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Interview

Close Combat First to Fight Interview

Destineer’s Peter Tamte answers a few questions about their military shooter Close Combat: First to Fight.

Can you tell us a little about the team creating the game? What is the core expertise of the team members and what’s the vision for the game as a whole?

Most of the key people making First to Fight have 6-15 years of experience in the games industry. People on our team have made games for everyone from EA to Take-Two to Activision to Atari to Bungie.

First to Fight is a highly-authentic tactical first-person shooter in which you lead a U.S. Marine fire team through urban combat in the Middle East. The game is being made with the help of more than 40 active-duty US Marines, fresh from combat in the Middle East and will be used as a training tool by the United States Marine Corps.

Is the game story or mission driven?

The game takes place in Beirut in 2006. Your Marine fire team is a lead element in a NATO force bringing peace back to Beirut. The story will unfold through a series of missions that take place all over Beirut. All of the missions in the game are military missions – not anti-terrorist ‘rescue the hostages’ or ‘defuse the bomb’ missions.

What focus are you placing on realism and authenticity – especially in light of you using expertise and information from United States Marine Corps? (Additionally on this subject: is this interaction constant? & Are there any no-go areas? Are certain events based on real life occurrences?)

In some games, ‘realism’ seems only to mean that the uniforms and weapons models are accurate. In First to Fight, we wanted to create the kind of realism that could only be offered because of the involvement of these combat-experienced Marines. So, (besides accurate uniforms and weapons, of course) we focused on implementing realistic fire team tactics, giving players access to the air and ground a*ets beyond the Marine fire team, and on causing the behaviours of all friendly and enemy characters to be based on a psychology model. We don’t believe any game can call itself realistic unless it factors the most basic component of warfare into the game – the fact that war is, by nature, a battle of human wills. Military tactics are all about imposing your will against the enemy. But, you can’t do this unless you have a psychology model governing AI behaviours in the game.

The Marines have been integrally involved in all aspects of development because the Marines will actually be using both games as training simulations. These men have spent days and days with our development team demonstrating fire team tactics and then testing our implementations over and over again. They’ve listened to dozens of sound samples to tell us exactly what it sounds like when you get shot at from someone directly in front of you vs. from an angle. They’ve provided thousands of pages of doctrine to us and they’ve taken us inside their shoot-houses during take-down exercises.

The only no-go things the Marines have asked us to be cautious about are things that are not consistent with the values of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is very much a values-driven organization — these values are honour, courage, and commitment. Living by these values is one of the key reasons many Marines decided to become Marines. It is important to their integrity that our representations of them are consistent with the very high priority they place on these three values.

Many innovations seen in recent shooters come in the form of new moves, be they offensive or cover. Are you hoping not only to create a list of varied moves and ideas but also some new and unseen ideas?

First to Fight forces players to use new moves because they face much more realistic enemy behaviours (because of the psychology model) and they have a fire team that follows actual Marine urban tactiics, and they can call in air and ground a*ets from the Marine Air Ground Task Force. Players should execute their tactics differently in First to Fight than they would in other games. The integration of these three features means that players MUST use authentic Marine tactics to succeed. Some of these tactics include flanking, movement by fire (using one member of your fire team to suppress an exposed fire sector while others move), smoke grenades for concealment, combined arms effect (using multiple kinds of armaments, such as mortar and your fire team’s M203, to channel an enemy where you want him to go), and organizing your team to cause the greatest psychological damage on your enemy.

In more detail:

First to Fight will use Marine Ready-Team-Fire-a*ist tactics. This is a system of formations, movements, and tactics that makes a Marine fire team truly lethal, and it gives the fire team 360-degree security in intersections, stairways, etc. It is implemented in First to Fight the same way Marines are doing it, right now, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) will also be available in the game, just as they are available to Marines in the battlefield. The Marines are never alone on the battlefield; they can call in tanks, armoured a*ault vehicles, Cobra gunships, mortar attacks, and more against enemy targets.

Also, one of the most interesting ideas is the implementation of the psychology model to reflect the human will. This will give players a whole new weapon in their fight, because now they can use real military tactics that allow them to actually break their enemy’s will to fight them. This is much more realistic. For example, using combined arms to channel enemies where you want them to go, flanking to cause them to flee, or you can cause confusion by eliminating a leader.

Can you explain what kind of team commands you can call up for your fire team?

A context-sensitive radial menu allows you to issue orders including: Suppressing fire, Room take-downs, Cover location, Call for Fire like air-strikes from Cobra gunships or mortar, Call for Support from sniper teams, tanks, etc., and Call for Corpsman (medic) to get medical attention for you or your team. You can also order any members of your team to go to a particular location at any time (they will use bounding overwatch automatically as they move to the location), and you can switch between single- or double-columns or order your men to hold position, hold fire, etc.

What is the setting to the game? What kind of a*ets and resources have you used to create them and will they include climatic conditions?

The game is set in Beirut in 2006. The missions take place during night-time and daytime, and they take place in areas that range from city streets to hotels and homes.

Please give us an overview to the game? What the objectives are for the player. What are the default commands you will have and who will you be able to instruct?

You’ll play First to Fight much differently than other tactical shooters. Since your fire team automatically follows Marine Ready-Team-Fire-a*ist tactics, you don’t need to constantly issue them orders. Through much of the game, you should let your fire team follow their tactics. However, when you get to a particularly tough challenge, then it becomes critical for you to consider how best to use your fire team to overcome the challenge. Then, you can order your men to go to particular locations (they’ll use bounding overwatch automatically to get there), suppress a location (to cover another Marine’s movement), cover a location, Call for Support from a Marine sniper team, tanks, or an AAV, Call for Fire from Cobra Gunships, and mortar, hold fire, hold position, and much more.

How good do you hope the AI will be? Will soldiers respond in a differing way to other team-mates being killed? Could they become more aggressive and even run off? Are there many parameters in how individuals react to different situations?

The AI implements a psychology model unique to our engine. The Marines will never break under your command. Courage and commitment are part of the Marine doctrine, but stupidity is not. Your fire team will not endanger their lives simply because you order them to do so. They will follow orders and may even voice opinions, show a facial animation or hesitate depending on the situation.

In First to Fight, every friendly and enemy character has a “morale” and a “discipline” value. The enemy’s actions are also constantly affecting your team-mates’ psychology model, which make the values very fluid and constantly changing depending on both players’ and enemies’ actions.

How does morale affect both you team and the enemy?There are some similarities between the Marine and enemy AI, in that they’re both affected by the psychology model and they can both take cover, toss grenades, etc. But, one huge difference between the Marine and enemy AI is that the Marine AI is written very much for teamwork and modelled after actual Marine Corps fire team tactics, while the enemy AI is much more ad-hoc.

Can you detail the degree of body and environment deformation and injury that you are working towards?

First to Fight will focus on the effect of injury. We will offer a simulation mode where, if you get shot in the leg, you will move slower. Also, you are required to get medical attention to injured Marines.

Is healing your fire team dealt with directly by the unit leader?

The team leader will have access to first-aid kits and the limited ability to call medical corpsman. Imagine playing a multiplayer game in simulation mode in First to Fight in which your team-mate has been shot. He’s lying on the ground exposed to enemy fire. If you don’t get him first aid soon, he will die. Do you risk it? If so, how do you arrange your fire team to provide the best cover? These are the kinds of decisions Marine fire team leaders who’ve been working with us on First to Fight have had to make in Iraq. And, they’re the kinds of decisions we hope will make playing First to Fight really interesting – and authentic.

In terms of a shooter, does the game offer any other facets – like weapons that need special skills to use or high tech gadgetry or stealth and tactical acumen? In effect will there be many ways to approach playing?

The foundation of First to Fight is to give players the tools, situations and behaviours Marines really face in urban environments, and in doing so, create a much different and more realistic kind of playing experience than other tactical shooters. Also, the presence of a psychology model means that minor changes in each player’s actions can cause dramatically different playing challenges.

Rather than giving players futuristic weapons Marines in combat would never use, instead we’re giving them far more powerful weapons that Marines do actually get to use. For example, players in First to Fight always have access to the MAGTF. Just as a Marine fire team leader in live combat can’t just jump in a tank and drive it around – he can request fire support from the tank. First to Fight is about being part of a loud, terrifying powerful force. You won’t spend your time sneaking around, rescuing hostages or defusing bombs. Instead, you’ll be attacking and defending strategic buildings, taking out high-value targets, blowing up enemy munitions, etc.

Can you expand on some of the unique qualities of the game’s 3D engine?

The engine offers many next generation visual features such as volumetric shadows (which is the most advanced way to produce character shadows on today’s computers), normal maps (which allows us to put much more detail in our characters and environments) and specularity (which allows light to reflect off surfaces more naturally). Additionally, we’ve created a variety of other features for physics, natural skin lighting, scripting, etc. that are unique to our engine.

Will there be any online elements? And, if there are, what will they be?

Absolutely, we’ll be going into more detail on them in the coming weeks.

Sum up in a sentence what you hope Close Combat: First to Fight will present to the games market?

Our one goal with First to Fight is to help players experience what it might be like to be a Marine Corps fire team leader in modern urban combat.

Has spending so much time with the Marine Corp affected the outlook of the development team in any way?I’ve always had admiration for individuals willing to risk their lives for my security, and I’ve always had admiration for people who live their lives for purposes greater than themselves. Now, after having them reinforce to our team that the reason this product exists is for training that will save lives, and after spending time getting to know many Marines personally, the best words I can use to describe working with these Marines are “profound respect.”

It’s not just because these guys are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country – that much we knew before we got to know them. It’s because each of these guys – literally every Marine we’ve met – lives their life first and foremost by a set of values. These values govern everything about them.

Even the most anti-military members of our development team have developed this same deep respect for the Marines who’ve been helping us make First to Fight. It’s impossible not to.

The shift to a 3D FPS is a big jump for the Close Combat series. Where do you see things heading in the future?

The next game in the Close Combat series will be Close Combat: Red Phoenix, a real-time strategy game in which players lead a reinforced rifle platoon in an all-too-possible second Korean War. Red Phoenix is being created by Atomic Games, the folks who created the Close Combat series, it uses a derivative of Destineer’s 3D engine, and it also will be used by the US Marine Corps for training.

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