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