Summary: Bohemia Interactive's Paul R. Statham talks to us about their long awaited military action game and their follow up to Operation Flashpoint.
FiringSquad:First, what were the lessons Bohemia Interactive learned while making the Operation: Flashpoint game series?
Paul R. Statham:One of the key lessons learned was if you build it, they will come, if you build a new type of war game, one that contains great depth and realism, one that requires smart thinking to truly succeed, a game with open possibilities and endless choice, then gamers will get sucked in by that, they'll buy it and play it and like it, and they'll keep playing it. 1.5 Million sales & 5 years later that's still true. We know that the success that we achieved was only partly due to the strengths and depths of Flashpoint, so we have to ensure that we retain the core ethos of what Flashpoint is about, despite our plans to improve and tweak and expand on areas of the game that we feel need work. If we were to try to release some kind of half baked, dumbed down concept in our new game we'd most likely be lynched, so fortunately for us that was something we could never consider.
FiringSquad:When the time came to start work on Armed Assault, what were the development team's main goals?
Paul R. Statham:One of the main goals was to retain the fundamental gameplay of Flashpoint, the impact the game had for those who played it due to its many levels of immersion and scope. The next goal after core gameplay is really about how we can look at creating an interface and command system which allows the player to concentrate on fighting with the enemy, not fighting with the UI or menus, we have to look at ways that we retain a deep level of command and involvement with the game world but doing so in a way which was as streamlined as possible. Further areas we wanted to look at improving were the layers of realism the game offered. Of course it's a game, not a military simulator, but because we're developing a game doesn't mean we have to develop it for chimps, so we worked hard to increase the level of realism by adding and tweaking features such as: accurately simulated recoil, ricocheting bullets, ambient wildlife, HDR lighting, bullet kinetic energy, multiple gunners etc. etc. Another thing that was really important was to again feature masses of military hardware, gamers like to find their favourite vehicle, have their favourite weapon, and ArmA certainly will give them plenty of choice, the precise list of vehicles and weapons is still being finalised, but right now we're looking at something like 50+ vehicles (everything from civilian cars, humvees, APC's, tanks, helicopers, planes) and around 40 different weapons.
FiringSquad:What can you tell us about the backstory and setting for the game?
Paul R. Statham:This time around we've gone for a more modern setting. The Island and the conflict involved in the story are fictional but moving to an updated setting allows us to explore a little of the recent current events and politics from around the world. By touching on some of the modern problems and issues it's something that gamers are familiar with, and aware of a little more than something like the cold war, so it helps to immerse them into the storyline and the people and characters around them. ArmA's story opens on the Island of Sahrani, the player is an American soldier on short deployment to the country of South Sahrani, a democratic monarchy. A small number of US troops have been sent to South Sahrani to help train the local troops, it's as much a PR stunt as it is a chance for the US to keep an eye on the Communist dictatorship in the neighbouring country of North Sahrani. The training period comes to an end so US troops start to return to the US, as the troop departure is nearly complete, Communist forces invade from Northern Sahrani, plunging the South into an expanding conflict. The player is one of the few remaining US troops left on the island and due to the circumstances is forced to become involved in the conflict.
FiringSquad:What sort of refinements to the typical military action are you planning for Armed Assault?
Paul R. Statham:Our games have always had a uniquely gritty and realistic approach to combat scenarios. Whilst we have streamlined the interface in many aspects, Armed Assault continues to uphold this sense of dynamic combat, without a need for Hollywood effects or drama. In ArmA, as with Flashpoint, the core gameplay ethos is that you can go anywhere, do anything, it's about freedom for the gamer, of course you have objectives and orders but most of the time you're free to decide how and when you complete these tasks, linear pathways aren't something we feel should be part of any game, especially not one purporting to simulate military action.
FiringSquad:What can you tell us about some of the more unique features from this game that will make it stand out from the crowd?
Paul R. Statham:One of the first things to stand out about ArmA, especially for the gamer who sits playing it, is the size and scale and openness. In most modern shooters you're never really free to follow your own path, you're funnelled along down a narrow street or ravine, forced to move from A to B to C. In ArmA that's not the case, the island of Sahrani is 400kmē (250 milesē), once the mission has loaded the whole island is available, you can go anywhere, do anything, use anything you find, finish the mission fast, take it slow, explore, anything you like, the only limit to how you complete the mission is really up to your tactical preference. The other elements where ArmA stands out from the crowded genre it gets placed in is the layers of realism and strategy that the engine and its features provides, things such as: Multiple gunner positions on vehicles. HDR lighting, if you stare at the sun you damage your eyesight, common sense really! Simulated weapon recoil, the more powerful the weapon, the more powerful the kick. Bullet kinetic energy, different bullets travel varying distances and the damage they do is affected by distance/ricochet etc. Ambient world, insects and animals move around, adding life and distraction to the world, trees and flora moves in the wind or chopper downwash. Enhanced AI, friend or foe, they think smart, act smarter, don't be surprised to feel like you're the dummy in this war!
FiringSquad:What multiplayer features are you planning at this point for the game?
Paul R. Statham:ArmA and multiplayer are really going to slot together well, our netcode has really matured as we've worked on it and certainly we're expecting ArmA to support 60 players as minimum. But for us multiplayer is never simply about the numbers of players involved, it has to be more than that, more substance, more content. ArmA's multiplayer is going to be oozing substance, and content. Obviously as with singleplayer, multiplayer will feature the whole island, a plethora of vehicles and weapons as well as the great depth and possibility offered by the AI, use them as enemies, use them as friends, choice is yours. Mode wise ArmA will feature a wide range of choices, from the usual quick action types: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag etc. onto the the modes which offer a little more strategy and depth: cooperative, capture and hold, attack and defend, hold location, sector control etc. Then a level beyond that we're going to have hard coded into the game a mode of play similar to the immensely popular capture the island, this aims to be a persistent, largescale conflict, fought over the whole island for hours, even days at a time. It will have a constantly changing battlefield, a real ebb and flow type warfare that really challenges gamers.
FiringSquad:What can you tell us about the graphical features in Armed Assault?
FiringSquad:Are there plans for any mission editors and mod tools for the game like Bohemia release for Operation: Flashpoint?
Paul R. Statham:The modding community is part of the reason we're still around today and in a position to create our future games. ArmA will ship with a built in mission editor, this mission editor is completely fully featured and is essentially the same one that we use to create the campaign, single player missions and multiplayer missions, using it gamers can create their own campaigns and missions, create their own cutscenes, implement music and speech files into their missions, basically do any of the things that we ourselves do in the content that ships with the game. In the areas of modding support we're definitely looking at ways we can help the community to make a jump start on getting their content created and released, we're looking at releasing the tools they need around the same time as the game ships and we're already working on the documentation they'll need to use the tools. Operation Flashpoint has seen thousands of addons/mods released over the years, everything from TV Show and movie tie ins, onto mods covering virtually every war fought in any period and every nation of soldier that's carried a weapon, so of course nobody wants to see that great work go to waste, fortunately with a little tweaking all content from Flashpoint can be converted to work with ArmA so basically as soon as ArmA is released people should start seeing addon/mod content released.
FiringSquad:What are the current status of the game's progress and when will it be released?
Paul R. Statham:The question as to when it will be released is down to the publisher, at this moment in time we don't have a global publishing deal with any publisher so we continue to be available for discussions with interested parties. At this year's E3 we're represented by IDEA Games who will be showing Armed Assault to journalists and publishers, so anyone wishing to arrange an appointment should contact them [http://www.idea-games.com/index_main.php?id=contact]
FiringSquad:Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Armed Assault?
Paul R. Statham:I'd like to say a big thanks to everyone who reads this interview, we're really passionate about the games we create so it really means a lot to us to get a sense of the excitement and anticipation that's building up around ArmA. I know people are eager to get their hands on the game, just as we're eager to finish it and start seeing some of the amazing content the community produces, so hopefully it' not going to be too much longer before it's released. And before that we can promise to release more and more new information and media about the game, following the period of silence where we had to focus primarily on the development side.
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