Chris Ferriera, lead designer of Army of Two, wants a lot of challenging concepts to come across in the game. It's not merely that the game is designed from the ground up to be played cooperatively; the game also has a political message woven deep into its storyline.
Here, he discusses how the game evolved into what it has become -- a critical look at real-world mercenaries, a compelling scenario that hopes to hook casual players into the world of co-op gaming, and the start of a new shooter franchise developed by an international team at EA Montreal. At E3, Gamasutra's Brandon Sheffield had a chance to find out more.
Let's talk about the premise behind Army of Two.
Chris Ferriera: We based the game around PMCs. What that is, is a "private military contractor." Right now in the world today, there are tons of these guys operating abroad, for different companies. Companies like Blackwater and Dimecorp, what they’ll do is take ex-military guys from anywhere -- guys from Chile, Ex-Chechen guys, wherever, anywhere. And they’ll take them on to their force and train them. They love to have special forces guys.
And what they'll do, is other companies such as Halliburton, or even the US government will then pay Blackwater money -- in our case the company is called SSC for the game -- they’ll pay that company to send those guys to do a mission. It may be something like guarding a consulate, it may be like, "hey, we have an oil pipeline running though Azerbaijan. And we need someone to patrol it, we want SEALs to patrol it, so we’re going to get these Navy SEALs."
They’ll send them over there. And thanks to US law and legislation, anyone that is a contractor working abroad is immune from prosecution. And that includes a contractor being someone who “I’m building a house," or rebuilding a country, or “I’m a military contractor and I’m in there to do whatever mission they gave me.” It can be overthrowing a dictator, it can get into some gruesome stuff. And the thing is, that there’s that deniability, so if that person does something, Halliburton is like, “we never paid them, we don’t know them.” The money trail disappears, they do it through all these smaller companies. So it’s never a big company paying SSC to send out [operatives] to do a job, it’s someone else through a smaller company and the money disappears.
What we’re trying to do as we advance though the story in the game, we start with the characters. We take them from their days in Delta Force, and their days as Navy SEALs, and their start as PMCs and how they get trained. We unveil the corruption behind the military privatization, and we explain the problems that poses to society and to America, and the world, when you have a gigantic organization that does nothing but operate for corporations and for money.
You said when you started, you didn’t know much about this. You had to read up on it.
CF: I pretty much knew nothing about this. I was a fan of shooters here and there. I knew a bunch about guns, but I knew nothing about PMCs and really nothing about the military. After reading a bunch of news articles and doing tons of searches -- plus I’ve been reading a book called Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. I’ve been learning more and more information, just about how everything is run.
It’s actually kind of crazy to see just how funds change hands, and the fact that right now you watch the news and they say “Army Rangers." And [the Navy] can’t get SEALs and they’re having these big recruiting drives, and they’re upping everyone’s salary -- because, say, a guy who was a SEAL was making 1200 bucks a week working for the US government. As soon as he’s done with his tour of duty, or say he never got his tour of duty -- he’s trained to kill, these guys are trained killers, and they never get their war. So now they’re told “we’ll pay you 300, 800, 1200 dollars a day or a week to go do mission abroad, and you can bring your own gear, you don’t have to report to anyone. It’s just you and your boy doing your mission.” And they’re going to eat it up, and they’re going to do it because the money’s there.
But when you track it back through the political hierarchy it’s like, "who’s hurting who?" Sometimes it’s harmless; it's guarding a convoy of guys who are bringing food from one area to another. But other times it’s protecting business interests that are hurting other countries and stuff like that.
Are you at all concerned that people are not going to get the message, and the game might, instead, glorify this situation? Because the characters themselves do look like the ultimate male power fantasy.
CF: Well I think that obviously when you see that armor and the masks and the guns and stuff -- we need an image to get people to go into the game, right? And the world is obsessed with it. I mean how many shooters are at the show today -- eleven plus? So it’s popular. People like guns. Americans love guns. The world likes violence. It’s human nature. People enjoy war, they enjoy this stuff. It’s creepy when you look at it... a singing game [compared to a] shooter, what the sales numbers are, it’s actually kind of scary in just the amount of violence. But what we’re doing is... we’re going to try to bring this to light subtly.
I look at it like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That movie came out back when, and people were like “oh, it’s a horror movie.” And some people took it at face value -- “oh, it's a horror movie... I’m afraid of body snatchers!” But other people realized that the underlying message was McCarthyism, and what was going on in America at the time.
We’re hoping that someone who plays the game a lot and who really follows the story, and doesn’t just skip through it and pays attention, that we can spark them to say “you know what, I’m going to look into this.” That’s all. “I’m going to gain interest in this, and find out what’s really going on here. What am I doing?” In the game you’re doing all kind of crazy stuff for this company. You’re sent on all these different missions, and then you find out what’s wrong with this deniability and what’s wrong with everything in general.