SOCOM II: US Navy SEALs
We chat to SCEA's Seth Luisi about the next big thing for PS2 Online.
PS2 Online and Xbox Live have been going head to head for sometime now in Europe, the USA and Japan, and the most successful online console game by far to date is Zipper Interactive's SOCOM: US Navy SEALs, one of the very first games to take the PlayStation 2 online. With the sequel already a best-seller in the USA and on track for a Q1 2004 release in Europe, we caught up with SCEA's Seth Luisi, producer on both SOCOM titles, to get the low-down on the 'console Counter-Strike'.
We were very pleased by the results. SOCOM has enjoyed an enormous amount of success in both North America and Europe. With over 13,000 simultaneous players during peak times and 50,000 to 60,000 players logging in everyday in North America it was the most played online console game for any console system, until SOCOM II was released in North America. SOCOM has also sold over 2.6 million copies worldwide and it continues to be a strong seller. SOCOM II, which was released in early November in North America, quickly smashed the online records set by SOCOM I. SOCOM II has 33,000 to 36,000 simultaneous players during peak time and 90,000 to over 100,000 unique players log in to play SOCOM II everyday. These are huge numbers and no other game for any console system even comes close.
We've managed to virtually eliminate cheating from SOCOM II. We are using a very powerful cheat detection system, which can be updated on the server side. We are also constantly monitoring and improving our cheat detection. When someone finds a new way to cheat in SOCOM II we shut it down. We cannot provide details on the anti-cheat system since we like to keep the cheaters guessing, but cheating in SOCOM II has been kept to a minimum and will not be an issue like it was in SOCOM I.
Cheating is not due to a problem in PS2 Online, it is due to the fact that there are many cheat devices for the PS2 while there is not a quality cheat device for the Xbox. I've actually seen many cheaters on Xbox Live that use exploits and hacked game saves to cheat. The cheat devices on the PS2 are more advanced in that they can directly change values in RAM. However, you can prevent people from using these devices to cheat online as we have shown with SOCOM II.
The single player campaign in SOCOM II has a lot more depth. The story is much more involved and we have worked very hard to up the production values. The end result is a much deeper and cinematic single player experience. Of course, we've done a lot to improve the gameplay as well.
We've done a lot to improve the AI in SOCOM II. We looked at what players' perception of the AI was and what our AI was actually doing. We found that the big problem was that our AI did not have enough animation and reactions to show all of the different states it was capable of. While an AI in SOCOM I had a "surprised" state, it didn't have an animation for the surprised state, so it just stood still and looked stupid while it was surprised. The AI in SOCOM II are much more expressive and it makes a world of difference. The AI programmer at Zipper was also able to really speed up the movements and reaction of the AI so they are much more deadly in SOCOM II.
We've also optimized the Voice Commands extensively. There are more voice commands, they are recognized at a higher rate and there are many more responses to the voice commands. SOCOM I was the first game to utilise voice commands in this way, we invented it. We learned a lot from the process and continue to improve the system.
In the Breach gameplay mode, the SEAL team has to infiltrate and destroy a compound that is occupied by the Terrorist team. The SEAL team has to use C4 to blow up barriers and gain access to the compound and then plant a satchel charge to destroy it. The Terrorist team has to defend the compound and prevent the SEALs from destroying it. It is a very dynamic new gameplay mode that is a lot of fun to play.
The new Escort gameplay mode is very popular, probably one of the most popular game modes in SOCOM II. The SEAL team starts with 3 VIPs that they have to bring to one of two extraction points. The Terrorist team must eliminate the VIPs and prevent them from being rescued. In order to prevent this game type from being way too favorable to the Terrorist team, the Escort levels are huge and offer the SEAL team many different routes and places to hide.
We have a lot of new weapons in SOCOM II, both bigger and better. We added in shotguns to improve the close range arsenal, including an automatic shotgun. RPG-7s and AT-4 LAWs (Light Armor Weapon) allow the players to use highly explosive rocket based weapons, though you are not able to run and gun these suckers. The Terrorist team gets a nasty antipersonnel mine which is pressure sensitive while the SEAL team is able to use M203 grenade launchers in some of the larger levels. We've also added turret emplacements to key areas of the levels, including both 50cal machine gun turrets and HE grenade launching turrets. We've also added new machine guns, carbines, sub-machine guns and pistols. We've expanded the SOCOM arsenal by about 20 new weapons in total.
Of course, we also have airstrikes that players can call in with devastating effects. This is a new weapon which requires more than one person on the team to coordinate in order for it to be useful. The person calling the airstrike can't see the area where it will hit so they need a spotter on their team to tell them when the enemy is in the target zone using the USB Headset. If you work together, it can be very effective.
I think our favorite new weapons are the RPG-7 and AT-4. It is just so gratifying to shoot a well placed rocket and see the enemy fly up into the air. Also, the RPG-7 and AT-4 have an arming range, so if you shoot an enemy that is close to you the impact may still kill them but the rocket will bounce off and not explode. Of course the down side is that you cannot move while you have these weapons equipped, so you are a sitting duck.
You have to remember that while SOCOM I was just being released in Europe at that time it had been out since August of the previous year North America.
I think we put the pressure on ourselves. After we finished SOCOM I we were really excited by what we had accomplished but we also had so much more that we wanted to do. We were able to immediately start on SOCOM II right after the first one since we all knew exactly what we wanted to see in the sequel. We also wanted to make sure that the SOCOM series was the premier online console game series for some time to come. We didn't want our competition to catch up! I don't think any online console games will be matching the online features and depth of gameplay available in SOCOM II for some time to come.
Unfortunately, we cannot talk about future projects at this time. I can tell you that we are very busy!
Honestly, as a game player and a game developer I do not care that much for Xbox Live. While a unified system login system with shared friends lists has its advantages, the fact that all Xbox Live games have the same online features and that they are generally poorly implemented in every game is very disappointing. SOCOM and SOCOM II has a lot more features, it is easier to find and join games and much easier to communicate with other players. We would not be able to have all of the online lobby features in SOCOM and SOCOM II that we have now if it was developed for the Xbox since Xbox live does not support them.
Also, the fact that very few Xbox Live games offer server hosted games is extremely annoying to me as a game player. I'm tired of getting booted by the host just because I'm a better player than he is. It is also frustrating when you finally manage to use their matching system to find a decent game (which takes so long since most of the games listed you cannot join...) and then two rounds later the host leaves and the game is disbanded. These are problems that just do not exist in SOCOM or SOCOM II but they are issues with every Xbox Live game. I think Microsoft still has a lot to learn...
I can't really talk about why the Resident Evil Outbreak team is having problems, only they can explain that. I can say that we did not have many problems localising SOCOM or SOCOM II for Europe. We had to do some extra work to support PAL and to allow people to send and receive messages in different languages online but none of these were that major of a technical challenge. We do not support dial up modems for SOCOM or SOCOM II anywhere in the world so luckily that was not an issue. Supporting Japanese and Korean was much more difficult as we had to create an input method editor for both Kanji and Hangul so that players could send text messages in their native languages. That was a challenge, but we managed it.
It's too difficult to name just one feature. SOCOM II has been improved in so many ways from SOCOM I that I could list hundreds of reasons why it is better. SOCOM II offers a lot more features, more gameplay, more weapons, more levels, better graphics, more animation; we improved every aspect of it.
So. Coming soon.
SOCOM II: US Navy SEALs is due out in Q1 2004 exclusively on PlayStation 2.