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A Line in the Sand: The Spec Ops Interview
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A Line in the Sand: The Spec Ops Interview

April 2, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Those choices ultimately are about shooting people still though, aren't they? When you say that they're not used to making these choices, they're used to shooting people. Isn't the choice who to shoot?

CD: Well, like I said, the player's able to use whatever tools are at his disposal there. And yeah, it's a shooter game, but often the choices between a very ambiguous scenario, and you're not sure how the outcome's going to turn out. And we showed a scenario where there was a civilian and a soldier hanging from a billboard, and actually Konrad is speaking to Walker, and testing him in this moment, and demands that he chooses one of them to execute.

And the story behind that is that the civilian had stolen water and the soldier had gone to apprehend him, and killed his family in the process, so this is one of those moments where a gray area is there; there's really not a good or happy choice to be made.

And then, at the same time, it's not a binary choice; there's a lot of other things that you can do in this environment that you wouldn't expect. You don't necessarily have to shoot one of those soldiers; there's other ways to approach it.

For example you could leave, you could attempt to shoot the ropes and save them both, you could shoot one of the soldiers, you could shoot snipers that are aiming down at you at that moment. So there's a lot of different ways that you can interact in this scene that maybe you wouldn't expect; if you're looking closely you're going to see some options.

And going back to those story sequences again, I'm wondering if we'll eventually see a better way to do that. Because while trapping players -- for lack of a better word -- while you tell them something important has been in the game industry forever and there are different ways of doing it. Like in Left4Dead, obviously, you've got these safe rooms and people are inclined to re-up their ammo and stuff in there, so they're going to hear some story.

CD: Yeah, I mean, it's actually a really good debate. It's all sort of a philosophical debate as to how often we should do that, and when we should do that. And as well, technology is becoming better and better, so like you said, I hope there's one day, a time where we don't ever have to do that.

But at the same time, right now, we're streaming a lot of time, and we're trying to fit as much as we can into the memory, so that we can have an awesome scene coming up. And sometimes you can't just jump into that; you have to wait. I think experiencing some narrative is more fun than watching a loading screen, or something like that.

In addition to the explicit storytelling, you are also attempting environmental and gameplay-based storytelling, based on what you the player versus you the character are doing and seeing, and how you're interacting with that. So how much did you plan that out, and how did you envision players interacting with this world on a visual information level?

CD: Well, at its core, the setting, I think it tells a great story. Because the way the sand is piled up against the buildings, even the way the buildings are constructed, say a lot about the civilization that was there before the sandstorms hit.

But at the same time, each of those locations that are in the game is shown to have specific events happen, and because they're important to the story. I don't think we'd go any place that we're just going because we like the way the environment looks, or something like that.

So each of those areas, it's actually pretty easy for us, when it comes naturally out of the story, to understand how we can tell little stories with the visuals and the atmosphere that's in those environments.

When you were talking about making the choice between shooting one character or another, or figuring out another way, one of the things I noticed from playing and also from the trailer, is that it feels like the game has very moment-based design, where you're playing up to certain moments, or certain moments happen, emergent from gameplay.

CD: Yeah. The pacing that you're experiencing was definitely very deliberate. It was something that we definitely did; it was derived directly out of our story that we're telling.

But you can sort of garner a lot of emotion and certain atmosphere for the player through different types of pacing, and I think a lot of games sort of focus entirely on this really fast paced "bang bang bang" type of action sequences strung together. But here, we also have some slower moments as well, where the player can reflect on the narrative and the things that the squad is doing, and also look around and get to know the environment and check out the environmental storytelling.

And I think that those moments where that atmosphere is really thick, those longer moments, are unique and they're very, very strong, and that's something that's really important to me when I'm telling a story -- is that the gameplay sort of compliments it.

As we develop each of these details, there's been a lot of debate about how the combat scenario should play out, how many enemies there should be. But even the environments those things take place in -- whether or not you're in a corridor, or you're in a big lobby, or you're outside in sand dunes -- can strike certain emotions, and even change the pacing a lot. And so those things are definitely deliberate -- deliberate, and they're very interesting to me.

More than story-based moments, what about gameplay moments?

CD: We have sort of a blend of scripted, high-impact scenes, and scenes that are more organic and let the AI make decisions in more wider, open spaces, and things like that. But it's important to me to really have not too much of one or the other, because I think that they're both important and can be impactful.

But it's really important to spread those things out correctly, and not ram one type of scene down the player's throat too many times in a row. Yeah, all these debates are constantly going on, especially during pre-production, as we get into level design.

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