WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
Alex Hutchinson, and I'm the creative director on Army of Two: 40th Day.
WP: How long has Army of Two: 40th Day been in development, and how big is the development team?
AH: We've been in development now for almost a year, and at the moment, it's not a huge development team by modern standards, but we're about 80-85 people, which is cool because when you get really big teams, I think one thing that you lose is your personality and the ability of the team to actually be members of a team. You become the guy who punches the nuts on Wall C. Those 300-person teams, I've been on a few of those teams, but my last game was Spore for PC, and we were also a little team of 80 people. I find that there's just much more of a sense of community and focus, and you're able to get people to agree on the game that you're making, as opposed to, "I don't know, man. I just make the walls! You put the walls wherever you want."
WP: It's been a little over a year since the original Army of Two came out. Does 40th Day use the same engine as the original game, or has it been updated?
AH: It's the same core. One thing that we really wanted to focus on with this game was content. We wanted to worry about the game. We didn't want to worry about all of the problems that the first title in a few franchise has, like how much can we render? How many guys can we have on-screen? How long can a load be? All these horrible questions, which suck up a lot of your development time on the first version of anything, we didn't want to tackle again. It's the same core engine, but there have been a lot of focused enhancements. There's a new lighting system, so the lighting's a big step up. There's been a lot of work done to the animation system — secondary motion on all of the characters, there's a lot of cloth now. So there are a lot of bits and pieces like that, but no radical changes.
WP: What have you learned from developing the original, and what worked and didn't work?
AH: I didn't work on the first one because I was working on Spore, but I came in, and I think the team has been really good at being honest and critical about what worked and didn't work on the first game. The new title is in an exciting place because people knew going in what they didn't like and what they could improve on. I think everyone felt that the tone could be improved. The original aim for the first game was to hit that Contra vibe from all the arcade games, and to cross that with the buddy cop movie style. Humor, especially humor from the mouths of the avatars in games, is a really difficult problem, so if it's not a great line and the character you're playing says something, it's a great way to make people distance themselves from their avatar. It's a really big challenge, and I think the interesting thing is that it really resonated in the U.S., but the tone struggled in Europe. We knew we wanted to tone it down a little bit — not lose the humor but lose the type of humor — and we always use the example that it should be a line from "Die Hard," not a Steven Seagal film. (laughs)
In terms of other stuff, I think everyone knew that aggro was a bit hit. Focusing on co-op, not making it called "mode" or an addendum that's co-op was a big hit, and it being really focused on one other player — not eight players or 16 players or 32 players — so extending those features, I think was really cool.
WP: Can you tell us a little bit about the backstory of the new game?
AH: The idea is to put you in the midst of a disaster so that the world itself is unpredictable and in collapse, and the only person you can rely on is your buddy. This is the one, this is the rock. When everything else is exploding and collapsing, your buddy is always there. What is actually happening is the core mystery of the game. Who are these people? What is this so-called 40th Day initiative that's happening in Shanghai? Who's running it? What does it mean? What are they trying to prove? They're clearly not invading in a traditional military sense, so there's another thing going on there, and we wanted to position that as an optional story element, so players who are interested in it can find all these pick-ups and explore that and get into it. Players who want to just go through the story and shoot and have fun don't have to worry about the backstory.
WP: How does 40th Day tie in from the end of the first Army of Two game?
AH: The end of the first game, if you remember, was the two guys deciding to go into business for themselves. Their business is in Shanghai, China. They start the game with their business, and then everything spills out of that.
WP: Is the game completely set in Shanghai, or after the initial encounter, are you going to different places on the globe?
AH: It's all in Shanghai. The great thing about Shanghai is that there's a lot of diversity, so it doesn't mean it's all going to be a street. It was important to us to give you a sense of being in a real place and fully exploring a space, as opposed to globe-trotting or hopping about. I also think that we're focusing in the game on locations that you really shouldn't be firing high-caliber automatic weapons in. We didn't want any docks, warehouse levels, or strange scientist labs. There will be places like office buildings, malls, streets — the sorts of places with a lot of people.
WP: One of the interesting features in Army of Two was the amount of weapons, the customization and upgrades. There were already a lot in the first one, so what are you doing to step it up in 40th Day?
AH: It's going to be a lot more. It's not something that we can show, so we're not talking about it much, but it's going to be more elaborate than the first one. I think it's going to be something that people really like. It's going to be connected to the whole scenario so imagine a game where you're scavenging for weapons. We don't want new weapons because the art direction in the game is always about dirty, used and broken, so the weapons are going to feed into that as well. You'll try to scavenge together parts from other weapons, and saving hostages will reward you with parts of weapons, all that sort of stuff.
WP: Are there going to be weapons that you haven't seen in the first one?
AH: Very much so. Most of the weapons will be new. There are a few old faithfuls.
WP: The characters are mercenaries, and as you mentioned earlier, their language is very crude. The first game was known for having a lot of f-bombs. Are you continuing that trend?
AH: We're going to tone it down a little bit. We feel that we've got the potential to make a great game, and we don't want people talking about that. It's not interesting to just say, "Oh it's that swearing game." They're not suddenly going to be come prudes, but there are going to be fewer f-bombs, much to some people's chagrin.
WP: The original was a PS3 and X360 game, and with 40th Day, you're adding the PSP. Is it going to be its own game or a port?
AH: It's going to be in the universe of the main game. It's absolutely not going to be a port. I mean, it's not really even possible, going to the PSP. We want to let that game focus on the strengths of the platform, so it'll be more arcade-y in nature, and it'll be a different experience but in the same sort of world. We're still figuring out a lot of details.
WP: Why the PSP and not the PC or NDS?
AH: It just seems like a natural fit for the specific game as it is and the audience. It's an M-rated game and it's an action game, and that just seems to be a better fit for the PSP.
WP: Shooters are fairly linear in a way, and while Army of Two has side missions that you can accept — blow this up, get information about that — it's still a straightforward shooter. Have you changed anything about that? Have you opened the world?
AH: I think we've opened the world technically. The problem with high-end development these days is that it's just so expensive to build physical space. That's your biggest expense by far, the actual level creation itself. When you get into divergent physical geometry, you're basically shortening your game because the only way you can do it is to take it out of the length of the game. We wanted to deliver a high-quality experience, so we didn't want to get into that, but we did want to give people choice within the space. It's more about trying to create environments where I could flank one way, my partner could flank the other way, or we could both stay up and snipe, or I could go down and box them in while the other guy snipes. There are styles and ways to play the game, and there are going to be situations, like some of the hostage stuff, where you need to make choices on whether you want to try and do something or not, so we'll get branching on that, but we won't get branching on the physical space.
WP: You mentioned the hostages, so civilians are a new feature. How do they affect the game?
AH: There are some big features there, but we're not talking about it right now because we don't have it in the demo to show. I think that the function of the civilians is two-fold. One is as a story piece that you need to decide what you want to do about. Do you even care if the civilians are there? The first game was criticized because the guys were mercenaries. Now the question is for you as a player, who are you? Are you going to go the extra yard? It's much harder, and you have to use more advanced mechanics because you can't just run and gun and save the hostages. If you just open fire, the bad guys are going to execute the civilians. Do you care? Do you want to play through that? It's a question that we sort of throw back at the player.
WP: Can you tell us a little bit about post-launch support? DLCs are all the rage these days to not only extend the life of the game but to also add revenue, which is always welcome. Are there any plans for DLCs on any of the platforms?
AH: We're still talking about it. At the moment, we're just so focused on making the core game. Obviously we have to tackle it because everyone's doing it and it's hip, but what does it mean? You've got all kinds of different flavors of that. For instance, just recently, GTA put out extra core content, which was very well received, and you've got Fable, which put out extra core content and was very poorly received. You've got Tomb Raider, which put out extra core content, which was middlingly received, and that's not cheap. The levels are expensive, and it adds up. If some of them are going to get panned, then you have to look at the sales and see what's going on. We haven't made any decisions yet.
WP: In the same vein, are you planning on releasing a demo on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network?
AH: That's a really interesting question because again, we haven't decided yet 100 percent. We have to talk to marketing and all those guys and ask them to do what they do, but … I shouldn't talk about that one. (laughs)
WP: The reason we ask is that with Stormrise, the developer Creative Assembly had a demo ready, but Sega wouldn't release it.
AH: There have been some studies that show that demos can actually lower sales. They show that there's a certain amount of excitement about not having touched it yet or not having experienced it at all yet that gets bled out when people play the demo. I think some people are a little worried about that. It's also a big development effort. I don't know about Stormrise because if they already have it, then that's great, but usually packaging up a demo and going through Sony and Microsoft is actually quite a big effort. As soon as the game is out, the demo is irrelevant, so do we want to put that effort into a demo? Do we actually want to put it in the game? That's what I care about. At the end of the day, people only care about the quality of the game, so let's put all of our eggs there.
WP: Army of Two featured the ability to switch weapons, heal your buddy, and do the back-to-back bullet-time thing. What new co-op moves have been implemented in the sequel?
AH: There are a couple of them. There's the mock surrender and the hostage grab, which allows people to flank and lets you tie up enemies. The co-op snipe is still there. The back-to-back will come back in a new form, which is kind of fun. You can always heal and drag your partner — that's always in there. Because we're obviously doing a lot in broken and busted-up environments, if you walk off a ledge, you'll automatically grab, but you can't hold on forever so your partner has to come and save you and pull you back up. There's a bunch of things like that. We're still playing a few more, trying to figure out the right balance between enough interesting stuff for people to do and just so many small mechanics that people don't actually use any of them.
WP: Another thing that you showed was that the GPS, which has changed. What can you tell us about it, and why did you decide to change it?
AH: We're calling it the co-op playbook, which is kind of the code for it. We wanted to make it more of an in-game tool, so it's kind of more of a projected object that you can query the environment. You can project this texture and then look around the world. We wanted to add the ability to tag information and characters so that the other player can see it. For instance, if I'm on one side of a wall and have no weapons and I tag a guy for you, then I can see into the wall and shoot him through the wall. We wanted to add more in-game excuse for why the line's showing you what your objective was, so it's connected to the GPS satellite and navigation stuff. You'll have to look around for it, but you'll see that. It's also generally an information tool. Our art director asked us, "I'm not an advanced player. How will I know to do all of these cool moves?" So we build it into the GPS, so if you target and enemy and query the GPS, it'll give you a list of the things that you can do or at least get some information.
WP: Can you tell us a little bit about multiplayer?
AH: We can't talk about multiplayer at the moment, except to say that it's going to be a much bigger and more elaborate affair than the last one.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
AH: I think we hit on all the big stuff. It's still a co-op-focused game. There's no other way to play it; that's just what it's about. It's either you with your friend or you with an AI partner. We're trying to nail this new disaster scenario to make it feel fresh. It shouldn't be a world environment that you've explored before. We're just trying to bring the quality up to an A+ and make it a franchise that people really care about.
Army of Two: The 40th Day will be available for the Xbox 360, PS3 and the PSP this winter.
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