The annual shooter showdown is almost upon this, but this year, Medal of Honor faces a threat from a very different type of enemy. For the first time in history, EA's shooter won't just be stepping into the line of fire laid down by Call of Duty, but gunning against one of its own, competing against ongoing content from the publisher's own Battlefield 3.
It's unwittingly appropriate, perhaps, that Warfighter's very own multiplayer component is built around the idea of 'Blue vs. Blue' gunfights.
But will friendly fire stifle Warfighter's chances of success when it releases later this month, or are players ready to accept another shooter? VideoGamer.com speaks to Medal of Honor: Warfighter's senior designer Ben Jones on the threat Danger Close faces from its own side, and the impact that Battlefield 3's ongoing success has had on the development staff behind the project.
Is Medal of Honor a harder sell than usual this year? EA appears to be pushing Battlefield 3's DLC as hard, if not harder than Warfighter. Is there a fear inside Danger Close that EA is cannabilising its own boxed product with new content for last year's game?
Ben Jones, Senior Designer, Danger Close: We don't think so, particularly because we're delivering such a different product with Warfighter. Especially in MP, our focuses are really different. Battlefield is so large-scale it's like this giant hammer hitting you on the head. Whereas with [Warfighter], we're really going in and trying to be as intricate as possible with our infantry combat, and that's really where the focus is; boots on the ground and not so much planes in the air and tanks rolling by. And being in an environment where that combat is nearly constant.
In Battlefield I spend half my time just getting to the battle, [but] here that battle is super accessible, fast-paced, and with the number of different features we're delivering with international Tier 1 units and Fire Teams, I think we've got a lot to offer that really differentiates itself from the Battlefield series. So no, I'm not concerned with us cannabilising our own products. I think we set ourselves apart quite well.
Do you think consumers will actually recognise those differences [as being big enough to warrant a new product]? EA wants players to continue playing Battlefield 3 until at least March, and then presumably transition onto Battlefield 4. How does Medal of Honor fit in amongst those people who have already invested in EA's existing shooter for the long-term?
BJ: Well, if the consumers are anything like me, I know I'll buy and play both. Because they are so different from a gameplay perspective, I think it gives you a refreshing opportunity to bounce back and forth. Even though Battlefield's releasing compelling DLC this year, our experience comes out, it's a completely different shift and gives you an opportunity to play with the Fire Team focus, which is like co-op within the multiplayer world. It's something really different. So I think, yeah, if you're a fan of shooters you have plenty of reasons to pick up Warfighter even if you are already committed to Battlefield DLC.
So there isn't any demoralisition within Danger Close, or a feeling that the team is working on something in the shadows of a bigger product?
BJ: No, I don't think so. I think if you look at what happened outside of this product, we moved everything internally. We built one team and we're focussed around Frostbite and making the best possible game we can, and getting all this great information from all these consultants, it's clear that our support within EA is very strong. So we're not concerned about that.
Over the last couple of years, the idea of games becoming a service rather than a single standalone release has really come into fruition. How has that changed your approach to Warfighter over the previous Medal of Honor?
BJ: It really is all about opportunity. In the past, it might have been you have your feature set and you're locked into that within the product, and then maybe you hope to get some of those things in the next game three or four years down the road. But as you said, it's a service now. Even if it is bi-annual you're trying to get some stuff between those releases. So it's really a great opportunity as a developer because now more of our ideas are coming to light and it's giving a lot of innovation and gameplay opportunities to gamers that wouldn't have been seen in the past, and certainly not at the pace that it is now.
Can you see that changing again over the next couple of years? Do you think players will have to subscribe to a service - say, a Medal of Honor channel - and receive every piece of related content [for a flat fee], rather than continuing the way it is now?
BJ: That's pretty interesting. There are a number of different business models out there that are proven to work; micro-transactions and that kind of stuff. And EA with its mobile presence is exploring a lot of those different opportunities. So yeah, I can certainly see if that's something that the market wants, then we'll put out there. It's really interesting.
I've only been shown the PC version of Warfighter so far, and obviously there was a fairly big graphical divide between the PC and console versions of Battlefield 3. That game shipped on two discs on Xbox 360. Is that the case here, too?
BJ: I think that might be a reality for us as well. It's DVD format versus Blu-ray and you're going to see that split at certain times, especially with the amount of content that we're delivering. But for us in terms of quality bar, I think we're all very happy with what we've delivered. Danger Close as a whole has spent a lot of time innovating and making great improvements to Frostbite 2, so we're pretty happy with that. Our PS3 version of the game is solid, I think it looks great.
We went in specifically... We've been testing on both of those platforms for at least a year on a daily basis, so we spent a lot of time tuning and testing. We really focussed on the lighting. I think lighting is one of the big things that shifts when you go to the consoles, so we made sure that our lighting was tailored to console first and still looked incredibly beautiful on PC. We're going to deliver a high level of quality there regardless of platform.
Are you suggesting there's been a greater emphasis on the console versions of Warfighter than there was with Battlefield 3?
BJ: I'm not implying that. I'm just saying that for us it's definitely a priority and it helps that, unlike the development with Battlefield 3 where they were up against the wall building Frostbite 2 and the game, and trying to get it all done at once, we had the luxury of having a really solid stable base of Frostbite 2 and then innovating on it to make it better.
So it will ship on two discs on Xbox 360?
BJ: Yeah, I believe that's the case.
Split between single-player and multiplayer, presumably?
Will you be including an optional HD texture installation similar to Battlefield 3?
BJ: I believe we are, but I don't know that we can confirm that.
EA Publicist: Yeah, I don't think we can confirm it just yet because we haven't had it confirmed to us. When that comes, I will let you know, but we can't discuss it at the moment because we don't know.
Okay. Linkin Park. How do they fit into Medal of Honor?
BJ: I think that's born out of a relationship with part of our development team. You saw some of that in the last game. But I think the relationship that existed there presented a unique musical opportunity. They're interested in the game and they've got some talents so they wanted to exhibit them in the game. To have them create two brand new tracks for the project is actually really cool. One of them was integrated into the driving level that you played today and the sound is really great.
Linkin Park is a divisive band - you love them or you hate them and that's totally fine. But the music that they make and the fit for our game is a really great fit. The two tracks that they've produced are fantastic and it just presented a really cool opportunity to work with some talented artists. You see a lot of other games going out there and working with guys like Trent Reznor and stuff like that. They're trying to get the best possible music they can, and I think we've gotten that out of our relationship with Linkin Park.
Exploring the human side of war intrigues me the most about Warfighter's single-player, but we haven't been shown much of that. How is that fed into the game? Is that purely driven through cutscenes between missions or are we going to see it explored within the missions themselves?
BJ: You do a little bit. Certainly the story plays out within single-player itself. As you're playing the game those elements come to bear, and I think that the conversations even in gameplay that the different operators are having with one another all ties in together with the story elements that are presented in cutscenes. It is definitely integrated but the story does a really good job of diving into that aspect because again, that's something we wanted to honour and show people that these guys are out there putting their lives on the line every day, but they've got families at home that they rarely see, so let's explore that a little bit and give them a view into the human side of these guys.
I felt that the strongest moment of the previous Medal of Honor was the Belly of the Beast mission, where the soldiers effectively succumbed to death. Will you be exploring similar themes?
BJ: I think what you're talking about is vulnerability and that's something that we absolutely explore in this game as well. Not only the emotional side that we just discussed, right, because that's a reality, but the battlefield as well. These guys throw themselves into harm's way without the greatest of intel at times, and they're all about improvisation. There are a couple of different ways in which it shows.
Is there a friendly rivalry between yourselves and DICE, or a feeling that each team has to outdo each other year-on-year?
BJ: Certainly not that it's spoken of. We work very closely with DICE and our other teams at EA. I think our focus as a publisher as a whole is to deliver the best quality products we can, and in order to do that we're leveraging our teams' talent more and more. I think Warfighter is a great exhibition of that, not only with working closely with DICE, but we brought one of the guys from Criterion on, and Black Box, you've got all these guys working together on a single product. I don't think that would be possible if there was this kind of crazy relationship where we're competing all the time. There's nobody trying to undercut one another. I think it's all very healthy and certainly is productive.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on October 26. The multiplayer beta is available to download on Xbox 360 today.