We Shoot People: WarCo Interview

By Dan Grill on October 4th, 2011 at 12:30 pm.

But does it correspond to war?
WarCo took us by surprise; a first-person game from a new studio where you play a journalist filming a civil war in a third-world dictatorship. We spoke to Morgan Jaffit from Defiant Development about the game and what message the team were trying to convey.

RPS: It says here that you’re a team of games veterans; where you’ve worked before and what on?

Jaffit: The majority of the team is ex-Pandemic Australia, having worked on titles like Destroy All Humans 1+2, Mercenaries 2, and other Pandemic titles.

RPS: So, the game was first envisaged as a video-journalist training simulator; how has it moved away from that?

Jaffit: Yes, although the inspiration was as a training sim, we’ve definitely focused on building an actual slice of a retail game. We’ve absolutely keep the focus on gritty realism, but at the same time we’ve layered game systems, progression, and challenges into the mix to build something compelling.

RPS: Hmm. There have been camera-based gameplay systems before – Dead Rising, Bioshock, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis and Beyond Good & Evil to name a few – so are you going for an objective-based system, or something based on point-gathering?

Jaffit: Objective, primarily. While we do rate the footage you gather, our primary concern is in the content of your images. The footage you capture determines the types of stories you can tell, which is really the goal at the heart of Warco.


RPS: Is this an effort to explore the ethics of involvement, the endless war correspondent problem? Ranging from Churchill’s self-aggrandisement as a journalist in the Boer war to Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War involvement and even Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, newspapers and war journalists have never been shy of making themselves part of the story. Do you think it takes a certain level of ego to get involved in these theatres?

Jaffit: That’s certainly a key theme of the questions that we pose the player throughout the experience. In many ways, that’s the sort of storytelling and exploration that games do better than any other medium – the exploration of questions of involvement is at the core of the scenarios we put the player in throughout. The goal has always been to build a consequential narrative, where your actions have an impact on the unfolding story. At the same time, the broader arcs of the war progress without you – you’re not going to turn the tide of battle, even if you may influence the opinion of the viewers back home.

RPS: I assume the game isn’t open-world, but can’t think that it’s merely linear. Is it level-based?

Jaffit: Our design team has a huge amount of experience making open world games with Pandemic, and we’ve tried to take those lessons into what we’re making on a smaller scale. Instead of a full open world, we’ve built a series of linked sandboxes. Your mission at each point is to explore that space and choose from the many elements we’ve set up what story you want to follow. You won’t have the time or resources to followup everything that takes place, so you’ll have to use your discretion as to what sort of stories you want to tell.


RPS: There’s an awful lot of gunfire and dead bodies in the trailer I’ve seen; does the game focus on this, or does it give a more holistic view of normality in combat zones?

Jaffit: We cover everything from the frontline to the hotel lobby. We made the decision to focus on one of the high action engagements for the purposes of the trailer in order to show just how hairy things can get. I think we’ve succeeded in that, but the game itself has much more of a focus on light and shade. You’ll be embedded with local troops on patrol, investigate the bases of warlords, interview child soliders, kick back with other reporters, and follow the plights of civilians. As we look at other war games, we want to tell a much broader story, one that involves all of the people affected by the chaos taking place.

RPS:How can you manage realism? Combat at such short ranges is rarely filmed by crews; is that a fear of death thing?

Jaffit: We’re using the reality of war journalism as our baseline, and in many cases that means we’re offering players the opportunity to do things that might be foolhardy. Of course, in that case they’ll suffer the consequences of their actions as well.

RPS: How will your editing system work? Again, Lionhead had trouble with the Movies making a system that could judge your efforts correctly.

Jaffit: Primarily we care about what events you’ve captured, in order to analyse the type of story you’re telling. It’s far less about giving you 20 points for a well framed image than about rewarding you for capturing an interesting set of narrative moments. You can either allow the system to auto-edit your story, or you can build something more personal and share that with your friends.


RPS: Is there a storyline to the game, or is it a series of vignettes? You’re working with a filmmaker, so I’m assuming the former.

Jaffit: There’s definitely a storyline, but we’re not going too deeply into the content at this time. Suffice to say the local dictatorship is in the midst of falling apart, and that serves as the backdrop for the games events.

RPS: The game is obstensibly about military violence, like the games I presume it is critiquing; how do you strike a balance between making the game fun and having it help the player develop morally?

Jaffit: I wouldn’t describe us a critique of other games, any more than Saving Private Ryan is a critique of Where Eagles Dare. Most of those other games are action movies and we’re more of a drama, it just so happens that both take place against the background of modern warfare. In terms of gameplay, we’re strong believers that good games are rooted in interesting choices and meaningful interactions, and that has been our focus throughout development.

RPS: Are you limited by the engines available or are you building your own?

Jaffit: We’re not developing our own engine, and the proof of concept was put together in Unreal. One of things about building an FPS is there’s plenty of off-the-shelf technology that meets our needs.


RPS: Currently, the combat is very gamey; short-ranged, large explosions and flashy gun-fire. Is that final? How much realism do you attempt for elements like injuries and weapon penetration?

Jaffit: We’re still very early in development, and realism is our benchmark. One of the questions on our mind is how to indicate danger and threat without using traditional regenerating health, because the fact of the matter is that you’re not getting shot and then running for cover. On the other hand, we don’t want to be instakilling the player without warning. As we progress, we’re looking at different ways to inform the player they’re under threat, so they can respond appropriately.

RPS: Your other games seem to be much more commercial, though still experimental. Who do you see buying this game? Does it need to do well?

Jaffit: We believe there’s a strong, untapped market for more mature, narrative focused games. Heavy Rain starts to show the potential in that area, and we’re hoping to grow it. The average gamer is 37 years old, and in essence we’re hoping to make games for an older market who, while they still play the blockbusters are also looking for something more nuanced. In terms of sales projections, we’ve always been mindful that we address a slightly different market, so we’ve built the development and focus around a game that can break even at much lower numbers.

RPS: One of the scenes seemed to have an awful lot of dead bodies in an airport? Is this a reference to Call of Duty’s infamous No Russian scene or am I reading too much into this?

Jaffit: It’s not a conscious reference!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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35 Comments »

  1. pakoito says:

    Is this a game about being Kieron Gillien? because it doesn’t seem to feature unicorns and his spelling looks decent.

  2. Dominic White says:

    Most worrisome moment of that trailer – at 19 seconds in, that soldier just casually shoots the journalist (who only suffers a coating of jam on his glasses, apparently), then turns back to the fight at hand, while the journalist runs across the same soldiers line of fire to stand directly behind him instead.

    To paraphrase Morbo… JOURNALISM DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!

    • Brumisator says:

      Well on close inspection of that second of footage, the journalist was actually shot from behind, and the soldier casually watching him, albeit moving like a robot, didn’t have any kind of muzzle flash at that moment.

      Sure, I don’t think real journalists carry their jars of raspberry jam that close to their camera’s lens, but to paraphrase Leela:
      hey, you gotta do what you gotta do (to get intense footage).

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, I think he’s getting shot in the back. I commented on it last time.

      The good news is that “the fact of the matter is that you’re not getting shot and then running for cover” seems to indicate they know it’s crap and are trying to fix it. Just hope they come up with something.

      (And hopefully “the proof of concept was put together in Unreal” refers to the trailer footage, and they’ll be fixing up the AI/character animation that screams “I AM A DUMB VIRTUAL COMPUTER PERSON” that kind of undermines the interest/drama of filming them.)

  3. Brumisator says:

    I’m going to say the obvious her again, and really really REALLY hope that at no point do you pick up a weapon and join the firefight in this game.

    My hopes are up, please don’t crush them!

    • aldo_14 says:

      They should totally have the player pick up a gun.

      And then a nearby soldier immediately slap him/her on the head and take it off them again.

      Really I’d rather have a PC version of one of those ‘Safari’ type games, or like Endless Ocean.

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      I agree with aldo_14. Currently playing through Endless Ocean 2 and goddam if it isn’t addictive.

      However, this game seems like a good idea but I’m interested to see how it will pan out. I don’t see how they’re going to get away from the player just filming a load of bombastic scripted events. On the other hand, letting players edit and upload their films for everyone to see might be interesting. Players could also vote on who should win the Pulitzer (checks Pulitzer prizes) or whatever award you can get for journalism. Although, knowing the game community the award would go to someone who managed to film one of the NPCs spin around in circles or get stuck on a wall.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Go for the Damien Day (Drop the Dead Donkey) approach, pick up a grenade and lob it over a wall before doing your piece to camera, thus ensuring a background full of smoke and screams.

      Oh, and always keep a ready supply of one armed teddy bears to place strategically in any pile of rubble.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      Glad someone mentioned Drop the Dead Donkey. Good though the idea is, I saw this and instantly started reworking it as a comedy game – falsifying and ‘sexing up’ coverage any way you can with whatever comes to hand. Got to be some mod potential there.

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      Great Idea. For instance. You could use your ARMA videos to sex up war coverage.

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    Gap Gen says:

    Regardless of how this turns out, I just love that a game like this exists.

  5. Will Tomas says:

    “The average gamer is 37 years old”

    Wow, really?!

    I’m just over ten years away from being the average age for a gamer… I guess I don’t feel so old anymore.

    • thegooseking says:

      It’s worth noting that the average person is also 37 years old. Gaming has a fairly even distribution across all age ranges.

    • greenbananas says:

      Yeah, as a long time reader, it was that precise line (and the fact that I’d read it before) that made me sign up to give my 0.003p (how much is the dollar nowadays?).

      How are they getting to that number? Seriously. Are they counting 60 year old bored housewives who like to play the odd flash puzzle? Maybe Failbook games (but then is the average failbooker THAT old??) ?? Maybe there’s a group of 5000 year olds messing up the average?? Maybe that gamer demographic is somehow comprised of 6 billion people??

      I really can’t name a single person I know of that plays enough games to be considered a gamer over the age of 37. Hell, over the age of 25, even.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      How can you say that someone doesn’t play “enough games to be considered a gamer”? If you play games at all, or even have done before and might do again, you’re technically a gamer. Does someone who has only driven one or two cars not get called a driver?

      Averages rarely tell you anything useful anyway; like here, what actual use is that information to anyone?

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      Llewyn says:

      @greenbananas: That’s fine. After a bit of thought, I can’t think of a single person I know under the age of 33 who plays games enough for me to consider them a gamer. It’s always worth remembering at a time like this that your personal circle of friends is really not significant.

    • greenbananas says:

      @YourMessageHere

      Precisely. Which is why I find it odd that this nugget keeps on showing up, particularly in gaming-related websites.

      I mean, if the definition of gamer you propose (whereas I interpreted it as “person who buys/plays computer/console games on such a basis that I can extrapolate will want to buy/play mine”) is what’s used in getting to that average, then why is it deemed valuable enough for a developer to use as an argument over whether or not to produce a more adult-oriented game, particularly if it’s misrepresenting the people who are more likely to buy/play his product?

      Not arguing against the game, mind, certainly seems a lot more interesting than the onslaught of FPS we’ve had of late.

      @Llewyn

      Yes, I know! How dare that impudent caveman just up and stereotype a bunch of us respectable citizens?!? But you’re right. I really should shave, get out of my cave, maybe work on getting a tan or something. Meh, I think I’d much rather stay in here with you and your precious comments, it’s scary out there!

      By the way, “single person I know” =/= “circle of friends”.

    • Sleepymatt says:

      @Greenbananas
      “I really can’t name a single person I know of that plays enough games to be considered a gamer over the age of 37. Hell, over the age of 25, even.”

      One assumes you are discounting our own Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol as ‘not gamey enough to count as gamers’, as I’m fairly sure their 15-20 years in games journalism didn’t start at the age of five. It’s either that, or you don’t think they qualify as people…

    • greenbananas says:

      @Sleepymatt

      What, this nasty bunch who get all of their games for free with no added guilt? Of course I don’t! Rodents, the lot!!

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    freakoftheuniverse says:

    A few of the Australian tabloids ran a story about this a few days ago, saying that concept was thought up by Walkley award winning journo Tony Maniaty, and director of that Balibo flick, Robert Connolly.

  7. Snargelfargen says:

    I don’t think this is going to work that well. The best war journalism is done by people who are already fluent in the culture/history and sometimes even languages of the conflict. Without context, or at least somebody else to distill all that information, that footage is just a bunch of white noise.

    Not saying it won’t be fun, recording combat will probably give a voyeuristic thrill. But apart from not actually shooting anyone, it might as well be an on-rails CoD shooter.

  8. Josh W says:

    Seen as they are using the camera for something specific, they probably want to show danger with audio cues; such as bullets skimming past your ear or explosions being really loud. In this way hopefully you can cue the player in to the fact they are in danger without having to put stuff on the camera.

    • Salt says:

      Actually being hit should be a very rare event, with enemies not being flatly inaccurate, but their shots programmed to explicitly not hit the player unless they’ve been deemed “in the open” for X seconds. Instead of jam-on-face and recovering health, use the type of disorienting effects seen in the suppression mechanic in Battlefield 3 and the low sanity effect in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

      If the player gets themselves in an overly dangerous situation they should lose their nerve, and so are unable to hold the camera steady, can’t see clearly (the recorded image from the camera is still clear of course), and generally have a hard time doing anything other than hiding behind sandbags. Crawling to a safer place will allow their nerve to recover.

      When at too low ‘nerve’ level the character would refuse to look down the lens and aim the camera accurately. So the player is punished for putting themselves in a dangerous place by losing time during which they can take quality footage – possibly missing the chance to film a key event. Levels should be designed so that getting a shot of all key areas requires at least some time passing through dangerous locations. They can still “hip fire” the camera to get wobble-cam footage from their dangerous position, but being exposed in such a location means you’ll get hit eventually and any hit means you’re out of action.

      That’ll be $500 consultancy fee, please, Mr Defiant Development.

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      phuzz says:

      Also audio cues from surrounding fighters (eg “get down! we’re taking fire!”) would help (assuming the same phrases aren’t spammed constantly).

      While we’re helping the devs out, does anyone want to suggest an engine they could use?
      I’m going to suggest the Dunia engine from Far Cry 2, but I always thought that engine had a lot more potential than FC2 made of it.

  9. Mario Pajas says:

    You respond your own questions? xD

    Let the interviewed give his opinion and don’t jump to conclusions at any moment.

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    Sagan says:

    Love it.

    As for them namedropping Heavy Rain: I consider all the big publishers nowadays to be not particularly smart since they still haven’t copied Heavy Rain. Here is a game that sold really well while actually trying to move the medium forward. Maybe you should copy that instead of Call of Duty or Farmville…

    So yay, go Defiant! I’ll certainly buy this (except if it turns out to be completely bad)

  11. Dozer says:

    War correspondance. War correspondance never changes.

  12. Dozer says:

    (some comment about why my previous comment didn’t show up)

    RockPaperShotgun comments tropes. RockPaperShotgun comments tropes never change. es.

    (Would kind of be nice to be able to delete your own comments.)

  13. Ezhar says:

    ITV is going to love this.

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    Gabbo says:

    That interview gives me more hope for the eventual finished product than the initial trailer did, if only because the dev[s] seem to want to make this deeper than just an action game with a camera (Call of Duty Snap). It might not be setting out to critique shooters, but it looks to offer something quite different and interesting that may do so inadvertently anyway.

    Also: War correspondence, HUH, what is it good for? Aboslutely nothing! Say it again!

  15. AgamemnonV2 says:

    I think America’s Army has better animations than what’s in the trailer. Right now it looks like they’ve created a 1997-era shooter where you play as a stick with a camera attached to you. Which, you know, makes the game worthless considering the entire aspect to photojournalism is not how many explosions you can capture in one shot.

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    Saul says:

    Like! Morgan’s a lovely guy and I really hope they pull this off.

  17. pupsikaso says:

    If I can’t make up complete lies using the footage I’ve shot put out of context then I’ll be very disappointed in this “war journalist simulator”

  18. Emeraude says:

    This really seems fascinating in its possibilities. Really looking forward to the info editing aspect of the game (the data gathering I find I really could do without actually).