Warco: The First-Person Shooter Where You Never Fire A Gun

It looks like a military shooter, but it isn’t. There’s a first-person view, you’re caught up in conflict, wounded soldiers and civilians lie amongst the rubble begging for help, and you’re surrounded by the sound of showering bullets and military units. At a glance, Warco could be mistaken for any other first-person shooter set in any other war zone, but it isn’t. In fact, it is the opposite. You never fire a weapon, not even once.

Developed by Defiant Development, a studio made up entirely of former Pandemic employees, the team has not only been able to live up to its name by establishing a new studio after the collapse of Pandemic, they are now challenging what we know about war games and genres through Warco. Is it a first-person shooter? No. Is it a war emulator? Not quite. It’s none of the above because it’s so much more.

At its most basic level, Warco (which is an old journalism term for “War Correspondent”) is about being a war journalist. You don’t fire a gun, you’re not a glorified hero rushing into combat, and there is no virtual flag for you to capture. Instead, armed with a video camera, your goal is to capture the story as combatants and civilians around you are fired upon, and you are caught in the middle. It is an unusual position for a player to be placed in – not passively watching the action as it happens, but not being responsible for it either. According to the founder of Defiant Development, Morgan Jaffit, it’s a case of reality being just as, if not more, interesting than fiction.

“Tony Maniaty (an Australian journalist who worked in Timor in the 1970s) gave us a bit of background about what it was like to be a journalist in the 1970s compared to what it’s like today, and there has been such a dramatic change in the way that front-line journalists operate,” he says.

“It used to be that the press were considered not to be targets, whereas now they’re specifically targeted. There were just all these elements that I thought would make a great game.”

The elements that Jaffit talks about are embedded in reality, not fantasy, fleshed out by Defiant Development along with Maniaty, who is a former ABC and SBS correspondent, and film director Robert Connelly (The Boys, Romulus My Father, Balibo). As someone with little interest in fantasy war games, Jaffit saw the potential for Warco to partner the strong narratives of war with equally strong game design to create something that the world hasn’t seen before.

“I’m personally a great believer that video games and interactive media are the medium of the 21st century. I’m a big believer that this is what people will be writing about when they look at the history of development of art in this time period,” he says.

“That said, I think we often cheapen the potential of the medium. [Warco]is the closest I could see to building something that was both engaging in game narrative but also pulled in on the elements of documentary and allowed us to tell a story that all of these war games imply happened around the edges.” And so the goal of the project was to explore those implied stories that are often pushed to the side in war fantasy games. Rather than send the player into the game as a beefed-up war hero, the player is a young female journalist named Jesse Demarco who has to wade through the chaos around her to capture stories that will ultimately shape the game world.

If this sounds like a voyeuristic, almost passive experience, it isn’t. The team at Defiant have thought it through and acknowledge that it was one of the early criticisms of the game concept. Working with Maniaty, they were able to craft narratives and design a game that made the experience active for the player.

“A game, by definition, has to be active, and there’s a very voyeuristic nature to this so we really wanted to make sense of gathering footage something more active: you’re actively pulling together a story and a narrative out of the pieces of the world you observe,” says Jaffit.

“It’s a very active world, it’s a very dynamic world, and the player has to remain active to get those stories. It’s has a far less moment-to-moment dynamic than, for example, shooting people. You’re not running around shooting people, but the choices you make should be framed in an important fashion and there are quite a few turning-point decisions for our hero Jesse Demarco over the course of the game.”

So how exactly can the player actively shape the game world? It comes down to moral decisions. For example, you’re interviewing a rebel leader and during the course of the interview you find information that will be helpful to the loyalist troops: how do you present this information? You see a wounded soldier who is being fired upon: do you help him behind cover? Do you intervene when a civilian is in trouble? You serve as the eyes and ears of the world and what you choose to report and how you choose to report it will change the dynamics of the world greatly — it goes far beyond putting a bullet through another soldier.

These are the questions that Defiant Development wants players to ask themselves. They want players to be put into difficult situations because these tricky questions with heavy consequences are some of the most engaging elements of war and war journalism.

“When Tony talked about war journalism, one of the examples he gave very early on was that a journalist is, by definition, not involved, and if as a journalist you are to pick up a gun or help a wounded soldier behind cover, then you instantly become a combatant and you’re a fair target,” says Jaffit.

“The moral question is exactly this: if you see somebody wounded and bleeding in the middle of the street while being fired upon, do you help them? That’s the question, and of course questions and decisions are what makes a game, it’s what makes it interactive rather than a film and I just found those questions incredibly fascinating.”

With a wealth of game development experience behind them, Jaffit and his team at Defiant were able to create a game with engaging game mechanics, but as Jaffit himself admits, the game is not all action and light-hearted play. Yes, Defiant have been able to make this a captivating, interactive and powerful experience, but it will also be a confronting game. Jaffit makes no apologies for this.

“We absolutely want to be confronting because war journalism is confronting — it’s part of the nature of the topic we’re dealing with, and there are a lot of heavy duty moral decisions made by journalists.”

“We just wanted to be honest about what’s involved in war, and that’s why Warco is not about a glorified killing machine who can go through hundreds of enemies. It’s about the honesty of war, which is not glorified, which is brutal. And in all honesty we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the moral implications because we believe that we’re actually pushing what can be done with a game narrative in a war zone forward from where other games are.” Jaffit says that he takes no issue with war fantasies, but if other games represent action movie fantasies then he hopes Warco represents something that is more grounded in reality and offers a bit more depth, and he believes that is Defiant Development’s strength.

“If you want every other game then you can go to every other studio,” he says.

“If you want something that’s progressive and exciting and a little bit bigger, then we like to think that’s what we stand for.”

So if it’s not a first-person shooter and it’s not a war fantasy or a war simulator, what is it? Where does Warco fit in with the current gaming landscape, and who is going to play it?

“I don’t know what the genre is, and I’ll be honest: the whole point of Warco is to do something new,” says Jaffit.

“We have a very solid idea about people who we think will play it and existing audiences who might be interested, but we can’t point to a group of people and say ‘It’s them!’ because there’s no other game like it in terms of genre. Dead Rising has a camera and so does Pokemon Snap, so is Warco halfway between Dead Rising and Pokemon Snap? Not really. And on that basis you just have to say that you hope it’s something new, and once it’s on the market you hope there are more people making games that show what can happen along those lines as well.”

Warco is currently in development for all current-gen consoles and PC.


Comments

    Ha! I would love to see a CoD Kid play this game for an hour.

    If I was to label it something I would probably label it a First Person Survival game.

    Not a bad idea for a game actually, although I personally think Beyond Good and Evil already did something similar 7 years ago.

      I disagree. BG&E was still a platform game where you beat up enemies (including boss battles) - it just had a theme to do with journalism. The game in this article sounds like completely different game mechanics. I'll be keeping an eye out for this one.

      yeah, metal gear solid 2 had a camera in it, too! and it also had war and guns. so clearly they're ripping that off, too.

      (lol)

      also, in MGS2, you could avoid killing dudes altogether, by shooting them in the head or face with the pistol-gun that is quieter and only puts them to sleep (permanently), so: Nonviolent War Game has been done. kojima better get all the royalties.

        Oh please, in Doom I could bash people over the head with a chainsaw. MGS is clearly ripping off Doom.

          But Doom was set in space and was all about shooting things, so clearly it ripped off Asteroids big time.

            Oh pfft, Asteroids was mainly black and white. Clearly ripping off Pong.

              Are you serious? Pong was about richocetting a ball between two paddles until one player messed up and let it go through their side. Clearly, pong ripped of real life table tennis.

                If you did some research, you'd know that men have been doing that to their wives for centuries whenever they messed up.

                Ha! That one is dark.

              Pong? You mean that rip off of table tennis? Call my lawyer.

                Damn, Ninja'd!

                  Great minds think alike, but now that I think about it, Table Tennis is just a glorified rip off of Tennis. It's so blatant about it, it even took the Tennis name.

                Table tennis? pfft. nothing more than a knock off of real tenis.

                Real tenis? that game where two people stand facing each other & fling projectiles at each other until one loses? nothing but a kid-friendly edwardian pistol duel.

                pistol duel? a means of settling disputes of honor? bah its just a more organised bar room brawl...

                ok. ill stop now. :/

                  You guys all win.

    Sounds quite interesting. Whether it will be successful or not, obviously, remains to be seem. But I think it's great that some development houses are willing to take a good hard look at what the industry often takes for granted and tries to challenge it, for better or worse.

    Good luck to them!

    Call me intrigued, this seems relevant to my interests and officially on my radar.

    Definitely looks interesting, though I think it might benefit from some "Physics" in its camera aiming, it just seemed way too sterile in the video.

    I was interested when I saw this up on tsumea, but now that I know more about what they are trying to do, I'm really excited for a chance to try it. Thanks for the piece!

    Reminds me a lot of Suda51's Michigan, which has the player in a similar role, though I think it's just as a camera operator rather than a journalist. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_(video_game)

    I'm interested.

    Is the video taken from an early build with fill-in models and textures? Cos I'm sorry, but this game looks terrible.

    I know everyones trying to be nice because it's made by Australians, but if that's the graphical expectation Defiant are going for they are going to get butchered by reviewers!

    It's a great idea for a game and would love to see it reach its full potential.

    I also agree completely with Blaghman about the camera "physics". It looks like the player doesn't have to deal with focus or anything like that, which is a shame because I'd assume a war photographer or cameraman would be having to deal with that all the time. I could imagine the player getting bad scores if some of their footage was blurry. That would be a cool element to the gameplay.

    I hope the video is an early build and is missing the proper models, hi-res textures, lighting and physics. Cos I'd like to play this game.

      The game is still in development.

    This is nothing new. Black Ops was a FPS where you never fire a gun. Or at least didn't have to - you could just sit back and let your AI buddes do all the gun-firing for you :P

    I really want this game to do well.

      Same and if its executed right it will. I am thinking its more of a Bond/Bourne thing but they are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing.

    Interested. Looks suitably different.

    ~
    /give all

    RATTATTATTATTATTATTATTA--

    Man, that's going to be a tough sell.

    this what i like to see, a game that is different. They need to make this really confronting and impacting to really make this game deliver what it should. Going the slightest light hearted experience or avoiding any serious issues then the player is dropped out of the experience.

    Also there better not be regen health. When you get shot you should have to bandage your self up then make your way to the hospital were you would be confronted with the impact of war on the civilian population.

    Damn this game sounds cool, interesting, different and unique. Its got no bloody chance has it?

    I think a lot of people are going to make positive noises about this game because they want to bang on about how sophisticated they are, but I think the truth is that this will bomb spectacularly at retail - does it even have a publisher attached yet?

    Sorry to sound harsh, but it sounds more like a grant fed art project than a commercial proposal.

      Gets a small release on steam for 5-10$. Gathers a bit of a cult following, mostly past over though.

        Really, it all depends on how much money they spend developing it. If they can get it out the door for under half a million, they could bloody easily make that much money back with just digital distribution.

        If the game is even remotely entertaining, it'd be fairly easy for them to sell over 100k copies of it at a pretty low price point (5-9 dollars).

        Sure, they are unlikely to make a hundred million off it, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If it pays to keep the lights on and puts a little scratch in their pocket for their next project, they're then on their way...

    I think they will blatantly overpower one of the cameras, therefore breaking the game....

      The cameraphone needs a serious nerf, 1080P footage at 30fps, and it doesn't even have movement restrictions. Almost as imba as ponies.

      lol, oh god... I just started thinking about a MP component!!!

      Unlocking new cameras, long range lenses for snipers, disposables for assault, polaroid cameras used as grenades, etc...

      Basically everyone running around trying to get the highest photo count, photo combos to earn photo streaks for filter power ups...

      Honestly, very interested in the game, but imagining a not so serious MP has left me in a silly mood!

    It doesn't matter how good this is, I'm buying it on principle of trying something new.

    That said, I'm glad it looks good. Well, it *looks* pretty poor by todays quality, but the idea sounds fun. I imagine it will be awkward to some degree, but not enough that we won't be able to tell the difference between bad design and poor polish.

    Lets hope it works, because I'm really over shooters.

    Awesome! I love it when devs challenge the usual designs. Sure it's risky and could possibly end up with boring and repetitive gameplay, but if it's done well it could be deliver a brand new experience, something we just don't see often enough. I wish them the best luck and success in this project :)

    Sure, it sounds great and all... but I dunno if it'll ever compare to Pokemon Snap.

    Still in development right? I hope they replace the camera/gun and soldier with an actual camera and news crew. Then you'd have an instant winner! I can also imagine the possibilities of a scene creator/level editor, for when you want to make missions for others or just want to make a badass news coverage

      o it is a camera, lol. srry

    I think an important thing to note is that regardless of whether or not this game ends up being a commercial success, it's trying something new and tackling an important subject in a way that we have never seen before. If developers were to only think about the bottom line then surely it would make sense to continue making CoD clones, because that's clearly where all the money is. But sometimes it's not about making A Whole Lot Of Money -- game developers are creative people who have their own ideas they want to explore and games they want to make, so I'm tipping my hat to Defiant Development for thinking outside the square and daring to do something different.

    With this game sell well? I don't know. But I do know that if in the future people complain that all video games do is glorify violence and mindless killing, then I can at least point to this.

      Exactly.

      Commercial pressures shouldn't entirely decide which games get developed - or we'd have even more FPS games on the market than we do now.

      If a game can do reasonably well sales-wise [i]while[/i] breaking new ground and trying something innovative with its gameplay or narrative, that's fantastic.

      Personally I'm incredibly interested in something like this. If they can make a quality 'war genre game' with an unconventional protagonist that doesn't fall into black-and-white morality or unrealistic military fantasy, I'd buy it in a second.

      Yeah but the problem in pointing to this is in the game you're taking footage of war to show to the public, thats glorifying AND cheapening it!!!!11one

      I agree with your sentiments. WARCO could actually be the game that make the big devs re-consider what's possible in a AAA-title. But I guarentee that won't happen unless the game has enough to capture their attention.

      It's great to be adventurous and explore new ground. But I also think it's a wasted opportunity if the outcome is either overlooked or disregarded, which could happen to any game without enough polish.

      If your going to point at a game that defends the argument that all video games are mindless killing and violence, you might want to consider using a less violent clip. At least cut out the scene where three soldiers are blown to peices by the bomb lol :)

    They're trying something different?

    SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

    I fully read the title as WACO, and I was all like A BLIND MAN ASKED ME FORGIVENESS!

    I wonder what sort of perks will be available in the competitive multi player mode?

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