Richard Farrelly is a man who knows the First-Person Shooter genre like the back of his hand – and he also happens to be the senior creative director on EA's new Medal of Honor. Read on to hear his thoughts on Tier 1 Ops, the future of FPS, and why Half Life changed the genre forever.
Q: What was the thinking when you sat down to decide a new setting for Medal of Honor?
Richard Farrelly: There were a lot of ideas floated, a lot of them focused on getting out of the WW2 genre, and it just happened that there was some serendipity in getting involved with these Tier 1 Operators. It was a personal contact thing that grew into something larger. We thought, "Wow this is a really fascinating subject. We want to tell the story of these guys, this soldier's story, because it's not one that gets told a lot". So naturally we had to figure out where these guys work well. For the past nine years they've been pretty much operating in one place, so it was a natural progression from there.
Q: I don't want to be too blunt here, but is World War II a dead horse now?
RF: I don't think so. Medal of Honor was always set in World War II, but that's not what the game is about. I mean, Medal of Honor has always been about commitment to authenticity, telling the soldier's story, and having respect for the soldier. I think that's universal, no matter what conflict you're representing. It just so happens that up until now that's all they've covered.
Q: But do you think there's a danger that gamers are getting a bit burnt out with World War II games?
RF: No. For me, the backdrop is irrelevant. I think if you come to the market with a great game that's really high quality, I think that people tend to forget their complaints and appreciate it for what it is.
Q: From what's been shown of the game so far, it feels as if Generation Kill has been a bit of an influence – at least in terms of the constant, jargon-heavy radio chatter. Is that the case? It feels a bit quieter and more realistic in tone than what a lot of FPS titles go for.
RF: Absolutely. That just plays back to the commitment to authenticity thing. We have been in contact with these guys. Tier 1 Ops come to the studio and give us all this feedback, and the army has given us a lot of support, the air force… Liaison officer have set us up with events and people. It's been great. Everything that we can put into the game that plays to that, it cements the experience for the player. And it makes you feel like you're in one of these shows. All these other media have depicted current affairs in a certain way, and we as artists feel that we can do the same, and do it respectfully.
Q: How have you approached the pacing of the game? Modern Warfare 2 was an almost constant barrage of set pieces…
RF: I think we've paid a lot of attention to the pace of the story, as well as the gameplay. Fortunately there's a kind of built-in regulator for that with the whole [thematic] Scalpel / Sledgehammer thing. Playing as a Tier 1 Operator you're going to be doing more of these quiet action moments, but as a US Ranger you may be exiting out the back of a Chinook helicopter into a hailstorm, and you'll have that D-Day moment. I think we'll offer a lot, and there are definitely some quiet moments where we can either build tension or deliver most of the story.
Q: But is the action still built around fairly linear set-pieces, or is there any degree of open-endedness?
RF: There are set-piece moments where we want an encounter to play out a certain way, but there are plenty of… even in the demo we showed today, the whole fight up the hill was unscripted and AI-driven. There are multiple paths to get up to that objective, and we have a lot of those "arenas", if you will.
Q: So scripted moments still have their place, you feel? It's not outdated?
RF: No, no – it's a tool in the toolbox, you know? You're not always going to use the hammer, sometimes you might need the screwdriver. It boils down what you need at the moment, what you want to convey to the player and how you want to do it, how much control you want over the situation. Certainly for me as a player, I sometimes just want to be able to control the situation myself, play an event a different way and see how things would have turned out if I'd flanked left instead of right. And we try to offer that, often.