Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
31st Jul 2007 | 16:10
At first glance Mercenaries 2 reminded us of a lot of other games; Just Cause, Crackdown or even (surprise, surprise) Mercs 1. But once we jumped into the carnage on Xbox Live, we discovered it's taken the best elements of the above to create possibly the next great free-roaming co-op game.
The Venezuelan environment is a proper (cough, cough) playground of destruction, with choppers, tanks, petrol tankers and more at hand to send entire skyscrapers shaking to the ground, and you can do it all with a buddy in full-on drop-in co-op. Crackdown; watch out.
We caught up with senior producer at Pandemic, Jonathan Zamkoff, who was happy to field our questions.
How important is co-op to Mercenaries 2?
Zamkoff: Critical. It's one of the features that's just untouchable in the game. We have to make it work, it has to be great and we have to make it balanced, so that another player can hop in and out and it feels like the difficulty is adjusted.
How unique are the three characters in the game?
Zamkoff: Mechanically they're very similar, because we didn't want to unbalance the game for a fictional standpoint. It's really a lot about what their humour is and how it plays out with Chris being a little serious, Mattias being a smart ass and Jen using her female charms. It's a lot more story-based.
We're toying around with the idea of playing in character and rewarding that. Like Mattias getting an award for big explosions, Jen getting an award for headshots and Chris getting an award for no civilian deaths.
But we haven't implemented the feature yet, it's something that if we don't feel like we can get right, we don't want to tack it on. We have so many features in the game that the idea of doing something half-assed or getting it in just to have another bullet point on a box isn't worth it.
There are rumours of a fourth character...
Zamkoff: All lies! We were toying with the idea of a fourth character but we felt that instead of spreading ourselves too thin, we wanted to take the three characters we had and make them really developed. It's something we felt we could've executed better in Mercs 1; depth of the characters - especially the main badguy.
So we've dedicated a lot of energy to making sure each character has a distinct voice and feels different to play. That's kind of why we abandoned the idea of a fourth character.
In addition to the co-op, are there any plans for a more traditional multiplayer mode?
Zamkoff: We talked and we bantered about it and if possible we'll add those on, but again we don't want to do tacked-on features and we don't feel that deathmatch really gets to the heart of the game as much as co-op multiplayer.
At the moment it's just co-op online and that's as much from a design standpoint as it is from a tech standpoint. We really feel like that's what sells the fantasy and because Mercs is such an open-ended game we want you working with your friends, to come up with a thousand new things we didn't even think of at the beginning.
How on earth has Pi Studios managed to shoehorn the game onto PS2?
Zamkoff: That's kind of part of it; we didn't ask them to shoehorn it. What we did was give them the Mercs 1 tech and so they were developing content from day one. The idea was that they needed to keep with the high-level fiction, have the main bad guy and contracts, but all the side-quests we've given them complete creative liberty to do whatever they want.
We don't want to feel that the PS2 version is just a dumbed-down version of the next-gen game, we want to feel that it's a compelling game on its own. These guys have done levels for the Call of Duty games and they did the Halo 2 Vista port. They're their own full-on development team and they've been given a lot of creative freedom by us to make a great game, not just Mercs 2 built in a box.
We own the IP at Pandemic. We're partnered with EA right now, they're helping distribute it and we're working very closely together, but at the end of the day we own the rights to the IP and we want to make sure there's no version of the game that comes out and doesn't make the IP stronger.
So the PS2 version doesn't hold back the scope of the next-gen version?
Zamkoff: Not at all. We try to decouple the project on purpose. They have both the mandate to downscale the next-gen assets or model them if they want to. Again we have certain criteria; it has to take place in Venezuela, the main story has to be the same but we want to give these guys the freedom to make the best game possible.
Any plans for PSP?
Zamkoff: We looked at it, we did a mock-up and made a really cool version of it but we just don't have enough developers. We try really hard to stay up all night long, but we had to pick our battles on this one.
We had a really cool mock-up, it was actually playable on one of the last-gen consoles. We had to pick our battles and we decided to put all of the internal team's energy on the next-gen SKU.
The Venezuelan government are trying to get the game banned. What's your take on that?
Zamkoff: Rubbish! We're a work of creative fiction. We'd be doing the same thing if we hadn't had any of the controversy.
Our Venezuela is very fictitious. We have some names of the cities but it's not going for a realistic feel. We're certainly over the top action, it's almost ridiculous at times what we do.
We're not trying to cause controversy; we're not a blood and guts game, we're not doing anything horrifically violent. It's big explosions but it's not violence for violence sake, we're just not trying to create that kind of controversy, we're not trying to get into the M rated realm.
I think rightfully so, there's a government in Venezuela and they're having their moment right now in general. They're in the news a lot and for them it's kind of cool to make these ridiculous statements, but we have no animosity for the people of Venezuela, it just happens to be a setting that we think is kind of cool.
How has your relationship been working with EA?
Zamkoff: They've been great. They bring a lot of marketing and PR muscle behind the product and we've been self-funded to date, so we come with a lot of creative freedom. They're not in there trying to mess with it; they have a lot of faith in us as developers. I honestly have any great things to say about working with these guys.
And obviously Pandemic is now merged with BioWare. Has BioWare had any input on the game?
Zamkoff: We're friends with those guys and we send builds to eachother, they talk about Mass Effect and we talk about Mercs. They don't have a right to actually force any changes but we certainly do meetings with them.
Greg and Ray are great advocates of Mercs, they showed up at E3 in Mercs t-shirts. It really does fell like a family with these guys and certainly we listen to their ideas, but we treat it like anyone else internally or externally. If the feedback is valid and it makes the game better we certainly listen to it.