Q: MAG's hook is that it's a 256 player FPS. We can't think of many harder challenges from a design point of view than to work out how to divide up the players and still make them feel like they're in a battle with lots of other people and not just their squad doing their own thing.
SR: You put it exactly how I would have. That has been our major challenge: how to make it feel like your small unit of specialists are special, and yet make you feel like you're part of a larger war. If you've seen what was shown at E3 and first beta, you've seen that we've been moving the pieces around to optimise that. One of the things we did was – especially in Domination – all the various sides start in their unique area, and then they push forward towards a common area. Really the intensity and the number of friends and enemies you see increases during the match. That seems to have worked out very well, where the intensity builds and you end on a crescendo. It's a climax of the gameplay when the game ends.
Q: MAG is an online focused shooter. Are dedicated servers essential to the success of online-focused shooters?
SR: For us it is, partially because of our persistence. The fact that how your PMC does effects the larger benefits – the Shadow War is what we're calling it – every 24 hours we look at the performance of each of the PMCs on various game types, and the winner of all of those matches at the end of the 24 hour period, they receive a bonus to their various abilities for the next 24 hours. That requires dedicated servers, or else it's not secure. We control those servers to ensure it's legitimate. We can also do a lot more than if we went more of a broad base server base. We have Ferraris instead of a bunch of Yugos powering MAG, to put it that way. Nothing against Yugos – very good car!
Q: There were issues with Modern Warfare 2 and Infinity Ward's decision not to provide dedicated servers.
SR: It's a very different game, though. For Modern Warfare, which I like playing personally, I feel it's a good game although it's different from us. For us, the fact that it's 256 players and secure persistent is just… you know it's just the way it's got to be for it to work. I can't imagine us trying to do it another way.
Q: You mentioned you've played Modern Warfare 2. What do you think of the terrorist level?
SR: I'm here to talk about MAG. I tip my hat to those guys. That's about all I want to say.
Q: Another unique feature of MAG is the command structure. It seems to us that the game is designed with the use of headsets in mind.
SR: It helps. It greatly enhances the game. One thing I got to say about our command structure is it's not mandatory. One of our big design sayings is, it's all carrots and no sticks. We never punish a player for not behaving as a good teammate. As long as he's contributing by killing the enemy… if you've paid $60 for this game, you should have fun no matter how you want to play it, as long as you're not griefing or something. But we offer incentives - carrots - for those who want to play, take objectives, move with their squad and revive teammates. It's all about enticing people to play how we want them to, but never punishing them for not doing so.
Q: But the rewards for doing so are great.
SR: Accelerated experience, yeah. If you're in it for the long run, or even in the short run, that extra experience really pays off.
Q: With development of MAG wrapping up, what is Zipper turning to you next? Are you able to take a break and take stock and react to the community, or will you jump straight in to something else?
SR: Absolutely we're paying close attention to what happens when we launch. That will be the focus of our attention. As for beyond that, we haven't really made any announcements or anything, so keep your ears open. But we're very excited about this new product and line, so keep your ears open. We plan to be very active.
Q: Lots of fans are hoping for SOCOM 4. Any word for the fans on that?
SR: You know, honestly, we're just here to talk about MAG this time. That's all I can say.
MAG is due out exclusively on the PS3 this Friday.