Greg Goodrich looks tired. We expect he's tired because he's flown 5500 miles to sit in a room answering questions about Medal of Honor, on which he's executive producer. His weariness is probably more acute though because those questions aren't really about his game - a cleverly scripted and interesting FPS that looks smart and inventive - so much as they are about the ground beneath its feet. Everyone wants to talk about Afghanistan. Just ask Liam Fox.
We did our best to mix it up, but we also wanted to know why the game is set there, how Goodrich feels about accusations that the decision to use the setting was irresponsible or callous, and what Steven Spielberg - founder EP on the series, lest we forget - might think of it all.
Eurogamer: What was it that originally attracted you to the Tier One Operators?
Greg Goodrich: I think we all have a certain stereotypical view of what a special operations soldier is. When we were first introduced to these guys, clearly they're genetically different, clearly they're good at what they do, and there's a certain presence about them when they walk into a room, which is fascinating. These guys are the quiet professional - they'd just as soon have us leave them alone - but I think that once we got to understand who they were, their mindset was the most interesting and compelling part about them.
Once we got a sense of what that was like and what drives them, that instinctive kind of unconscious competence that makes them who they are, we tried to focus on that and get players in that same sort of mindset. As I've said a few times now, these are the kind of guys who, when the world has gone to s***, their first thought is, "I can fix it. Send me, I'll fix it."
Eurogamer: How do you maintain that balance between that sense of confidence - that "Hua!" attitude - and the authenticity and respect you're trying to embody?
Greg Goodrich: I think it changes. You start to experience things with them and peel back the layers of these individuals, and then you see how the focus changes between what they thought they were going to do, to oh my goodness, our goal now is completely different. Hopefully the gamer will see that change and understand that journey and live that along with these guys, and again, all while remembering that these guys have families and other things going on.
That's all a part of the authenticity and respect and reverence for the material that Medal of Honor has always had. It's never been about politics or why the guys were there or the enemy or the war, it's just about a group of guys and what they're going for.
Eurogamer: On that note, there's been some controversy about your setting in the UK. Why this conflict? Surely the Tier Ones operate all over the world?
Greg Goodrich: The story that we wanted to tell was about these guys in this initial fight, and the individuals that we hooked up with happened to be doing it there, so that was the story we wanted to tell. It's an historical fiction inspired by these guys in an historical event, like Saving Private Ryan.
Eurogamer: So just purely because that's the material you had to draw upon?
Greg Goodrich: That's where they were. It was really interesting, because in the Shahikot Valley, it's a very contained area - it's 12, 13 kilometres, but in and around that area it's very diverse, so you have city slums, the dry rugged desert terrain, you have the green river valley, and then you have snowy mountain peaks. So it gives the ability to make the player feel they're jumping all over the place and connect all the characters. There's that connective tissue, not just in the environments but the proximity of the main players. It helps us craft a tighter story.
Eurogamer: Why do you think people attack you for using a current conflict whereas they don't attack, say, Hurt Locker or Lions for Lambs or films that use ongoing conflicts?
Greg Goodrich: Games are the medium of our time. You and me - this is our medium and how we tell our stories. I think a large majority of the individuals who are currently talking about it in that way don't understand that this is our best way of being able to honour a group of individuals, to tell a story, to shine a light on a community of warriors that need to be honoured.
I think a lot of people think of games and their first thought is that it's for little kids - they don't know that we have a ratings board - or they think games are a "Weee!" experience and not a "Wow" experience. This is a "Wow" experience for us. I can't imagine taking my eight-year-old to go and see Pulp Fiction. I wouldn't because that's not who it's made for.
Also, [in the past] people have knocked books they haven't read or films they haven't seen, and I think they're doing it now for games they haven't played. For those individuals who play this game and follow our single-player narrative and understand our tone and intent, they're going to get it.
This game is not about the Taliban, it's not about al-Qaeda, it's not about the Chechen or Uzebek fighters. It's not the Afghan war. It's about a group of individuals going through an event and us paying tribute to that.
Eurogamer: You mentioned al-Qaeda earlier and in real life there has been controversy about whether there is a link between the Taliban and al-Qaeda and how they support one another. Are you worried that this issue might blow up again when people become aware of that connection as it exists in your game?
Greg Goodrich: In our story, we remain authentic and try to draw those differences, because there is a difference between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. We do so in a way that differentiates them not only in their local dress and the types of areas that they occupy, but we also do so in their languages, so our Taliban fighters speak Pashto and our al-Qaeda speak Gulf Arabic.
We show how they were all a part of this fight but there clearly is a... I wouldn't say a hierarchy, but back then there was a difference. And there still is a difference, but it's changed quite a bit over the last nine years.
Eurogamer: Moving on, how did DICE come to be involved in this project?
Greg Goodrich: It was a gift [laughs]. It was a gift from the development gods who gave us DICE to build our multiplayer.
Eurogamer: But the actual mechanics of it. Who said, "Hey, we should get those guys involved"?
Greg Goodrich: It was a series of discussions that ended up in the ultimate goal of being able to reboot the franchise at a quality level that's required in the first-person shooter genre - or in any reboot. A decision was made to put two teams, each concentrating on what they do best, to deliver the best-possible experience for the gamer.
That's the best part about it, because the gamer doesn't care how many studios were involved on a great product.
Eurogamer: That's a slightly sad thing, though, isn't it?
Greg Goodrich: [Laughs]
Eurogamer: You said earlier that you have a bunch of veterans from the original Medal of Honor team on your team now, along with various other imports. I was wondering if you scooped up any of the Infinity Ward guys who fled after that whole debacle, since everyone assumed they all went to Respawn?
Greg Goodrich: A lot of them did, a lot of them are still there. We have members that have been on every Medal of Honor, we have members who have been on just a few. We have individuals that this is their first Medal of Honor - this is my first Medal of Honor.
Rich Farley, our senior creative director - he and I worked together years ago on shooters, and then he was on COD for many years at Treyarch. We have people from all over the place. You need fresh new blood, you need veterans, you need all types, and I think we have a good mix.
Eurogamer: I think the expectation is - especially given what John Riccitiello's said about wanting to be in a position of dominance in the shooter space within a couple of years - that you guys are going to start work on another Medal of Honor. Do you think you'll stick with the Tier One Operators?
Greg Goodrich: To back up a little bit, for us it's all just about making a great game. We concentrate on the work. We don't have a big pie-chart of percentages of the shooter market, at least not on the development team. Hopefully, if gamers like this game and it does well, they'll allow us to do another one. We love this franchise, we love what it stands for, and we'd love to keep doing more of them, but we'll wait and see how fans take hold of this one. We certainly have ideas on what we want to do next...
More on Medal of Honor
Eurogamer: Do you think you'll draw on the Tier Ones? Are there more stories to tell within that?
Greg Goodrich: Oh goodness yes. Oh yes. There's lots of stories with these guys. Like I said, we're still focused on the initial part of this conflict, and... Yeah, if they want to go another round, I don't know - after this one, who knows if they will!
Eurogamer: Going all the way back to the original game, there was that connection with Steven Spielberg. Do you know if he's seen what you're doing with this one and if he approves of it?
Greg Goodrich: [Turns to PR] How do I answer that? It's a very loaded question.
Eurogamer: Just a yes or no.
Greg Goodrich: I'll say this - there is a connection, but he's not involved in our game. Clearly though there are moments when we pay tribute to where we came from. Clearly on this Ranger landing in the Shahikot, this is our Normandy beach invasion. There's even a moment where Hernandez sits down and says, "Hey, switch with me, I've seen this movie." And with Jim Patterson - he's the grandson of Lieutenant Jimmy Patterson from Medal of Honor and Frontline. So there's certain moments that we give winks and nods to Medal of Honors gone by.
Eurogamer: But you hope that Spielberg, if he did see what you were up to, would approve of the authenticity, of that through line of context?
Greg Goodrich: I would hope so. Nothing's changed as far as our intent and our tone. There's been a lot of things in the press recently about what we're doing, but if you pay attention, you understand and you know games and what Medal of Honor is about, you'll notice that even though we're out of World War II, those core tenets of respect and authenticity still remain.
Greg Goodrich is executive producer on Medal of Honor, which is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 15th October.