Interview: MOH: Rising Sun
21st Jul 2003 | 16:57
Up until now, Medal of Honor games have focused on the exploits of Jerry, but now it's the turn of our Japanese friends to be villified as fascistic cold hearted war-mongers for the sake of popular entertainment. And hey, it works.
Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is still recognisable as an MOH title, but the new background - taking in the famous River Kwai bridge and the Pearl Harbour landings - makes for a novel take on the action. Of course, there's still plenty of the old run-and-gun mayhem we've grown fond of over the last few games - game design director Chris Cross (no jokes, please, he's heard them all before) talks us through the latest title...
Tell us about the new setting for the game.
Cross: One of the things we had to take into consideration was jungles, to realistically portray natural environments. So that gave us a lot of different ambient effects to think about, technological effects like misting, but also the terrain itself, we had to give it a different feel.
It also allows us to develop a more organic level design. This title is much less straightforward than previous games, there are less 90 degree turns than in previous MOH games. And one of the other things that the jungle setting pushed upon us was a difference in tactics.
You're enemies are more like guerillas this time, hiding in bushes, so you sometimes take a more cautious approach; you can also hear gunshots from further away - there's a big effect on the actual combat because of the new setting. Terrain is basically much more important in this game than it was before - you need to really pay attention to your surroundings.
How about the enemy itself?
Cross: The soldiers have different ways of attacking, too - up close they'll run at you with bayonets, and if they connect, you can see that's going to take a significant amount of health from you. There are also enemy guys with swords, and if they get close they're going to do some serious damage. Plus, the soldiers won't actually notice you until you step into their line of vision.
We've tried to stay fairly accurate to the actual events, and that was apparently something that actually happened in battle - in Europe the soldiers would back off, while the Japanese guys would rush at you, get on top of you, and that's obviously changed an element of the gameplay. Basically we didn't want to do the same old thing but with a different uniform.
What other new features can we expect?
Cross: Okay, you can pick up this machete in level eight, and potentially you can use it on all the levels. So you can go back to levels that you've already played and unlock areas by slashing at dense areas of bush, for instance. And that can lead to secret passages that hold other secrets, other ways of playing the level.
There are foxholes in the ground where the Japanese soldiers hide - you can shoot them and actually climb into the foxhole yourself, which will obviously afford you some cover. It's weird because when we first conceived that idea I didn't know if we were going to get any benefit from it until I actually played it, but it really works well.
The music has also been composed to fit in with the action, so that as the action gets more intense, so the music swells dramatically according to the action.
Going back to what we said about authenticity, there's a level where we've included an actual railtrack that exists, that the Japanese used to get supplies from India, China, down through Malaysia. So this is one of the things we would never have found out just by doing research - we would never have had the same sort of connection to it. We actually visited the areas we were going to include in the game, so that we could really capture the feel of those places.
There are different materials that stop or don't stop bullets. So you can hide behind things for cover, but you may not be protected by them. So you hide behind a tree stump, you're protected. Something less solid and you could be in trouble.
There's no right path to take either, all our levels feature multiple paths to take. It's less linear - we do have to push you eventually to the same place at the end of the level, but on the way you get to explore a lot more different places.
There are save points. We never had them before, but now each level has two or three save points. Something we're trying to avoid doing is having the flashing red arrow type aid telling you what to do, where to go. We're trying to be cleverer than that, making it obvious what the player has to do without intruding on the game experience.
We always had main objectives, now we also have bonus objectives that can help you on your mission and give you extra rewards. You can now change your options from the pause screen, which is obviously a time-saver - it's all there in the HUD.
There are also recurring characters who help you out, so there's actually some character interaction there, some development. So obviously sometimes you'll need to keep them alive - but of course if they don't...
The amount of content that we're packing in, particularly when you consider the scripted events, means there's a lot of playtime in there - the levels are much bigger than in previous games, too.
There's also more than the obvious thematic link between this and the next title, because in this game you play Joseph Griffin, and in the next game you play as Donny Griffin, so there's a link with the two brothers. But this is still two separate products we're talking about. We're still working on exactly what you're going to see in the next game.
What online features are you including?
Cross: It's a deathmatch game, or you can play team deathmatch. We've already got voice technology working, so you'll be able to talk to other players - other than that we're just trying to cram in as much as we can. I don't know what's going to slip off the table.
There may be extra levels: things that aren't available in single-player, some extra features, capture the flag...
Vehicles? Or animals that can be used as a vehicle, like the elephant in the single-player game?
Cross: Uh, maybe. We'll see what slips through the cracks. The two-player co-operative is going to be interesting because it's gonna be the single-player experience plus. But yeah, that's probabaly gonna be it because we're pushing hard to make sure the game ships on time.
We noticed earlier when you were demonstrating the single-player game, you zoomed in with a sniper rifle, missed, and the enemy guard didn't react...
Cross: We've really dumbed down a lot of these guys for the purposes of demonstration - that particular guy's hearing radius is probably less than a metre, so he may have not heard the shot hit. But in general, what happens is that if they hear a sound, they immediately become curious and begin a search pattern with their head, they turn around, look in all directions and so on.
Also, you have guys on patrol, and if you make a sound they might break off from their set pattern to come and investigate. So you'll see a lot more intelligent reaction to your actions in the game proper.
What for you personally really stands out about the game?
Cross: I'm still stunned by Pearl Harbour. Just what it took to make that and also how it actually turned out - I felt we were really going to be cutting it, but it works. It's on the same kind of excitement level as the D-Day landings in Frontline.
I think we're running out of these setpieces, because everybody knows D-Day and Pearl Harbour, and they all know Iwo Jima but that's not exactly a great starting level.
But I was really impressed by Pearl Harbour - the guys did an amazing job of recreating that event. There are some other levels that I wish we could have shown, that are just really great. We've used similar technology that's really cheap, and sort of smoke and mirrors, but, y'know [laughs] it's really the implementation of that technology that stuns me - some amazing things in there.
A lot of the fog effects we have, some of the explosions in this game - my reaction was "that is freakin' amazing!"
Also I'm getting more and more jaded to it beacaus I see it all the time. The normal reaction from press and people who see our demos seems to be not: "Wow! That was amazing!", but quietly, genuinely impressed. I think that's the right place for us to be.
It's difficult to get journalists to react like that. Especially Europeans.
Cross: Exactly. But it's good when you turn around and you see their faces - everyone's intent on what's going on.
So is the game kind of gun-an-run all the way through, or are there different elements coming into it?
Cross: There are definitely different elements: there's run-and-gun, we have the character Tanaka teaching you about how to use stealth, he takes you through some situations you would otherwise have to fight your way through.
You're taught to use your environment, to use shadows, stay out of the light, that sort of thing. Or you can play your own way - when it's me, playing the way I really want to, it's particularly ugly, because I'm a grenade fanatic. I'll skip them to their feet, go for the cheap shots every time - it's fun![laughs].