We've had a glut of solid, modern era shooters over the last seven to ten months including great games like Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield:Bad Company 2. Another game that seems to be sneaking up on people is Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead. After seeing the first footage
of the game last month we were lucky enough to score the following interview.
Please introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project? What kinds of things do you do on a daily basis? How did you get into the game industry?
My name is Ivan Buchta and I am lead designer of Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead. I work mainly on the high-level design of the game content, setting and the related art assets.
Before I started working for Bohemia, I did some community projects for Bohemia Interactive's Operation Flashpoint. One of my projects grabbed Marek Spanel's attention and he offered me the chance to turn my hobby into a job.
What's the history of Bohemia? What would you say your area of specialty is?
I can't speak much about the early history of the company, as I saw it only from the fan's perspective for quite a long time. Four years ago, I started working in Bohemia Interactive and took part in the development of its recent titles: Armed Assault (released in 2006), followed by additional content for the game, then Arma 2 (released in 2009).
Bohemia Interactive was established in 1999 and its debut PC game released as Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis in 2001, earned it a worldwide reputation for delivering quality game experiences in the area of realistic military games on the PC, later followed by serious games for military training based on the same in-house technology.
How does this game tie into Arma 2? Will people be able to play it if they haven't played the original game? Why did you decide to make it a stand-alone package rather than just DLC?
Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead takes the player to another part of our fictional gaming universe of Arma, that we interally call "Armaversum", a few years after the events of Arma 2. The story has no direct ties to Arma 2, the new players won't need to know the original game.
Arrowhead provides enough content to work as a stand-alone title: campaign, missions, several new armies and environments, and it's definitely more polished compared to Arma 2 upon its initial release. The playable content has been designed with focus on accessibility and we put much more effort into proper tutorials (there are plenty of those now to explain various aspects of the game).
Naturally, after 11 months of intense development, we don't want to limit the potential audience only to those who own Arma 2, as that would only waste Arrowhead's potential. On the other hand, we designed in a way that it still seamless integrates with the original Arma 2 and in fact it upgrades with loads of new features and additions, so owning both games is a user’s best option and it won’t matter in which order the games are played.
What lessons did you learn from the development of Arma 2 that you applied to the development of the expansion pack? What community feedback did you incorporate into Operation Arrowhead?
We mainly learned to focus more on "selling" the unique gameplay and features in the campaign and scenarios, avoiding weak points of Arma 2, and of course, to deliver less features, but polish them as much as possible. Of course, the experience from development of Arma 2 led to many adjustments in the production pipelines and design of Arrowhead.
Our community is always years ahead when it comes to ideas. Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead contains many features community requested after release of Arma 1 and 2.In your mind what are the key elements in a modern FPS game? What do you think has been the biggest change in the genre over the last decade? Do you think there are any major revolutions left in the genre or are developers just going to continue to refine the gameplay?
Personally, I like FPS games which don't just test the shooting abilities, but are open enough to allow different styles of playing or completing the game.
I would say that the last decade brought a huge diversification in the growth of the audience and its diverse demands. In fact, the FPS genre has turned into many sub-genres focused on delivering more complexity, openess or cinematic experience, all of this due to the increase of technological possibilities game developers have these days.
I'm certain there will always be the titles which will put the technological potential to a new use and define new trends, followed and refined by others for some time.
There's a wide spectrum of FPS games ranging from ultra realistic on one end to arcade-like on the other, where does Arma sit on that spectrum? How do you to balance realism and accessibility?
I'd say that our position on the spectrum is quite obvious, we try to make our games realistic enough to make real tactics work. We are aware that the first experience with our game may be quite tedious, but we try to give player the message: "If it's realistic, behave as if in real combat to survive." Arma 2 just plays different, which may be hard to get used to, but that's only way we can let the player experience the unique gameplay our game offers.
We've had a glut of modern FPS games lately, what separates Arma 2 from games like Modern Warfare and Battlefield:Bad Company 2? Are there things that you like about those games that you incorporated into Operation Arrowhead or not?
I can think of many things, but there's one outstanding aspect: the "modability". Compared to FPS games focused on the cinematic singleplayer experience and strictly competitive multiplayer, our system allows our community to take part in the creative process and use the vast possibilities to create any additional content they wish for. This adds a whole new dimension of fun that you can have with a game: after finishing the campaign and scenarios and spending a few weeks with our multiplayer scenarios, players can experiment with the simple mission editor, scenario templates or just download new community content on a daily basis.
I really liked the polished and cinematic feel of the games you mentioned, and had some fun with them, but we didn’t try to create a competing product, but rather provide an alternative to those titles. If I can speak for myself, spending a few hours with Modern Warfare 2 was really fine, but I missed the freedom I have with Arma 2.
Could you talk about how you design your single player missions?
It's definitely a bit more complex then it may seem. In order to cope with the open nature of our game and ensure player's freedom of action, we always try to create a self-sustainable scenario, where players can influence the outcome, but his actions are not necessary for the events to proceed. There are two features which help us achieve this: the semi-autonomous AI and the finite state machines (FSMs), which are algorithmic structures we use to script many things from behavior of groups to general flow of a scenario.
What's your take on the current state of PC gaming? Has there ever any thought of bringing the series to the consoles?
Perhaps the future of PC gaming is at least partly in the games like ours: largely modifiable, more complex titles which enable PC users to employ their creativity and possibilities they can't find on consoles. However, the PC gaming focuses a lot on the MMO games.
Of course, the console market is interesting and we are still interested in bringing our games to that market one day. On the other hand, consoles are restrictive and in some aspects are not suitable for our games, which are much more than games, they are more of a toolbox with vast amount of options for users to customize and find their own way to use and enjoy. I assume the recent PC Gamer's Game of the Year award naming Arma 2 the "Most PC Game" of the year tells it all...Can you talk about the new multiplayer modes in Operation Arrowhead? Do you have a personal favorite?
We focus mostly on cooperative gameplay, although we don't neglect the PvP game modes. Our AI is truly formidable opponent, which makes the cooperative gameplay really fun. It works well also in our Warfare scenarios, where players fight for the territorial domination over the huge part of terrain. The possibilities are endless: we have classical deathmatch scenarios, multiplayer with vehicles, and we experiment with group command and control and asymmetric PvP scenarios.
I mostly prefer a well-coordinated cooperative gameplay in realistic settings, but when it comes to player vs. player game, count me in for a Sector Control session or give me some tanks to command in a Warfare battle. :)
How hard was it to incorporate UAV's into your core gameplay? What kind of new design decisions do they add to the game?
The real task was to make the system robust and ensure it can be well controlled. When we used it in particular scenarios, we only had to add the possibility to use UAVs and ensure the player would see events which make sense.
Another interesting feature is the addition of detachable backpacks that store equipment, can you give us some examples of what this equipment is? How did you decide to add these to the game?
Every soldier can carry some magazines, additional weapons or grenades. Backpacks just enhance the space for ammunition and equipment, allowing soldiers to carry anything from more ammo for a buddy machinegunner to a grenade launcher, some explosives or a spare guided missile. We expanded the capabilities by allowing soldiers to carry the static weapons: if you disassemble a heavy machinegun on a tripod, you end up with backpacks containing the weapon and its support, which you can carry and reposition as needed. Another interesting way to use the backpack is to carry the entire UAV terminal.
The idea for adding this feature was pretty straightforward. In real life, soldiers do carry backpacks in order to enhance their carrying capacity, and we always thought it would be nice to have this feature. There were many community attempts and suggestions which mentioned the backpacks, and we thought such an improvement may add some new interesting possibilities.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
I would like to thank the incredible community surrounding Bohemia Interactive's games for nearly 10 years now. This community was always a main source of passion and also inspiration for our development.