we talked to Mobile Forces producer Colin Macdonald about how the project got started, from the inspirations and ideas behind it to balancing the basic gameplay. Today we take a look at the other end of the development cycle, catching up on some of the changes that have been made since the demo was released a few weeks ago.
Try Before You Buy
The demo was actually based on a very early version of the code, mostly due to publisher pressure, as Colin explained. "There were basically a lot of business / political reasons the demo had to be done so early. One of the main ones was that our US publisher, Majesco, needed a demo that could appear on the covers of US print magazines around the time of the launch. So what with the typical three month lead time on US mags and some of the usual contractual nonsense, we actually did the demo way back at the start of the year." Despite being based on an early build of the engine and having less than stellar graphics though, the public response to the demo has been mostly positive so far. "We've had almost the feedback we were expecting from the demo. We knew we were going to attract criticism visually, that was a given. But what was interesting to see was that the majority of the forums where the demo was discussed had the age old argument of gameplay versus graphics resurrected. Most of the team's history is from DMA Design - games like Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto that didn't look anything special, but something else certainly attracted the attention of many." "We're happy to accept we ain't going to win awards for Mobile Forces. But we know from the feedback we've had from the demo that people are having a lot of fun with this, and it's improved a thousand-fold since then. So if you're tempted, download the demo for free, and if you like it a little, you'll like the final game a lot. If you don't like it, my apologies, but you ain't spent a cent, and I hope games we've done in the past, or will do in the future are more up your street!"
Although the demo and the beta code it's based on are certainly fun, there are a few rough edges. For starters we thought the single player campaign structure was rather simplistic, but this is apparently something that Rage are sticking with. "I know this isn't going to win me any fans, but my belief is that unless you can do an epic Half-Life style story mode properly, with scriptwriters and several people assigned just to working on the design of the gameflow, then storylines etc are pretty much ignored. So I'd rather see people in the team working on balancing the game better or adding a cool new feature, rather than making a half-hearted attempt at a mission structure when the one we've got works perfectly well anyway!" Some of the maps were also a little large for the four vs four bot matches that make up the early stages of the single player campaign, and this is one thing that Rage have already solved. "We did notice you'd picked up on that in the preview - see, we do pay attention sometimes! The easier levels start with low numbers on each team, but as you get further through the game and get to know how to use the weapons and vehicles most effectively, you'll find the numbers and difficulty of things ramp up accordingly, and soon you're praying for a quiet spot just to take a breather for two seconds."
Tweaks And Tucks
Improvements to the bots since the beta version we played should help to make the single player campaign more involving as well. "AI is always a horrendously complex beast, and we've made life much more difficult for ourselves with all the combinations of driving and being passengers in vehicles, new gametypes, weapon tactics, and a scale of levels that's just not suited to traditional bot code." "There's been a ton of work gone into the AI since the version you saw though. We've added in a lot of sneaky tricks for them to do, and it's certainly not a push-over in the version I was playing this afternoon - I had to fight tooth and nail in an epic 30 minute Holdout game, and sadly lost by seconds. Needless to say I was not amused. But hopefully that's put your mind at rest." "Even though we're now very literally just a few days away from having to create the gold master discs, the player models are still being worked on [as well]. We do have a lot of restrictions with the engine that prevent us from pushing the boundaries, which is a real shame (and heartbreaking for the artists here!), but it means the game is out now, not 'whenever'. One pretty nice feature that has just gone in since the demo is real particle 'smoking vehicles' - basically as your vehicle takes on damage from rocket attacks it'll start to pump out smoke. Great in the first person vehicle view."
It's a given these days that development of a first person shooter doesn't stop when the game is released though, with amateur level designers and mod makers adding to the original game. "From day one we knew how important the community was going to be for Mobile Forces", Colin assured us. "We've tried to keep everything in there as generic and 'available' as possible." "We're expecting to be impressed (ie jealous) of some of the mods we see pretty quickly once people figure out just how far things could go with the physics and the vehicles. So we'll certainly be supporting as much as we can after launch. I know our customised editor is shipping on the disc and that we've got approval for some of our technical docs to be released once the game's in the shops, and we've already got several 'extras' lined up that should be announced, if not made available, shortly after launch." "In addition to this, to help encourage a fledgling community we already have a community site online with fully moderated forums. So far we're pretty please with the reaction we are getting. Also, to help add a boost to Mobile Force gamers in the UK and Western Europe we have entered into an agreement with Thrustworld, who are going to be giving away two months free membership to their dedicated gaming service with every copy of Mobile Forces that is sold." For now though Rage are focusing on putting the finishing touches to the game. "As I type we're actually into the final few days, so although some things aren't set in stone yet, it's mainly just the typical end-of-game work that's going on - lots of bugfixing, lots of tweaking and polishing, getting all the audio in, putting in all the different foreign languages, preparing various slightly different versions depending on who's publishing it where... Sadly, the stuff that's not very exciting to talk about. And even less exciting to have to do!" Still, we shouldn't keep Colin away from his work any longer!