SOCOM 4: Special Forces "A major evolution but still a core SOCOM title"
21st Apr 2011 | 13:23
SOCOM 4 Special Forces is a big departure for the flagship PlayStation series, forgoing its US Navy SEALs heritage to concentrate on the plight of a small band of elite international special forces operatives caught deep behind enemy lines.
SOCOM has always been about the multiplayer experience and Special Forces is no exception, but with a new emphasis on a cinematic storyline and the single-player game, five player co-op support, and 3D, PS Move and Sharp Shooter integration, it really does mark a major evolution for the series.
We recently tied lead designer Travis Steiner to a chair and shone a bright light into his eyes to discover the truth behind SOCOM's transformation. Here's what we discovered.
Previously you've called this the 'first proper SOCOM on PS3' what are the main advances that Special Forces brings to the series?
Well this is the first full SOCOM title on the PlayStation 3 which means it not only has competitive multiplayer, but it has online co-op and single-player too. And in particular there's a number of big advances we've been able to make with those other modes that were never possible on the PlayStation 2. Primarily in the area of overall graphical fidelity, we have great in-engine cinematics, we focus a lot more on story in this title and I think that really shows off nicely with the hardware on the PS3.
Very advanced AI. All the AIs in our game exhibit squad based behaviour, so they work like real military groups so we have a lot of advanced AI technology in the title that we're utilising that's obviously big.
Then of course there's motion control, having the ability to support the PlayStation Move with the Sharp Shooter gun peripheral and 3D is great because it truly is the most immersive SOCOM title we've ever made. I would even go so far as to say it's the most immersive military game you can play, period, because having those additional control mechanics and having immersive 3D really makes the game feel realistic.
How have traditional SOCOM fans reacted to Special Forces? Have they been very vocal in what they want from the game?
You know our SOCOM fans are awesome, they're very dedicated to the game and I think it's natural for any person who's been playing a game series for a long time, particularly people still playing SOCOM one and two online to be vocal about what they want.
To be honest I think they heard the words 'major evolution' and maybe they were a little nervous at first. But I think that's natural and what we've really seen through the numbers in the beta and people actually playing or when we've gone to events, when SOCOM fans have tried it first hand they definitely love it and they definitely feel like they're playing a real SOCOM.
I think it's one of those things, that as people play it, they'll realise 'hey they have changed a lot things and added some new ones', but it's still, at its core a SOCOM title.
Have you made a conscious attempt to attract new people to the series too?
Yeah absolutely. I think there's a lot of players out there who really wanted to see more story in SOCOM, so that's definitely something we've focussed on. The motion controls I think naturally appeal to a wider audience. There's a lot of players out there who've picked up SOCOM with the motion controls who normally wouldn't play a shooter and just really love it.
So I think naturally there's going to be a flow of people looking to play a more hardcore game, with more motion-control style gameplay, I think that'll certainly appeal to a wider group and co-op, also I think appeals to a wide group. I think it's a great way to essentially train yourself for that really competitive online gameplay. I think co-op is a very interesting way for players and friends to group up with one another and again take on these really advanced tactical enemy AIs. Those are probably the three big reasons that a lot of new players have been excited about SOCOM Special Forces.
Can you tell us more about the single-player experience? What kind of missions and challenges await players?
Well the game takes place in south east Asia and in the old games we'd maybe bounce around between multiple areas of operation, but in Special Forces we wanted to concentrate on one area of the world and tell a cohesive story. We wanted to make the player feel that they are truly behind the enemy lines in this area.
So there's a number of great gameplay features that support that and one of the things I want to mention is the fact that as you scavenge enemy weapons they get added to your armoury and become available in later missions. And that's actually shared between co-op and single player. That's a great way to really emphasise the fact that this team is outnumbered, they're [battling] against the odds and this is a squad which needs to utilise every resource they can to get the mission done.
The team goes across a variety of locations so even though the game takes place entirely in south east Asia, within that area of operations there's a great diversity. So we start the game off with a really intense revolution going on in this big metropolis, you see buildings collapsing and destroyed, places that are abandoned, highways full of abandoned cars and on fire. So that's one type of environment, but then right in the next mission we go to more rural terrain where you're in the jungle near a plane crash. We have a variety of other types of urban environments, slums, different kinds of industrial facilities, so from one mission to the next you get quite a bit of variety.
You've made a conscious move to a strong central character and more cinematic experience in Special Forces - what prompted the new approach?
That was something we'd done some research on, polling players out there who'd traditionally played SOCOM and that was something people honestly felt was missing from the series. Again that single player was always there and it was fun, but the story was just not a strong component. So when we started this game, that was one of the big pieces of research we acted on.
How important are the various characters in the SOCOM team? How does that dynamic work with the command system and tactical options?
Again you play the role of the operations commander, and he is the ultimate in-field battle commander. When you start the game you plays as Ops Com and there's two team-mates and they will regionally change, depending on which region you're in. So here in the UK, they're British special forces, they're your heavy weapons team and they've been with the ops com a long time so they have a history with him. When they're in combat they'll very often utilise the shotgun or even go behind cover and deploy a heavy machine gun.
The other team which you meet in the second mission are members of the Korean special forces, most of them have been decimated during when this revolution breaks out, but two of the survivors Chung and 45 are additions to your team. They're recon specialists, so they have suppressed weapons, long range sniper rifles,. You can use the two teams uniquely.
Then we also have covert missions where during certain key moments in the campaign you play as 45, ordered to go in alone at key enemy bases to perform reconnaissance and sabotage operations. Those missions are really fun because they emphasise more stealth based gameplay.
What's been the biggest challenge in developing SOCOM Special Forces?
I think one of the biggest challenging is tuning the game for three unique control schemes, so DualShock, Move and Sharp Shooter all have unique tuning values and obviously there was a lot of effort to get those up and running. I think it's been great for the title, but that certainly was a challenge.
What's your favourite part of the game - or the part you've enjoyed making the most?
I'd say the five player co-op has been the most fun to work on, mainly because I have worked extensively on I guess more single player in the past as well as some multiplayer. Co-op was new to me and so it was fun to work on because not only was it new, oftentimes in the office when we needed a break or wanted to try something out we'd launch our own co-op games and it was a real blast to play.
How important is motion control and what does PS Move and Sharp Shooter add to the SOCOM experience?
I think it's very important and it certainly seems to be a trend in the gaming industry, that things are heading in that direction and what's unique about SOCOM with the Move is that it's one of the first serious core games to leverage motion controls.
We really haven't seen that much, Killzone came out with it as well, but other than the two of us.... We're one of the first serious games to have motion control and that's great because it makes the game that much more immersive right? Our goal as developers is always to put the player in the shoes of this character they're controlling, in this case a soldier. Having that one to one accuracy and precise control of the weapon is one step closer to making you feel like you're that special forces operative.
So that's the ultimate way to play SOCOM? Is there any danger DualShock users might feel left behind?
I don't think they'll feel left behind, because actually when we started the game and all through development DualShock has been our main focus, that's what SOCOM has been based off of. There's certainly no penalty to playing with DualShock. They key though with the Move is that it's more intuitive and for brand new players and it's more immersive.
3D is a big part of Special Forces, what do you think 3D brings to third- and first-person shooters? Will it form the new standard for games in the future?
Yeah, certainly, I think the 3D implementation in SOCOM really brings the locations to life. You really see great depth in the environment and when the combat starts, there's things you notice a lot more. Particularly incoming enemy fire, rockets, grenades machine gun fire, you know it really makes you tense up and feel like you're really in danger.
So again you're talking about our goal which is to make the game feel as realistic as possible and I think 3D is a big step in getting players immersed in the combat. So I definitely think it's great in SOCOM and it's definitely something that we're going to see more of in games in the future.
What lessons have you learned from MAG that have fed into the SOCOM multiplayer experience?
Well there is some shared technology between the two games and I think we did learn a bit from the Move implementation that we put into MAG. But I think at its core, SOCOM gameplay is quite a bit different than MAG, MAG is much more about large scale operations, whereas SOCOM is really about small scale special forces operations. I think we actually had more to learn from the previous SOCOM titles than we did from MAG.
The beta's in full swing as we speak, what lessons have you learned and how valuable are betas in tuning and refining the experience for a developer?
It's very important. It's very important to test the key infrastructure for the online play, so that's huge and also just getting feedback from the fans, how much they're liking the game as well as what we can do to improve it. We've seen a number of players who've been playing the game a lot, we've got one player who has played nine days worth of game play time.
In terms of the feedback, we definitely take it to heart and we act on what we can and what we think is best for the game. So, certainly some of the biggest feedback we've gotten has been related to the camera system and some of the weapon tuning and those are absolutely things that we can and will adjust.
In general we also want to work with the fans to define what kind of custom variations of the game types we host. So they can give us feedback on movement speed, weapon sets, damage values, respawn types a whole host of things. We then take that feedback and upload custom ranked matches for them to play.
We particularly love the recent victory dances, what other Easter eggs and hidden goodies should players look out for?
There are a couple of other Easter eggs: one of the funny ones is that the main enemy leader in the game is named General Razard and he likes to eat blood oranges, Taroccos. As a kind of nod to Razard, there is a single blood orange hidden in every level that you can try and collect.
If you fancy a chance to win a copy of SOCOM 4: Special Forces, a Sharp Shooter peripheral, PS Move controllers and other unique SOCOM goodies, why not head on over to our SOCOM 4: Special Forces competition, where all of those prizes are up for grabs.