Interview

Tim Browne on Operation Flashpoint: Red River

Lee talks to the principle game designer

We recently got to sit down with Tim Browne, Principle Game Designer on Operation Flashpoint: Red River. During our chat Tim explained how the team at Codemasters are hoping to make their game a little more accessible, how people are getting bored of arcade shooters and why Marines call each other f***tards.

What problems did you identify in Dragon Rising that you were keen to address in Red River?

Well, first and foremost in Dragon Rising people certainly enjoyed it, it was something a bit different and far more of a challenge from the arcade shooters on the market. But people found it difficult so our reaction to that was, 'let's make it more accessible.'

We're not gonna dumb it down, because we like the authenticity and the element of realism that the more arcadey shooters don't do. They're kind of like a roller coaster ride; you get on, you're on the road for a minute and then you're off, and you're like 'well that was fun,' but you want something that's a bit more challenging, that gets the old grey matter working.

So we wanted to keep the core mechanics [from Dragon Rising] the same, y'know one bullet to kill, but we've also introduced things like help text, tutorials, join in-progress, things like picking weapons off the floor, if you're bleeding it's just a button press to heal yourself rather than having to go through all these menus.

The last game was a bit too 'simmy' I think, for what people wanted. This time around we have taken cues from slightly more arcade experiences, but put our own twist on it and our own stamp. Our game is definitely a tactical shooter, a thinking man's shooter, compared to some of the more tunnel shooters out there.

Red River has four-player co-op modes, but no competitive multiplayer. Why is that?

Dragon Rising was a very ambitious project. We tried to do everything. What came out was a somewhat successful game, but it lacked a certain amount of polish, in our eyes. So this time around we wanted the game to be a lot more focused and a lot more polished.

Lots of games do PvP and only some games do PvP very well. So we decided that we should be the game that people turn to that does co-op very well in the FPS market. It was a deliberate decision to leave the PvP out and focus solely on the co-op aspect of the game.

That said, we have put a competitive edge to it. As you've seen, each team builds up a score. There's a lot of replayability as a result. We want people to go out there and be the best fire team and have bragging rights about that.

And XP accrues across both online and offline, right?

Yes. Because of the lack of a PvP mode, it has allowed us to be a bit more flexible with the XP stuff. We've got an XP system that it doesn't matter if you're in co-op or campaign, you're always earning XP. We really felt that was quite a cool twist things. And it allows you to unlock new weapons, B mods, attachments and specialisations.

What we haven't wanted to do, again, is go down the arcade route, where I get an ability to call in a chopper that comes in and kills everyone. We didn't want to do that.

So the B mods and specialisations are things that you would expect a Marine to be able to develop over time. Things like being able to reload your weapon a bit faster, or your weapon being less likely to jam because you take better care of it, maintenance and that kind of thing. Things like improving sprint speed, improved stamina and things like that.

It's what I'd call perks, but more set in a real world than an arcade one.

The Operation Flashpoint series has always had it's own unique spin on the genre. Do you think there is a future for the straight-up, arcade shooter? It seems we're drowning in them.

It's very hard for me to say. They sell, or have been selling, well. But there definitely seems to be a certain amount of... we're certainly reading and hearing that people are getting a little bit tired of the same old, same old.

Like I said, they're that roller coaster game. There's only so many times you can stop a nuclear missile being launched, or be involved in a helicopter crash, because these things have become somewhat of a cliched. Though they're fun - don't get me wrong, I enjoy playing them as well - we are carving out a different element of the market.

If you imagine a kind of sliding scale, you've got your military sims out there, which we don't want to do because we want the game to be more fun. Then you've got the arcadey games. We're in the middle. Maybe closer to the military sims.

We want to be the thinking man's shooter. There's more of a challenge. You can't just sit back and let the AI do everything, like a game that will remain nameless, but it transpired on the easiest levels you could just watch it play itself.

I think we both know what game you mean. The same thing happened to me in Killzone 3. I put the controller down to mess about with my laptop, didn't pause it and a few minutes later the screen went blank. I thought I had died. But I'd just completed the level.

Well, I haven't played it yet. Obviously, I'll be looking at it. I'm always interested to see what competitors do. But what we're trying to do with our game is different. We're more about addressing the issues we identified in Dragon Rising and I feel we've done that.

Back to the arcade shooters. And Killzone 3 is a good example of this. It feels really nice shooting people. That simple act has been perfected. Does making a more sim-influenced game affect your ability to create that?

Well, again, it's more of a tactical shooter than a sim. But we've introduced things like bullet drop. Now, we don't simulate windage, but at the same time I don't want to be able to just point my crosshair at someone 400 metres away, pull the trigger and kill them. I want to see the real physics involved.

That's far more satisfying - when as a sniper you see a guy say 500 metres away and you get a lead on him, shoot and you miss - then see that the shot lands just a bit below him - so you adjust, you hit him again, on the run, and he pirouettes and falls down dead. That has a fantastic feel to it.

What sources have you drawn on for the game?

We drew on more documentary kind of experiences like Generation Kill and Restrepo. For people who are interested in stuff that is a lot more real than the main character always being the hero. In this game you are a member of a fire team. You are not there to save the world, you're there to do the job and the job is to be, first and foremost, a United States Marine. Depending on what class you choose, then you have a role to play.

With regards to Generation Kill, what have you drawn from it specifically?

Oh, lots of things. There's a lot of camaraderie within the narrative. They'll describe each other as 'motarded,' or they'll refer to a group of unruly marines as a 'gagglefuck,' things that we learned while making the game.

But at the end of the day, the guy to the left of you and the guy to the right of you is your brother, you look out for him. If he goes down - I strongly recommend you watch Restrepo because these big, burly marines are the same as anyone you'd imagine. Some of them deal with death differently. That's quite a serious point.

We certainly didn't want to make the game Hollywood-ised, because you lose something in that process. So in the narrative, which you've only seen a small amount of, there's a lot more life and soul. Your Staff Sergeant, he will berate you and shout at you in a... somewhat affection way. Y'know, the way that the marine corps do.

We didn't want to do the clich of a deep south sounding drill sergeant, the type from Full Metal Jacket, because that's been done to death. This character is a bit different. Arguably more well-read. And he makes some very funny comments throughout, but I won't spoil them.

The tone of the opening cinematic is different to that of the character profile vids you've released. Is it representative of the tone of the rest of the game.

Interestingly, the videos that we've put out, we wanted to give the characters some personality and life. They are slightly cliche - you've got your 'hick' for example. But at the same time, we didn't want to make the characters too jokey.

The intro is a little different because a lot of the stuff we put in it is actual background context. This stuff actually happened. But we didn't want it to be a history lesson either. Y'know, because I don't play games for a history lesson. We wanted to add a bit of humour, but also get an idea of how the fire team interact with each other, calling each other 'retard' and stuff like that.

Fucktard.

And fucktard, yeah. (laughs)

It's quite funny how un-PC the marines are. And believe it or not, a lot of the stuff we had to do was toned down to a degree. They can obviously be quite racist, quite homophobic and we didn't want to put that stuff in. But we did want a certain amount of flavour in there.

So they do things like refer to the enemies as 'Tajis.' There isn't such a thing as a Taji. But it sounds like the kind of thing you'd expect the marines to call them. But obviously we didn't want to go down a dodgy route, in that regard.

We actually had a lot of help from the Marines. You don't want to paint them in a bad light. But also we want to be quite authentic. So we tried to find that balance.

Tim, thanks for your time.

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