Last week we spoke with Richard Farrelly, Senior Creative Director on the upcoming Medal of Honor reboot. And with the fantastical, wondrous powers of technology, we were able to ask him your questions...
Our time with the game was brief and full of brown, rocky Afghani mountainsides. It sounds dull - but in fact our first reaction was "damn, that's beautiful." We witnessed waves of (presumably) Taliban forces surrounding and then bearing down on the player's position as 200 round ammo boxes slowly became rare.
The odd scripted mini-sequence was the most memorable. A mobile phone's ringtone piercing the firefight gave the soldiers barely enough time for a blank look, and perhaps a muttered curse, before feeling the IED's impact.
As an injured player, it's a good thing your squadmates will drag you to safety and patch you up - all of which takes about ten seconds before you're back in the fight. There's no justification. No "It's too hectic, you'll have to fight injured!" Just the acceptance that even though Medal of Honor is aiming for a high level of realism, they won't let it become a hindrance to the game.
When we finally sat down with Richard Farrelly, my mobile ringtone scared the crap out of me.
You brought on special forces people to help you with development. What sort of things were they able to help you with?
Pretty much everything you can think of. We had them on from an early stage. Everything from what weapons they would use, what attachments they'd have on them, do they paint them, how would they hold them, do they sound right, what are they gunna wear... Because they don't usually wear their normal uniform, they wear a modified version of that.
What's the inside of a hut look like in Afghanistan? Just every little detail you can think of. They'd scan through our script and make sure the verbage is how they'd speak to each other.
We've worked with regular Army as well, with Apache pilots and with the public affairs office to get other details, and make this the complete package, and get that authenticity we're looking for.
When soldiers coming back from Afghanistan see the game, how do they react to it?
They like it! They've had a big hand in making it happen. They see it for what it is - first and foremost it's an entertainment product. In fact, it's quite funny, some guys are complaining, saying "I hate how long it takes to reload my weapon, or to bring my weapon up, if this were real life I'd have that thing up real fast!" They're even saying it's not badass enough!
Can he really reload that fast?
I wouldn't argue with him!
Where you guys draw the line between realism and style? How do you decide which elements of realism to include, and which to omit?
We try stuff! A good example is, we were making a sniper level. And we wanted to model what it would be like to fire a heavy calibre sniper rifle at targets in excess of 900 metres away. And in real life you have to take into consideration if the bullet's going to drop, and the wind, and all this stuff, and we tried to work that stuff into the plan, but we just couldn't get it to a point where it was accessible.
So we were talking to one of our consultants, who was a sniper. And he said the other side of this is, it's all about breathing. And you've seen this sort of breath mechanic in games before, but this is a little different.
What really happens with a sniper holding his breath is he lets his breath out at halfway, and the whole time he holds it, his heart rate goes up. So as his heart beats, the reticle will jump. And the longer you hold your breath, the faster the heart beats, and the harder it is to take the shot because you kind of have to time your shot in between the jumps.
So now we have this kind of authentic vibe going on, but we have a gameplay element to it. It's pretty accessible, it's like a one-button thing, and pretty easy to figure out. So that's the kind of stuff we'll do, go a little too far into realism/simulator land, and then we'll bring it back to make it a fun experience for the player.
Because there's obviously some sensitive subject matter, are you guys going for a moral to the story, or just concentrating on gameplay?
This is gameplay, and it's a soldier's story. It really is just putting the player in the boots of a soldier in Afghanistan. There's no political statement to be made, no he said/she said, it's all this band of brothers who are making their way through hardship in battle.
Six Days in Fallujah is set in a similar place and situation, and lost its publisher. Were there similar challenges getting a game like this approved within EA?
I think right from the get go we had support from our consultants, and we worked directly with the Army public affairs office to really make sure we represented this in the correct way. And part of that for us is that this is a fictional story. We based it on fact, and that's where the authenticity comes in. But there's no direct analogues, we don't use people's names, we're not recreating anything, this isn't a simulation of an existing battle. It's kind of an amalgamation of all the things we've heard about and read about with what's going on over there, and feedback from our consultants, etc.
But at the same time, we can contain it and represent it in a way that's respectful, that pays homage to the men & women who are serving over there.
Given the setting's sensitive nature, how will you measure success in the game? Are the people you're shooting portrayed as evil? Are they terrorists? Or could they be civilians - is there any moral grey area?
No, it's basically soldiers on the ground, doing their job. It's not a political piece, it's not a documentary. It's just a game about soldiers on the ground doing their job. In this case their job is to secure this valley.
When you are starting a new game, how much creative freedom do you have in the beginning? How much pressure do you have to clone an existing game?
Making any game, especially in a big company, there's going to be a balance between creativity and business. You have to know your audience, and know what you're going for, and go from there. I still think we have a lot of creative space. I think it's a back & forth, really. We'll come up with the ideas, we'll find what we think our audience wants. And that comes from feedback, from forums and from what we as gamers want to do.
Depending on how far we want to push it, we get some feedback from the other side, the business side of it. And usually we find a happy medium.
Creatively, how do you bring singleplayer and multiplayer together into a cohesive experience, given they're made by two different studios?
That's a really interesting question. Early on, we were using two different engines. We were using two different teams. We decided, rather than try to make this a seamless experience, just to embrace the differences, and say, "This is what this engine does, and this is what this team does particularly well." And really just focus on making that quality.
That said, we really tried to have the thematic carry between the two well. All the script and the way the guys talk, all that will be similar. The whole Tier 1 military theme is pervasive to the whole game, no matter what platform or engine.
The section of play we've just seen suggests how much you value audio in the experience.
We have the most amazing sound crew of any game I've ever worked on. There's a lot of really experienced guys. There's a lot of sublety in the game. As far as weapon shoots, we went and recorded everything from the weapon firing, to the shell falling to the ground.
We were recording way down range recording the whizz-byes, recording the bullets hitting the target. We were off in the distance recording to get the sound of distant gunfire. All of this to maximise the shoot.
And some subtle psychological things too, so when you're playing the game and you're firing and firing, and getting low on ammo, you'll notice a subtle difference in the sound of the way the weapon operates. Just with how the mechanics work. It's just enough to give you that mental cue of "Hey, I need to reload now."
Will opponents be able to hear that in multiplayer?
I'm not sure if that's pervasive as much in multiplayer as it is in the singleplayer.
Our thanks to Richard Farrelly!