In 1999, DreamWorks Interactive's Medal of Honor helped kick off ten years of successful shooters set in World War II from a number of developers, but by the time the decade came to a close, the Infinity Ward-created Call of Duty franchise had eclipsed its predecessor in both commercial success and industry relevance.
Now, the Electronic Arts Los Angeles team descended from that original group has rebranded itself Danger Close Games, and hopes to reinvigorate the Medal of Honor name this fall with the series' first modern day entry.
Set in Afghanistan during the early days of the United States' current conflict there, Medal of Honor is a fictional story that draws heavily from real-world events, with so-called Tier 1 Operators -- members of the military's highest echelons -- serving both as player characters in the game and as crucial advisors to its development.
Gamasutra sat down with Medal of Honor executive producer Greg Goodrich to discuss the game's efficient development process, the increasingly competitive first-person shooter market, and the challenges and fears of creating a game that hinges on a real-world modern conflict.
From the outside, it seems like you managed your dev cycle pretty well. It didn't take you guys that long from announcement to final game.
GG: Yeah. We have a guy. If I tell you his name, he's going to be recruited away, but his name is Kevin Hendrickson, our director of product development. The guy is a master when it comes to scheduling and resource allocation. He's very in tune with the team.
I actually wrote a blog about him because he's amazing. We started with the strategy of getting the game stood up as early as possible, meaning that as of December last year, the game was playable from beginning to end. It didn't look pretty, and there were problems...
Was that roughly an alpha build?
GG: Not alpha, just broad brushstrokes. We did it so we could look at the game from its entirety and play it from beginning to end, and see what was working and what wasn't working. It helped us see what we had. You know, making a game better is the easier thing to do. You have to make it a great experience, and get those gameplay elements you want in there.
So, we fixed those things. It was up and going at the beginning of this year. Since then, we've been cranking on polish. Luckily, DICE certainly knows what they're doing on the multiplayer side. Having two fully staffed studios, each concentrating on what they do best, has been absolutely the reason it's been going so well.
How many developers do you have between you guys and DICE?
GG: In Los Angeles, we're around 80 or 85. The team in DICE is probably not that big, but it's a decent-sized team. It's not too crazy. We have some really strong leads, and some veterans who have been on every single Medal of Honor ever. We've got a lot of new blood.
It's a really good mix of people who are extremely passionate about what they do. I think it's showing in the software.
You're using entirely different engines, a totally separate codebase, on the single-player and multiplayer, right? What's it like coordinating that?
GG: Yup. Coordination is everything. Early on, we made the cautious decision to embrace our differences, embrace the two engines. We went with the strategy of two great tastes in one box. We also knew we could either spend a lot of time making the experiences identical, which we probably never would have achieved anyway because of the inherent differences of the technology, or we could just spend that time making two great halves of the game. That's what we did.
We play each others' builds on an almost daily basis. It's the same universe, the same types of characters, the same weapons. It's going to feel like one whole Medal of Honor game, but the experiences are different. That normally happens anyways between single- and multiplayer, just because the speed, weapon balance, and everything else is different anyway, so we embraced it early on and went to the races.
So when DICE, say, tunes the damage on a given weapon, you don't fold that back into your half.
GG: No. We'll use the same models and animations, but not damage or speed of reload. It's because in the single-player experience, everything has to serve both the gameplay as well as the narrative and story -- what needs to happen in certain places -- but for multiplayer, it's an arena. You've got to balance everything so no one thing is dominant. In single-player, there are times a weapon needs to be absolutely dominant. Those balance trees are much different.