Right before Electronic Arts announced that its EA Montreal-developed duo-focused military action title Army of Two would now debut in 2008, we had a chance to speak with two men who contributed a lot to the project from different perspectives.
Woodie Mister, the game's military consultant, has a background that includes being a Navy SEAL and working for controversial military contractor Blackwater. Here, he speaks about his involvement with the game and his philosophy towards touchy issues like politics and violence in games.
This is followed by a conversation
with Reid Schneider, the game's producer at EA Montreal, which talks
inspiration, technology, and collaboration with other EA studios.
First of all, can you give me your background?
Woodie Mister: Background? Former Navy
SEAL. Did that for almost a couple decades. And I moved into the
private world, based just before 9/11. And went into, deeply, the security
firm business, interested in working with K&R stuff -- you know,
kidnapping and ransom stuff -- because I had hard skills they could
use. They could send a guy, they could teach a guy a lot of different
things on how to do that type of security issue, and then send him
into harm's way and have him negotiate that stuff.
And then when 9/11 hit, I went to work for different government agencies as a contractor. They hire contractors as soldiers for hire. And you can bounce around. There were other overseas opportunities as well but they didn't seem too legitimate, so, anyway, that's pretty much what I've been doing, and I've worked for a lot of different large firms. And some of 'em you've heard of; some are in the news lately, and some that you may not have heard of.
Are you alluding to Blackwater, or...?
WM: Well, Blackwater; I've worked for Blackwater before. Blackwater, I'll have to say, is one of the few companies that definitely is very professional, and they have definitely stepped up to the plate, and taken the fight to the bad guys on the other side of the pond -- you know, the Atlantic -- because we certainly don't want 'em here, fighting in our streets. So, you don't see many companies stepping up to the plate to do what Blackwater and their friends have done.
How did you get involved in this sort of arena, working on game consulting?
WM: I've always been a huge gamer. Because you sit around a lot, on these missions, waiting around to do different work, and playing games, and watching movies. So you become an avid gamer, if you will, and you start getting tired of seeing a bunch of movies and a bunch of games that are being consulted by guys that are in their 60s and 70s, and talking.
So I thought, "You
know what? Things have changed, and they need some good new blood in
there. Guys, guys with some serious hard skills, smart guys, business-orientated
guys who get out to make some good money doing this stuff." And so that's what drove me to start my own entertainment consulting
company, and I've been doing it since just before 2000.
So when you get approached to work
on a game, do they develop the concept with you at all? Where is it
in the development stage that you're brought in?
WM: It all depends on the company. EA started from scratch, bringing me in from the very beginning. They had some -- obviously, they always get their writers together, the developers, they get their artists together, they get the engineers together, and they start developing certain things. They kind of get, like, a ballpark of what they want to do, and then they bring in guys at the very beginning, to make sure it's going down the right road.
You know: "How do we customize
weapons? How do we make these guys look the way they're supposed to
look? How does the gear really going to wear, you know? What are they
wearing? What's the latest and greatest? What's going on? Are there
any things that we don't know about? How do they act? How do they talk?
What's the industry about?" And they collect all that; they harvest
all that information at the very, very beginning, and they put it together
with the startings of what they had, and then they of go from there.
Then of course it turns into a massive
building this engine, doing that, doing this; there's just tons of work
to do. And then the other big sprint to the finishing line is during
the marketing phase, when we're coming out, to say: "Hey, these
guys have been contacting me along the entire process; asking me certain
questions, and I've provided with pictures and attitude."
The thing with me is, I have access to all of that. I have access to all of the military units; all of the private areas. I know what's the latest and greatest weaponry, the gear, the equipment, the way things are going. I can provide that for them constantly; constant feedback with them. And that's been a real advantage for 'em.
Do you focus on consulting now exclusively?
WM: I currently am still a full-time
contractor for these companies -- for security firms.
WM: Yes. And that is a daunting job, of, you know, between 60 and 80 hours a week. And then I do the entertainment consulting on the side.
So do you travel overseas to do
that stuff, and then come back to work on these game projects?
WM: Yep. I will -- right now, my job consists of managing the guys that do that right now, but yes, I'm always available to go overseas at any time.
How does that work, in
terms of -- this project had a, let's say give-or-take three year dev
cycle -- and they needed you, I'm assuming, periodically throughout?
WM: Yeah. The beginning and the end are the two big, big pushes. And then, periodically throughout, they tap me for information. Which gives me a break too, because I've been concentrating on my other work.
And then I have other gigs that I've been working with, too. I've worked with Ubisoft, for the Splinter Cell series -- and the same thing there. Totally different type of game, though; stealth game.
And now that I'm, you know, I am getting older, and towards retiring out of the business. It's been over 21 years now, and so I'm getting to the point where I need to -- starting to move more and more into the games.
Like I said, I'm tired of seeing the
movies and the games that are being consulted by the wrong people, so
I'm available now for that, and I'm moving down that road. But to do
it, it takes a lot of time, so you've got to have the time to do it.
What sort of influence would you say you've had over this game?
WM: Well, you know, I give all the credit to the EA development team. You know, the writers. Those guys are brilliant. The things that they came up with are -- they're interesting, they're witty, they're with the times, they know the gaming industry very, very well. They know what gamers want to see, they know how to sell the product.
And then I think that there's a whole other group of gamers out there that are kind of like part-time gamers. You know, guys like me, who, who aren't, that's not what they do, full-time live and play games; they actually have another life that they do, and then they play games for entertainment.
What EA's been able to do is, is tap both of those markets. Very, very well. And they're using the real people to bring it in. They're using people with credibility. People that are relatively bullet-proof, if you will. 'Cause they're not just guys saying they did this, that, or the other thing; where there are some consultants right now that are consulting for games on tactical stuff, that aren't even tactical. So it is interesting in that respect. EA's got a bunch of smart people -- bringing in the right people to push the game, that's the main thing. It's entertainment.
That's sort of an interesting topic. I mean they bring you in, obviously -- or at least I would infer -- to add a real, gritty realism to it. So, you really know what goes on out there; you really know what goes on with their equipment, and everything. But there's a certain extent to which it's unrealistic. I mean, how does that get balanced, do you think?
WM: Well, I mean, no one wants to play a game that's too realistic. It'd be boring. I mean, there are games out there right now, that if you don't play 'em, like you would do in real life -- who has time for that? There are games out there that people just don't even finish, 'cause they're just too slow, because... There're games, for instance, out there right now -- I don't wanna name 'em -- if you play it exactly by the rules, the way you're supposed to do it, you'll live. But if you run out there and try and have fun and get it over with, you get killed.
Take Halo 3, for example. That's
a fantastic game, everybody loves Halo 3, but that is a fantasy
game. Everybody likes it because of that reason. They love playing the
game; the fact that they can pick up a grenade that they can throw and
it'll stick to another guy, doesn't exist. And it's how you make a game
that interesting, that exciting, that is also as real as it possibly
could be. Without making it too boring. That's a very difficult task,
but EA's been able to pull it off with Army of Two.
I mean, by far the most interesting thing about it is the co-op. Co-op blows everything out of the water. Because in real life, I mean, the same saying that I said earlier today is the same saying that I've been saying for over twenty years: "one is none and two is one". And you're going to need two guys on every mission, to do anything. And those two guys have got be able to interact socially and professionally as well. Everybody's heard of the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartans took on over a million Persians.
Well, everyone's seen 300.
WM: Yeah, well, there's a scene in 300, where they talk about when the Persians fire their arrows, there's so many that it blocks out the sun. And the Spartans come back and say: "Well, we'll fight in the shade." I mean, to be able to come up with something funny like that in the midst of an arduous situation, in the middle of battle, that's totally realistic; and that's what they've also brought -- that element to the game as well. And they've been able to crack the code on "How do we do something that's realistic? Something that could happen, and still entertain me as any other game that's ever been brought out there." By making it co-op blows everybody out of the water, in that sense.
That also brings up an interesting point when you say you've got a two-man team. Is that a realistic scenario for you -- in the situations that they've been deployed into, in the game?
WM: I'd never do anything by myself. Always going to be at least one other guy. And, potentially there could be three, but if you're going to have three, you might as well have four. So you're usually going to be in pairs; so you can operate in pairs, typically. And usually, and in a lot of cases, those pairs are joined together, so you'll have a six-man team somewhere, where you can operate together. But you're not going to be out there by yourself. Too much of a liability on the company, anyway. Who's going to do that? No one guy can do all that.
But at the same time, like, like I said earlier: there is a profit to be made, because this is private business. So, if I can send six very, very highly trained guys into an area, pay 'em a little bit more -- or a lot more -- be able to make a better profit than sending twelve guys, that's better for me.
And it could be better for them as well: it's a lower profile, they're able to get the job done, and if they need help, maybe they'll train indigenous forces to be their shooters. Pay 'em in cash. Get them on board. You know? Go to Afghanistan, train up a bunch of hardcore Afghan fighters to be on their team, instead of bringing in twenty Americans -- or, we call 'em "patriots". "Patriot fighters". Or "Third-Country Nationals." It's the way to go.
This is high-level talks, about how stuff goes, or might go. How much of that drills down to the game? How much do you feed in? Do you just feed this stuff in, and then the developers take it and run with it?
WM: Well the beauty of it is, is: you're going to play in these scenarios, and then in between scenarios, there's cinematics that kind of describe what's going on. And that's the beauty of animation. I mean, you can create a story, and make it anything you want. As opposed to trying to shoot a movie, I mean it's difficult to do that.
Although everybody's becoming more technologically advanced, and people are just getting basically smarter, because there's more information available to everybody. And they're able to do that in the game; they're able to kind of make you smart on what's going on, from start to finish. So you're going to start out, really, knowing really nothing about what's going on; by the end of the game, you're understanding.
And at the same time, they can tell a story. So they can either make it go good or bad, or they could just kind of keep it the same. But they, they're able to tell that story through the game, with the smart use of the cinematics, and you get smart on the game as you go. You're able to learn different things, and gain more money, and buy more weapons, or, you know, customize your weapons better, so...
Would you say your influence was more in the, you know, the nitty-gritty of what these guys might encounter; how they might operate? Or was it more in terms of the story? Where did your influence come in?
WM: I think it was different levels. Obviously, in the beginning, they were more interested in getting some of the hard stuff down. Like, you know, how do we customize weapons. And I played a big part in the customization of the weapons; because you can kind of sit there and pontificate, and come up with a lot of ways to do it, but to really make 'em look real, and to make them look good -- and then there's, like, a couple "fantasy weapons." Where they really bling the stuff out; it's really kind of funny. But you got to have that whole level, because being in situations like this is funny. I mean, the whole God damned thing's funny, if you ask me.
WM: Yeah, it is surreal. But no, there were different levels. There's like, down into the nitty-gritty of how the actual equipment and gear looks, all they way up to just conceptual issues, like in the writing. So...
Do you think that, like, the stuff like the "blinged out" weapons -- and I mean that word has been tossed around a lot, as regards this game -- and also the skull-masks -- do you think that's a little silly?
WM: Once again, we're back to "entertaining." You know, do you want a couple of guys that have just human-looking faces, or do you want a couple of guys that are running around blasting people, one guy's got a skull mask, and the other guy looks like he's got flames on the side? I mean, that's cool. And to sell the game, the game's got to be cool. And this game's definitely got those elements.
Now realistically? You know, if you're over in the desert, in 120 degree heat, do you want a ballistic mask on your face that's not really going to withstand a shot from an AK-47 round? A 7-6-2 by 39 round, with a steel penetrator that's going to go through a ballistic face shield? Unless it's got a metal plate in it. They're not made of ceramic, so yeah, realistically? It's not normal. But then again, you're not going to wear a big riot face mask that you've seen police do -- that have a big giant, thick shield on the front of it? I mean, you're going to have to have a big-ass neck to carry that thing around. Like a bison.
So those are unrealistic pieces, so why add 'em? I mean, let's make those guys look daunting, and cool. You've seen -- you've got commando teams all over the world, that wear balaclavas, and wear face masks when they do missions, and they go, and they look scary, and they hit. And that -- there's a purpose for that. They're supposed to dominate that room; they're supposed to go in there and scare the living crap out of you. And it adds a whole level of domineering to, to it. And that's what they do. And so that adds that element of it. They do it very well.
As someone with over two decades
of experience with these kinds of situations, do you find that you're
conflicted in any way, about making it look cool?
WM: No. No, because, you know, like
I said: this is a business. And we're in the business of selling, selling
a game to the consumer. It's all about entertainment. If we wanted to
make the animated videos or training videos, we'd make training videos
that would be restricted to only certain populations. But entertainment
is the name of the game; if you're not entertained when you're playing
the game, then you're obviously not going to play it. So there are levels,
where you've got to make it as realistic as possible, then you've got
to look for ways to make it as entertaining as possible, as well.
So the volume of fire that's going to come down on top of these guys in the middle of these battles is possibly unrealistic. The fact that they're able to take as many rounds as they're able to take is possibly unrealistic. But realistically, if you had that much volume of fire coming, your guy would die, and the game would be over. It'd be no fun anymore. So, you've got to be able to -- these guys are able to carry around two, three big giant weapons on 'em, they're very heavy -- well, maybe. Depends on how big you are, but that's a lot of weight. A fully kitted-out guy wearing with all the weight that you're looking at, with all that body armor? He's wearing a couple hundred pounds worth of gear. So you know, you're not going to be very maneuverable. So.
But I mean, there's a certain degree
to which -- do you think it's a good idea to make fighting and battles
look cool to average kids that don't really know squat?
WM: Well, the bottom line is that it is a video game. So. We could sit here and argue about whether or not the game's too violent, or we can sit here and say: "Well then don't let 'em play the game." And if he doesn't understand the difference between a video game and real life, then it's your opportunity to explain it to him. If you're not doing that, we go into a whole sociological discussion on that one. If you've got the money to buy the game, then certainly you've got the opportunity to sit out and say: "Kids, this is a video game. This isn't real." And they should be smart enough to understand it. If they're not, then maybe you shouldn't buy the game in the first place.
Definitely. I mean this is undoubtedly an M rated game. I don't know if it's actually
been through the ratings board, and that would be restricted
to 18 or older, at least by intent. It's not necessarily "kids"
kids -- when I say "kids" I mean kids who might be of age
to want to join the Army right now. Eighteen or 20 year-olds.
WM: The thing about, the thing about Army of Two is: It allows, it allows you to learn a little bit about the PMC world. Obviously, a lot of it's going to be some fantasy in there. But it's entertaining; they're going to know the difference between real and unreal.
There's going to be conspiracy in the game, that typically doesn't occur -- you got to remember that giant corporations like this, that are handed a lot of money, you know, people always think there's some sort of conspiracy around 'em, but that's not necessarily true. Most of these companies are reporting to the SEC. They're having to have a liability that nobody else has, because they've got to put their own men in harm's way, so they've got all these different checks and balances in these corporation that even the military doesn't have. Even our own government doesn't have.
I think the irony of it is, is that the tax revenues from all these giant companies is what pays for the military in the first place. So without 'em, where would we be? So, the fact that we're able to supplement, in the private military world, we're able to supplement and help our own government. So that the fight stays overseas and doesn't come home. I think that's the most important thing here. And certain companies step up to the plate, and batter-up. There's about a handful of them that'll do that right now.
You've expressed some words of support
for Blackwater, and we spoke to Chris Ferriera, and his attitude toward
Blackwater was, basically -- I think it could be summed up by the quote
"It's fucked up." Did you ever butt heads with the creative
staff behind the game, about the direction to take these things, or
do you stay out of that and just offer your expertise?
WM: Yeah, I offer my expertise. I'm
not political. People need to understand that the real world of private
military contracting is exactly that: it's private. What you hear on
the news, what you see sensationalized in the media, is not... I mean,
we could take any subject. Right now it's private military contracting;
contractors in Iraq. It's not their fault they're in Iraq. They're there
because they have to be there, and because they can make money doing
that. We can take any issue, any social issue -- we could talk about
schools, we could talk about housing, we could talk about taxes, and
the media's going to sensationalize that too. That's just what they
do. And everybody knows it, so why do we complain about it?
But unless you really know; unless you've been there, and been out there in the field, and been under fire? I mean, there's instances -- and I'll use Blackwater as an example: There's instances where they've been under constant threat of fire, and they were able to sustain themselves, and not get anybody killed, based on their own selves. The military wouldn't even come in and help 'em. But they had helos flying in, resupplying them on rooftops, or these guys would've been dying. These guys are... that happens, it's not the first time it's happened, you know?
But when it comes to the development of a game do these discussions ever happen?
WM: I stay out of it. Yeah, I mean,
if they do, it doesn't have anything to do with the game at all. I mean,
they have a focused objective: "This is the information that we
want from you, to make the game." And I provide that information.
Would you ever step off of a project because it conflicted with your personal or political beliefs?
WM: Ah, well, it hasn't happened yet. Because none of the companies that I've worked for up to this point have ever been that unprofessional. And we've only dealt in completely professional ways. I believe that EA has probably been one of the most professional companies I've ever worked for. They want this game to look good. They want to represent the game -- as well as, they're doing a lot of justice for PMCs by explaining that this is something that is possibly going on out there, and they just made a fun game out of it.
It doesn't represent exactly -- it
doesn't make any company out there less professional, just because they
decided to make a game about PMCs. And just because they've added the
element of conspiracy theory to it, doesn't mean that that's what's
going on. I mean, do you believe every movie you watch?
Certainly not. But art can paint a realistic impression of things. And I'm not speaking either to Army of Two or what real-world situations are -- obviously, I don't necessarily have a grip on those. But you know, that's what it's for. Narrative.
WM: So, it's a great game, and that's pretty much all I got.
The last question I basically have is: Have you seen any of the other games that are coming out that have PMC content, such as Haze, or Metal Gear Solid 4?
WM: Metal Gear Solid 4? No, I haven't seen that one yet. Although I have played all the other games. And I like the game a lot. It does have a bigger element of fantasy in it.
Is that the Metal Gear series you're talking of?
WM: Yeah. Yeah, it's got a lot of...
there's a lot of things in it that would never happen.
[That concludes Gamasutra's conversation
with Woodie Mister. What follows is Gamasutra's interview with producer
Earlier, we spoke to lead designer Chris Ferriera about the game. Earlier, you were talking about how it went back to desire to make a co-op game. Could you tell me where that came from?
Reid Schneider: Right. Absolutely. So we, when we began thinking about the game, we had a lot of different ideas about, you know, the setting; about where we wanted to take it. So we looked at this sort of, you know, this "cops and robbers" idea... What we knew is that we felt co-op was really -- we began to see the seeds of co-op really taking shape on Xbox... with Halo, and things like that. And we, a lot of us are huge fans [of games] like Double Dragon, and Contra, and the thing was, when you look at when you played Contra as a kid.
We looked at that more and more; we were like: next-gen is hurting for this kind of thing. No one's really [done] that yet. So that's, that's a sweet spot for us. That's where we, that's where we want to be. And the team was, they were really excited about about [it]. So we thought this was, it was for us, it was about having a really narrow focus, focus, you know: Do one thing, and do it better than anybody else. We're not going to be a squad management game.
We're not trying to do squad management tactics, you know, Rainbow Six. This is really about playing co-op, playing with a buddy, or playing with partner A.I., and just enjoying that experience. And so for us, we always said that one of the guiding principles for Army of Two is: "Co-op's not the mode, it's the game." And every design decision we made was always about: "How does this leverage co-op?" And if it doesn't focus on co-op, then don't do it.
How did you go about taking this
idea to management, as you said, and convincing them to go with it?
RS: Well, we were, we were really passionate about it. And had a "won't take 'no' for an answer" kind of attitude. I think we, at EA Montreal, we were really about generating variety, and making interesting stuff. The execs at EA saw what we were doing... we were really thinking about, "This is where we want to be." And wewere a team -- you know, credit to them, because the team was so passionate about these ideas. I think that passion, and that focus really convinced execs at EA that these guys really want to make it.
I think whenever you have people who are so passionate, so driven on one core idea, they have a vision; they have a dream that they want to make. That's what sells something. And passion, when you talk to someone who's got passion, it carries over. Whether it's passion about making video games, or playing paintball. People with a passion about something: Those are the people that I want to invest in, and that EA would want to invest in.
Now is this the first project that
the team has worked on? The studio's relatively new, right?
RS: The studio's relatively new. Myself, the animation director, the art director, the lead level designer -- we all worked together at Ubisoft, actually.
RS: Exactly. Yeah, we all worked together -- we made the original Splinter Cell. And then we all came to Montreal as a group, and we -- that was really the genesis of the core team. And along the way, we've added some amazing, amazing people. I'll give you an example: our Lead A.I. Programmer. And our Lead Programmer as well; and our Lead Platform Engineer. These guys have done a great job. Injecting new blood into that team was really, really great. It really forced the team to think of individual directions, and the new people who've come on the team have really made the game their own, and huge credit to them.
So you guys, did you come over to EA with the intent to form as a team and make another military game, like Splinter Cell?
RS: I think we came over to EA with the intent of making a, making a new I.P. in the shooter space. Whether it was military or whether it was something else, I think that was really something that it turned into in the process. We didn't come over with the intent to make, you know: "Let's make a military game!" We knew how to make great shooters. If you asked us to make a football game, we'd probably be the worst people on the planet to do that. But in terms of making a shooter, that's one thing the team's going to do really well, in terms of focusing on that.
And you talked about how the idea
went through some iterations, or you went through some concepts, such
as "buddy cops" or whatever, that didn't pan out. How did
you end up developing the idea that you ended up with?
RS: Well, we actually -- it's funny, a couple years ago there was an article in Time magazine. And it was an article about the rise of Private Military Contractors. And then -- ever since about three years ago, actually at this point -- and it's interesting because now Blackwater is getting all this attention, and all this focus.
But three years ago this wasn't a big [deal.] This was just at the point where PMCs -- Private Military Corporations -- were starting to really have a big influence in the Gulf War, and the conflicts in Afghanistan, that sort of thing. So, this was, this was a topic that we looked at, we were like: "That's an interesting setting. No one's really explored that genre yet." And then we said: "That's our setting. That's what we're going to make the game based on; make the game around."
We started researching this, and we learned -- when you start to do research on it, you learn about companies like Blackwater or DynCorp. These are companies that are making billions and billions of dollars, and a lot of people don't really know about them. Now they're starting [to be aware]. Now it's timely, because Blackwater's in the news every day.
You've tapped some zeitgeist somehow, you know. Maybe it's luck, in a certain sense. You picked a good topic, definitely.
RS: Yeah, but there is a bit of luck associated with it. I mean, you know, we picked a topic that was interesting to us, and now it's timely. I mean, I think what's happened, obviously, in Iraq, is really horrific and all that -- we don't want to gain based on the people's misfortune. But at the same time, ultimately, people playing Army of Two, if they're researching Blackwater, and if this causes them to learn more about what's really going on in the rest of the world, then that's great.
How politicized would you say that the game content is?
RS: We're not out to make a political statement. But if people are able to come to their own conclusions, then that's pretty cool. We want to expose what really goes on out there. The game is still taken with that -- it's interesting, because the background is really serious, it deals with 9/11, terrorism, and that's really the larger overall storyline, but you know, in terms of how the characters are interacting with each other all the time, they're really interacting in that "buddy cop" kind of a way. Where they're messing with each other.
They give each other a hard time. That's what they do. So it's got this really serious backdrop, and then the way that the characters' dialog -- which is what really brings the characters to life -- has these little bits of comedic moments to it.
So, you would say that it's a character-focused kind of game?
RS: Sure. For us it's... when you're making games now, character-focused games, it's really important to start to think: who your characters are, what motivates them, and why they exist. Why they exist, and why they do what they do. So, we have some, two really talented scriptwriters on the game. They were really helpful to us, in fleshing out their characters. Fleshing out the characters inside Army of Two. They did a really, really great job with that, and when we began to build out these characters, we really gave them personalities.
So, one guy is the young, hot, he can fly off the handle easily, served time in jail. The other, more experienced guy. What really sells the characters, and when you play the game I think you'll experience this as well: the dialog, and the banter back and forth, is really what brings out their personalities. So, you know, we have, we have some really funny lines in the game, we have some serious lines in the game, but when they, the way they interact, is how you'd expect, you know, two guys in this "buddy cop" kind of feel to interact.
Do you have cutscenes, or is this
like banter as chatter, while they're running around?
RS: There is some of that in the cutscenes, but really more of it is the banter when they're going from place to place, or -- if they stop, and you're not doing anything, they'll start talking to each other. So, cool things like that are what sell our characters. If you think about any movie or TV show you like, it's really about the dialog. It's what's so important; the dialog is what makes people real, make characters real. So, we began to explore, really, what co-op was. Dialog was so pivotal to that. To really make the dialog funny, and entertaining, and serious when it needed to be. That's key for Army of Two.
How serious would you say the game is in tone?
RS: It's funny. It has a really serious
backdrop, around terrorism, and 9/11, and the role of Private Military
Corporations in modern warfare, but the moment to moment experience
is really -- there's a lot of funny bits in it, there's a lot of things
that are like: "Wow, did those guys really just say that?"
Well, that's kind of how real life is.
RS: Exactly! But that's, that's the kind of thing that -- I don't want to detract from any other video games, because I think what they've done in Gears of War is really fantastic. Or Metal Gear, or -- you know, sometimes, what I'm seeing, and what the team is seeing, is sometimes [other games are] so serious that you almost can't -- you take it less seriously. Because you're like: "Yeah, it's, you know, this is so serious." So these guys actually joke with each other.
What's the setting for the conflict in this game?
RS: So it starts out in the origin of the Somalian conflict, back in '94. And what you see is, that's where the game opens up, and you see these two guys come together, and you see them begin to fight together. And then, what we do is we flash forward into 9/11.
When you say "into 9/11," you mean in time, not in location.
RS: No, no, we flash forward in time,
and then the game picks up, right after the events of 9/11.
And where is that? The conflict...
RS: So, the game takes place in Afghanistan.
And then it moves into -- you have to capture an aircraft carrier that's
been hijacked; you have a level that takes place inside the United States,
Miami; you have a level that takes place in the outskirts of China.
So we, we send the player all over the world. The player's all over
the world to experience these things. And Iraq as well.
That's really what these PMC contractors do. They don't generally stay in one place too long. They'll get sent on a contract here, then they'll go to Iraq, then they'll go to the outskirts of China, then they end up inside the U.S. -- they're on a security detail. That's one of the things we wanted to convey in Army of Two.
Was that developed, like, by the scenario direction, or was that for player variety? How did you come about that idea?
RS: Well we knew that we wanted to have variety. I think it's more, as a gamer, it's cool to be able to go and see different things, and to play in different theaters of combat. So, for us it was important to send the player to all areas of the world. So, we also, from an artistic perspective, you have such different art direction. If you think that the caves are prisons in Afghanistan, and then you send someone to, say, Miami, after...
I'll give you an example: The level that takes place inside Miami, is after what is supposed to seem like the events of Katrina. So you've got this flooded compound, and you have to make your way through that. And you're in a hovercraft, and you have to get from place to place. Having different kinds of areas like that allows really unique art direction.
Katrina's a kind of political hot spot, too. When you say that the game's not really politicized as such, that kind of raises another flag. I mean, is using these politically relevant situations but not politicizing them intentional? Is that what you thought would add variety?
RS: We looked at a lot of the footage of what... we didn't set a level inside the events of Katrina. But what we looked at was, we looked at the devastation that Katrina caused, in terms of massive flooding and destruction. And we have some real interesting water technology in Army of Two, so we thought that would be really interesting, to leverage -- we have real-time water simulation, which looks pretty amazing.
The artists and engineers were able to do some great stuff with it. No one's really ever played a game set in a flooded disaster area. So we thought that would be a really interesting area to set one of the levels in. So we built that into the game.
So, talking about that, what engine technology are you using on this game?
RS: We're running it off Unreal Engine 3.
How many people do you have working on the team at the height of production?
RS: There's generally about eighty guys on the team. It's obviously plus or minus depending on where you are in a given timeframe. But the core of it was eighty people who I can't say enough great things about them. Super passionate about the game. Really talented group, and they really, they're the ones that deserve all the credit for what Army of Two is, because the amount of people required to make a game now is so big. I'm sitting here giving this interview, but it's really about the creativity and the passion that the team has, and they're the ones that deserve all the credit for it.
Did you have any trouble getting
it working on PlayStation 3 with Unreal Engine?
RS: When we began to work on Unreal Engine 3, our version for Army of Two is pretty heavily modified. We've added tone-mapping, and high dynamic range lighting. We added our water simulation, we added our post-processing effects, all the A.I. behaviors -- everything was built from scratch for Army of Two. And we had a really, really talented PlayStation 3 team, who've been able to make the visual quality and the play experience -- I mean it's, it runs at a consistent 30 frames. Visually, it's, it looks as good as the 360. I mean, all credit goes to those guys. They've done a fantastic job.
And are all those technical achievements, and all you've done for Unreal Engine 3, is that stuff you're going to carry forward at other projects at EA? Both in your studio, and do you think, maybe, more broadly?
RS: I can't tell you guys too much about it, but what I can tell you is we have a lot of ideas for where we want to take the Army of Two technology. We've got an amazing baseline now, of this engine that's really built from the ground up for co-op, and what I can say is, we want to take that in different ways.
EA's got studios all over the world.
They acquired Pandemic and BioWare, as well. A lot of these different
studios may be working on Unreal Engine projects, or co-op game projects.
How does that influence you guys? Or
does that influence you guys? You just go and do the thing you
want to do, and then you can then share what you work on?
RS: I'm pretty excited about [that
acquisition]. I think nothing but the highest respect for the other
guys over at Pandemic and BioWare. They do some amazing, amazing work.
I think it'd be great for us to learn from them. And hopefully they'll
be able to learn from us as well, from some things that we've done.
Obviously, EA is a large company that wants to manage a portfolio of titles. In terms of our newer stuff that we want to do in the future -- our execs see everything, so my gut instinct is that we're not going to have two competing games. But at this point I they're going to do, they're going to continue to do great work, and I hope to learn from them, personally.
But also across other established
studios in EA -- like EALA. If they were going to do a game with similar
facets to what you've pioneered, how does that arrangement work?
RS: So we share video conferences with the guys over in EALA. Obviously they're, they've been using Unreal Engine 3 for some of their titles. Yeah, so, we work independently, in terms of [how] we're not reliant upon each other in terms of getting the final product out, but any ways that we can work with them to -- if they've done something really, really cool? And we want to take it? We'll look at it like it goes both ways. They've been able to put some products out now, on the engine.
I talk with their guys once every few weeks, and they talk with us. And there were some times when we were developing on PlayStation 3, where we shared information back and forth as well.