2009 seems destined to go down as the year of the military sandbox shooter simulation. Well, that and the year of the fighting game. And the year of the triple-A delay. Ah screw it. Let’s just say that by the end of 2009 we’ll have seen two milisims, as they’re called, released. Bohemia Interactive’s Arma 2 is already out, and jolly good it is too. Now it’s Codemasters’ turn with Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. Here, in an interview with senior game designer Tim Browne and art director Mike Smith, we learn why it’s the thinking man’s shooter and what the team really think of Bohemia’s game.
VideoGamer.com: The game seems unashamedly hardcore at a time when most first-person shooters aren’t.
Tim Browne: I know my demonstration was, unfortunately, I did die few too many times!
Mike Smith: You were crap!
VideoGamer.com: I don’t know if you were crap. The game looks pretty hard.
TB: One of the things about the game, and it’s something that we’ve been focusing on over the last two months, is balancing and the AI. Everything else, other than a bit of polish on the graphics, is there, and for the last two months we’ve been working on it and we’re getting very close now. That build you just saw was about a week old, so things are even better now.
Now, it’s very difficult to talk and show off things at the same time as playing. Like I said I was trying to show more of the mission in a short space of time. Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is definitely your thinking man’s shooter. It’s got lots of action in, it’s got loads of explosions, loads of weapons and loads of vehicles, but it’s more about the tactical side than just being John Rambo.
Unfortunately as you saw a couple of times I didn’t really wait to check certain places were clear of enemies and ran into a hail of bullets. But we’re very proud of keeping the whole one bullet can kill you ethos. Unfortunately I didn’t get to show you the damage system. The damage system allows for you to take wounds where you’re just bleeding, or just light wounds as if the bullet has grazed you, so you’re very slightly wounded and it only affects you slightly.
MS: Tim got shot in the head from quite close range because he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on during his presentation. But the way generally people play the game is they first run in expecting it to be like other shooters and stuff, and then they get shot in the head quite quickly. You kind of go, right, I get this. It takes a little while sometimes, like a couple of play-throughs where you die a few times. It kind of twigs. People think about it a little more. They use binoculars to see where the enemy are. As Tim said it’s the thinking man’s game. It’s got much more depth than a lot of other first-person shooters, especially around at the moment.
We think that people are crying out for that. There’s been so many games where, come down this way we’ll show you a big scripted sequence, come round this corner. This really opens up. You’ve got this massive island. You can go pretty much anywhere you want. It’s going to click. People are going to think, my objective’s there – I could go completely all the way around and get a different take on it. I don’t have to follow this prescribed route.
But, for people who are so into their tunnel shooters we hold their hands quite a bit. We’ve got an RV system – you might have seen those little yellow flags? They’re basically a visual aid to take you through a route through the mission. So people who are like, oh I’m a bit lost, there’s all this world, I’m not sure where to go, playing on normal difficulty, which is our easy mode, we hold your hand and say, go here, go here and go here. We hope we’ve got enough accessibility in there and we’ve spent a lot of time recently on this to make sure that we introduce people to it and they get it and then give them enough time to get comfortable with the game.
TB: One of the things is we do allow the player to turn off the RV system at any time. It’s not on on hardcore. It is on on normal and experienced, but you can turn it off. Like I said, not everyone is au fait with military tactics, so we’re giving players an idea of where to go. Because this game is a sandbox tactical shooter, you can attack an objective from 360 degrees. We let the player choose how to attack. We give them tools to do it, like an anti-tank javelin missile, but they can choose to use it early on in the mission or later on. You don’t know what’s going to turn up.
The other thing is, our missions aren’t linear. It’s almost like a puzzle game at times. There are multiple different tactics you can use. Some will work brilliantly, some won’t work brilliantly, and some will just fail. We don’t tell the player what they are because, really, we don’t know exactly what they are. The AI decides where to go.
MS: I think that’s a very important aspect actually. The AI plays out differently depending on what you do each time. We don’t have scripted moments. We don’t trigger an event when the player gets to a certain area or anything like that. It’s the AI deciding what to do all the time. There’s a huge amount of replayability. You could take a different route. You could act in a different way and the AI might just fall back because you scare them. There’s so much complexity in there that I think when people go back to playing a standard tunnel FPS, they’re going to feel hemmed in. They’re like, what? I want to go around that hedge! It really opens your eyes. Once you’ve been playing this for a while and you play something else, it’s like, wow!