EA Montreal's Army of Two: The 40th Day, the sequel to 2008's co-op third-person shooter hits stores this week. We caught up with Alain Tascan, EA Montreal general manager, to talk about the new game, finding the right tone, the studio's focus and a motion-controlled future.
Q: Army of Two wasn't received brilliantly but it sold very well. There have been a lot of reports recently that game reviews don't matter. What do you think about that?
Alain Tascan: They matter to me and they matter to the team, and that's why we improve. But to answer your question, what we've been able to do is to engage people emotionally. The heart of Army of Two is friendship. Whether you're a young person, you're in school and you're bullied and your teacher doesn't like you and your parents just grounded you, you always have a friend you can call and say, let's go and do something to take my mind off of it. When you're an adult it's the same thing. I lost my job, my girlfriend's cheating on me I'm sure, I just ate the worst Chinese food in my life and I can't afford to pay the rent; you call your friend up and say, let's do something. I feel somehow, we delivered something that is putting two friends together in this situation and, you go through steps and be successful in a partnership. Now a lot of games are doing that but at the time it was pretty unique. We focused hundred per cent on that. For us it's not a mode, it is the game. I feel unconsciously people reacted to that.
Even if the characters were cold, for a certain kind of people they were iconic characters. The tattoo, the attitude, the mask - they were very recognisable. Some people thought, I can see myself being like this for a few hours. And, within the third-person shooter category, the experience was slightly different. It's not this huge ride, very entertaining with tonnes of stuff happening and you're like, oh my god, this is so cool. You play differently. It's like, now we need to think. Now we need to communicate. People are getting bored more and more easily. What we tried to do is give them a different flavour of a popular genre.
Q: You've worked on changing the tone. What didn't work in the first game?
AT: The mistake we made was we thought that what is going to make a certain type of person laugh is going to make everybody laugh. The reality is, you can laugh off everything but not with everybody. When we mixed killing in North Africa, killing terrorists for money and then fist pumping and saying something funny afterwards, in a place where real life our troops are dying, people just felt whatever the game is, this is wrong. You can't do that. People from the left thought we were on the right; people from the right thought we were on the left. We were able to piss off a lot of people!
We needed to correct that, because it was taking away from what the game was. Some people focused so much on that they didn't see the game. They just thought, how can you do that? My brother is in Afghanistan and in Iraq, you cannot do this kind of thing. We got carried away. The reality is we have real recordings from mercenaries in the field, and let me tell you, we took ten percent in the first game of what was said in war. But is not like in the movies, it's not appropriate. What we're discovering, now that we're a mass market entertainment medium, is like, as movies we have to filter, what would be the reality via our medium? And things evolve. Televisions evolve and movies evolve. We have to respect that, and we've learned good ways to do that. The new one I feel is still very funny, but at least it's more Bruce Willis funny than Steven Seagal funny.
Q: A scientific study was released recently that looked at the depiction of war crimes in video games. What's your take on that? Is the terrorist level in Modern Warfare 2 problematic, for example?
AT: It's interesting. The game, whether it's Modern Warfare or us with Battlefield, we're [restricted to gamers aged] 18 years old plus. We should be at an age where we can make a difference. We know what is fantasy and what is not fantasy. Now it's the way you're doing it. Are you encouraging something or not? There are different angles. It's interesting that now we're touching this place where what we're doing can be like war or a war crime. When we are doing mock surrender [in Army of Two: The 40th Day], and somebody flanks and shoots somebody in the back, that's a war crime. You don't do that in war - you just kill.
But we're delivering something that's just a fantasy. Instead of having a wooden gun like we had 50 years ago, we have electronic stuff. What we need to be sure of is that people feel it's a fantasy. For me, we have responsibilities, and our responsibilities are towards the younger audience and to make sure they're rated and don't have access to our games, and that parents are doing their jobs. I'm a parent, and I wouldn't put my kids in front of Army of Two. When I'm playing I lock the door of the play room. My six year old and my nine year old are too young. I feel that we live in the age where we get censorship - especially from M-rated games in the US and 18 rated games here. But it is artistic expression, and we cannot censor that. Sometimes we go too deep, sometimes we don't go far enough, or hit just the right tone, but the thing we cannot do is do it religiously. I think it's a bit dangerous.