The release of America’s Army 3 was controversial to say the least, with the release-day change in development teams and the less-than-stellar critical reception. We spoke to Marsha Berry from the America’s Army Project Office (AAPO) Software Engineering Directorate to find out how the game has changed since release. There’s been a lot of internet chatter about how the original dev team was let go as the game was released. How have you fared in taking over maintenance duties? How difficult is it to ‘firefight’ a game that you didn’t develop?The contractor development team was on task from the government to develop the initial version of the AA3 game which was completed in June. All of the developers we had working on the contract that ended in June were very valuable to the AA3 game and we appreciate all the hard work that each person contributed. When the development team’s contract ended some of the team members were offered new jobs with the core AA Platform Development Team (PDT) located at Redstone Arsenal. A team of Software Engineers and Developers at Redstone Arsenal has been managing and assisting in the development of the public game since 2005 so we are well prepared to handle the future development of the game. How did you react to the comments posted in the forums by an alleged member of the original dev team (see reaction was to reinforce how much we appreciated the hard work not only by the developers on this contract but by everyone who was responsible for making the game happen. We wanted to make sure that comments like this do not convey misinformation about these contractors to future employers as we felt we had a top notch team. Why did the game encounter so many problems at launch? On launch day, we obviously had a huge load to our backend data servers. Prior to the launch, we attempted to load test with our beta groups but the beta load testing didn’t come close to the numbers we saw at launch. The first thing that occurred was a hardware failure that caused most of the network latency problems everyone was seeing. Only after we identified and corrected the hardware issues were we able to identify the data processing upgrades that were needed. The AA3 game is designed to provide players a great deal of feedback on their performance as well as overall statistics of the game as a whole. All of these aspects are very data intensive and we underestimated the capacity that launch would require. As you can imagine, it is very difficult to estimate how many people might download and play a free Unreal 3 based game. We have since increased our capacity to account for the data loads that we are receiving and the infrastructure is doing well.What did you consider to be the most important problem to tackle first? The most important problems, and the ones we tackled first, were latency and backend data server issues. We wanted to be sure that everyone who wanted to play the game was able to, so capacity increases were our first priority. There were also some server stability issues that came to the surface that we had high on our priority list. Both of these issues have been resolved and as new issues arise, we prioritize and address them as appropriate.How valuable has community feedback been in the maintenance process? America’s Army developers have always valued community feedback. Not only has it been instrumental in our maintenance process, it was also a major influence in our AA3 game design. We make every attempt to keep the players informed of everything happening within the game including any issues we identify so they are aware of our efforts to give them the best game possible. A lot of times, issues are brought to our attention by the community, therefore we believe it is very important to constantly be monitoring and responding to the community’s needs.How close is the game to being ‘ready?’ When will we see another patch? The next release will fix some training bugs that we have identified and then the following release will fix some of the achievement logic issues that we identified at launch. Those are the two main outstanding items we identified, based on community feedback, that need to be addressed. The game is very stable at this point. Many high priority and stabilization issues have already been addressed and pushed out to the community via Steam or the Deploy client. The next patch is scheduled to come out shortly and at that point, we will begin to reset the training. As with previous America’s Army games, the game is constantly being updated with new features and new technologies that will be rolled out over the coming years.Once the maintenance is complete, will players’ training progress and stats be reset? With the community in mind, we will keep all current players at BCT completion and give them enough Advancement points so they can select an AIT training level to complete. All new players will begin the game as intended – they will not be given any training credit and will have to complete training at their own pace. With AA3, you do not need to complete any training before being able to play in the multiplayer maps, though training does enhance a player’s abilities to play in multiplayer mode by unlocking new equipment that the player can add to his/her inventory loadout.Once the game is ‘fixed’, what kind of support can AA3 users expect? Will more training sections be added? New maps? Vehicles? The Army has made an investment in AA3. We have a roadmap of development that we plan to execute over the next few years. This road map includes adding AI, vehicles, new maps, new training, new MOSs, and new Real Heroes. We have also begun supporting the storyline with the first edition of the America’s Army Graphic Novel located at www.americasarmy.com/graphicnovel. The second edition is in development now. As far as the game support, the community will see the same support they have always received from America’s Army including providing Forums, PMs, FAQs, and a Mentor Program.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.