A game that not only promotes the idea of co-operative play, but practically lives and dies by this mantra? Army of Two could well be the first game to implement this in a game that is looking more impressive as time goes on.
As you've no doubt gathered already, when EA invited SPOnG to speak to the lead designer, Chris Ferriera, about his brainchild, we went along. One thing's for certain, Chris is passionate about the game. Read on to find out just how passionate.
SPOnG: Thank you for joining us here. First of all, could you introduce yourself for our readers and tell us what inspired you to get involved in the games industry?
Chris Ferriera: My name is Chris Ferriera, I'm the lead designer on Army of Two by EA Montreal. I've been doing games for almost 10 years now, and at first I didn't think I could get into this industry when I did - I thought it was a Japanese-only thing. My whole life I've played games, whether it was Warhammer or pencil and paper RPGs, but the thing is... I never played them so much as I 'ran' them. I always wanted to run the game, tell the story and tell people where to go... and you know I was game designing [as a kid], and changing rules that didn't work and all that stuff, not realising that what I was doing could be a part of my future. I enjoyed doing it - my first title was Batman Vengeance and working on systems stuff. I love designing systems and rules and finding loopholes and all that.
SPOnG: How long have you been working for EA now then?
Chris Ferriera: I've been working at EA for the past five years; I did all the Lord of the Rings movie-based games, then The Godfather, and now I'm doing Army of Two.
SPOnG: You've mentioned that the story behind Army of Two is all about PMC's (private military contractors) and the many political messages from within and the dangers of what happens to mercenaries. Would you say that's a message that's appropriate in today's society and do you guys want to address this in story scenes or during mission objectives?
Chris Ferriera: Well, the thing is, it's a 'real world' game with current 'real world' locations today. Our characters are more hyper-realistic with all the armour and masks but a typical PMC is like, the guy with the beard, sunglasses, baseball cap, a jersey and a bulletproof camouflage vest over it. You can find pictures of them on the internet - it's actually pretty crazy. As far as the political stuff goes, it's something I can read in the paper or watch it on the news... it's no different than that. It's actually what's really happening and we're just putting it to the forefront so you can experience it.
Our levels, story... everything we do comes back to that nature of 'this is what a Privatised Military is, and this is why it's wrong and what can happen'. To show you some examples of this as you go through the story, later on our guys actually become patsies for the desires of the head of a corporation. The two characters work for the Security and Strategy Corporation, which is an emulation of real world contractors who do different things for various clients. And these guys can be pretty rough, you know one minute they can say, "Hey, we need you to protect this guy's wife, she's a real high-up political person", and then a week later: "We need you to kill her" - basically because another client has paid more money to take her out instead.
We play with that in the story line, and we try and hit on the moral issues that the two main characters have to deal with as they go through their day just to earn a dollar, and how that can screw them over in the end.
SPOnG: So it's more of a battle between morality and the highest bidder then?
Chris Ferriera: It is in the story sense. I mean the player pretty much goes through the motions and will find out things as they occur and towards the end of the story things change dramatically. But yeah, you're actually making moral decisions as you go through and are forced upon these characters, and with each of the personalities of the characters and the customisations of the masks and whatnot, you feel somewhat more attached to them too.
SPOnG: How did you go about your research for the game? You've mentioned a guy called Woody in before, who I assume gave you lots of interesting advice. What kind of information did you learn?
Chris Ferriera: Woody was... I think he was SEAL Team 6 or 8 in the States. He did a lot of special ops stuff and then he went into the world of private military contracting. He did a lot of training and a lot of work on the ground so he has all these stories to tell and we constantly asked him about stuff he's done.
One story he told us which was really cool was that he had gotten into the middle of a gunfight, I think somewhere in Afghanistan. He was fighting these guys and flips on his night vision goggles - sometimes you can actually see something beyond night vision depending on what spectrum it is - and he saw these lasers. These happened to be lasers that only the US military use, and he didn't know that he was in a gunfight with people that he was supposed to be on the same side as, and he had to try and end it. Just things like that make you go, 'Wow, that is something else', and gave us real inspiration for ideas to put in the game.
We asked him, "What is the one thing you always carry with you?", and he said "Tampons". I said "You gotta be taking the piss, right?", and he tells me "No no, I carry them in because... what's the best thing to stop bleeding? If you get a bullet wound, you put a tampon in and stick a bandage on in front of it... and if you're going back to base to have surgery it'll pretty much keep you alive". So that's something we applied when dealing with casualties too - we wanted to keep it as true to life as we could.
SPOnG: Army of Two also has a comical side to it, what was the reason for including that?
Chris Ferriera: Well, our story is pretty grim, right? It ties in with all this realistic stuff and if you look at it... reading the news about this sort of thing is kind of depressing really. We wanted to have this grim reality to the game to highlight the issues the story raises but we sort of offset that with the comedy of the two characters. It's sort of like any buddy cop movie like Bad Boys you know - two cops going out and fighting their way against this evil power, no matter what that is, be it another cop or whatever. And I mean Lethal Weapon as well, one was about racism and another was about this drug kingpin. So you have this pretty dire situation in all these stories and the two characters will have their jokes and comedy benders in between and it all gives you a closer relationship as the audience with these characters. That's something we wanted to bring out in Army of Two.
SPOnG: You mentioned customisable weapons in the game and how they might represent the player when they're online. Could you explain a little bit more about that?
Chris Ferriera: Yeah, we have 30 customisable weapons, with multiple upgrades for each of them. Each weapon has a base to it, which will give you a different kind of play style to another gun or even the upgrades that you attach to the same gun. So a pistol will be handled differently to a shotgun or a submachine gun but on the same note different guns will affect things like damage, accuracy and your ability to swing aggro in your direction. So you would generate a lot of attention using a larger weapon but it also depends on the environment and the map as well.
SPOnG: Finally, what's the most enjoyable thing you've found about working on Army of Two and what kind of challenges arose?
Chris Ferriera: I feel we're defining a new genre with a co-op only game, it just happened to be a shooter as well really. I think the most important thing is that people play it and really play well with their chosen partners to succeed - that's a dynamic that doesn't occur in other games. You're really playing this co-operatively and working together, whatever the challenge may be. And it's something we have to teach the players so that they don't go gung-ho and run around wanting to kill everything - that's not going to work. You really have to work with your partner and communicate with one another. I think that's the coolest thing we have right now.
As for challenges, stuff that we're still doing relies on the networking side and making sure everything is perfectly linked across a network. On the design side, it's been mainly to tell the player that it's not the game that killed you, it's your actions. So if you're a running gun, it's your actions that are getting you killed. It's not like the game is giving you cheap shots or anything, it's because you drew the attention to yourself. If you don't play with your partner, you're going to get knocked down. So we've really been working hard on the communication to teach players that.