RPS Interview: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

By Jim Rossignol on August 12th, 2009 at 10:48 am.


A few weeks back I went to see Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising at Codemasters HQ. While I was there I had a chat with executive producer Sion Lenton, who had quite a lot to say about Codemasters’ take new on the military shooter. What follows is my transcript of that conversation, in which Lenton talks about the balance of realism in the game, the “documentary” feel, the horror of war, and responsibility of making a serious war game accessible to the majority of gamers.

RPS: So tell us a bit about what you’re trying to do with Flashpoint.

Lenton: “What are we trying to do with Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising? Well, the original was obviously a classic, one of those rare genre-defining games, and I was here in QA at Codies when it arrived, and I was blown away with what it did. That said, a lot of shooters of many different kinds of have gone under the bridge since that time, and it made no sense to resurrect that same game. We wanted to do something that was more 2009. The original game was unapproachable, and my job is to bring that same kind of game to lots more people. That means there’s a lot to consider. We do have to consider the consoles too, so we don’t want to create something that is punitive, or with a learning curve that is too steep, but at the same time it would be crazy to devalue the franchise into the Call Of Duty run-and-gun whack-a-mole style gameplay. PC depth with console accessibility, that’s the drive for me: to align all the platforms the game is going to be on. The PC guys should not think they’re getting some dodgy port, we’ve made it so that all three platforms have been developed for together, head to head.”

“All that said, this is a game that is challenging. As a console game, it’s very tough indeed. Not a simulation as such, but it’s hardcore, and it’s an 18+ rating in the UK. This is a mature game. People don’t need their hands held all the way through, because gamers have a certain level of experience. It’s quite a hard task master. And it’s all about realism, that’s been one of my key words: realism. Documentary over Hollywood. Our technical, equipment and asset research has all been about seeing how these things work in the real world. We did a lot of work with the marines on this stuff, learning about radio talk, or what happens if a gun jams. All of these things feed into the experience, because we’ve experienced them.”

“We’ve done a lot of work in that area, and we’re really proud of our relationship with the US Marines. We got a load of US Marines playing this, actually, and they seemed to enjoy it – they totally understood about playing co-op, and they were laughing and shouting out commands to each other.”

RPS: If it’s not a sim, how does the realism manifest itself?

Lenton: “Realism appears in everything you see on the field of battle. From the smoke effects to the damage models. This is more like the footage you’re going to see of actual conflict on the BBC News, rather than some action movie. And it’s interesting to compare the reality of ordnance to how it’s portrayed: take grenades, for example, the actual bang of a grenade is tiny compared to the great fireball flash you usually get in games. The explosion of a real grenade is very small, and it’s the radial-effect of shrapnel that does the damage. We recreate that.”

“But the crucial thing is that it’s a very personal narrative. It could almost be seen as a survival horror game: just staying alive when you’re at war, in a desperate situation, is often all you can do. What the original Flashpoint did really well was a sense of danger, a sense of personal danger, and we’re bringing that back. Thinking back to the footage of the Falklands conflict in the early 1980s, you remember that desolate glimpse of soldiers trudging across desolate islands with all their gear? Well there’s some analogy here for us. Skiira island is on the other side of the world, and you’ve got this friction going on for why you are there and what you are fighting for.”

“Realism is in the basic elements of the game: such as how damage is handled. You don’t get to squat behind a rock to be healed, instead you’re in danger of bleeding to death. You’ve got eight pints of blood, and when those bleed out, you’re gone. Even when you patch up, it’s not all fine. If you’ve been hit you’ll still have a limp. We’ve made the death as harrowing as possible.”

RPS: Is it one-shot kill?

Lenton: “Yes. A head shot will be a kill. But it’s more complex than that: you can shoot through a guy’s leg or chest, and he won’t die instantly, even if he goes down. You might reach his position and see him bleeding to death. It’s going to be horrible to see. We didn’t want to make death too light or too easy. The same damage system is true for you, which makes things more challenging. We want to make death as unpleasant as possible, and to make players more careful. You’re not going to run through an open field with your guns blazing. The game will teach you not to do that.”

“And I should say that the documentary thing is essential to us because we want people to feel like they’re close to the reality of war. Audio feeds into that: if you can hear a machinegun firing, you’re probably okay, but if you can hear bullets impacting around you, well, you’re in trouble. We’ve captured that in the audio for this game. Hear bullets? You’ll hit the deck and assess your situation. That’s another lesson we learned from the marines who had seen real combat around the world.”

RPS: So you’d say the gun combat was more realistic than most shooters out there?

Lenton: “Well unlike, say, Call Of Duty, the combat is generally at a medium-range distance – a few hundred metres, say. Making that interesting for the player has been a significant challenge. It can’t just be two guys shoot at each other from behind a rock and half a kilometre until one of them is dead. So that’s where team-work comes in. You are the leader of a fire-team, there’s you and three other guys. You command them via a radial menu, which is a system we’re very pleased with. It becomes muscle-memory as you play, so you have sort of combo moves: “flank left and attack”, sort of thing, with just a few button presses that become totally instinctual. We teach the player these basic moves, so your players can lay down suppressing fire so you can flank, and they become second nature. The morale system ties into this, obviously, you’ll see enemies falling back if things are looking difficult for them. They’ll even chuck out smoke grenades to cover their retreat. And the same is true for you: smoke is real cover, AI can’t detect you through it.”

“Suppression is essential, of course, but it’s not flagged with any icon or anything. No “they are suppressed”, it’s about real feedback. And that’s realistic to war: when the marines attack their first play will often be to get the enemy’s heads down, so they can move in. You’ll actually see enemies hit the deck or dive behind cover when you fire, and it’s then down to you to make the most of those opportunities to win.”

RPS: Tell me about the environment itself – those are some rather large looking islands, which I understand are based on some real islands out near the China and Russia end of the Pacific? How open is it, really?

Lenton: “It’s a big old map we’ve got here, about 225km square of area, and you can go anywhere. The missions in the campaign tend to be from west to east, and we’re trying to get a sort of visual language going with the missions. When we originally focus tested the game we got the impression we were on exercises in the lake district, so we did another art pass to make a scar across the island in which the battle takes place. It gives the players more visual clues about where they should be going, and where the action is going to be. I’m mean we’re not going to create a trail of glowing breadcrumbs for you, because we can do this with art assets: we can have some ruins there, a bunker here, some ruins there, and the human brain naturally sees those as areas of interest, and so you’re lead to keep your attention going in a certain direction, because it’s more visually interesting. It’s the racing line, the best play through the level. People do stick to it, too.”

“On easy mode you’ll have a HUD element to highlight these things for you too. That said, you don’t have to follow this line. The game is completely open. If you want to hike for miles to come into a new angle you can. Go collect your thoughts in the woods like I did in the original Operation Flashpoint. We have tools to optimise this, actually. We’ve logged all the movements of the testers through the terrain too, so we can actually see where they go, and how the approach something. You can see QA guys who have played through a couple of times deviating off and exploring other angles of attack. That’s helped us balance the game.”

“In terms of atmosphere there’s several layers: we have a beautiful weather system and day-night, but we also have this theatre of war element to it. The battle will be going on all around you, and you’ll see the results of that across the landscape. We’re trying to stay away from HUD and AI indicators. A plume of smoke should tell you where the action is without there being a big glowing arrow.”

RPS: You’ve talked a bit about difficulty levels… “easy mode”?

Lenton: “The world in Operation Flashpoint is set. The difficulty levels don’t change the amount of damage or how many enemies there are, or their AI, instead it’s a case of what elements there are helping you, and what aids are on screen. Driver aids, assists, so to speak. On easy you get a cross-hair that changes colour for friend and foe, you get full direction of incoming damage, you get a hit-indicator, you get waypoints. On hard mode, you have a compass and a weapon menu, no crosshair. Iron-sights only. We’re trying to cater for extremes, but keeping the game ultimately the same experience. You can’t be all things to all people, but we’re hoping that people will start on easy and start removing elements.”

“And the toybox is big, so there’s loads of learn: there are loads of vehicles, weapons, artillery, and so on. You don’t have to be a chopper pilot to fly a chopper, however. It’s tricky, but it’s not impossibly hard. We wanted it to be a challenge and not an arcade thing.”

“Of course all this ties into online, too. The entire campaign is a four-player co-op experience, because there’s four men in your fire-team. We know that can work. Four player co-op is proving to be a rather popular feature right now. You’re going to be able to drop straight into that with our online game.”

RPS: And this build of the game is looking pretty finished. You’re all set for release?

Lenton: “We’re content complete, but there’s lots of tweaking and tuning and testing to be done. We’ve got about a month or so of balancing to do. We’re caveats away from the finished game.”

RPS: Thanks, Sion. We’ll look forward to getting our hands on it later this year.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is set for release on October 6th in North America and October 9th in Europe.

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55 Comments »

  1. Mike says:

    I’ve always wanted to know this – the closing RPS comment. Do interviewers actually say this? Or do they merely add it on later? Because the only interviews I’ve ever done, I’ve added it on after artificially…

    Interesting review. Seems to be ARMA2, rubbed over with sandpaper. More polished, but there’s less there.

  2. groovychainsaw says:

    Any chance you can change the difficulty as you play through? I can see myself starting on ‘easy’, then turning the aids off as I get used to it. Rather not have to start from the beginning to get the same effect! Any ideas Jim?

  3. brulleks says:

    Here’s hoping for an ARMA 2-esque game that even wimps like me can play.

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    It sounds like you can change difficulty as you go.

  5. Owen says:

    Pre-ordered this for *ahem* 360 just yesterday actually. Looking forward to it as it’s been far too long since I’ve been able to get my teeth into a soldiery FPS with a bit of meat to it.

    Would love to be playing ARAM2 but unsurprisingly my nearly 4 year old rig doesn’t quite run it…

    Also I noticed that shop-to.net do NOT adhere to the time honoured “you’ll get it at the price you pre-ordered it at” and instead if the price is hiked, MW2 style, so will any pre-orders.

    Can’t remember if this is something shop-to used to do, or whether this is a recent change. If it goes up by more than a fiver I’ll be cancelling the order and getting it off ebay in 3 months for £20.

  6. Gap Gen says:

    There is a hardcore mode (see Gametrailers) that seems to do a bit of what ArmA does in the harder difficulties.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how the games compare (and kudos for managing not to mention ‘the war’). “You are the leader of a fire-team, there’s you and three other guys,” for example.

  7. Gap Gen says:

    Also, worth noting that the Dragon Rising pre-order is the same price as ArmA II is now on Amazon and Play.

  8. Sajmn says:

    Small typo:
    …cross-hair that changes colour for friend and for, you get…

    On topic, it looks rather interesting. Even if the realism isn’t as perfect as in Arma, it’s a worthy tradeoff if there aren’t as many bugs, the AI is better and all the little details are in (I remember seeing a video where there was an animation of a soldier entering a hummer).

  9. Sweedums says:

    i really appreciate what they are trying to do in terms of streamlining the HUD… i’ve heard lots of people saying they are dumbing it down, but i just think its polishing it, afterall, for every comment i hear about how awesome ArmA 2 is, i hear another 5 about how awful the command interface is and how buggy it is… thats why i havent yet bought that game, i dont want the experience to be comprimised by a retarded interface and a glitchy experience. Don’t let us down codemasters, so far the game is looking fantastic

  10. Eben says:

    I have had to admit defeat with ArmaII. Im just shite at it, i never know where the badguys are until ive been shot in the face no matter how much crawling and L2situational awareness i try.

    This might be abit easier =D as long as i can fly a helicopter its all good!

  11. Owen says:

    sorry, that wasn’t the best way to link that :|

  12. HidesHisEyes says:

    Really looking forward to this a lot more than i was ARMAII. Seems like the perfect compromise.

  13. Ginger Yellow says:

    Sounds a bit like a somewhat more realistic, open world Brothers in Arms. From the realism comments, I’m getting the vibe that it’s not going to be as close to Arma as we might have thought.

  14. TXinTXe says:

    The interface of arma 2 is not retarded. It’s the other way around.

  15. Alistair says:

    The UI items shouldn’t be bundled up in difficulty levels, they should be individually choosable. All games should do this! And preferably, be visible only while a key is held down, as well as togglable on… HUDs break immersion, but sometimes they’re useful. A bit of effort here would be great.

  16. ascagnel says:

    You’ve got eight pints of blood, and when those bleed out, you’re gone.</blockquote

    Eight pints of blood? He must be a vampire's best friend. (sorry, been watching too much True Blood)

    I thought the average human only had 5 pints. Or is that 5 liters?

  17. Quests says:

    “responsibility of making a serious war game accessible to the majority of gamers.”

    This is where i stopped reading.

  18. PileUp says:

    @TXinTXe

    The retard of arma 2 is not an interface?

  19. dtgreen says:

    This is the only game I have any interest in buying for the forseeable future, and the only reason to keep Boot Camp installed on my MBP. Co-op is the way forward.

  20. AndrewC says:

    It’s true PileUp, if you go to a specific farm house in the north east of the map, you can find a very cheery but unfortunately challenged fellow holding a duck upside down.

  21. Dracko says:

    If True Blood taught you that, then I’m glad I stopped watching it after the horrible pilot.

  22. Rook says:

    4-5 litres for most people. Soldiers I’m sure will have more.

  23. PendragonUK says:

    This game is looking very, very intesting, the one big question I have is: can we run clan servers? Will there be dedicated Server software? Can we run more than the 4 player Coop that has been mentioned?

    4 man coop is fun but 32 man is better!

  24. Turin Turambar says:

    Answering to ppl being defeated in Arma2

    The AI in 1.03 version is a bit more fair, try it now. And also, lower the enemy skill level, doh! :D. It’s in game options, difficulty, edit difficulty, a slider at the end.

  25. Sobric says:

    As a massive fan of the original OFP, I found ArmA disappointing to say the least (haven’t had the chance to play ArmA II yet, no chance my comp will run it). They kept all the good bits but didn’t fix the bad stuff, and each version seems like a graphical update of the previous. The poor interface, dodgy AI, suspect vehicle damage model and above all (for me anyway) the lack of weight most vehicles had: all of these appear to remain in some way in ArmA II.

    OFP 2 appears to have made attempts at improving these, and I for one welcome this. It may be at the cost of ball-grippingly accurate realism, but if that makes the overall experience better for it then great.

    One aspect I would be really interested to see develop is OFP 2′s mod scene, as the original OFP and the ArmA sequels have one of the best modding scenes of any game I’ve played (second only to Morrowind, as I’m sure RPS has found out).

  26. Jad says:

    I’m interested in this quite a bit.

    I don’t begrudge people their ArmA II, but it was clearly Not For Me. The interface was baffling — it didn’t conform to decade-old FPS standards, and it fell into the usual trap of the more you simulate, the less like the real thing it becomes. Actual soldiers don’t fumble around multi-layer menus just to shout “Cover Me” or “Go Right” to their squadmates*. They also don’t use a menu to heal a wounded soldier, which is where I failed on the demo tutorial.

    Anyway, while someone could certainly love ArmA, and consider anything less realistic than that to be Not For Them, Codemasters realizes that there is quite a large gap between COD and ArmA and OpFor2 seems like it will do a pretty good job of filling it.

    I do hope that flying helicopters is optional. I don’t really have any interest in doing anything other than on-the-ground soldiering, and if you are the same character throughout, it won’t be very realistic to do anything else. US Marine riflemen do not fly helicopters, and while helicopter pilots do get some rifle training, they usually are not asked to lead a fireteam on foot to assault a village.

    *I realize that this issue is fixed if you play online — which I frankly don’t have any interest in. OpFor2 hopefully will have a fully-fleshed out SP mode.

  27. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    Even this game is probably too brainy infantry sim for me, but I was put off slightly when the interviewee said that “even smoke is actual cover” when it’s not cover – it’s concealment…

  28. Shadowcat says:

    Mad Doc MacRae: “Cover” can sometimes simply refer to concealment. If actions are performed “under cover of darkness”, no one is under the misapprehension that the lack of light effected some kind of physical barrier.

  29. Turin Turambar says:

    Jad, in Ofp2 there is even more multilayered mensu to order your teammates, thanks to the limitation of pads ;).

    But yes, there is a big gap between CoD and Arma2, and it’s good someone fills that gap.

  30. pirate0r says:

    It sounds like Project Reality and Brothers in Arms got together and produced a hot daughter they thoughtfully named Operation Flashpoint 2 (much to the chagrin of their estranged friend Operation Flashpoint).

    Compared side by side she does lack the intimidating girth of the ArmA family, and when you compare personalities she seems a little simple but on the other hand she does speak a fluent English with a cute accent. She seems very nimble and doesn’t need a 10 step set of instructions to get her from the car into your bedroom on a Friday night. Her body obeys accepted laws of physics unlike her friend ArmA who daily manages to defy logic and launch into a barrel roll despite her massive size and lack of wings, poor girl I think it’s a family curse.

    Her voluptuous assets are well developed and when compared to ArmA, she seems far more accessible and less intimidating to the military shooter virgins out there. She’ll hold your hand a little bit and guide you through until have enough experience/confidence to finish it on your own.

    I’ve been with ArmA, I’ve been with her better dressed and younger sister ArmA II (high fives) and even the mother of all military shooters Operation Flashpoint (she looked good back then but man has she aged…) but in retrospect they all seem like a better looking rehash of the one that came before, but I guess that’s genetics.

    I haven’t actually experienced Operation Flashpoint 2 for myself, sadly all I have to go by is what other guys (and girls) have told me about her and the revealing videos she releases online. Operation Flashpoint 2 looks hot and she says shes ready to go, at least that’s what her facebook status says…

  31. AndrewC says:

    Good lord if we’re going to start comparing games to slim pretty women we should start comparing gamers to fat ugly nerds…oh wait.

  32. D says:

    @pirate0r: More of that sortof thing please! Hotness!

  33. caramelcarrot says:

    Having played ArmA2, here’s hoping that they nail the UI in this for PC (and not just as a consoleified version, I do have an entire keyboard in front of me you know).

    UI guides on easy levels will certainly be welcome – sure if you’ve played the game for a while you know what you’re meant to be doing, but I don’t have a damn clue when I’ve only just started playing and my AI team-mates have all run off over the horizon to take on some invisible enemy.

  34. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    @shadowcat: maybe that flies in your sloppy excuse for a military but that won’t work here, maggot! Now take that hill!

    [/TF2 soldier]

  35. Blather Blob says:

    Spoiler: At the end of the game you learn that everyone you’ve been shooting is actually a friendly and the enemy actually left the island the month before. Also a battleship runs into a mine and sinks.

  36. Guhndahb says:

    If controlling your teammates is at all important, I certainly hope they make _every_ command invokable from keyboard as well as the radial menu, even if requires multiple steps like in ArmA. That way folks can use voice rec software (e.g. Shoot) for team commands.

  37. Markoff Chaney says:

    Blather Blob – I really shouldn’t still be laughing about that Spoiler, but I am. Massive Love to AndrewC’s duck interpretation and pirate0r’s salacious description as well.

  38. suibhne says:

    For non-hardcore grognards, like moi, this game is looking less intimidating and potentially more polished than ArmA II.

  39. Gap Gen says:

    I think ArmA II’s biggest downfall was making a campaign that was probably too difficult for the team to pull of successfully. It’s an interesting idea, but one that needs more polish and better AI to work.

    I’d have been happy if all they did was remake Operation Flashpoint’s campaign in high-res, to be honest.

  40. Rune says:

    Gap Gen: If you mean with ArmA’s graphics, look no further than the OAC project. They’ve got permission from BIS to convert and release everything for ArmA. The official campaigns work alright, but there are some bugs. Just use the ‘endmission’ cheat if you encounter a mission breaking bug :)

    http://forums.bistudio.com/showthread.php?t=68736

  41. Gap Gen says:

    Sounds interesting. I didn’t think much of ArmA’s campaign, by the way – it was a little too fragmented and impersonal for my liking, plus fighting a genuine superpower is more exciting than a tinpot dictatorship…

    My point was that I’d probably have been happy with something very similar to what Operation Flashpoint did – a decent set of combined-arms missions held together with a compelling story. You can’t fault BIS’s ambition (and the whole RPG thing may well tie into the military wanting the ability to talk to the locals in their version of the game), but I have to wonder if they would have been better off aiming lower but better quality.

  42. Rune says:

    I don’t know if you misunderstood me or not, but the OAC project converts everything from Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis and Resistance into Armed Assault 1. So you do get OFP’s amazing campaign. Of course you’ll have to own the games to use their content, as the installer does some kind of registry checking I think.

    You can also try the Cold War Rearmed project which is more polished at the expense of not having that much content. I think this one was made with some involvement by BIS too. Haven’t tried it yet though.

    http://community.bistudio.com/wiki/Cold_War_Rearmed

  43. Pags says:

    Is an instinctual move the same as an instinctive one?

  44. Gap Gen says:

    Rune: Yeah, I replied before clicking the link, because I am silly.

  45. humptygrumpty says:

    Operation Flashpoint 2 : ‘Blinding the Dragon’

    Part 1
    Part 2

    Operation Flashpoint 2 : ‘Take the Beach’

    Part 1
    Part 2

  46. humptygrumpty says:

    eep, that worked better!

  47. Breaker Morant's ghost says:

    I find it disturbing that he didn’t talk about modding support. Mods are what made OFP the legend it is.

  48. CaseytheBrash says:

    How does it run? I’m not gonna buy another 20FPS game. ArmA II chugs on my rig and it’s a decent old gal.