It may be four and a half years since the original PC version came out, but Operation Flashpoint remains a landmark in the military shooter genre. Now finally available on the Xbox, the resulting conversion reveals a game that easily holds its own against the current crop, and in some respects is still well ahead of its time.
While we wade through the reviews mountain and formulate our own opinion on how good the conversion is, we thought we'd have a chat with Bohemia Interactive's Paul Statham and find out exactly what took so long. Along the way, we also find out more on the game's multiplayer modes and the challenges the team faced during one of the most drawn out conversion sagas in the history of videogames...
Eurogamer: The inevitable question most of us want to know, is why on EARTH has it taken so long to port the game over to Xbox?
Paul Statham: Short answer: because it was hard! Long answer: because it was very hard!
Really, it was a very difficult project to port a game which required more then 256MB on the PC to run in a 64MB memory footprint, whilst maintaining all the features of the original game and improving performance. We could have come out with a stripped down version much faster, but we did not want to do it because we loved the original game too much.
Thanks to the long development time, we not only managed to port everything from the original, we also managed to add tons of improvements and additions. Most of the graphics and sound effects in the game were reworked or newly created from scratch for this new Xbox incarnation of our combat simulator.
Additionally we added more realism elements, introduced ambient life, built on the existing terrain and landscape to improve the features and interactivity of the world around you as well as many other new or improved aspects of the game.
Eurogamer: We heard that frame rate issues have repeatedly delayed the port - is that so, and if so, why did the Xbox struggle so much to cope with the game. Was it a steep learning curve to move from PC development to console?
Paul Statham: As for the learning curve, we found the Xbox developer kit to be very easy to work with and the tools provided are really excellent. Still the technical challenges were much bigger than we ever expected.
The frame rate requirements set by the publisher were very hard to achieve - the frame rate required was a lot higher than the frame rate often found in the PC version. The biggest obstacle for us was the memory footprint. We are pushing the Xbox memory and hard drive to its limits.
Moreover, console gamers are much less willing to forgive any frame rate drops. The game must run smooth all the time. Given the fact we simply could not fit all of the data needed for the huge scenes we use in the memory, we had to use the hard disk a lot, but do it in such a way that user does not see any loading. This was really a huge technical challenge, and we are quite proud about the result; the player is now able to explore big open areas in the Operation Flashpoint: Elite on Xbox.
Eurogamer: Why didn't you just do what Microsoft/Rare did and move it onto the 360 so that we can all enjoy the shiny shininess, high def widescreen resolution and get the ultimate, complete no-compromises version?
Paul Statham: Such a move would definitely have caused even more delays on a project which had already taken long enough.
Eurogamer: What did you have to sacrifice in order to squeeze the game onto Xbox? Is it as hard as before, or have you been forced to tone down the difficulty for the more mainstream audience?
Paul Statham: I think we can proudly say we did not sacrifice anything. Some slight adjustments were needed because of the different controller used by the Xbox as well as because of lower TV resolution compared to the PC peripherals, but overall the gameplay was not scaled down. And surprisingly, we really improved numerous areas in the game.
What we did to make the game more accessible for the mainstream audience was to broaden the difficulty scale. Instead of having two difficulty levels as in the original game, there are now four: Rookie, Regular, Veteran and Mercenary.
Eurogamer: Is there extra exclusive content in the Xbox version? Have you added in the expansion pack missions as well as the existing ones?
Paul Statham: Operation Flashpoint: Elite features our two award-winning campaigns: Cold War Crisis and Resistance, it also features a number of additional and exclusive missions in multiplayer and single-player modes.
Eurogamer: For those that never played the PC version, why should they be excited about its release on Xbox?
Paul Statham: Operation Flashpoint: Elite offers gamers an unprecedented level of realism and freedom of action, never before seen in a military shooter. The game features a huge amount of content, both single-player and multiplayer; unlike a number of other games it's neither multiplayer heavy nor single-player heavy.
Of course lots of missions and gameplay modes would be pointless if the gameplay mechanics and environments weren't up to much, however this is where we feel the game really comes into its own. Operation Flashpoint: Elite doesn't force the player into a narrow, linear path of tactics or combat unlike most other similar games, the missions are set on 100km square islands and the gamer really can go anywhere and do anything they want to achieve the mission objectives.
There are numerous weapons to use, numerous vehicles, and if you see it you can use it. If you think of a tactic you can probably try it, if it's a dumb tactic you'll probably end up with a bullet in your head but at least you have the freedom to try it!
Eurogamer: Let's talk about multiplayer in more detail. What modes are there, and how many players does it support?
Paul Statham: There's an extensive array of multiplayer missions spread over the numerous game types on offer: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, sector control, hold location and co-operative. The game boasts very strong and intelligent AI so gamers will find the co-operative missions both rewarding and challenging; there's little to compare with the experience of completing a mission with a group of friends using good tactics and communication. You can even make your own using the mission editor.
Different missions have different numbers of playable slots, anywhere from two players to 30 players. For players on a normal server the limit with an average connection is probably somewhere around 12-16, on a dedicated server with a very good connection we really don't know what the limit is - we've tested with 32 players on a 2Mbit up/down dedicated server and it was completely smooth and rock solid so we could definitely go higher.
Eurogamer: How have you coped with squeezing the controls onto an Xbox pad? What goes where?
Paul Statham: We followed well-established FPS control systems as used by existing Xbox games. We were also fortunate enough to receive extensive feedback from members of the Xbox gaming press which helped us to adapt the controls for both infantry and vehicles in a manner which we believe works very well on an Xbox controller - a number of reviewers have already mentioned how well the control system works so that's very pleasing to us.
Eurogamer: The ability to jump into any vehicle was massively ahead of its time, and to a lesser extent still is. Did you consider at any stage dumbing the game down to make the Xbox version more like a standard shooter? Have you added any more features that you'd like to talk about?
Paul Statham: We never considered dumbing down the game. We wanted to bring uncompromised realistic gameplay to console, and we have achieved that.
Eurogamer: AI is something that always really annoys us about military shooters. They're either super intelligent, super aware death machines or suicidal lemmings that charge towards you. What's different about OpFlash in that respect?
Paul Statham: AI in OpFlash is the result of seven years of development. It's extensively tested and proven to work. Not only do our individual soldiers have a very real perception of their environment, based on hearing and seeing, but we also integrated a realistic squad AI. This means AI squads will use military tactics like flanking to engage you.
The AI is bound to the same perceptive factors that give players awareness of the in-game environments. This means that, just like the player, the AI will act purely based on what they can actually see and hear. Additionally, just like players, the AI is able to share information with other soldiers in their squad. Enemy soldiers will work together to pinpoint your location, and engage you with (in their eyes), the most effective combination of weapons, vehicles, and tactics.
Operation Flashpoint is now available on Xbox from Codemasters. Check out our full review soon.