Army of Two: The 40th Day
15th Dec 2009 | 14:00
Army of Two is very much a series trying to redeem itself. For The 40th Day the developers at EA's Montreal studio are trying to check off the dislikes of the controversial original, and hopefully receive some of the acclaim currently being enjoyed by other studios inside the company.
To help convince us that the second game's worth your attention, Army of Two: The 40th Day producer, Matt Turner recently sat down for a chat. Here's what he had to say...
Critically at least, the first game didn't do very well. What would you say to players who perhaps didn't enjoy the first game? Why should they buy 40th Day?
Turner: You're right, a lot of people didn't like the first game. Instead of going, 'you didn't get it!' we actually responded to all of their criticisms and made a list of all the stuff that came from critics, users and industry cohorts. We'd go down the list, prioritise points and address them.
It gave us an opportunity to see what we didn't hit right. Some things we thought we'd done well we actually hadn't done so well. So we fixed them and made them better or re-did them altogether.
The reason why people who didn't like the first one might be interested in this one is because we've directly addressed all of the issues that were made with the first one intentionally... trying to fill that gap and make our game way better.
So what kind of points came up on your list?
Turner: One thing - I'm a writer as well as a producer by the way - was the tone, which specifically in Europe they didn't connect as well to the frat boy kind of thing. It was over the top at times. For lack of a better term it was inappropriate at moments... kind of slapstick.
A lot of people didn't respond to that and we really set about in this one making the tone a bit more 'grown up'. The comparison I've been making is that we're a bit more like Bruce Willis in Die Hard and less like Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys. We haven't changed the core tenants of the characters; they're still who they are as people but they're a bit more mature. They make the wisecracks at the right moments.
As well as the tone we've worked on the environments, which were very beautiful in the first game but very static. We really wanted to set about making these new environments feel much more alive and lived in, so places that actually exist rather than plastic worlds. We've added more particles, more effects, making the environments look used... we had to keep that sense that we were in Shanghai and there's something going on there and we wanted you to feel like it was an active, organic environment.
Those were the two main things. There's a host of other stuff; the controls we felt were too complicated in the first one for example. The hardcore shooter fans loved it because there was so much you could do but the more causal players didn't get it as much. We really wanted to make the setup more third- or first-person shooter standard. If you've played Gears of War or Call of Duty you can pick it up and go 'ah, I get this'. We kept that layer of Army of Two depth underneath it if you want it.
There's more but those are the things we addressed head-on.
So EA seems quite committed to the Army of Two IP?
Turner: Yeah, absolutely and that's great for us because we're really excited. The original didn't do that well critically but it did quite well sales-wise, so that was a big thing for EA. We've got two great characters and an interesting world to tell videogame stories. We also have a talented and experienced team at Montreal that's been able to grow and learn from our first game in a huge way. Those things together, for the big-wigs at EA, is a win-win situation.
If 40th Day again doesn't receive critical success do you think EA will continue that commitment?
Turner: That's something that I honestly don't know. I would hope so. I like working with these characters and these games but that's going to be up to critics and we'll see how that gets received. I hope it does because it's a great game but I've no idea until it happens.
A recent study criticised games - including Army of Two - for violating the rules of the Geneva Convention in regards to the depiction of torture and civilian property destruction. What's your reaction to that?
Turner: I saw that actually. I think it's a kind of self-fulfilling study. They wanted to prove something so they went about figuring out how to prove it their own way, right? They wanted to prove that videogames are bad and violent so found games that committed war crimes. I don't really get their point.
Their argument was that these games teach kids that soldiers go around torturing people and blowing up churches...
Turner: I'd like to believe that adults have enough reason to understand that this is a videogame, pixelated violence and in real life it wouldn't be acceptable. I would hope that we can take more responsibility as people and kind of say, 'this is a game, I realise that it's bad and it's my responsibility as a parent to have my 17-year-old play the game, have a well-rounded viewpoint and realise what it is'.
You're obviously adamant in pointing out that Army of Two is a videogame, but at the same time you've done a lot of research in maintaining war authenticity. Where do you draw the line?
Turner: It's kind of a blurry line in the sand, it's not like a wall we don't cross. We play it by ear and we can kind of sense when things are going to go wrong. A good example of that was the tone; in the first game the tone was inappropriate. We admit that and now we've gone and fixed that.
It's kind of a trial and error thing, there's a grey area. You want to push limits but you can push them too far without really knowing and that's where I think a lot of responsibility falls on us to be aware of what we're doing, do focus tests and ask opinions.
We take it you wouldn't have done anything like the Modern Warfare 2 airport scene then?
Turner: We wouldn't have done it, we didn't do it. For me personally I think the alarm bells went off in a big way on that one because it was out of context. When the footage got leaked thousands upon thousands of people saw it on a clip not knowing what it was. I'm not saying they were overreacting but people were generating these pretty outlandish opinions even though they didn't know what the scene meant in the grand scheme of the game.
You're playing a CIA agent, it's designed to show the atrocities... it's pretty awful and if you fail to see that side of it than you're not getting the whole picture. That being said, I thought it took it a little far; it was pretty out there. But I like seeing that they have guts like that.
From a writer's perspective do you see the narrative purposes of a scene like that?
Turner: Absolutely. I say maybe they pushed it too far but in a way that's a good thing because the media of videogames is very young. We have to start pushing limits, making statements and seeing what kind of social and cultural relevance that we can have which hasn't really been nailed yet.
I think [Infinity Ward] were pushing towards that direction and trying to make people experience something truly terrible. Whether they were successful or not I'll leave up to the players to decide, but I liked the fact that they were trying something new that people haven't done before. I think that's really gutsy and my hat's off to Infinity Ward for trying at least.
There's been the unfortunate news at EA recently of employees being made redundant and projects being cancelled. Do you feel you need to justify Army of Two's existence now that it's one of the projects that survived the cull?
Turner: A little bit maybe. I don't think it makes us work any harder, we're a pretty passionate group to begin with and everyone back in Montreal loves to make videogames and works their asses off. I think more than it makes us feel like we have to prove ourselves. I think it makes us feel grateful that we have such a great group of guys that are committed and able to make great products. We're more grateful and happy that we're in that position than we feel we need to prove ourselves.
All across the company the development teams are really into it and love their jobs. That's a company-wide thing I think, we don't take it for granted. What happened, happened. It was a business decision. All these factors like the current climate meant it had to happen. It was unfortunate but I think what it came down to was numbers and as developers we're just happy to be able to make stuff.
Do you think you'll get a good critical reception this time?
Turner: I think so. I'm pretty optimistic actually. People are getting it and that's half the battle. They understand where we're coming from and are enjoying it. The risks that we're taking and the new stuff we're implementing through co-op and the morality choices... we're just trying to keep it fresh and make an interesting product. I think the reviewers so far were pretty into it so I'm very hopeful and very optimistic at the same time that we're going to get a good reception.