Jagged Alliance 3D would have
rested in the rendering engine, not the logic, not the interface
nor any other related game structure.
AG: Who and when decided to stick to a mission-based structure
for JA3D? According to your post in the
«MiST land Diaries» blog, it was Strategy First. So,
who really made that decision and why?
VS: That was the initial plan. JA3D was
conceived by SFI as a bridge between Jagged Alliance 2
and 3. The game was supposed to be developed
using the Cops 2170 engine, and it would contain
a few missions just to «warm up» the fans. I believe,
at that moment, Strategy First were very impressed by good sales
of Jagged Alliance 2: Wildfire in North America.
They had a feeling that they should make another title under this
brand (whatever that would be) as soon as possible, and then
later do everything properly in JA3. Many lances
were broken over this issue. And since, as I've said, SFI was a
total mess at that time, sometimes we were basically working on
two different projects, and sometimes not working at all.
AG: Jagged Alliance 3D in its recent E3 2006
incarnation was a different beast than Jagged Alliance 1
or 2 — for starters, it had a mission-based
structure instead of an open-ended world. In a post in the «
MiST land Diaries», PC development head of GFI Vitaly
Shutov stated that it was SFI's decision to stick to
missions. So, who really made that decision and why?
RT: Initially, this was supposed to be a short project, the
main idea being to reproduce JA2 in 3D. The MiST
land team, once faced with the prospect of creating a strategic
layer for open play lamented that they could not realistically do
this in the short time the project was supposed to last. I argued
that it should be in the game but they succeeded in convincing me
that they could not do it, at least for this project.
They wanted to go with the mission structure and that was part
of a long stretch of discussions and negotiations between
Yaroslav and me. I provided several alternatives to reach some
in-between solution but I was consistently told that they lacked
the resources and time to achieve any of them. Point in case, the
game would not have had any random encounter. Basically, their
platform did not support the mechanisms required to implement
They presented me with a structure that included some
alternate scenarios that would branch out based on certain player
decisions or actions. I thought that if the maps and contents
were well enough constructed that it could still make for a
worthwhile JA game.
I then finally conceded that we might have to stick to
branching scenarios, provided that some space was left for
replayability and that the whole of the Tactical system, the
whole of the characters' profiling and interactions were
accurately reproduced and balanced and that of course the wit and
humor quality was in there. In simple words, I wanted the Jagged
Alliance ambiance to remain intact.
It was certainly not my wish to go down that road from the
One other point to which I conceded was the lesser number of
MERCs to be involved.
In any case, this project ended up being much longer than
initially hoped for. I do not believe in cheap and quick
development. Bad evaluation of what is required to do a project,
especially on the timeline, consistently leads people to cut
corners and in the end, they end up having to try and fit square
pegs in round holes and it ends up taking as long to complete
than the larger version would have taken while quality takes a
AG (to Vitaly Shutov): As far as we know, it was
presumed that Jagged Alliance 3D would become
the remake of JA2: Unfinished Business while JA3
would be *the* sequel. When did JA3D and JA3
VS: I didn't quite get your «switched places» bit —
no one switched. It's just that JA3D was a
different beast than JA3, and we were working on
realizing it step by step, until we were flooded with an endless
stream of requests which effectively overridden the original
AG (to Richard Therrien): When exactly did the project
split into JA3D and JA3? As far
as we know, it was presumed that Jagged Alliance 3D
would become the remake of JA2: Unfinished Business
while JA3 would be *the* sequel. What was the
motivation behind this move and who did it come from — SFI or
RT: SFI was behind this move and it was there right at the
time of signing the agreements with GFI.
JA3D was, as stated earlier, meant to be Jagged
Alliance 2 in 3D. It might have had an alternate
storyline, making it some sort of UB in 3D. The
lack of strategic layer cut that short anyway.
Jagged Alliance 3 was always meant to be the
full-fledged sequel to Jagged Alliance 2 as you
The motivation was simple and straightforward:
Asking a studio to do the full Jagged Alliance 3
game from nothing meant a high risk for failure or at least a
very long development cycle. The game would be a long way off and
it made sense to segment the effort in two phases, both for
economic and technical reasons.
If the first phase proved conclusive then the second effort
could be built on top of the previous.
This should actually not be thought about as a split though
but rather as a parallel effort.
Initially, since we were told that JA3D would
use a modified Cops engine, it seemed reasonable
that the project could be done in a reasonable amount of time. JA
was much closer to Cops than to ALFA,
well it seemed to me anyway. We hoped that a good Jagged
Alliance tactical game would help revitalize the
franchise and give a platform to then create a worthy JA3,
also in a reasonable amount of time.
All of this made sense, so long as the end products are good.
AG: There are contradictory reports on who was running the
show on Jagged Alliance 3D. According to GFI,
the development team was under constant pressure from SFI, and
the latter sometimes gave assignments that effectively annulled
their previous orders. Was it really so?
VS: Yes, I have mentioned it above. The crux was that JA3D
was originally conceived as a totally different game. The team we
formed was not right for the requirements that we were given
later by Strategy First. Right after SFI had solved their
internal troubles and stabilized their condition, all guidelines
changed. And that caused problems.
RT: I of course kept an acute eye over every version that was
delivered and created reports pointing out the problems I could
find and most often offering solutions or pointing out
These basically dealt with everything such as missing elements
and problems with implementation, from the visual aspect of the
rendering to the interface and gameplay.
The 'orders' these reports may have gone against would not
have been previous SFI 'orders' or recommendations. I think they
may have been caught in between me and GFI. I often mentioned
that I would not approve of a gold master unless I felt the game
was finished and I was told that although what I wanted would
make a better game, they were short on time since they were close
The assignments were simple and had one main drive: that is to
make this game truthful to Jagged Alliance. I
did not want this game release before it was ready.
AG: How productive was the development process in general? Who
had the final 'OK' or 'nay' on what goes in the game? Did MiST
land put forward any ideas for JA3D that were
subsequently axed by SFI? And vice versa, what (if any) was
forced by SFI on MiST land?
VS: Naturally, Strategy First had the final say. We didn't put
forward any feature-related ideas for JA3D.
I.e., SFI gave specific requirements which we reflected in the
design document. After that, we were green-lighted and went down
to work. Some time later, our Canadian partners began making
changes to the concept.
I think that when SFI was still in euphoria after JA2:
Wildfire, they wanted to create a small but solid game
and make some quick money. When euphoria wore off, they decided
that they needed a bigger, AAA-title. Soon, the rights to JA3
were secretly bought off by another company, and JA3D
was not fit in SFI's plans anymore.
This is the source of conflicting demands that were laid down
by Strategy First — at times they wanted us to restart the whole
project from scratch, or asked us to introduce features that
would require massive investments from GFI (note that SFI did not
finance the project).
RT: The development process appeared to be real slow.
Communications were not optimal one could say. My understanding
is that after Yaroslav's departure from MiST land, the team had
been amputated, including the main programmer. I could see some
progress for a while but at the rate things were going, I was
projecting a good year more of work if 3D was to be properly
balanced, polished and tested.
Basically, I had the final say. The ideas that were part of
the design documentation that I approved were partly from MiST
land and remained. The African premises, the mission based
structure are examples. Those that were rejected, like the smart
pause system did not make it into the documentation. The
real-time version that came to me as a complete surprise was axed
as soon as I heard about it. Beyond this, I always insisted on
details that would insure the appropriate amount of polish would
be included in the game.
AG: African Alliance
was announced around the same time as
JA3D became turn-based. What features were excised from
the previously phase-based
JA3D after such radical transformation? Do you know what
to appear? Was this project sanctioned by Strategy First?
VS: African Alliance did not depend on SFI in
any way. When relations between us and Strategy First were still
going well, there were plans that our overseas partners would
publish AA in North America. At least, SFI
showed some interest. However later, that project got canned, and
some of its material made its way into JA3D,
some was simply thrown away. The cancellation helped Jagged
Alliance 3D rather than harmed it.
RT: Just to make things clear, it was never the plan to have a
phased-based nor a real-time JA3D. We never
sanctioned African Alliance and we were not
informed of it before the announcement.
AG: Initially, GFI were supposed to work on Jagged
Alliance 3D and Jagged Alliance 3.
However, a year ago, the latter was dropped in favor of another
Russian developer. We can't help but wonder as to why
MiST land have any concrete stuff on JA3 to show
VS: The trick is that JA3 and JA3D
were developed under the same contract. So, one can't lose the JA3
license and continue working on JA3D. Moreover,
SFI informed us about their intention to terminate the agreement
only in late August, so we haven't even prepared our response (by
the time stipulated in the agreement) when our partners
unexpectedly issued the infamous press-release.
Before that, we were officially working on both Jagged
Alliance games in full accordance with the agreement.
When we found out that JA3 was being developed
by another Russian company (and we found out that quickly enough,
since we have a good knowledge of our local market), we asked
SFI's president a direct question if that was true. His reply
was, «I will neither confirm nor deny this».
That is when we began wondering if JA3D would
ever be completed
at least under that title. At the same
time, we stopped working on JA3.
So, to recap: the agreement in question refers to two projects
— Jagged Alliance 3 and Jagged Alliance
3D. You cannot revoke one license without revoking
RT: MiST land never had anything concrete to show us for Jagged
Alliance 3. They did mention from time to time that they
had ideas for it though but I would then tell them to forget
about JA3 and concentrate on 3D since a complete
design existed for 3 already.
In any case, I would not have accepted to look at anything in
regards to JA3 until I was satisfied with what
was going on with 3D.
Furthermore, I had already worked on completing the missing
pieces of JA3 and was not willing to negotiate
the design and its scope.
AG: Last year, GFI lost the rights to develop not only Jagged
Alliance 3, but Disciples 3 as well.
While D3 is definitely an off-topic in this
interview, we feel that the decision to revoke both licenses was
caused by the whole state of the «MiST land — GFI —
SFI» affairs. Can you elaborate on this? At what stage the
development of MiST land's Disciples 3 was
VS: The story behind Disciples 3 is simple.
Having seen what was happening around JA, we
decided to stop working on Disciples 3. That's
RT: As you said, this is off topic.
AG: So why the rights for Jagged Alliance 3D
were revoked just now? Is it related to certain event(s) in the
recent past, or simply based on SFI's latest assessment of JA3D's
VS: To repeat myself, the reason is that JA3D
didn't blend in with the latest plans of Strategy First. As for
First, at E3 2006, we showed the game to the
president of SFI, and he said: «Everything I've seen is
great; we're completely satisfied with this». Second, we had
a press-only presentation of JA3D at Games
Convention 2006, and it caused a storm of cheers among
In order to show the game's quality before shipping it to
stores, we will release a demo so everyone will be able to play
it and decide for themselves if the product warrants a purchase.
We have nothing to be ashamed of.
RT: It was estimated that Jagged Alliance 3D
could not be completed adequately for the scheduled release date.
AG: In a recent post (dated 09/03/06) in the «MiST land
Diaries» blog, it is mentioned that Strategy First currently
owes an undisclosed sum of money to GFI. Quote: «SFI is
not going to pay any penalties, they don't like to settle the
accounts on the whole and generally speaking, they owe us a lot
» Can you comment on that? Who currently
owns code, art and other assets of the Jagged Alliance 3D
VS: All assets of this project will remain in our possession,
since GFI fully founded its development, and Strategy First paid
nothing. As for SFI owing us money — our legal department is
already working on this issue. I cannot disclose any further
RT: That is Mr. Shutov's perception of things. The fact
is that we do not owe GFI a 'lot' of money. I am not willing to
discuss contractual particulars in public so I will leave it at
AG (to Vitaly Shutov): Having lost the license to JA3D,
GFI decided to continue the project and announced that they would
release it under a different title in October. Why do you hold on
to this release date when you do not depend on Strategy First
anymore? From what we see, it is next to impossible to, as you
said in the «MiST land Diaries» blog, «remove
mission-based structure that was forced on us, and bring about a
map with sectors» and be in time for October launch. Have
you discussed the possibility of delaying the release to improve
the game — in fact, comply with all major requests from the fans?
VS: We're discussing this matter right now. It is possible
that the game will be slightly delayed. You see, development of
any game can continue ad infinitum. And every time you'll want to
ship it, «millions of fans» will be demanding dozens of
exciting new features.
I get the publisher's point — if a game is ready, then why
change its fundamental concepts? Programming is not an issue. The
engine we developed for JA3D can accommodate
unrestricted travelling between map sectors — not only on foot,
but also by using trains and helicopters. The story, the already
recorded dialogues are much bigger problem than that.
But, as I've said, right now we're considering our options,
and this is one of the reasons why we still haven't revealed new
title and concept of the project. We will announce them soon.
AG (to Vitaly Shutov): How else the game formerly known
as JA3D will be affected by the recent
developments? What will happen to its story, settings, and, more
importantly, characters? Can you reveal the new title of the
VS: Unfortunately, I can't tell you the new title now — you'll
have to wait until the official press-release to find this one
out, but there not so many possible names to choose from.
However, what I can say for sure is that since it's not Jagged
Alliance anymore, we will change portraits and voices of
mercenaries, as well as parts of storyline (where it was supposed
to cross with other JA titles).
AG (to Richard Therrien): With Jagged Alliance
3D gone, what's next in store for the cult franchise?
From your posts at SFI forums, we know that JA3
will feature not one, but 5 fractions, and even more open-ended
world than in JA2. You're probably not ready to
announce the game right now, but can you drop us some hints about
what to expect?
RT: Just this then: Jagged Alliance 3 will
have a lot of parameters that will be subject to randomization on
starting a new game. We might (or might not) have a non-random
initial setup, like some sort of 'official' game. This still has
to be verified but is likely to happen.
This goes so far that even some characters that you meet may
act different from game to game and have different allegiances
In that sense it may feel more open ended since the player
actions should also have an impact on how other enemy and
friendly factions do in that world. Player actions and decisions
will also affect how people react to him and his band.
Under certain circumstances, it will be possible and desirable
to undertake cover up infiltration actions and avoid triggering
the area into battle by way of stealth or just by going in as
strangers without apparent weapon.
The game settings will not be in Arulco this time but in a
totally different part of the world. It will offer a greater
range of environments than previous JA games
And the game will not look like a floating platform in space.