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EA's Schneider:  Army Of Two 's Tone 'Didn't Work'
EA's Schneider: Army Of Two's Tone 'Didn't Work'
May 13, 2009 | By Staff

May 13, 2009 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

The buddy-based core gameplay of Electronic Arts Montreal's Army of Two was one of its greatest strengths -- it "resonated with people," says executive producer Reid Schneider.

But examining the reaction to the title, Schneider says he realizes where it fell short: "What didn't work was really the tone," he says, speaking as part of an in-depth Gamasutra feature interview on the game. Many reviewers perceived the characters' brotherly good cheer as inappropriate alongside the game's wartime violence -- an installment of the popular Penny Arcade webcomic was just one successful illustration of this criticism.

"If you think about it on a scale, that's a good problem to have -- tone is more easily fixable than having people say, 'You know what? I don't even like the core fantasy or the core gameplay that you're doing,'" says Schneider.

EA Montreal hopes that with the upcoming sequel, they'll be able to "just build upon all the features, fix the stuff that didn't work, fix the tone, and make it the experience we wanted."

Gamasutra also spoke to creative director Alex Hutchinson, who says he played the game from a consumer perspective before coming in to work on the sequel and found the reaction to Army of Two's tone "fascinating for a couple reasons."

"One is that people seemed to feel that the game was celebrating bad behavior," says Hutchinson. "Actually, if you play it, I think it's amoral. It has no opinion. That's really interesting to me from a development perspective, because what it means is the press wants you to punish the bad guys. They don't want you to have no opinion about the bad guys. They want to say, 'No, but they're evil! They need to lose!' And I think that's kind of sad."

"Isn't it more interesting to say to the player, 'What should you do? What do you do? And what is your reaction?'"

However, says Hutchinson: "I agree that the tone that we're going for in the new one is more appropriate and will hit a wider audience."

You can now read the full feature on the Army of Two franchise at Gamasutra (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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Bobby A
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"Actually, if you play it, I think it's amoral."

I wonder what, exactly, Hutchinson is trying to say here. Is he saying "I played it and felt like it's amoral" or is he saying "if you play it, you will agree with me in thinking it's amoral"

Amoral philosophers are one thing... sitting around discussing the existence of morality is fine, but men with guns, without morals, who kill people for a living are likely to be considered immoral psychopaths by everyone else with moral integrity.

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Aaron Casillas
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...violence a topic worth lots of discourse definitely....on a more basic gaming level, I wasn't so much bothered by the humour or tone as the back spawning or gameplay. I knew going into this game it was going to be sadistic and it wasn't a far reach to believe in the characters exhilaration of being alive after an encounter. You can see examples of this on of our own infantry. Perhaps the tone should be more " I can't believe we made it out of this alive" versus "knock knock whos dead?"

Recalibrating an IP to feedback is always a great thing, kudos to EA.

Brandon Layton
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I actually kind of liked the tone of the game. Plus I would actually sit and watch the between scene screens just because a lot of them were amusing. Personally I think having a broke multiplayer system and definite content cuts were the biggest turn-offs for me.

Jason Pineo
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This is interesting. If, after a ferocious bout of intense combat, two players expressed joyful exhilaration (with or without the fist pound), I suspect most well-versed game players wouldn't find that too shocking. However, if the game characters express the same joyful exhilaration after the very same bout of combat, people feel uncomfortable. Some feel quite uncomfortable. I'm not sure whether this makes me happy or not.

On the one hand, the fact that people feel uncomfortable speaks to a good awareness of the subtleties of the represented fantasy world. We (the players) can find it justifiably enjoyable because we know it's not real. We're just playing a game. But, we say to ourselves, the *characters* don't know it's just a game. To them it's reality, and in reality we would find that kind of post-combat exuberance distasteful. That distaste displays the vitality we assign to games, that we can consider them self-consistent and 'real' enough to judge them this way. All of which makes me think that games can be used for commentary on subjects where the actual aim is to make the players uncomfortable and give new thought to the issue presented. I'm actually slightly surprised that EA didn't offer this rationale to explain the tone they used.

However, I'm also a bit disappointed. I believe that games are a maturing medium worthy of such commentary as I mentioned above. Given that, why should Army of Two as a whole be maligned for the characters' portrayal? Perhaps it should be held to the same standard as movies like Apocalypse Now. Take the famous quote "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." If some viewers find that the character of Kilgore makes them uncomfortable, would we find it reasonable to say the movie was bad? Or would we accept the character as a portrayal that was intended a certain way by the creators of the movie and base our discussion on that? I think the latter is more likely, and feel that Army of Two should be afforded the same respect on it's own terms.

As should all games.

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Dave Smith
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For now im just hoping for a game that doesnt have poorly developed characters spouting cringe-inducing dialogue with ridiculous over-the-top voice acting. i'll be amazed if that day ever comes.

Jason Pineo
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John, you raise an interesting point which leads me to some variations on my example:

If the characters' celebration is the same as the players' celebration, do the players feel uncomfortable?

If someone is watching the game as played by other people and sees the characters' celebration, does the watcher feel uncomfortable?

Your thoughts?

An Dang
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When I played Army of Two, I tended not to use the fist pounding or other positive emotes. What I used the negative emoting, which generally was slapping the other guy over the back of the head.

Personally, I had no problem with their inappropriate "good cheer." I had more qualms with the lackluster story. This may be due to the fact that I played Army of Two right after playing Metal Gear Solid 4, which dealt with a similar subject matter but in a much more satisfying way. I just did not particularly care about the characters in Army of Two, but I haven't played it enough times to dissect it.

John and Jason: I watch a character in a game (yes, even the player character-protagonist) as I watch characters in a movie or television show. It's up to the writers to flesh out the character, not me. If they make the character an asshole, it doesn't make me an asshole. It's the writer's story, so I let them tell it.

The difference for me, however, is when the player character is entirely customizable, so that it becomes your avatar; a direct representation of the player in the game. Sure, if you were a hardcore roleplayer, you would detach yourself from your avatar and just play your character according to his pre-decided personally traits. But whenever customization is allowed, I tend to create characters that are basically a video-game version of myself. This is when I begin to feel uncomfortable when I am forced to take immoral actions in a game. For example, I could not go through with the Dark Brotherhood arch when playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Jamie Roberts
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In my opinion this has less to do with morality and the press, and more to do with how humans experience empathy. In the presence of a clearly-defined enemy, it is easier to justify killing. However, this is true on both sides of the battle. I think a more pertinent question is, How appropriate is the over-simplification of the enemy? How likely is this to reinforce irrational notions of moral superiority? Especially when it comes to "realistic" games that represent or are influenced by modern-day warfare.

Duncan Rabone
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Am I the only person who enjoyed the larakinism of the duo? The story, setting. and events were serious subject matter, and have been treated as such since wars could be properly reported. I found these characters to be a breath of fresh air, the ideal that a few well trained men can go in with some guns and a cheerful disposition can overcome the enemies we've learned to fear so much, is an ideal that only video games, ( and possibly movies) can deliver.

I suppose what I'm saying is, once we've gone through wars with aliens, will we considered Gears of War's tone to be inappropriate?

Dan Kantola
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I don't get what people been bitching about really, I saw 2 rough ex army grunts bashing eachother in broderly way and sometimes it was a bit cynical but all games can't be oh look how cute mario and the koopas look and them shiney yellow cute stars ect..

Games can be both family friendly and a total gore fest wich would apeal to 18-20 somethings or more of deep storyline and several endings and sandbox gaming that would suit the more hardcore 20-30 something crowds :)

Dave Sodee
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I think simply the game was not bad not good..just mediocre shooter we all played before. The team thing was nice but we have all had many co op games. It had nothing to do with the tone...we like banter and stuff but the game just did not stand out.

I do not mind if the game is lighter or has a sense of humor ...Bad Company etc...need that different feel and tone . We have enough CoD4 games out there and the like that are serious. Just need to flush out a better story and show us something new which itself is getting harder and harder to do.