If there's one genre that's oversaturated at the moment it's the first-person shooter. And if you want to get even more precise, it's the WWII themed first-person shooter. Despite this, Codemasters and Spark Unlimited are hard at work on Turning Point, a WWII shooter with a difference. We caught up with Senior Producer Dave Brickley to get the latest on the game.
VideoGamer.com: So, of all the genres out there, why go for another World War II shooter?
Dave Brickley:Ah, you spotted the Nazis then. Common misconception in that it's not World War II, it's an alternate history. It never happened. But it could have. And that's what makes it 'spooky'. More 'War of the Worlds' in places than World War II, in fact.
Given the core of the team behind it has worked on well-known franchises like Medal of Honor going back to the earliest days, plus Call of Duty subsequently, they've amassed enormous knowledge about what DID happen, and that meant there was no one better placed to realistically speculate on what could have occurred if a single event changed history.
So there's no European beaches or villages, you're not a soldier, you're not with an army, you're being hunted by the most devastating war machine ever assembled, and having to run for your life as some of the world's most famous locations collapse around you. It's the start of a whole new sub-genre for FPS, not the end of an old one.
VideoGamer.com: What sets Turning Point apart from the rest? Are you not just shooting Nazis again?
DB: Although it's set in an alternate 1950s, many of the themes are contemporary, such as the nature of freedom and terrorism. The guys at Spark were in some ways responding to a post 9-11 world in which they know as Americans they're not safe at home any more, hence the utter destruction of New York in the opening levels is rendered in pretty shocking detail, but it's in stark contrast to the occupied Washington 'ghetto' later in the game.
Further, all the weapons and vehicles are again imagined, not simply copied - many come from blueprints found after 'our' war, of what the Nazis wanted to evolve. They wanted to attack America - Hitler was obsessed. It's got tremendous resonance, but walks that fine line to maintain the belief in the 'turning point'. Mecha Nazis or laser weapons would have been easy to include, but Spark had the knowledge to evolve everything in a believable fashion, and the experience is all the better for it.
VideoGamer.com: How do you get across the fact that you aren't a soldier who's had training? Surely if you're good at aiming in other shooters, you'll be good in this?
DB: We definitely wanted the player to enjoy shooting weapons - it's reasonable to assume almost everyone knows one end of a rifle from another even without training. How well they fire is down to the player.
But equally important is what you don't have - body armour, health packs, radar, even much of a HUD to speak of. All FPS staples which we stripped away to leave the player feeling really exposed as this ordinary guy caught up in a struggle.
That's before we've even mentioned your hand to hand combat. This is born of necessity - a headbutt, a punch, a neck break, many possible attacks seen from a third person viewpoint because we wanted to fully exploit their brutality. Taking a Nazi as a human shield and using his pistol to move from cover to cover is the action of a desperate man, not a soldier.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think there are certain ingredients that make up an excellent first-person shooter? Are there any games that you think nailed it?
DB: We all like to be surprised, so naturally the games that evolved new features are remembered most fondly. They raise the bar for how spectacular a set piece can be; how good a control system can feel; how clever use of AI routines can make encountering the same enemy over and over again a consistently fresh experience. So yeah, obviously from Doom to GoldenEye to Operation Flashpoint to Half-Life to TimeSplitters to Halo you can see how new titles have come along and added an aspect that made you wonder how you ever got by without it before.
VideoGamer.com: Conversely, what simply doesn't work? Can you think of any games that got it wrong?
DB: Repetition is my personal bugbear. It's like people feel compelled to make a game of XX hours to meet some marketing requirement and as a result prevent most of the people who start their game from ever finishing it by simply repeating the same locations over and over, way beyond their capacity to entertain. Certainly with Turning Point, we've designed a game we want everyone who plays it to finish by keeping the locations fresh, and to a very high visual standard.
VideoGamer.com: How are you finding multi-platform development?
DB: Well it's nothing new in itself, the challenges are much the same as last generation. Realistically, anything worth doing stimulates competition and having three manufacturers slug it out helps keep the others motivated, so it's not something that's ever going to go away.
VideoGamer.com: Will all three versions of the game be identical?
DB: That's always been our goal. Online, Microsoft obviously make it easier with their Live infrastructure but we've worked with Epic and GameSpy to ensure the key features are present in all versions, because we know gamers have their preferred platform and we want them all to enjoy the game at its best.
VideoGamer.com: Turning point was due at the end of this year but it got put back. What was the reason for this?
DB: We didn't want to rush it and have to cut anything, basically.
VideoGamer.com: The game is next-gen and PC only. Did you ever consider the merits of a Wii version?
DB: This is the start of a franchise which can evolve really in any direction we choose to take it, into any genre or time zone. If we did a Wii version, it would exploit that opportunity in a way that was most appropriate to the unique aspects that machine offers. Given the sheer processing grunt needed to render a collapsing New York though, and the level of spectacle we wanted for Fall of Liberty, it wasn't really the most appropriate platform for this title.
VideoGamer.com: Games are hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the moment? Do you fear that Turning Point might rub certain people up the wrong way?
DB: Ultimately it's a work of fiction. We're not recreating any wars here. But if the setting and the story make people reflect on some very relevant issues, such as America's place in the world and how easy one can go from citizen to terrorist, then I think the team would be proud of that.
VideoGamer.com: Many games look great at various stages of development, but they end up being simply mediocre. The intention at the start is surely to make a great game, so how does this happen?
DB: It's likely to happen more and more with this generation because the insatiable demand for better visuals and more features means bigger teams and generally more management, and ultimately more conflicting opinions. Every game needs a dictator in charge, someone talented with a vision and the strength to implement it. Sometimes it'll work, more often than not it won't, because if it was easy to make great games then they'd all be great.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time David.