Recently Dave caught up with Codemasters' Adam Parsons to talk about Operation Flashpoint: Red River, and how the studio are hoping to improve on their formula to shake up the FPS genre in 2011...
David Brown: I'll start with mentioning issues from the first game, there were one or two. What have you addressed, which issues did you identify primarily, and how have you gone about fixing them?
Adam Parsons: One of the things with Dragon Rising is, we tried to do a lot. We tried to do too much, and we came into Red River thinking “Right, what we need to do is crack the focus experience and really improve the things that really matter, so we've made a tremendous amount of improvements all across the game and we've provided a more focussed experience this time around. So it's more based on the US marine corps and drawn from experiences. Real world, TV, that kind of stuff. But in terms of the game improvements, I'll talk you through a few of things. So, the AI has been given a makeover. We've got improvements to the command and report of the line of fire. So if you've got guys crossing your line of fire in front of you, they'll tell you if that's going to happen. They've got no choice to navigate around you, which has been overhauled in terms of making sure they path correctly, if they can, behind you rather than cross your line of fire. Or avoid it.
They're more autonomous, so we can now ask them to move forward and hold position. So what these guys will do is move to a point on the map and actually dig in. And they'll take a small patrol vector on their position and take out enemies that enter into that range so that's been improved. Also, using your fire team rewards you now. Because if you just ask them to follow you, they won't be as accurate. They'll just follow you like a small troop. If you give them individual orders, for example Soto, who is great at long range. You hold him back, you ask him to engage targets, you move Belleto to suppress a group of enemies, these guys will be more accurate under direct order. So that's something else we've improved.
The animation system's been given a complete overhaul. So we've now got animation blending in place where we never had it before. Completely motion-captured everything again from scratch and implemented that. We've also brought in post-processing from our other studios, and used that and improved that. So that's given the whole look and feel to the game...like extra shine with these artefacts, with the lens flares, it adds to the gameplay as well, in terms of being placed into GPS it's kind of different eco-areas but on the whole it's a hot, arid country and you get that from playing it.
David Brown: Why did you go with Tajikistan and not Kazakhstan, for example, or Kyrgyzstan?
Adam Parsons: Well, Tajikistan is centred between, in the north China, and in the south Afghanistan.
David Brown: Ah, China..
Adam Parsons: So you start in the game in your forward operating base in Afghanistan, crossing over the border into Tajikistan. It's also got a lot of rich architecture and a lot of history. We've got a lot of Soviet architecture that's really ardent, and we sent a photographer out there because it's too dangerous for us to go ourselves, and he's captured everything from these very primitive mud-brick buildings to these more to a more modern, what they call, white mud buildings which is more traditional architecture. So you've got that and you've got all the different eco-zones as well, so you've got the dry arid desert, you've got the lush-green zones, you've got the built-up urban areas, we've got these very surreal markets and we have a container market in mission three which is actually taken from real footage when we were sent out there. So not only have you got the rich background politically, and where its centred but you've also got a great ecosystem in there, and we can draw that with the Ego engine as well, which is really nice.
David Brown: One of the things people may have moaned a little bit about from the first game was the command system, the radial system. I didn't mind it but it was a little confusing. Certainly if you were getting shot and you were trying to issue a specific order. And so you've streamlined that this time.
Adam Parsons: Yeah, absolutely. So last time you had to go down two menus. You have to go down one now. All the commonly used commands are on your extremes, left left right right. So that's much easier and we've also, because we've removed the tiers we've made it context sensitive. So if you point it at a building, to you fire team it will say “defend” or “secure” building, so they can either go in and clear out any insurgents or PLA or they will go into the building if you know it is empty and actually defend it, and take up positions on floors or around the building, on cover points. Because we've streamlined the way radial works with these context commands it's just made it a lot more accessible. And that's one of the buzzwords we're using – accessible. Because everything now is one button-press away rather than two. There's no bringing up the inventory and choosing from your guns. It's pressing a single button to swap between your primary and secondary weapons, press a single button to swap between your grenades and your smoke grenades. Press a single button to heal, press a single button to vault. And all of that just makes it, much quicker and much more reactive when you're playing.
David Brown: There's no lean. It seems to me it would be very useful to have lean. Even just a slight lean around corners sort of thing.
Adam Parsons: [Long pause] So... I don't disagree. But I think that, you don't need it. Using your fire-team, tactically, and out-flanking means you kind of negate the need for lean. You can use your squad to support you as you move forward. So, leaning is like, peeking out and taking shots, and it's not really that kind of gameplay that we've built. So...watch this space.
David Brown: It's just, just a few times, with my team-mates going down, and one of the first things I wondered - is there a lean? Did they get killed because they couldn't take a peek around a corner first?
Adam Parsons: We've been playing it since it's been in Alpha stage, for about four months, and we've never needed lean. We've always completed the game, we've always been able to use all the HUD elements, you know, to actually play the game successfully, and utilise the rest of the guys in the coop mode, or the AI, and we have never needed it, haven't seen the necessity for it. And I think the other thing is it's a balance. The amount of time we spend on the lean function, it's quite an expensive feature for the game.
David Brown: Really?
Adam Parsons: Yeah.
David Brown: I don't know much about development so...
Adam Parsons: So you have to consider third-person animations as well as first-person animations.
David Brown: Ah yes.
Adam Parsons: So there's a whole different set. Part of the lean functionality is, if we want to do a feature, we want to do it really well. We learnt from last time, putting in too many features that weren't polished enough, we prefer to put fewer features in with a higher level of polish. It's also a case of understanding where we spend that time, and we prefer to spend it elsewhere on the game, to polish up what we have put in already.
David Brown: Did you ever think about doing a branching storyline based on the success or failure in missions. Like did you remember Wing Commander, how that kind of changed the storyline.
Adam Parsons: Yes! With...um...Mark Hamill, that one.
David Brown: Well actually I was thinking of Wing Commander 1 and 2, but it's the same thing.
Adam Parsons: I actually worked on a game about eighteen months ago with a branching storyline. It was quite interesting, and it actually almost doubles, trebles your work. And one of the challenges with Red River is, we have quite an aggressive time-line to get this done. And it wasn't something that we thought about and threw away, you know “ok that could be interesting”, it's about focussing on a single campaign. Because it's not a cinematic narrative, it's a tactical shooter that's based on a campaign in Tajikistan, and it's simply going through three acts, ultimately clearing the PLA out. But it's not a branching storyline that we really considered.
David Brown: It certainly seems to me that there's a hell of a lot more incentive to do co-op...
Adam Parsons: So what you've got is you've got four modes, and you've got eight maps.
David Brown: And you've got the campaign co-op as well...
Adam Parsons: Yep. Per mode there's two maps. And then you've got the main campaign, which is ten missions, and each of those missions are playable in co-op, and joinable in progress as well. So if you're on mission seven, and you've got a mate who wants to join in, he can. So that's the beauty of it.
David brown: So even if you've been playing single-player he can still...?
Adam Parsons: Yeah.
David Brown: Ok, that's cool.
Adam Parsons: And the great thing is, what you can do is, you can go into the main campaign. You can come out of that, say, mission three, go into the FTE's, level up some more, go back into the main campaign, “ooh look some more toys have opened up”. Maybe mission seven you can get a thermal scope now. Because you've been playing the FTE's, because you've been banking points and XP, you can go back into the main campaign and play through.
David Brown: Does that perhaps open up some possibilities of exploiting it? So you go into the side missions and level up as much as you can? You go straight into the first mission and you've got a lot of hardcore, best tech and you sort of just blitz your way through the campaign?
Adam Parsons: No, because we find that, the way we balance it, you won't go into the FTE's for a couple of days and come out at level twenty, it won't work like that. But it does mean you go in there, and you're rewarded when you go out. You're not punished for going out of the main campaign, which is really good because people want to play around with classes, they want to play around with set-ups and guns, and they want to be able to do that. They may not want to spoil the main campaign by only sticking to one class, they want to be a bit more flexible. And so they can go into the FTE's and go “oh, I'll play a grenadier and see how that works out for me. Oh I like that, that's cool. I'll take that class back into the main campaign and level him up.