Conflict: Denied Ops talk with Paul Jean
Pivotal Games producer Paul Jean sits down to explain to us exactly why Conflict: Denied Ops will deliver a refreshing experience to the increasingly crowded geo-political thriller genre, for so long dominated by Clancy-spawned offerings.
Why was the latest Conflict title originally known as Crossfire?
Crossfire was always the original working title for the next Conflict game. We made a decision to use the Denied Ops name as it reflected the nature of the organization our two characters work for.
How does two-player co-op play change the gameplay experience?
We’ve tried where possible to make the single player and two-player co-operative game modes play as close to each other as possible – you play the same missions, get the same cut-scenes and FMV sequences and the same objectives. We’ve invested a lot of time into the Agent AI, which works around you and is able to react whether you are constantly feeding him with orders, or whether you leave him largely to his own devices.
However, the game really does come to life in two-player co-op, mainly due to the fluidity of the tactics you can adopt with a second player. Covering each other’s advances, timing assaults with coordinated grenade hits, and covering each other’s backs as AI flanks you is where the game’s core appeal lies, and is what will keep the game enjoyable to play over and over.
What is the premise into which players will be thrust from a plot stand-point?
At the start of the game you are made aware of a military coup within Venezuela. The coup, led by a General Ramirez, brings civil war to Venezuela and causes a large number of civilian casualties. However, as a US-led UN intervention begins, Ramirez surprises everyone by threatening to use a nuclear deterrent that no-one was aware he possessed.
Unable to risk direct military intervention, the CIA’s Special Activities Division is called upon to intervene in missions which can be completely denied by the US government. Graves and Lang are initially sent deep into Venezuela on their own to find evidence of Ramirez’s nuclear program. A fragment of data sets them on a race against time across 4 continents to prevent a deadly cargo from falling into Ramirez’s hands.
Tell us about the benefits to gameplay, immersion and story made possible by the new levels of environmental interactivity.
Gameplay and immersion-wise, it’s certainly something you pick up on once you sit down to play the game. You stop thinking about “can I shoot this?” and start to instinctively shoot at objects which look as if they should be destroyed. It really alters the way you approach combat situations. For example, if I come over the brow of a hill and see three guards beneath me, stood next to their vehicle, I can send three sniper rounds taking them all out with a headshot, and risk one of them getting to the alarm, or I can pump one round into the fuel tank of the truck they’re stood next to, blowing them all up or setting them on fire. The more you play, the more you start looking to use the environment around you to your advantage – can I blow up that object next to that enemy? Can I shoot through the cover that the enemy is hiding behind?
Story-wise, the destruction serves to underline that these operatives are a law unto themselves – they don’t need permission to “go loud” – if they want to level everything in the surrounding area, that’s up to them – there’s no comeback to the US government.
How does this new Conflict compare to other geo-political games such as Splinter Cell? What bearing have movies like the Bourne trilogy had on your work?
Well because our two characters are part of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, they aren’t bound by the same kind of rules. Whilst Sam Fisher’s got the 5th amendment, he can’t really open up and start blowing things up left right and centre – his missions are usually pretty covert.
Most people at Pivotal are really into military reference material of all varieties and we’re fans of Splinter Cell and the Bourne series. However, the characters in Denied Ops represent a very different type of CIA operations. The Special Activities Division is drawn from former members of Delta Force, Navy SEALs and other special forces groups as well as the CIA, the FBI and even SWAT, but doesn’t operate like a government organization. There’s no accountability here – the government washes their hands of the operation once it’s started, and they won’t be coming to the aid of our agents if they get captured or killed.
PS3 vs. 360. Will both versions of the game be the same? How have you found developing for both systems?
Both versions will feature the same content – we’ve got online multiplayer and co-op on both platforms as well.
We started work on the X360, and moved onto the PS3 later on. Obviously there’s a learning curve to make the most of the PS3’s multiple cores, but we’ve had the same issue on the X360. They’re both very powerful and we’re using their multi-cored processors to the full. For example, our AI runs on separate cores on both platforms, as does much of our destruction technology. Considering this is our first ‘next-gen’ outing, we’ve adapted to both consoles pretty quickly.
We're looking forward to the new Hollywood-esque instances, can you give us an example of this?
I think there are two things being referenced when describing “Hollywood” moments. You’ve got the stand-out set-pieces and you’ve got the Hollywood-style explosions and special effects.
Set-piece wise, I don’t want to give too much away, but within the first mission there are several – right at the start of the game, a friendly Apache takes out an enemy Hind and in doing so knocks out a communications tower, which crashes into the level. Later on you’ll see that same Apache dodging surface-to-air rocket fire, decimating the tower that his would-be assailant launched the rocket from. This type of set-piece moment is common throughout the level, and many of these set-pieces only occur if events have unfolded in a particular way during the mission.
In terms of special effects, we’re very proud of our explosions and pyrotechnics. There’s nothing like pumping a grenade launcher round into an area full of enemy forces and setting off a chain of massive explosions, seeing the guys running around on fire or blown outwards by the blast. The smoke following these explosions will linger on the battlefield, adding to the effect. We’ve also spent a lot of time on our ordinance impact effects, ensuring that each type of surface has its own particle effect and bullet “decal” type.
How has AI changed from past iterations in the series?
We obviously had a solid base to start from off the back of our previous titles, but our AI was stripped right back and built up again for Denied Ops. There are two aspects to our AI – the enemy tactical groups and the Agent AI. Both required a lot of work and they both operate in different ways.
The AI tactical groups are structured to make the AI enemies work as a team. If an enemy is isolated he’ll want to stay alive and he’ll fall back until he can re-group with other enemy forces. This is all happening on the fly – he’ll re-group with the other soldiers, then you’ll hear that newly-formed group barking orders to each other and start to push back towards you, to try and pin you down and flank you. Sometimes you’ll see the AI decide to rush your position, which can really catch you off guard – it’s not something you’re used to seeing in a lot of games.
The Agent AI is a unique system which is built to be extremely flexible. It has to cope with the fact that you can play as either character - at any time - in single player and must fulfill the role of either sniper or heavy weapons, depending on which character you’ve chosen to play. Furthermore, your Agent mustn’t get in your way or restrict you in any way. At the end of the day, he’s a tool at your disposal, and with this game being all about accessibility to gamers of all levels, we don’t want to force you to learn complex squad commands and micro-manage your Agent. As such, your Agent will intelligently follow you around and fend for himself and will follow your lead for which weapon to use and what strategy to employ. However, when you do choose to order your character around, this can be achieved through very simple controls – two buttons in total. Most of the orders are context sensitive, given via the Left Trigger / L2 or right mouse button. If I’m looking at a point on the landscape, the order becomes “go there”, if it’s an enemy, the order becomes “attack that target”, if I’m facing a computer terminal I’ll tell my Agent to “hack that computer”. To call my Agent back to me, I just hold this button down.
The other button allows me to access advanced orders, telling my partner to suppress a position, or use a particular grenade at a location I’ve specified. Using these orders, I can get my AI Agent into position and then get him to pin down the enemy while I line up my shot or move in closer for the kill.
As well as more interactivity, how have next-gen consoles altered Conflict visually?
Obviously there’s a lot more power there to render a lot more at once. Rather than simply pumping the numbers of enemies up though, we’ve opted to spend most of that extra power on physics and special effects. We’ve also been able to open up our environments, which means we’ve now got a nice mix of indoor close-combat and outdoor open areas, suitable for vehicular combat.
One stat bandied around is that we’ve got more polys in one of the first-person guns than we had in all four squad members in the original Desert Storm… I guess that’s a measure of how far things have come.
Any competitive multiplayer plans to share?
We’ll be supporting 16-player competitive multiplayer. We’ve got three game modes – classic Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Conquest. We’ve kept the distinct character roles of the two main characters and you can switch between them whenever you re-spawn, allowing you to pick the right agent for the situation at the time. We’ve got 11 arenas for each game mode, drawn from the landmark locations of the single player game.
Finally, which aspect of Denied Ops are you most proud of so far?
It’s hard to pick one particular thing, but we’re obviously very proud of the accessibility of the co-operative play, and our destruction effects and technology.
Thanks for your time.