Electronic Arts Montreal's over the top action game project Army of Two debuted in March 2008 after a notable last-minute delay, but has ended up becoming a continuing franchise and somewhat of a success for EA, with over 2 million sales across Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the majority in North America.
Now there's a sequel - Army Of Two: The Fortieth Day -- on its way later this year, and in this Gamasutra interview, new creative director Alex Hutchinson, fresh from Spore, and executive producer Reid Schneider, returning from the previous game, discuss the elements that came together to create the franchise -- and how they hope to expand on the pluses and mitigate the minuses for the sequel.
The first game, the subject of some notable Gamasutra interviews, became known for its slightly controversial characters -- soldiers working for a Blackwater-esque private military company -- and its outlandish character fashion, including bling on guns and those notorious masks the characters wore.
The new game seems set to turn some of these things on its head. Hutchinson here speaks about the advantages of coming into a series' development on its sequel, where the opportunity to refine what was already created -- while working from a solid technological basis -- exists.
But he also talks about the challenges of capturing more interest for the game -- from those who didn't like the humor of the original, to those who weren't sure about its characters or their motivations, as well as revealing the much-awaited return of the 'fist pound' game mechanic to the sequel.
How do you guys look at the reaction to the first game in the context of designing this one? What about the first game do you think wasn't successful, that led to some of the negative feedback it got?
RS: Well, I worked on the first game, so I can kick that off, and I'm sure Alex will have lots to add. In the first game, what was interesting to us was the core gameplay feeling of you and your buddy up against the world. That resonated with people. That really worked.
What didn't work was really the tone. If you think about it on a scale, that's a good problem to have -- tone is more easily fixable than having people say, "You know what? I don't even like the core fantasy or the core gameplay that you're doing."
The game sold well enough, and EA wanted to do a sequel. We've been working on this thing pretty much since we shipped the first Army of Two. Now, we're able to just build upon all the features, fix the stuff that didn't work, fix the tone, and make it the experience we wanted.
Alex Hutchinson: To give you a different perspective, as someone who played the first game as a consumer and then came into the second game to work on it, I thought the reaction to the tone was fascinating for a couple reasons.
One is that people seemed to feel that the game was celebrating bad behavior. Actually, if you play it, I think it's amoral. It has no opinion. That's really interesting to me from a development perspective, because what it means is the press wants you to punish the bad guys. They don't want you to have no opinion about the bad guys. They want to say, "No, but they're evil! They need to lose!" And I think that's kind of sad.
Isn't it more interesting to say to the player, "What should you do? What do you do? And what is your reaction?" I actually thought that was a little disappointing, even though I agree that the tone that we're going for in the new one is more appropriate and will hit a wider audience.
We want the tone on the new one to pass the Steven Seagal test. If you can hear it as a line in Die Hard coming from Bruce Willis, great. And if you can hear it in Under Siege coming from Steven Seagal, cut it. That's our general in-house rule.
On the flip side, too, it's interesting to me how intolerant the industry is of unusual tone or humorous tones or weird tones in Western developers versus Eastern developers. You can have Metal Gear Solid stories, which are pretty wacky. I'm a big Metal Gear fan. I love Metal Gear, but it's wacky as hell -- it's so in its own universe. But anything unusual from a Western developer is piled on, which I think is a bit unfortunate.
RS: Humor is kind of a hallmark of the franchise. We have the Steven Seagal test, and I think that's applicable, but we want to make sure that we bring back humor in the game. It can't be just 100 percent straight and serious all the time. They have to be able to make a sarcastic remark, as long as it's dark.
AH: Yeah. These guys are supposed to be best friends. These guys are meant to be buddies, and they're meant to be in an extreme situation, but they should behave like buddies. I think about gallows humor, black humor, and about making sure it's situationally appropriate, and better yet that it's kicked off by a player behavior as opposed to just being something that comes out of nowhere. That's what we're trying to do.
It's funny that you mention some level of intolerance toward a strange or goofy tone. I guess I felt differently to some of the press, because I had been hoping that Army of Two would actually push further in that direction, with some of the almost campy nature that's not a parody of anything, but is just bizarre and surreal.
If I had a criticism of the tone in the first game, it would be that it wasn't confident enough about going in that direction. But earlier you were telling me that actual players didn't mind the goofy nature, even though the press did. Is that the case?
So why even worry about pushing in that direction if it's only the press that doesn't like it? Does the press weigh more heavily for some reason?
AH: Yeah. I think it's interesting in games. If you go and look at Rotten Tomatoes for movies, you see that there's almost no correlation between reviews and sales -- just zero. In games, there's a lot of correlation between the top 100 sellers and the top 100 reviews.
But I think it's starting to break down, which is a sign that games are finally becoming mass market. There's a big enough audience, and a big chunk of that audience is not on websites 24 hours a day. We're all on it; we love games, we're in the biz, we read all that sort of stuff, but there's a big chunk of players who are just looking for an experience. They're looking for a core fantasy that a game is selling.
And I think that Army of Two has an awesome core fantasy. It's in the title. It's on the box. These two guys together versus the world. It's not eight players, it's not sixteen -- I may not have that many friends myself to play video games with, but I have one gamer buddy who I can play with, and that core fantasy resonates hugely.
I think the new game is going to hit that core fantasy equally strongly, so now we're trying to grab the rest of that audience as well. I think those people will come back, basically. And in terms of the tone and what you can do in the game, what we really want is the ability for players to push it further if they want, but not to impose it on them.
I would love to see -- and hopefully this is a problem we'll solve in the mechanics -- if you want to push the social stuff or the humor further, that we will give you the means to do it, but we don't force your hand. I think that's where the line is. Those people who reacted poorly, it was because they felt that in certain instances that the game forced them to do act in a certain tone.
At the risk of being slightly presumptuous, doesn't it seem a bit unfortunate that it's completely okay to force a ridiculously hardcore and aggressive attitude onto a player -- look at a million games, Gears of War or Killzone 2 or whatever, where that's just how the character is no matter what -- but gamers are freaked out by having something a little goofier?
RS: One of the things we're really trying to do is come back to choice and let the player choose who they want to be. Epic obviously made a very, very clear decision that that's what they're going for in Gears of War, but what we want to do with Army of Two -- because it's a more realistic game where you're fighting other humans -- is to open up to the player how they want to play.
The game is never going to be Fable. It's not going to be something like that. But we know that if we give the player opportunities inside the game to express how they want to play, do they want to play as a guy who goes and kills all the civilians and act in that way? Or do they want to be the kind of player who goes and tries to save all the civilians and then reaps the rewards?
Hopefully, if we're able to deliver on that in the final product, we'll have something that really feels different in the shooter space. In most shooters that you have today, there's really very little choice. It's really about, "Go kill everything in sight," and after you've done that, "Okay, you've cleared the area. Move on." With Army of Two: The 40th Day, our goal is really different. Our goal is to inject choice into it.
AH: I think it is really interesting, because as you said, violence is perfectly acceptable as an element, but many other elements are not acceptable. And I do think that's sad. I think it's true in movies, it's true in the ratings bodies.
In most countries, you can kill people and dismember people in a game, but anything sexual is frowned on. I think it's a fun issue to tackle in the game, and the way we're tackling it is by trying to give players choice in terms of what they do.
Is this a new team?
AH: It's a big chunk of the previous team.
RS: I would say it's probably about 65 to 70 percent the same team. After the first game came out, we were commercially successful, so we decided to do a sequel. We were able to bring in a lot of people and recruit some top talent.
We've brought in people from Ubisoft, from Insomniac, one guy from The Force Unleashed. And Alex came from Spore. He can talk about how his experience was brought into Army of Two.
Coming from Maxis, is the reason you are on this team in particular because of the ability to bring the player choice aspects into it? Or is it because of your past experience prior to Maxis?
AH: It's a bit of both. Reid and I were looking for a reason to work together again. We worked together eight or nine years ago.
What did you work on at the time?
AH: A project that never saw the light of day!
RS: It's not one you want to talk about!
AH: No. Sad day, sad day. Back in the day.
But I was in Maxis for five years. I worked on the Sims franchise and then on Spore. And I loved that time. You explore a lot of ideas that are uncommon in games, and it's been really interesting to come back to a hardcore shooter space, as a hardcore gamer myself.
I can bring back all that stuff that you learn at Maxis by working on those games, about enabling player creativity and enabling player choice and letting people expressing themselves.
Definitely, choice is a big thing for me. The team already had a strong desire to do things like the pre-combat stuff.
By that, you mean setting up scenarios, as opposed to cutscenes or something?
AH: Exactly. Little scenarios. I think it's kind of a missed opportunity in most action games to not enable the player to do different things. Army of Two was a really exciting project to come onto for me because I think we're in the underdog status now.
Spore was so hyped and it was going to cure cancer and all this sort of stuff. You're kind of put into this position where you can't win, you know what I mean? You have to wait for the dust to clear, which is finally happening now, before people can develop real impressions.
But coming to Army of Two, which was a new franchise, it hadn't really fully put its stake in the ground as to what it wanted to be, but it had a lot of great ideas and a lot of success. It means it's still malleable and you can still put it into a new area. And you've got core tech that works and a great team.
On the Maxis note, a difference between a Maxis game and Army of Two or any other action game is that in a Maxis game, frequently player choice is the root of the mechanics. The entire point of the game is what results from the player's choices, and simulating the world they exist in.
In a game like this, regardless, you're still going through a linear story where the next story beat is going to happen, and the level is probably fairly linear. How do you create mechanics of choice that feel like they're worth investing in?
AH: I think there are two parts. Especially with expansive development these days, you're often not making a choice in an action game about what to do. It's a choice about how you do it, which I think is really interesting. How do I go through this? How do I strategize with my partner to get this done? Interesting strategies emerge from that in terms of the rewards and the actual mechanics themselves. I think it's interesting.
I think people inherently undervalue pure storytelling choices. I actually think -- and this is the debate that we've had with marketing a lot on this project -- that there is a value in the pure "how" of something, you know what I mean? Or, "I just chose not to do it, and it doesn't all need to be a mechanical choice."
For me, if you offer a player a choice and the reward on doing it is the Boot of Flight, and the reward for not doing it is the Gauntlets of Power, then what you've actually said is, "Which do you want?" You actually haven't asked them to make a choice at all. You've asked them to pick between rewards. It's not a choice. You've actually sucked all of the life and the interest out of that choice and replaced it with, "Oh, I need boots here."
It creates a grind, so to speak. You figure out the optimal route, and you repeat it as frequently as possible.
AH: Exactly. So, I actually think, and it's something we'll talk a lot about at E3, you can put choice in a game that is interesting just because it's a choice. And I think the core question of Army of Two that's fun to pose is that when the world goes to hell, when everything goes wrong, and all you can rely on is your partner, what kind of person are you?
Do you do all the extra hard elements that are saving the hostages? You maybe don't get a reward, because we're not going to put little reward icons above their head. Or do you just blow through it and say, "I don't care about hostages. These are pixels. I let it go." I think people will be surprised at what players actually do.
I'm curious if the mere setting of a cooperative game might affect that in any way. When you're playing something single-player and you're purely on your own, if you don't care that much, there's no incentive not to just play in the most mercenary way possible. But if you've got your buddy there watching you, there might be some social pressure to act a different way.
RS: That's actually one of those we keep coming to a lot. In a co-op game, you don't make choices in a vacuum, right? You have to decide as a group. That's more interesting because it goes from making strategies and tactics. It transcends into what Alex was talking about -- What kind of choices do you want to make in the metagame? Are you the type of players that wants to save all the civilians? How do you want to act?
It's not like you can do your own thing and your partner can do your own thing. Whatever you do, it basically determines how you're playing as a group. If you're confronted with some civilians, then either as a group, you're going to do the bad thing, or as a group, you're going to do the good thing. And you're going to reap the rewards or take the negatives of those choices as a group.
I think that's a core difference in our game versus something else in a game where co-op is just an add-on, just more firepower. When co-op is just a mode, you've got a guy who's a little bit smarter with the gun, but it's really no different. Here, because we're throwing these choices in the mix, you really need to talk together and decide what you're going to do as a team and the choices you're going to make as a team. And it's not just killing everyone -- it's how you want to play the game.
AH: You can screw up your partner as well, which is interesting. Choice is an unusual mechanic in a co-op game, so I'm looking forward to seeing people's reactions.
On a purely mechanical level, I think when you look at different co-op implementations, you see the two design extremes of having simply the extra human-controlled guns, and then having extremely collaborative mechanics that can sometimes become cumbersome because they only really exist for the sake of having a co-op mechanic. I think at times Army of Two had some of the latter. How are you balancing co-op mechanics that are meaningful but not overbearing?
RS: Just to make a comparison with what we're doing in this game versus what we did in the first game, one of the things we really learned -- which was a hard lesson, but valid -- was that we were trying to do innovation for innovation's sake. We were trying to inject all these co-op moves that sometimes sounded really cool in the abstract, but when you put them in the game, it just didn't really fit. We had things like co-op rope, and a bunch of others that ultimately didn't make it into the final game.
In this one, we're really focused on execution. Innovation is great, and I don't want to take anything away from innovation -- it is really powerful. But if your execution isn't super solid, and if it doesn't feel cohesive, if the moves or the action or the co-op or the decision-making doesn't feel like it's cohesive or that it should be there, then you're just putting fluff into your game. And that's exactly what we don't want to do on this one.
AH: That said, I think there's a lot of stuff in the new game that is asking really interesting questions in the co-op space, the action-shooter space. In terms of mechanics, where we've ended up drawing the line is that it's first come, first served. So we're playing together, but if I just shoot the civilians, the decision's made. I can make the decision for you. All of that decision can become, "Oh, you know what? Fuck it. Bang. I'm done with it."
That's interesting to me, because on the couch, the other player is saying, "What the fuck are you doing?" It leads to more interaction between the two players. And there might be some people you want to play co-op with and some people you don't.
With Gears, because it's just another gun, they can't help but feel at least a little bit helpful. Whereas, we were doing a focus test the other day, watching two dudes play together, and then a guy and his girlfriend playing together. The way they played was actually very different.
The two guys were just running and shooting everything, having a laugh, not really taking anything really seriously. And the guy and his girlfriend were really cooperating. When they came to scenes, she was saying, "Alright, I'm going to go and do that. You go and do this." They were negotiating their passage through it. That's a lot of fun, just seeing the disparity in behavior among people playing the game.
I'll bring up a weird story on that note because of the Maxis connection. I saw one of Will Wright's crazy robot he did, where he built some robots and smashed them up and left them on the side of the street in Oakland, and the robots would be saying things like, "I'm hurting. Please help me," and then filmed the reaction. I don't know if you know what I'm talking about.
AH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So when a group of guys would walk past, they would just keep going. But then if a couple was going by, a man and a woman, the man was much more likely to sort of act sympathetically to the robot -- even though it's a robot, it's not even a person. But it claims to be in pain, and there was somehow this social obligation to act a certain way in the presence of your girlfriend.
RS: It's a social experiment.
AH: With Army of Two, you have the positive and negative emote stuff, you have the obvious firepower stuff, and then we have strategic cooperation we can build in. Whenever you give players means to express themselves in different ways, they will use them.
In Spore, when we put up a social track and an aggressive track, all the hardcore gamers tried the social track. We were talking about this at lunch, but just because they wanted to try something new, they're looking for new experiences and new ways of expressing them.
A lot of our job, the thing that I take from Maxis, and I think hopefully we'll use in every game I work on afterward, is that you're putting tools in the hands of players as much as you're putting in an experience. We're not making a film. We're not making something where we're driving an experience through you. We're allowing you room inside an experience.
If we say, "Okay, here are the boundaries" -- obviously, that's our job to set the boundaries, but you can bounce between this side and this side -- then the players will make up the rest themselves. And the more games can do that, the more we will successfully find our voice as opposed to just being action films where you get to press A.
I remember actually feeling really bad in Spore when from one age to the next, my evaluation as a society started to trend more towards the violently imperialistic.
I found myself compensating in the other direction because I felt like a dictator or something. Is that something you would put in this game? Some kind of evaluation -- not a judgment, but just information that says, "This is how you played"? Or does that imply too much evaluation?
AH: We were talking a lot about stats recently, about how we feed back information to the player. I think that's fun, always seeing what you did and how it went. The timeline that you talked about in Spore was really that. "Where are you going? And what have you done?" It's simultaneously historical and forward looking.
I know we want to get into stats in the new one in a big way. We definitely don't want to end up being kind of black and white. That's not the fun. I like the idea that it's inherently gray. There are lots of choices, and you're not quite sure. Did you do the right thing? Often [in games] there's binary choice -- do the absolute best thing possible or do the absolute worst thing possible.
BioShock kind of suffered from that.
AH: Exactly. You just do A or B, and you make a decision, and you keep doing A or you keep pressing B. I like the idea that we offer some choices where you have to make them quickly and you're not certain that the decision you're making is the right one. And maybe we flip it. Maybe you think you do the right thing, and later on we show you a consequence that's not what you thought.
RS: We don't want to have, like, a relationship meter or anything like that. I think if we started to go into that realm, it would feel really forced. What we want is to give players feedback at key points in the game about the decisions they've made. That's going to be your feedback mechanism, not some cheesy health bar that flows left and right.
I find that despite games with morality meters often attempting to really put a lot of instances of choice into games, they frequently end up taking away the actual moral consideration behind it by actually meting out the "goodness."
For example, if you do something with good intentions, but it has disastrous results, the game can either declare the action "good" because you meant well, in which case people will have an unrealistic reaction to you, or "evil," in which case your actual morality is being misevaluated. That's tough to get around, and you lose the ambiguity of actual choices.
RS: You suck the life out of it.
In a lot of games dealing with morality, it rarely ends up being, "The thing just happens, it's not an issue of right or wrong. A shitty thing happened as a result, but we're not formally declaring it to be a shitty thing with a number." But in an action game when you're not beholden to having a visible spreadsheet, maybe it should be that.
AH: And maybe you don't care. That's the fun part. You and your partner are like, "Wow, we didn't mean to do that. Moving on!" That's great! And I agree with you, it's fun to play with those ideas in an action space because not many people are bothering.
You know, the first day or two, those people who loved it and those people who didn't pushed in that direction a lot. I think that's fun. That's something that's really interesting, especially with another partner, that it's not just running around and shooting everything all the time.
So what happens on the 40th day?
AH: It's kind of the mystery, the core mystery of the game. We ask the player more questions than we give them answers. Games often feed information with deus ex machina, when you don't actually care. So we want to put the information about why this disaster is happening and what it actually means as an optional feature within a game, not as something that we feed you.
In an action space, there's a percentage of players who just want to shoot everything. They don't want to be, "Blah blah blah," 10 minute cutscene. But we do want to service those players who want to find that stuff. The 40th Day Initiative is the name of the event that is occurring in Shanghai. But what it means, who's doing it, and what they're trying to achieve with it, we're not explaining. We're trying to leave it for the player.
We offer options, but I don't like the James Bond story of "They're invading Shanghai to kill you." Or at midnight, the knife clock is going to swing and cut you in half, all those sort of ridiculously manufactured stories.
I like the idea that the story is bigger than you, and you're stuck in it. And maybe no one wants to tell you about it. They don't care about you. You're not interesting. You're just two guys. And so your story needs to be their personal story of getting out.
Did you ever toy with the idea about just calling the game The 40th Day, not Franchise Colon Subtitle? That seems like it would be a pretty striking name for a game, but maybe not as easily marketable.
RS: I think when you look at the name Army of Two, you know exactly what you're getting. We want to build this into a franchise. We want people to ultimately associate Army of Two with quality.
I think that to just call it The 40th Day, we'd lose a bit of that core magic that we've begun to build up. If we call it Army of Two: The 40th Day, hopefully there will be more after this, and that for us is where we want to be. And I think there is strength in the name, and we want to build on it.
AH: But I agree with you that it would be fun. I wish the audience was educated enough in terms of what was happening and all that.
Speaking of James Bond, he can get away with that.
AH: Exactly. James Bond is kind of the biggest franchise. They call it whatever, but then they immediately show you James Bond.
RS: Like a big 007.
AH: Exactly. 007. It's got all that sort of stuff. It's really hard to communicate to people what the game is if you chop its name. But we did toy with the idea of not revealing the disaster at all and just saying, "They're on a mission. They're going to go into this. You're a mercenary again," and then everyone who plays it, 20 minutes in, is thinking, "What in God's name just happened? I don't know what this is."
But again, it's going to be 90 percent post-event and 10 before, and if we try to show everyone just that 10 percent before release, we're not showing some ofour big elements.
RS: It'd be really hard because we are putting so much focus on that. So much of our development is how to make the disaster compelling, how to make it interesting for the player.
It would be cool if we didn't show it, and then they got it and it was brand new, but at the same time, we live in a world where PR and the marketing is such a big part of the industry that we'd be shortchanging ourselves a little bit if we didn't show any of it. It would be hard to market it.
I remember wishing, when Max Payne 2 came out, how great it would have been if it were just The Fall Of Max Payne.
AH: That one would have worked, though, because they got the Max Payne in the title.
Yeah, but it ended up being Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne Starring Max Payne.
AH: Yeah, Starring Max Payne in a Max Payne Adventure.
Speaking of this game and Max Payne, one interesting thing about shooters is that there are actually very few of them that are set in a realistic, modern world, without crazy unreal technology or supernatural elements or anything -- with the main exception being Tom Clancy games. Most end up just being sci-fi or some other "genre" setting, at least to some degree. Do you have a sense for why that is?
AH: I think it's a couple a things. One, it's harder because laser weapons are easier to build. [laughs] It's just a mechanic. You can have wacky ideas like, "I've got this device with a gun that dissolves walls. Awesome! That's great fun!" But when you're stuck in the real world, you have to obey real world logic more or less, and I think that's a harder design problem.
But also, I think we're in another bad spot. I gave a talk actually at GDC about parts of this, the idea that we're in a circular self-feeding inspiration loop where everyone is watching the same sci-fi shows, the same TV shows.
You've definitely got Aliens in there.
AH: Exactly. And they want to make those again. And very few people, Will being one of them --
AH: Will Wright, yeah -- very few have an interest that isn't within this sphere. It's all fantasy novels and sci-fi novels and movies. We're all big geeks, so we love that stuff, but I wish there were more games that tackled contemporary things. I think it's actually a big selling point. Call of Duty 4 goes from World War II to the modern age, and it sells 12 million copies. I think there's a lesson in there.
RS: It's really hard. If you're going to build an IP, especially a third-person shooter, if you're going to create a new intellectual property, one of the core things is making it stand out. If you're going to go realistic, one of the things that worked for us, and credit goes to the team, was the characters' masks. That really set the guys apart.
We did a cover for [Official PlayStation Magazine] on the first game where it was just the masks, and it made it recognizable. But we thought a lot about that for a while, and it's challenging coming up with stuff like that that really makes your stuff stand out, if you're going to go realistic.
AH: But I think there's power in contemporary settings. It's very much the now and present. The key word for us on the new game is keeping it believable. These are exaggerated characters in a crazy scenario, but it's not that far off. It's something you can imagine happening. If we can hit that Harrison Ford of video games -- the everyman in an unbelievable situation -- that would be awesome.
It's interesting that films, from both a commercial and a critical standpoint, have no real problems with being set in the real world, and most of them are.
AH: But it's also that the cost is inverted.
AH: Right, you know what I mean. The set in the modern day is right there. Go stick a camera on a tripod, right? For us, we have to build whatever it is. It's much more expensive to do real world,
Yeah, people are so familiar with what the real world is that you have less leeway to just kind of stick something in, in a pinch.
AH: You can't solve problems by making stuff up. There is an actual real world answer, and that requires work and effort. And it may not be fun, that's the other thing. And we can't do edits and quick cuts like you do in a film. You're building mechanics. A mechanic is like a closed system of rules that are going to be fun or not fun. Fantasy rules are whatever the hell you can imagine. And real world rules are what they are.
I remember a few years back when we were speaking about the first game, Reid, you were telling me you didn't want to get too deep into making a political point, but you still wanted the setting to have a certain amount of resonance with modern day events. Are you taking a similar route with this game? It's set in Shanghai, so it's less obvious than being set in Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on.
RS: On the first game, if you had said the word "PMC" to someone, most people didn't know what that was yet. Then with the whole Blackwater thing, all of the sudden the word PMC became part of the vernacular of most of the people throughout the world.
So when we built Army of Two the first time, we had to educate people about what that was. We had to bring that into it in a way that people understood what a PMC was.
With Army of Two: The 40th Day, what we saw is we want to keep the characters in the world of mercenaries. They created their own PMC, but we'd rather go into a real place, Shanghai, but in a fictitious event that's occurring. It opens a lot more room for a tinge of creativity.
AH: I think also that PMCs went from being something no one knew about to being something that people didn't like during the development for you guys.
RS: Yeah, Blackwater kills all these civilians and so on.
AH: Suddenly, it's negative, and people want the game to hate [PMCs]. Staying a little bit away from that, I think, makes people judge the game on its merits. Whenever you create something -- and we believe in the game that we're building, and we hope it has something to say within the game space -- that people just judge it based on itself and won't get caught up in some other issue.
Before the interview you said something about wanting to appeal more to the European audience. How do you plan to do that?
AH: It's not so much wanting to appeal more, it's that the sales of Army of Two were strongly [focused in] North America and nowhere near as strong in Europe. I think that's partly to do with how in North America, you know, lots of people went to fraternities, and all that.
That sort of humor is more real, especially when you're playing a co-op game and you sit next to your buddy. That fits in North America, but didn't fit as well in Europe. So if we can keep that North American audience and get the same size of audience in Europe, then it's a big franchise. We want to make sure that we're accessible to that audience as well as the North American audience.
How much did you sell worldwide?
RS: I think it was a bit over 2 million. Like Alex was saying, it was disproportionate in North America.
How much so? Do you remember?
RS: No -- but yeah, it was disproportionate. We want to make the game so that we're not alienating any of our audience. That doesn't mean that we're not going to have humor. We're going to keep injecting humor because it's a hallmark of the franchise, but the humor has to be something a worldwide audience can understand and appreciate.
It seems like all of a sudden, bros have become an extremely present archetype in shooters. It's sort of surprising. As someone who's been playing games my whole life, it's a little bizarre that in the last few years, the bro protagonist and sidekick is so prevalent in shooters.
AH: It's not just video games. It's TV, it's everywhere. What's that movie that's out?
RS: I Love You, Man.
AH: I Love You, Man. The whole premise is the dude realizes he's about to get married and he has no great male friends anymore, so he goes on dates with dudes to find his best man. Again, it's interesting to me the things you can get away with in film but are mocked in the gaming audience. Maybe it's just a vocal minority. Maybe it's people who post on websites. [laughs]
I hope so, because otherwise it's distressingly kneejerk. It's a bit like having conversations with 12-year-olds on Xbox Live. I hope as an industry, we can move past the super superficial elements of a game and actually say, "Alright, but is it any good? I may not identify with that character, but it doesn't make that character inherently bad."
As a final question, I tried to get a firm answer on this before the interview, but is the fist pound returning or not?
RS: A resounding yes!
AH: Yes! An optional mechanic that gets as much press and conversation as that is magical. It's the magical golden ticket in game design. You have to figure out what got a reaction from people and make it more effective. For me, the idea was great and the execution could have been better, so we have to find out how we can make that a more interesting element.
I think the only problem with it was occasionally, it was inappropriate when it popped up. But you didn't have to do it, so with respect to the joke that Penny Arcade made [about fist pounding after killing NPCs] -- it's their own fault, because if they fist-pounded after shooting dudes, then that's them. They're making fun of themselves, right?
As opposed to a cutscene where the camera takes over?
AH: Exactly, exactly. The game never did it to them. But the flipside is that if you hit that button once and you get an over the top reaction, it doesn't fit as well. Warcraft III gets away with the "Stop touching me!" joke on the units because you have to keep tapping them. So, it's coming back, but it will be slightly evolved.
Purely optional mechanics are surprisingly infrequent in games.
AH: I hope it's a success because whenever you try things like this, you're essentially casting a line, and everyone's watching, especially in this time where fewer games are being made for a brief period.
Everyone is watching the games that other people make, seeing what elements resonate with people and what elements are successful, and it would be very sad to me if people that decide that optional behaviors in action games are just not an avenue worth pursuing, because I think that would be cutting off a really deep vein for exploration.