Sony and Zipper on MAG
MAG: Massive Action Game is Zipper Interactive's latest shooter IP, taking online multiplayer to a whole new level by providing support for up to 256-players.
Following the success of Zipper's SOCOM titles and their early championing of online multiplayer on home consoles - specifically on PlayStation 2, MAG is a uniquely ambitious online-only FPS that incorporates vehicles, persistent levelling up and a ranking system into its own brand of frantic military shenanigans.
We caught up with MAG's Senior Designer, Scott Rudi and Sony Computer Entertainment America's Director of Development, Seth Luisi to chat about the game and find out where that very literal title came from.
Why didn't you want to continue with the SOCOM franchise on PlayStation 3? Do you actually consider MAG as SOCOM's spiritual successor?
Scott Rudi: The main thing we looked at when the PS3 started was dealing with what the PS3 was capable of. We actually looked at opportunities for a new challenge and we had been wanting to do large scale stuff for a while. So, we took the opportunity to really make MAG as a massive multiplayer game and we learned a lot from the SOCOM period. We were just looking for a new challenge really.
Did you not want to exploit SOCOM's established fanbase who already recognise the brand or are you confident enough that MAG will stand out on its own merits?
SR: We are really excited about MAG and confident it is going to stand out on its own, as its own franchise.
MAG stands for Massive Action Game. Who came up with that? It's very much a title that is what it is.
SR: Actually, I don't know the answer to that.
Seth Luisi: It started as an internal code name for the title, as the Lead Designer at the time was looking for a way to describe the game and sum up the power point presentation. He came up with a very descriptive acronym - MAG - Massive Action Game. Somewhere along the way it stuck, unfortunately.
MAG is incredibly ambitious in that it offers huge games for up to 256-players. How tough was it to get that all working properly?
SR: Actually it was a big challenge. It took up a lot of resources. We created this unique architecture from the ground up and nailing the gameplay was very hard as well and then there was a bunch of art talent to consider, so it was a very big challenge for all of us.
How did you get the balance right when you have 128 people on either side, it must be pretty chaotic?
SR: We tested it immensely and we really took an innovative process, where we saw what worked and what didn't work and kept on trying to encourage things that we liked and change the things that didn't work out. So it ensured a lot of playtesting, planning and changing.
What kind of stuff did you have to incorporate into the level design to make sure that everything worked and flowed well for the player?
SR: Really it was a unique challenge for us, because I don't want to say it was easy to design a level for players, but its something we thought was a unique challenge. Trying to seek the areas where small unit tactics would be worthwhile and continue the feeling that you are still part of a larger war - that was the biggest challenge for all of us.
Did you have any access to resources from any of Sony's other third-party dev teams? Did you share technology with any of the other guys? Say, the guys at Insomniac for instance?
SL: There is a sharing initiative that goes on with worldwide studios. Some of those tools have been released third party, so there is some of the basics. Some of the low level renders and some other tools that we share from others teams as part of that initiative. But on top of that we have to create lots of custom parts for that - for the render, for the animation.
How did you manage to get the game running at an optimum with 256-players all playing at once? How did you achieve that?
SR: From the ground up we built the game to support that. Also, we are very attentive to the internal process and pretty aggressive with how we lay out our levels and some of the technology to find that. It took a lot of seeing what works out and doing a lot with what we did.
Where you ever worried that you would have to make any concessions at all?
SR: No concessions to gameplay ever. The game must be fun no matter how many bells and whistles we add to it and I am not aware of any serious concessions we made. We really just did things from the ground up and built the product to be as good as it could be.
Where there any things that you wanted in the game that you couldn't include for whatever reason - technical limitations and so on?
SR: In all development you come to a point where this will fit in the development cycle and so it's always a very tough process. There are always a lot of things you are personally married to, but you actually have to look at the support before the game and have to hold off on certain things.
What's your response to the reaction you have had to the open beta? It seems to have been largely positive.
SR: It's great. Our beta went very well and it taught us a lot about how people will play the game. We have made a lot of gameplay polishing, code polishing and art polishing based on what we saw with the beta.
I assume - as always - this will be an ongoing process, patching and fixing with updates and so on?
SR: Of course. We are going to be supporting MAG fully.
How much scope is there in the game to customise your own specific player? What can you do with that?
SR: As you increase levels through experience, you get skill points which you can use to unlock skills, weapons and weapon attacks. If you want to go sniper, you can by unlocking all the sniper unlockables and really customise your gameplay experience by doing that. The multiple loadouts you have in the armoury allow you to have several different play styles.
The gameplay reminds me of the Battlefield series, especially Bad Company. Do the vehicles work in the same way as in those games?
SR: Vehicles are a very important part of the game and we have a variety of vehicles with different roles and functions on the battlefield. We are very excited about them.
What''s next for Zipper Interactive after MAG? What are you moving on to or what do you hope to move on to in the near future?
SR: Right now we are just really focused on MAG. We haven't made announcements for anything beyond that, it's just all about the MAG right now.
Would you ever consider a MAG sequel or do you want to continue to support and develop this iteration?
SR: I don't think we can really talk about it at this point.
SL: I think its fair to say that with any title, we had a certain amount of time to invest in the game and there is always lots of ideas and different areas we would like to explore in the future. But we will have to see where things end up. I'm sure that everyone on the development team will be excited to further develop some of the other ideas that unfortunately didn't make it into MAG and there are always opportunities for some of those.
You've got three factions in the game - Raven, S.E.V.R and Valor. Which is your personal favourite?
SR: Oh man! It seems to change for me every few months. I always pick the underdog at the time. I think Valor for me. I can't really tell you why. It's purely emotional.
Which was the most popular during the beta?
SR: Oh man! I remember every beta had a different favourite with the most number of people playing.
SL: I think that Raven was ahead, but they were all pretty close. Raven and Valor were close.
I kinda thought Raven might be. They have all the high-tech stuff and they look cool.
SL: But, while Raven had more players they didn't necessarily do better than the other factions. You really see that even if one team has more players, it doesn't necessarily matter.
More on MAG in our full review.