Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

Interview: Gearbox on BiA, the competition, and Aliens

Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford is one of the most enthusiastic game developers you're ever likely to meet. We know, we've met him a few times.

He's also extremely passionate about the studio's new Brothers in Arms game, Hell's Highway, and equally passionate about the World War II material that's been the subject of the series since Road to Hill 30.

Hell's Highway continues to story of 101st Airborne paratrooper Sgt. Matt Baker, with a fictional plot set against the backdrop of actual historical events.

For its third game in the series, Gearbox is covering Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated Allied operation launched in September 1944 that, if successful, would have likely ended the conflict by Christmas of the same year (we've all seen the war movie A Bridge Too Far, right?).

With Pitchford in town today and demoing the latest Brothers in Arms game, we dusted off the dictaphone and got quoting.

First of all, the game's been heavily delayed - why?

Randy Pitchford: Well, we never announced a launch date. Ubisoft has. But our strategy from the beginning has been to make a game we're proud of. We have some invention, we have some things that have never been done before by anyone let alone by us. And with that comes some uncertainty.

So our strategy is to commit to our ambition and to take the time we need to succeed with that. And so we're not going to cut things of just to reach a launch quarter and we're not going to affect the game negatively if it's not ready yet.

You said in during your demo you had around 3,000 items to fix. Have you got any idea when the game will be ready to ship?

Pitchford: A lot of our planning, scheduling and our predictability, looks very much like within the first quarter of 2008. I don't want to say that there's zero uncertainty, but there's more certainty that we've ever had so we're starting to feel comfortable giving that.

We're manoeuvring around the first quarter - February/March time frame.

You're now into the third game in the series. Are you concerned it's going to become a one-trick pony?

Pitchford: An interesting question. Thinking about it that way would be like saying all shooters are one-trick ponies. Certainly there's some of the same elements that we've done before - I've shot a weapon at an enemy in other games... I've collected things, so those things still exist.

Brothers in Arms adds an element of tactics and the ability to command squads. Hell's Highway adds a number of new elements - new special teams that give me new tactical options on the battlefield, new destructible environments/destructible cover that changes the decisions that I make on the battlefield and my options for winning.

Also, the chances for me to lose when the enemy's shooting through cover that I'm hiding behind. It changes the game quite a bit. And there's a lot of variety too, not just in the gameplay but also in the background, in the level design and the ways that you progress through these environments and the tactical encounters we run into.

And then of course there's the options with vehicles and tanks and just neat things. It's a pretty dense and varied experience. I think out of the Brothers in Arms games, certainly it's the best one by far, and it's also I think the most flexible in terms of letting gamers play it the way they want.

In the first couple of games, we were really interested in forcing the concept of flanking. We wanted to make that to be pretty much the only way the player could succeed.

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