IGTV: Army Of Two: The 40th Day Interview

IncGamers’ Tamer Asfahani caught up with EA’s Alex Hutchinson, creative director for Army of Two: The 40th Day to discuss the upcoming action sequel. Click the image to watch the video interview.Army of Two got mixed reviews when it came out. Let’s not beat around the bush – it was the first game of the franchise and it didn’t do as well as it could’ve done. What’ve you really done to sort of up and change this?I think it’s an interesting game because the first game was a massive financial success in the sense that it sold over 2.5 million copies, which is right up there in the top couple of per cent. I think it was in the top ten Xbox games sales in North America, for its release, which is remarkable. But I agree with you in that in critical terms it didn’t hit all the points that the team wanted to hit. So the goal with this one was to try and figure out why did people respond powerfully to what the first game was offering, and how can we really deliver on it? So we did a lot of stuff. Everything from making sure the core shooting and controls were really tight, all the way through to adding a bunch more content, three more multiplayer modes, a longer campaign, and then trying to get the tone right. In America, no-one blinked at the tone, which was very interesting because it just sort of had a frat tone to it – they were just sort of jokey guys. In Europe there was a little bit of negativity about the tone but it’s an interesting problem because then you have a big audience not liking the tone and a big audience liking the tone, so what we tried to do with the new game was split the difference and say “Depending on how you play, we’ll change the jokes that they tell,” so if you go around shooting the hostages and high-fiving, the jokes get a little bit more frat, and if you go around being very cautious and saving people then the jokes are a little more low-key.

What Army of Two did do quite well was the co-operative stuff. Like I said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the game; I didn’t really enjoy the co-operative mode. I thought it felt as if it was an afterthought to a single-player mode that was tacked on to make it more accessible and to sell more. You just said you’re going to add a few more multiplayer modes. What are they, and can you elaborate?

Sure. I think that perception is wrong because you can’t actually tack a co-op mode on because of all the technical issues you have in the game if you don’t plan it to be co-op from the start, and in fact I think that was the initial vision for the game was that it was a co-operative game, and I think if you compare it to other games they usually have a co-op mode on the side, or they have a co-operative element, or a co-operative level, or – even great co-op modes like Gears or Halo – there’s nothing in either of those games that you can do in the co-op that is different to the single-player. Whereas in Army of Two, even the first one, and I agree that it had some issues, had multiple moments where you needed to be in co-op. I think actually it’s one of the few games, the reason it was so successful was, it actually was co-op from the start and co-op from the ground up.

Another problem of mine was the AI – they were a bit stupid. Presumably you’ve taken that and revamped it and taken it on board, and equally, another really frustrating thing – I’m sorry, I keep nailing it! – was that you couldn’t pick up weapons. Dropped weapons from enemies and ammo, you were screwed. You couldn’t do anything about it.

A lot of those things are fixed in the new one, so you can pick up guns off the ground, you can obviously loot bodies for ammo and all that sort of stuff. The AI is second-generation now so we think it’s a lot smarter. It looks a lot better, we went back to the motion-capture studio for all the AI in the game, so on all these fronts it’s a much better game.

And the story – last time we left off, the guys are mercenaries now – I think if I recall they were in a helicopter and they were disappearing. What’s going to happen with the story? Is it going to be very tongue-in-cheek like it was the last time, or are we going to see something a bit darker?

It’s both darker and more over-the-top at the same time, I think. In this game, basically, they go off as independent contractors, they start a routine mission in Shanghai, and pretty soon everything goes horribly horribly wrong. So basically we wanted the world to feel unreliable, as though everything around you as collapsing, and the only person you can rely on is your buddy. Lots of games do the saving-the-world scenario. I, personally, am tired of saving the world, I don’t think it’s very interesting. There’s always going to be another game that needs me to do it again. So we wanted to do a game about saving yourselves. {PAGE TITLE=IGTV: Army of Two: The 40th Day Interview Page 2}

Obviously the relationship between these guys is quite important. Have they got a bit more of a background story, can we expect to learn a bit more about them? Be a bit more engaged with our characters?

A little bit. There’s a little bit more background, but I think the interesting part of a story in a co-operative game is the story between the two players. I think any time you overburden it with mega-backstories about what went on in their past lives, it actually doesn’t resonate, and it’s kind of irrelevant to players. They don’t actually care. The relationship they have is what they do in the game. We’ve still got the positive and negative modes, we’ve added lots of little toys that players can do, like rock-paper-scissors if they want, which is fun. You can imagine if you’re debating about who goes left or who goes right, or if you’re playing with someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you, then these are fun little tools to play with, but most of it is about supporting player expression in the space more than it is about driving these characters home.

And how much freedom do you have to attack certain mission objectives in different ways? Is it still quite linear, is it still that very left-and-right, or are there points in the game in which you can attack it in different ways?

It’s much more open than the first one. It’s physically open in the sense that there are points where you can diverge and go left or right, all that sort of stuff, but there’s also this idea of co-operative choice that we’ve put in the game. Throughout the game you’ll have these hostage moments which offer pre-combat, so you could sneak in and used silenced weapons if you wanted to and take them out quickly, you could go in all guns blazing so there’s tactical options there, but you also have these unique choices throughout the game which you have to make as a partnership. For instance you might come across a weapons cache, and you can basically steal the weapons, or you can choose to do the right thing and not steal the weapons – the guy’s sort of threatening you with a gun. If you choose to do the bad thing, I’ve chosen for you as well, so I’m implicating you in every decision that I make.

So it’s very co-op centric.

Again, we really think that if we can get co-op out of just the tactics inside the TV and onto the couch, and have people debating “Are we the guys that take the extra time to save the hostages, or do we go in all guns blazing, do we shoot the hostages ourselves?” I think then that that’s a fun place to be.

As far as multiplayer’s concerned, are there any plans, any ideas as to how you guys are going to get more than the co-op play, and if so, what’s the idea there?

There’s three core multiplayer modes in the new one, and they’re all co-operative focused, so we wanted this idea that you take your partnership from the campaign into the multiplayer, so you and your buddy will migrate into these other parts of the game. There’s co-op deathmatch, which is the simplest mode obviously, it’s just counting kills, having fun, but again you have to work together. Your partner’s the only one who can heal you, your partner’s the only person who can back you up in spaces, you know where he is, you can communicate with him, you can tag enemies for him, all that sort of stuff. There’s Warzone, which is an expansion of the original multiplayer, which is objective based, so you might get an objective to assassinate a member of the other team. There’s Control, which is a mode where you need to occupy a position and hold it for a certain amount of time. It’s all client-server now, so you can start games, join games, find a game that you want, all that. We’re doing all the cool stuff like host migration so if someone quits on you, you automatically transition the host to another player, so the game doesn’t end when the host quits. So it’s just a much more robust offering.

How many people does multiplayer support?

It’s up to ten, so five pairs, basically.

On a final note, what’s your favourite thing about the game?

I think it’s the co-operative choice. I really think that it’s one of the few games to focus on co-op. Lots of other games are realising this is an exciting area to mine, so they’re adding co-operative modes, but very few games tackle the really massive problem of being completely co-op throughout every mode and every facet of the game. We’ve even seen terrific games like CoD6 say that it was changing the way their game was played, it was making a different game, so they didn’t want to support it and they made a co-op mode, which I’m sure will be terrific, but the fact that we’re focused on allowing people to make decisions together and hopefully having an effect on each other both tactically and outside the TV, that’s the exciting bit for me.

Do you know how the franchise is going to progress now? I mean, presumably you’ve already thought about where it’s going to go next. Are we going to see the same characters, and can we expect to see a similar gameplay, or are we looking at getting more people involved?

One thing we’ve never talked about yet with anyone is the ending of the game, and there are some things that happen at the end of the game that ask questions about the sequel which we think are very interesting and people are going to be excited by. Hopefully it sells well enough for us to do another one. I think the team really believes in this game – we’ve made huge progress, so if you like the first one at all, you’ll really, really love this new one. So hopefully we’ll get to do another one, but as always, the market decides. That’s how it goes. 

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