When 2015 shipped Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, it launched a new wave of war-based first-person shooters that has yet to peter out completely; that tried to mix authenticity with entertainment without offending anybody too much. In the period since, the original team has split up more than a little, with many relocating to upstart Infinity Ward, whose Activision-published World War II FPS Call of Duty was so successful last year, while megabucks publisher Electronic Arts continued to try and eke more cash out of the Medal of Honor brand. In fact, only a handful or less stayed with original developer 2015, leading many critics to write off the team's next project - the Vietnam-themed Men of Valor (Xbox impressions) - as just another attempt to try and wring some more value out of a developer's name.
However the current team at 2015 has no intention of being remembered that way. They have been relentlessly polishing Men of Valor for nearly a year now, having set the game back 12 months in order to improve various aspects and bring the PC version up to scratch, and the results are very interesting. Speaking to Eurogamer at publisher Vivendi's Paris headquarters recently, 2015's Cayle George dealt with the issues of whether the game is just Allied Assault in Vietnam, how the team has made use of its extended development period, what we can expect from the PC version above and beyond the Xbox title, and his views on the multiplayer side of things, and whether so much graphical detail can actually be a bad thing. Stay tuned later this week to find out what we actually made of the multiplayer, and to hear Cayle's thoughts on creating games based on a still-sensitive conflict such as Vietnam, the sort of research that went into it, and how he feels about the role of polemic in this sort of project.
Eurogamer: How many members of the MOHAA are working on Men of Valor?
Cayle George: Wouldn't be able to give you a concrete number, but I think it's somewhere in the range of four or five. And our team is about fifty.
Eurogamer: Do you see this as Allied Assault in Vietnam, or something else entirely?
Cayle George: I think it's something else entirely. I wasn't at 2015 when we did Allied Assault, but I think this takes it one step further, with a more developed story, a very solid ending. I don't know if you played Allied Assault [we did indeed], but I think the player should feel very satisfied with the game in the end, and I think we'd just be kind of comparing apples and oranges in a way. The game is based around a very different type of gameplay. You're not going to run and gun; you're going to use your cover. You have different controls so you can lean out from behind cover, search bodies for health. You're not just going to come across big caches of ammo, med-packs and things like that. You would only find them at specific locations where it would make sense for them to actually be there. So yeah, I think it's going to be a completely different experience, but just as good and, well, probably much better.
Eurogamer: You delayed the game from Christmas last year. What have you spent the time doing?
Cayle George: Well, I joined the team about ten months ago, so that would be about two months before the original deadline, and I can't speculate on why, but I can tell you what we've been doing since. In the last year we've basically been making the game as great as it can be, and play as good as it can. There've been a lot of iterations of the levels that we've gone through, doing pass after pass of the gameplay, making sure it's really solid, making sure it's really fun, and making sure it looks really good. Our artists have done a fantastic job with making the game just look great, and getting a lot of vegetation on there. And we've really nailed the lighting, I think. A year ago it was nowhere near as pretty as it is now. So we've just been spending that time just making it awesome. We put a lot of work in the AI as well over that last year, so you'll probably find it's a lot more dynamic now than it was.
Eurogamer: What sort of things can the AI do?
Cayle George: We have a number of different of classes in the game, and you'll find a lot of guys that will retreat and take cover as you attack them. The AI will always act just like you do in that the AI has to reload, they have to take cover; they can be suppressed, just like a player would in real life. If you actually shoot an enemy and you're sending bullets close to them but not hitting them, they're going to take cover and crouch and may blind-fire and shoot over the top or something like that, and blow out a whole clip or not really look where they're going because they're freaked out. The friendly AI will... Maybe a friendly goes down and get wounded; another might come over and help pick him up and put him on his shoulders and carry to a safer location so he can heal himself. The friendly AI will make take a guy and then give him a good kicking, or shoot him and yell at him because he's pumped up and angry. Also, if you happen to neglect an enemy in one place, he's going to pursue you and come up behind you and try and take you out, or some guy in front of you may try and work around behind you and flank you if you're not taking your time and clearing out the guys from the jungle.
Eurogamer: You mentioned parallax mapping in the presentation as a key feature of the PC version compared to Xbox. How does that work?
Cayle George: Basically what it does is it takes a 2D flat plane and allows it so that as the player moves around that plane, you get to see what appears to be geometry. So if you have corrugated metal, for example, it looks a bit flat straight on, but when you come to the side it feels like it pops out, and it's done with the ways the textures are mapped on the models, rather than done with dynamic lights like Doom III might.
Eurogamer: How does it differ from normal mapping [seen in the likes of Doom, Riddick, Half-Life 2, etc]?
Cayle George: Normal mapping's a bit different. Basically a normal map is a texture layer, a normal map is a texture that's just lighting information, so it tells the GPU that this part of the texture should be lit as if it were raised higher than another. And that's only done as far as my knowledge goes on dynamically lit real-time images and ours isn't dynamic in that respect. So you wouldn't be able to do normal mapping. But parallax mapping achieves a fairly similar effect.
Eurogamer: It's less resource-intensive to do?
Cayle George: Well, less resource intensive, a lot more intensive on the design side!
Eurogamer: What specifically will be in the PC version that won't be on Xbox in terms of extras?
Cayle George: Everything that's on the Xbox is on the PC, but the PC is also going to have a bunch of new multiplayer maps. Some of the PC maps will support at least 24 players online, so we've created a bunch of larger maps. You'll see a lot more multiplayer maps on the PC version, and you also get a couple of new missions on the PC for single-player as well. There were some things that just weren't feasible on the Xbox. One of them will be recapturing the Imperial Palace in Hue after the Tet Offensive. So you'll be able to actually go in there and recapture it just like they did in the actual war, so that'll be one of the extra bonuses.
Eurogamer: What sort of multiplayer gametypes will you have?
Cayle George: We have quite a few actually, and every multiplayer map supports every gametype that we have. So you'll be able to set up multiplayer maps in your basic deathmatch, your basic team-based deathmatch, also some more objective-based missions, like maybe 'capture some documents' from the enemy's stronghold and bring them back to a safe location. Maybe go around and collect pieces of a mortar and assemble it somewhere to destroy somebody's base. Also we'll have kind of a territorial control mode where there may be flags in different areas of the map and you can go ahead and capture those for points and things like that, and try the capture them all to win the game. A big variety.
Eurogamer: Do you worry that so much graphical detail can sometimes make it a bit too difficult in multiplayer? That having so much to see when you wheel round instantly that you struggle to pick out an attacker can be a negative thing?
Cayle George: One of the things I've noticed is that if you look at popular Internet games. Counter-Strike is still the biggest game in the universe, and that's probably due to gameplay, but I'm curious if Counter-Strike will still be as fun by the time they make a new version down the line...
Eurogamer: Like the Source Engine one?
Cayle George: Well the Source Engine one, as far as I can tell from what I've seen of it, is it's basically the same with heightened stuff like the mechanics of the levels seem to be about the same. So if they wanted to make a Counter-Strike 2 or 3, you know, I think it would be the same with that amount of detail, because it's true, you do lose the players in that amount of detail. I think what we've tried to do is streamline the maps, just like we've done in the single-player, to provide the connectivity that you need in a multiplayer map, and to get the game to flow into such that you can recognise points with cover and points without cover, and you will get a sense of where players will likely be just like in any multiplayer game.
I think it's just a whole new genre of multiplayer we'll be getting into in the next few years of multiplayer games that have a lot of high detail, and it's just going to require probably a different game dynamic, and I think gamers will get used to that, and that once you get used to it it's really awesome. Because we're getting to the point where you're not having to have grass mip-maps that fade away after ten feet. You can have grass that's 300 yards away that's still there, so when you zoom in with the sniper rifle some guy that thinks he's hiding in deep brush is actually hiding in deep brush and the guy can't see him. And I think that that's just a whole nother level of game that's going to evolve.
Check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, when we tackle the issue of recreating such a sensitive conflict, the research that was involved, what sort of point the developer is trying to make, and more besides.