Electronic Arts Expands Medal of Honor Franchise With Warfighter

Electronic Arts used the Game Developers Conference this month to offer an initial look at its first-person shooter sequel, Medal of Honor Warfighter. Danger Close Games, its developer, is expanding the fight against terror by taking its Tier 1 Operators on a contemporary globe-trotting adventure to such exotic locales as the Philippines and the Somali coast. The game also features new vehicles on players’ new missions, like an on-rails boat ride through a monsoon-stricken city.

Here, Rich Farley, creative director at Danger Close Games, talks about what’s in store for PC gamers and gives his take on the move to modern warfare in this exclusive interview from GDC 2012.

What were your goals heading into this game?

Rich Farley: We were really happy with our transition out of World War II and into the modern arena. We wanted to take our guys out of that microcosm that was just Afghanistan and then take it to where the fight is now. We wanted to focus in more on the Tier 1 Operators and how they work around the world right now dealing with these terror networks.

How did you work with actual soldiers in the development of this sequel?

R.F.: We had a lot of guys from that community on the last game helping us out. When we shipped the game, a lot of guys went, “Wow, these guys at Danger Close really got it right.” They brought more guys that were interested in talking to us and helping us portray their community in the right way, and in a way that more accurately depicts what kind of people they are. It’s really helped us having these guys available, almost daily, to be able to come in and assist with things like mo-cap, equipment, weapons, how they talk to each other, the settings and the storylines.

Can you explain how the multiplayer combat now encompasses more than just U.S. Special Forces?

R.F.: With our multiplayer, we’re honoring the international Tier 1 groups, just as we honored the American ones in the last game. Gamers will be able to play as different groups from around the world. We have 12 units from 10 countries, including the Australia Special Air Service Regiment, the Special Air Service from the U.K., the Polish GROM (Operational Mobile Reaction Group) and the German KSK (Special Forces Command), to name a few. We’re introducing multinational “blue vs. blue” team play, where the world’s best-of-the-best warriors go head-to-head in online competition.

How are you connecting the fiction of this game’s story to the real world?

R.F.: Everything in our game has a dotted line to something that actually happened, or to some story that was told to us by one of our consultants, or a combination of those things. It really lends a feeling of authenticity, and it paints a picture of what the current fight is for these guys right now.

Can you give an example of a “ripped from the headlines” mission that players will encounter?

R.F.: If you read up on that region of the Southern Philippines, Basilan and Sulu Islands, there’s a group called Abu Sayyaf. It’s a bunch of very bad people that over time kidnapped a lot of people, aid workers and such. And in some cases, executed them or captured them for ransom to further whatever their causes are. It’s a very real thing that’s happening down there that people don’t hear a lot about, and Tier 1 guys are there helping the military from that country deal with that threat. That’s what the hostage rescue level in the game was about.

What’s new in the gameplay department for Warfighter?

R.F.: We’re rolling out a few different things. We have a new door breach mechanic whereby players can enter and breach a room, just like Tier 1 guys would. They’re going to approach a door, assess it and see what’s going on with it. Is it locked? Is it not locked? What’s behind that door? They’ll be able to choose their method of entry, whether they want to kick that door down, breach it in some other way with an explosive, or throw a flash bang in or a grenade. It’s really going to change what happens on the other side of the door when they go inside.

How are you utilizing the Frostbite 2 engine to enhance the PC experience?

R.F.: It’s been great working with that tech. Just the visual fidelity of the stuff that we’re doing has increased so much. The lighting is amazing. The ability to have the amount of destruction that we featured in the demo; it’s not that it wasn’t possible before, but it’s made it so much easier. That’s what the techs built around for us to be able to dial in to: this micro-destruction. It’s just a beautiful engine, and the scale that we can represent in that engine is really well-suited to what we’re doing.

In developing the last game, you guys worked the single-player experience in Los Angeles and the multiplayer at EA’s Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment in Sweden. What’s it like having everyone together working together in Los Angeles this time?

R.F.: It’s amazing. You create the game with a really singular vision. It’s easier for us, as developers, to really keep track of it all and make sure it’s all on point in terms of parity on features, and making sure that it feels like one game and not a bunch of disparate parts.

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Video Editing Tools Bring Power to the People

Addressing the computing needs of digital content creators requires a deep understanding of the complex interdependencies between hardware components and software applications. Few systems integrators understand this better than BOXX Technologies. For more than a decade, BOXX has been designing high-performance workstations and rendering systems for creative professionals working in video, special effects, animation and design visualization. Their roster of customers includes the likes of Disney and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Realizing that aspiring pros and serious hobbyists -- “enthusiasts” -- could benefit from their hard-won expertise, BOXX teamed up with CyberLink, whose PowerDirector video editing software offers enthusiasts a powerful yet uncomplicated set of tools for editing, converting and sharing videos.

“Our customers place high demands on their hardware and software,” says Shoaib Mohammad, vice president of marketing and business development for BOXX Technologies. “And because we understand how their software and hardware needs fit into their workflow, we’re able to deliver customized solutions that are fast, innovative and reliable.”

Inside the Technology

BOXX offers digital media enthusiasts three turnkey systems designed for PowerDirector users. And for optimal performance, BOXX paired multicore processors with SSDs, which significantly outperform standard HDDs.

“BOXX is always pushing the latest and greatest technology,” says Mohammad. “SSDs have come a long way, providing increased capacity at attractive prices.”

CyberLink PowerDirector offers enthusiasts a powerful, intuitive toolset for polishing and enhancing HD video shot with consumer electronics devices, including smartphones, video and DSLR cameras, webcams and more. Running on BOXX turnkey systems with maximum-performance components, PowerDirector users can handle complex HD footage fluidly. And when their projects are complete, they can be converted to a variety of popular device-friendly formats quickly and easily.

PowerDirector 10 Ultra, billed as “the world’s fastest” video editor, offers full 64-bit OS support to utilize all the RAM on the system, reducing the time it takes for HD footage to load. PowerDirector includes CyberLink’s second-generation TrueVelocity technology, which improves previewing, effects rendering, format converting, and outputting of videos. The software also comes with OpenCL support, an enhanced HD video encoder and patented Intelligent SVRT technology to help users produce better videos in less time. Previously, that sort of power was the exclusive domain of professional video software and high-end workstations.

“Our goal with PowerDirector was to deliver the best aspects of high-end functionality, without making the software overly complicated,” says Louis Chen, director of product marketing at CyberLink.

That focus on ease of use is evident at every stage of the video workflow. For example, PowerDirector supports a “file-based” workflow that lets users handle video clips stored in the latest digital formats, for use in devices such as smartphones, camcorders, point-and-shoot cameras, Canon and Nikon DSLRs, and webcams. Bringing video clips into PowerDirector is as simple as connecting your device’s storage media to your computer, browsing to the files and choosing to import them as individual clips or a batch of clips.

Digging Deeper

Most of PowerDirector’s complexity is hidden from newbies, but easily discoverable by more advanced users. In a nod to these users, the timeline -- a ubiquitous feature in both professional and consumer video-editing apps -- supports up to 100 video tracks and key-frame animation, as well as numerous advanced editing and enhancement tools that provide added control and flexibility.

PowerDirector 10 Ultra even offers native support for stereoscopic 3D (S3D) videos and photos, as well as the conversion of 2D content to S3D, expansive editing support for S3D titles, S3D particles, S3D effects, S3D menus and more. In addition, PowerDirector lets users output and burn S3D content to disc, and even directly upload S3D videos to YouTube.

“We’re seeing up to 10 times faster video encoding, playback and conversion with the processors, thanks to deep parallelism, increased throughput and hardware-accelerated encoding,” says Chen. By combining easy-to-use software with powerful turnkey computing systems, BOXX and CyberLink are making pro-level, high-performance tools available to creative enthusiasts.

Critical Mass: The Power of Mass Effect 3

Electronic Arts’ BioWare studio has come a long way since first launching Mass Effect on the PC. What began as an epic single-player experience has expanded into a new cooperative gameplay mode with Mass Effect 3. Up to four players can engage in exclusive co-op firefights on top of the epic conclusion of the single player campaign. And speaking of Epic, that game studio’s Unreal Engine 3 technology continues to push the visuals and gameplay experience of the franchise thanks to BioWare’s many technical implementations over the years.

The man responsible for guiding this bestselling space role-playing game, executive producer Casey Hudson, talks about Commander Shepard’s final confrontation with the Reapers in this exclusive interview.

John Gaudiosi: What were your goals heading into Mass Effect 3?

Casey Hudson: As the third in the trilogy, this really is the main event for us. It’s the beginning and the end of all the biggest events in the Mass Effect universe. With Mass Effect 3, we’re really focusing on improving the action experience. Delivering really intense action is a big part of the game. You’re going to see Commander Shepard doing combat roles, leaping over cover while running. We’ve got a whole bunch of things where you’re falling and climbing. There’s lots of little cinematic action moments built right into gameplay.

We also have a new melee weapon called the Omni-Blade. It really works a lot with the new agility that Shepard has where you’re able to reach over cover and around cover and do these skewering brutal finishing moves. Essentially, it’s like a switchblade version of a hologram. You can have this whole new level of brutal attacks as Commander Shepard.

J.G.: How are you evolving the franchise’s rich RPG experience?

C.H.: We really focused on providing that deep RPG experience that players remember from Mass Effect 1 and maybe thought was missing from Mass Effect 2. We want to add a lot of the customization and a lot of the decision-making as you progress through the levels.

For example, you’re now able to throw your weapon down on a workbench, take some of the weapons accessories that you found or bought, actually start plugging them in and physically see your weapon change as you’re adding these different things. We’re also doing things in terms of customizing your powers. As you start getting toward the higher power levels, they become evolved powers. From there, every time you advance one of your powers, you’re actually making a choice about which version of the power you want and what flavor. Again, you’re making decisions about how you want to play. It’s a much deeper RPG experience.

J.G.: How are you pushing the story forward with this swan song experience?

C.H.: The big thing that everyone wants to make sure we do is to really end the series on a high note. We want to make sure that we take this story and create the biggest possible ending to the series.

We’ve been talking about the coming war against the Reapers. Mass Effect 3 is the story about war. It’s a great place for new players to enter for that reason because you start out as Commander Shepard. You’re a marine on the earth. From there, the story really blows out into a full-scale galactic war. That’s the story that we’re telling here. We’re taking the most intimate relationships that you’ve developed over the course of the game and using that to really tell the biggest possible story we can.

J.G.: How have fans impacted the direction of this third game?

C.H.: We always try to listen and understand the way people have played our games, the way they get feedback. A lot of that has contributed to a focus on really enriching the role-playing aspects of the game. It also ties in with things like understanding favorite characters, how people want to see characters return and what they’re hoping to see in the story as we’re developing it throughout the course of the series.

J.G.: What role will the different choices that fans have made in previous games play in the culmination of the trilogy?

C.H.: For new players of Mass Effect 3, and even for players who’ve played previous games, we want to bring them into the story in such a way that we remind you of what’s happened in the story before. Of course, there has been a story leading into 3, but from there it becomes a self-contained story.

For those people who have played Mass Effect 1 and 2, you can start Mass Effect 3 by pulling in your saved game and the game will instantly know all the things that you’ve done before. You start out as your character. You look the way you did previously. From there, it knows who lived and died. It knows who you had friendships and romances with. Those things will actually change the way that you experience the story in Mass Effect 3.

J.G.: Do you have a favorite new enemy that players will be fighting in Mass Effect 3?

C.H.: A lot of the different enemies are going to have amazing new behaviors that really tie in with how you need to fight them as a squad. One of the cool new enemies -- one of our bigger types -- is called the Atlas Infantry Fighting Exoskeleton. These mechs are probably 20 feet tall and they’re piloted by a Cerberus trooper. If you’re able to destroy the trooper before you destroy the vehicle, you can actually get in the Atlas and control that mech as a vehicle and really dominate the battlefield. It’s one of the tactical decisions that are pretty fun for the player. As you’re fighting through a level, if there’s an Atlas, he’s pretty devastating to you and your squad as a player. If you can figure out how to get in there, then you will definitely dominate the battlefield.

J.G.: How have you evolved your technology from the first game to this one, and how has that improved the gameplay experience?

C.H.: We’ve been working on this series for quite a few years now and so much has changed. When we started, the Xbox 360 hadn’t even come out yet, but we still had to design a game for it.

Now, looking back, we’ve been working with the Unreal Engine 3 for quite a few years. Even with Mass Effect 3, we’ve been able to find huge new improvements to the performance. That’s allowed us to do everything from much better additional acting with the characters, better storytelling methods, but also just the overall ground pics, the cinematics. Those things can be better. We’re also spending some of that performance toward making the game richer in terms of more enemies onscreen, a lot more stuff going on, more people for you to fight.

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Photo: masseffect.com

Get Chip’d: DIG Joins the Syndicate

Back in 1993, Syndicate was a hit PC strategy game from Electronic Arts set in the distant future. Come February 12, 2012, what’s old will be new again with Starbreeze Studios’ remake of the sci-fi classic. The new update runs on the latest proprietary Starbreeze game engine and transforms the story into a blend of action and strategy through a first-person shooter perspective.

Set in 2069, the game puts players in control of Miles Kilo, a prototype agent working for Eurocorp, one of three competing syndicates out to rule the world. Armed with the DART 6 bio-chip, gamers can breach, or hack, into enemies and do much more than just shoot up rooms. And there’s a four-player co-op mode that adds multiplayer breaching options to the shooter genre. Here, John Miles, art director of Syndicate at Electronic Arts, talks about developing the new game.

How did you go about updating the original for today’s PC gaming audience?

John Miles: Syndicate, as you know, is an original game from 1993. It’s something that, internally, EA has always been really passionate about recreating, and it’s been milling around as a concept for quite a long time. Eventually, we partnered with Starbreeze, who we thought would be a great company to work with because of their dark, Machiavellian-style worlds. We created a first-person shooter set within the world of Syndicate, which brings all of the action back and puts players in the first-person video of actually being an agent.

Can you talk about the setting of this game?

J.M.: You play in the future -- 2069 -- and the game is set in New York City and Los Angeles. It’s a world where the governments have fallen and corporations have taken over and control everybody. As a consequence, the industrial espionage that’s going on between these corporations is unparalleled. You play as an agent, Miles Kilo, and you’re doing missions for the Eurocorp corporation.

What have you added to the actual first-person shooter experience?

J.M.: It’s not just a simple first-person shooter. The whole thing with Syndicate is that, in the future, everyone has a chip inside their head. These chips connect them to the dataverse. As an agent, you have unparalleled access to other people’s chips. You can breach them and cause them to do things like commit suicide. You can also persuade them to fight alongside you or just do simple things like breach elements in the environment, like objects and doorways. You can also cause weapons to backfire and jam.

When it comes to the shooter genre, what are the challenges of creating something new?

J.M.: This is an incredibly competitive space, and we wanted to do something that felt like it was very true to the Syndicate world. Having the ability to breach -- and to use an IPA adrenaline conversion to slow down time and let you see through the dataverse and see their neural networks -- adds an additional layer of complexity and interest to the gameplay. You’re both firing the weapons but also kind of breaching characters.

What kind of online or multiplayer experience will you guys have for this title?

J.M.: We’re focusing on the single player, but also we’ve got a fantastic four-player co-op experience as well, where you get to play with three other friends in these exciting, interesting environments in this world.

What will the hardcore PC gamer like about this game?

J.M.: The cool thing with Syndicate is we’ve really tried to cater to the hardcore shooter fan. It’s not just a linear-driven game where you experience only cinematic moments. It’s a rich, challenging experience. With the layering on top of that, plus breaching and the chip technology, it just makes it a much richer and more engaging experience.

What role have the advances in technology played in allowing you to bring this much different experience to gamers?

J.M.: The big development over the last 20 years is that we can make a much more visceral first-person experience. We have a rich experience where the AI of the characters is very interesting and plays out in different ways. There’s much more than just shooting in this game. You get different opportunities presented just by the kind of AI the characters and the enemies employ.

Do you have a favorite strategy you employ in this game?

J.M.: One of the cool things in Syndicate is the ability to persuade characters to fight on your side. If you’re in a gunfight and you’re getting overwhelmed by the enemy, you can choose to slow down time, breach one of the other characters, turn them to your side, and then they start fighting the enemy for you. This allows you to build your allies, which helps you overcome these huge waves of people.

Image: ea.com

Building the Old Republic: The Technology Behind BioWare’s First MMO

Electronic Arts-owned BioWare Austin has been working on the epic massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Star Wars: The Old Republic for more than four years. The game developer is familiar with the Star Wars universe, having created Knights of the Old Republic for PC gamers back in November 2003.

Set 400 years after the last Knights of the Old Republic game and 3,000 years before the rise of Darth Vader, The Old Republic allows players to choose a side (light or dark) and then embark on an epic journey into the mythology that George Lucas created in a galaxy far, far away. Here, Emmanuel Lusinchi, associate lead designer on the MMO at BioWare, talks about the role technology has played in bringing this massive world to life and the experience PC gamers will get when they explore the 19 planets in this online universe:

Digital Innovation Gazette: How did you utilize technology to push the MMO space forward with this game?

Emmanuel Lusinchi: Our engineers are always trying to squeeze more and more performances out of the game engine and, as they are doing so, they are coming up with a clearer understanding of exactly what the creative folks can get away with. During that phase, we get new rules on just how many creatures, or visual effects, or anything, really, we can have in any given area. The key is to be ready to be adaptable.

We have a full story, full cinematics, high-quality professional voice-acting and everything you’d expect in a single-player game, but with hundreds and hundreds of hours of story per class. Really, it’s the biggest role-playing game ever created. And you can play it with all your friends.

DIG: What’s the coolest technology in this game?

E.L.: We have 800,000 lines of dialogue in this game, which is the equivalent of 60 Star Wars novels. We created a fully voiced-over dialogue system to utilize real actors. Fortunately, we’ve had plenty of experience with voice-over at BioWare, so we were able to rely on well-established processes and technologies like lip-synching.

It is truly a monumental task, dealing with a quantity of assets rarely seen in game development and with a very rigid production pipeline -- after all, you need to schedule around real actors, some of them in foreign countries. This tech, even though it is not particularly new or particularly complex to code, really brings a sense of immersion to the game.

What we’ve found, and what all players know, is that an uninteresting dialogue is still uninteresting with full voice-over. So that’s a place where the technology is an enabler, but the creative part is still what really matters in the end. We want people to really enjoy the personal stories of their characters and see what it does to their way of playing. Hopefully, they’re going to really care about what’s happening to their characters.

DIG: How has this dialogue technology opened up a new variety of experiences?

E.L.: We have our class stories. There are eight different classes and each one has their own unique story that takes them from the beginning of the game all the way to the end, and they each feel very different. The Smuggler is an action-comedy. The Bounty Hunter is more of a Western. You’ve got the big drama of the Sith and the noble things of the Jedi. It really takes it in different directions.

We’ve added a lot more Heroic Quests, which are just normal quests on the ground, but you need a full party for them. It really helps with socializing, getting people together, and really getting them trained for what they’re going to need later for both the Flash Points and the Raids.

DIG: What will players experience in the Flash Points and Raids in this game?

E.L.: Flash Points are the Old Republic’s take on dungeons. That’s where you take your one party, go in and have some of the most amazing cinematic stories. You make huge choices that can destroy worlds and propel the story in different directions. It makes for some of the game’s most amazing moments.

Raids are about multiple teams of people, whether they’re eight-player or 16-player missions, all trying to work together for one common goal. It’s really about coordination and keeping people together to take on the biggest and baddest bosses. They’re probably our most story-light stuff, but they still have a lot of good story and a lot of good context to it. Raids are a way for us to reward players who have achieved tons of power through their story progression. One of the things you can do is participate in the operations, which are really challenging quests that you play with other players at the same time.

DIG: What are some of the activities your BioWare engine technology has opened up?

E.L.: Every player has their own ship. You can use your ship as transport to travel from place to place and go all over the galaxy. Once you get your ship, the galaxy is open and it’s yours. It’s also your base of operations for your crew skills, which is our take on crafting. Your companions all live on the ship; that’s where they do their crafting. They’re going to build stuff and make armor and do whatever it is that you like to do.

There’s also the War Zone, where you fight other players in PVP (player versus player) matches. These matches are brutal, fast and very entertaining. That’s something players can start encountering around Level 10. They can just push a button and get queued up and go play. It’s a really fun distraction and a great way to learn how to play your class. Instead of fighting the AI, which is not as smart sometimes, you fight other players. You really have to be on top of your game. It captures a lot of the best things we’ve seen in other games’ PVP and it put a little story twist on it. You know why you’re fighting, and you know what the battles are about. It’s just good fun.

DIG: What impact do you hope this game has on the MMO genre once it’s released?

E.L.: At the very least, it’s going to create a new subgenre of the MMO type. The inclusion of story does change the way you play, and it changes something about the game. It’s its own category that we hope will be successful.

At the best, this game will move the entire MMO industry toward [story-based gameplay]. Once you play it and you go to play another game, you’re asking things like, “Who’s my character? Why is he here?” We’ll see whether it just creates a subgenre or whether it changes the genre itself -- but it should have an impact.

Photo: SWTOR.com