The Xbox Community Network recently caught up with Tim Browne, who is the senior game designer on Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising which is due on store shelves in a matter of days. Check out the interview below, it’s definitely worth a read!
Codemasters’ EGO engine has so far only been used for racing games. What were the challenges you’ve faced building an open-world shooter with it?
The EGO engine is incredibly versatile. Until now the only games that have been released on it have been racing games, but the engine has been worked on for the entirety of the Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising project. This has allowed us to utilize its power fully. The same technology that gives players action-packed fast-paced racing in DiRT2 is being used to give us vast open landscapes, over 30km draw distances and the most realistic first person tactical shooter that has ever been released on a console.
What was the toughest part of development? Was there anything that really surprised you?
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising was a very ambitious project. Not only did we set out to create the most realistic and authentic tactical shooter for consoles, but we also developed it for the PC. This was often very tough. Where on the PC you have the luxury of a hundred and two keys and a mouse to control the character or vehicle, on the console you’re limited to four face buttons, four shoulder buttons, a D-Pad and two analogue sticks, so there was hours of discussion over how to get the console controls feeling just right.
Operation Flashpoint is in a crowded genre, but seems to have a lot going for it that’s really different to the rest of the pack. How hard was it to make the game stand out? Are you worried about alienating the ‘pick up and play’ audience by making the game too realistic?
I think one of the key things that makes our game stand out from the rest is that it doesn’t treat the audience like a mindless “must kill and destroy everything” zombie. Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a thinking man’s shooter, if you will, far more tactical than most other shooters in the market. I don’t think this will alienate people who prefer the pick up and play game; I think our game is ready for them when they want a greater challenge.
Speaking of realism, tell us a bit about the ballistic physics. Will we see wall penetration? Are the weapon ranges realistically accurate? What about shrapnel and ricochets? Is there any kind of aim-assist?
The ballistics have been realistically modelled where possible. You’ll see bullet drop over distance, bullets will penetrate different surfaces and will lose a certain amount of power when doing so (we don’t just model the penetration). We do have ricochets in the game and we have a sort of aim-assist on the easier game modes. This just slows down the crosshairs when you move over an enemy to allow for a more accurate shot. This is particularly useful when you engage enemies that are over 300 meters away.
What about camouflage? Do light levels, bushes and grass, speed of movement and the clothes your wearing make a difference? How easy is it for the AI to spot you?
We kept the AI’s perception as authentic and realistic as possible. For instance, if you’re walking along a ridge-line you’re far more likely to get spotted than when walking lower than the ridge-line. Your stance can have a big impact on how likely it is you’ll get spotted. Also, all AI units have a line of sight; they don’t magically know where you are, so one of the key things in the game is that if you manage to conceal yourself after being spotted the enemy will have to hunt you down or go off to get reinforcements.
The enormous open-world map sounds incredible! How free will the player be to explore, and is the entire map available straight away?
The whole island is available and streams into memory, so it’s not something that “unlocks” as you play. The player is pushed further into it by the progress of the campaign. Your mission objectives will typically not wait for you, much the same as in real life, so the focus will normally be on the mission in hand. Typical missions will see you traversing a large area of the map.
We know it takes 9 hours real time to cross Skira on foot, but how long will the campaign take roughly, if we do every mission?
Most missions take, on average, around 40 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes to complete. There is 11 campaign missions in total, and those times don’t take into account the addition secondary objectives or the bonus hidden objectives that the player will be able to complete. Also, we expect players to take much longer when playing on the Hardcore difficulty mode.
Tell us a bit about the weather and day/night systems. Why was the rain removed? We heard as well that you’ve got some very impressive fire and dust effects!
We have five different weather states which are: Clear, Cloudy, Foggy, Overcast and Stormy. Each of these has a full 24 hour day/night cycle, done in such a way that they blend seamlessly as the game ticks over. We run the time clock at x3 speed, so that in a typical mission with a 1 hour playtime, the player will see 3 hours pass, the idea being they experience more of the stunning lighting.
With regard to why the rain was removed, we have very high standards when it comes to visuals and if we have to cut certain features to ensure the wider games’ quality then we are prepared to do it. We spent a fair amount of R&D time on the rain; however, it came down to us not having enough time and resources to do it justice. It also allowed us to pay full attention to the day/night cycle and the five weather states, which means we now have the stunning looking visuals you see in the videos and the game today.
We’re having a bit of trouble getting our heads around the game’s open structure. Could you take us through a brief sample mission (or objective if that’s too long), giving a couple of different tactics/solutions?
Say for instance there is an enemy emplacement on top of a hill and the objective is to storm the area and defend it. The player has many choices and has to sometimes think several steps ahead. They can attack and assault the emplacement from 360 degrees; they can choose to do a full-frontal assault (though that is likely going to end very quickly for the player); or they could storm up through a nearby forest, using smoke grenades to mask their approach. Another tactic would be to use artillery or air strikes to help them take over the emplacement, but then if they then need to hold this position they may then find themselves in a very tight spot. For example, using an air strike to clear the hill top of enemies will make the taking of the emplacement very easy, however, if while they’re hold that position an enemy tank comes to try and take it back (and the player doesn’t have any anti-tank weaponry at their disposal) they’re going to wish they’d kept that air strike. Players can replay a mission and choose to play it in a completely different way, and this is where Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising has far more replay value than some of the other more run-of-the-mill shooters that are in the market.
What’s the story with the level editor, how come it won’t be included in the console version? Is it something that could be added through DLC at a later date, and would you consider that?
We chose to not create a mission editor for the console version of the game a long time ago. Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a very ambitious project and creating a mission editor for the consoles would have created many difficulties during the development process. That said, we haven’t ruled out a mission editor for consoles for future projects and we’re aware that its one of the main things console gamers would like to see in a future title.
What’s the save system in Operation Flashpoint? Can you save where you want to or is it checkpoints or something else?
We use a checkpoint system. The difficulty you choose at the start of the campaign impacts on how frequently you’ll come across checkpoints.
What about a demo, is that something we can expect? If so, when?
There is currently no demo planned for the console version.
And finally, what about the future? Could there be DLC? Will there be DLC?
Hypothetically, what kind of content would you be interested in doing – just weapons and missions or potentially a new island with a new campaign? There is DLC planned and it won’t just be additional weapons and missions. We have additional game modes for the multiplayer planned also. I can’t say any more on other DLC plans as they’re not final, but we do want to support the community with lots of new content and we have some very cool ideas of how we’re going to achieve this.