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.
Q: How much of a shadow does Modern Warfare 2 cast over you as you're working? Does it have an influence on you, or is something you shut out?
RF: Well, I think if would be foolish to say that we completely shut it out. And it's not because it's a modern warfare shooter, it's just because it's a massively successful game in the space that we occupy. Yes, we look at it, and there's a quality bar, an expectation bar that's been set by that title, but I think we're fully capable of coming to market with something that's competitive. And again, we stick by the things that have always made Medal of Honor great - the authenticity, the plausibility, the respect for the soldiers. We stay our course there, and resist the temptation to have every moment be the big giant bop-ass film. People appreciate that, I think.
Q: Does it faze you that those comparisons will happen? Because they are inevitable...
RF: No, it doesn't faze me at all. We just focus on what we're doing.
Q: When you say "Medal of Honor", people tend to think of the massive, memorable bits from all the single-player campaigns. What are your feelings about this, in terms of the approach to multiplayer side of things?
RF: That's a good question. As games get more complicated and the level of expectation gets higher and higher, in terms of the quality and the visuals and what the content is, it gets harder and harder for single teams to deliver a consistent level of quality across all the components of the game. As you know, DICE is making our multiplayer, which we're delighted about. They're a world-class multiplayer developer, that's what they do, and they like Medal of Honor so they were really excited to step up and do that for us. And it gives us the time to really focus on drilling down to the single-player, and raising that quality as much as we can without getting sidelined. At some point when you have a smaller team, or a single team, one or the other is going to suffer. This way we can ensure maximum quality for both segments.
Q: Is there any element of co-op for the main campaign?
RF: I'm only talking about single player right now, so...
Q: Fair enough! You've worked on a lot of first-person shooters. What, for you, is the Holy Grail of FPS design? Is there anything you've ever wanted to do, but that you've not been able to, for some reason?
RF: I don't know. It's opened up so much that it feels like anything is possible. For me there was a turning point where people realised that there was a lot more possible. The first time I played Half Life, I went, "Wow, this is the beginning of something new! This changes everything". And it did. Until then, no-one really cared about story or thread. It was, "I am a Floating Gun and I am killing all the bad guys". I think that really got the ball rolling. And again, there are a lot of really talented studios making really great games, and we're no different. The team working on Medal of Honor are some of the most talented people I've ever worked with, and it shows. It's going to show in the Fall when we put it in the box.
Q: Since Half Life, do you think there's been any other game that's had the same kind of impact?
RF: Dude, I've been working so much since then that I don't really remember much! [laughs]. I'm being totally honest. I mean, there are certain games of different genres that tweak me but yeah, nothing to the level where there's that big "Aha!" moment, where everything's changed. I think it's been incremental since then.
Q: What do you think about Project Natal and other motion control systems? Do you think they can really work for "proper" first-person shooters?
RF: I think that it's out there. I think that the technology needs to be refined further to really apply to FPS games in a meaningful way, but I think that it will happen eventually and I think that it will change things once it gets to the fidelity that's required. That's what it all boils down to. You want that gun to point where you want it to, when you want it to, without the awkward fidgetiness that comes from the lack of fidelity you get with some of the stuff. I've not personally experienced Natal yet, so...
Q: Can you see it becoming the norm, one day? That it could replace even mouse and keyboard setups?
RF: It may. It's hard to predict innovation, but for me it's probably inevitable. People are working towards it. Look at the iPhone. You'd never have thought that you'd have a computer, a phone, a game player, a TV watcher, everything in something that you can hold in your hands. Ten years from now... We already have fairly coarse [motion] controls in terms of first-person shooters. So yeah, sure. It'll be fine, and I think it'll be cool.
Medal of Honor will be released in the autumn for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.