Czech Out: Bohemia Talk Arma 3 Alpha

By Jim Rossignol on February 28th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.


I’ve been playing the Arma 3 alpha! I know. But before we get to that, let’s see what project lead Joris-Jan van ‘t Land has to say about the state of the project, and the plans for this early release of the madly anticipated sandbox soldier sim. Read on for victory!

RPS: Can you explain your decision to make Arma 3 a Steam exclusive? I had always seen Bohemia as fiercely independent, with you developing your own sales platform and so on. What changed? Are you admitting to defeat to the Valve empire?

Joris:  Most of the reasoning is covered in our development blog. To sum it up: we took an honest look at where we were, weighed up all of our options, and decided on this as the best way forward for Arma 3. I believe it’s important to keep in mind that any benefit to us as developer, should be a benefit to players. Making the setup process smoother, having updates be more frequent and distributed quicker, being able to deliver mods and other user-generated content easier, and freeing up time for us to support important things like the SDK. They will all unlock Arma 3’s potential and longevity. The requirement from ourselves to release in 2013 is not just a business decision; this is important for the team as well. You cannot keep a team motivated for years and it’s hard to keep the technology state-of-the-art.

We don’t see this move as becoming less independent. Rather, to remain independent we need to be pragmatic and use existing solutions where appropriate. We have to accept we cannot do everything on our own. Arma 3 will still sell via our sales platform Store.bistudio.com, and other platforms, but every game does run through Steam. As a Project Lead I want to release the best game on time, as a designer I want to release the best platform to tinker with, and as a gamer I want to release the best game to explore and have memorable experiences in. So far our decision is helping to achieve these ambitious goals, as seen by our Alpha release now.


RPS: The presentation of Arma 3 seems far slicker than in previous games – was this designed to address criticism of your previous games? Do you think Bohemia had earned a reputation for technical brilliance without production polish? Was that deserved?

Joris:  Yes, I believe the criticism was deserved. This was one of the things myself, co-creative director Jay Crowe, and the team really wanted to improve for Arma 3. We’re trying to make the setup experience and first play session smoother. In a way our biggest strength is our biggest weakness: the sandbox. In my opinion such game experience cannot be perfect and bug-free. There are too many variables, combinations and situations to ever test for. But since we love the openness so much, we accept these imperfections. It’s our job to detect the edge cases that pull players out from their immersion and solve them.

Myself and many of my team members owe our careers to the open Arma platform. To provide you with a little anecdote: my second encounter with our CEO Marek Španěl, was when I handed him a floppy disk with a ‘mod’ in 2001. This was at the Cold War Crisis launch event in Brussels, which I attended as a fan. After his interviews were over, we went over to one of the demo stations to check it out. It was a custom mission for the press preview version, which would dynamically spawn a tank on a beach, then drive it to the player anywhere on the island. At that point in time the scripting language was mostly still only there to create simple cutscenes. If I remember right, he was quite pleasantly surprised to see such possibilities in his game. Our philosophy is that we do not want to compromise this freedom and opportunity, but we think it’s fair to at least try and remove the biggest rough edges. We’re looking for a more consistent and polished package, while maintaining the open approach within and outside the game.

RPS: Can you talk a bit about the content in the alpha – why did you choose to show these elements? What are you most proud of?

Joris:  I really enjoy the infantry showcase, because it is a benchmark for our design vision. The scenario is quite simple, but every play-through has little differences. Sometimes I get suppressed by an auto-rifleman, see tracers fly right over my head and hear the bullets pop. You genuinely do not want to get hit, because you know the consequences are brutal. Another time you’ll have outsmarted the same patrol using a well-placed under-barrel grenade, and the survivors are forced into completely different tactics. Ignore them, and they may come back to flank you ten minutes later. The point is: when we deliver a good enough sandbox for our infantry supported by vehicles, the scenarios themselves should not have to rely on heavy scripting.

The content will not only grow during the Alpha and Beta programs, but the full game is significantly buffed.

Then I start up the helicopter showcase, and you really get to see how broad the experience can be. The environment is huge, even if it’s tiny compared to the full game’s Altis. That’s something important to stress: do not be worried about the Alpha launch content being fairly limited. The content will not only grow during the Alpha and Beta programs, but the full game is significantly buffed. Factor in community content, and you once again have an endless pool of fun.

When you start toying around in the editor, you’re able to further explore the new features. Come up with new types of scenarios using SCUBA diving, get creative with anti-personnel mines or simply drop in two opposing squads of infantry someplace new on the island. A combat engagement can play out differently each time, but is now enhanced by a much-refined radio protocol and better responsiveness of the character movement.


RPS: How important do you think a single-player campaign is to the Arma series? Do more people play that than the multiplayer?

Joris:  An Arma game without any campaign would not feel right to me. It’s about longevity. People come in, play the campaign, play with the editor, train themselves in singleplayer generally. Then they stick around for the multiplayer and new content. Of course that’s generalizing, but I think neither can be ignored when we want to deliver a complete Arma experience.

RPS: Arma 3 seems to have had a troubled development, not least thanks to the situation with Martin and Ivan, but what particular design and technical challenges did you face? What problems have you had to address as development proceeded?

Joris:  One problem stems from growing as a development team. People tend to think more people automatically means you can do more, but it’s very hard to effectively manage a large team. This is further complicated when you’re working across several physical locations. Many of our previous games had been made primarily in one location, with support from other studios. Now we have core development spread over two offices. Quickly storming a room next door is harder when that room is hundreds of kilometers away. We’re still learning how to deal with this effectively.

The second main issue is the balance between idealism and pragmatism. We want to do ‘all of the things’, but can only feasibly do so much. Early on we tried to add too many new technologies and features, not realizing we would not have the resources to finish them properly. We had to be honest with ourselves, dial back down our desires, re-focus our vision and make sure we can release a game. Having a solid Arma 3 platform and expanding it over time is ultimately beneficial to us all.


RPS: Can you tell us a bit about how you’re expect the alpha and beta tests to go? What’s the roadmap from here?

Joris:  These early-access and test programs are really exciting for us. Particularly the ability to fully mod the Alpha is something quite unique in the current industry. Many of the games are even moving away from modding the final game. I can’t wait to see what our community comes up with before the full game is released. By doing this they will also help us test features we would otherwise not explore in our planned content (we do not currently plan to test attaching bleachers and turrets to vehicles to create a battle bus for example).

Next to that, we are still able to react to some of the feedback and change parts of the game. The foundations are built, but getting the balance of elements right is open to feedback. What are good default control bindings? How much recoil for a certain weapon is just right? How fast should an armored car accelerate? These are the types of questions we hope to get proposals for. This again ensures that the full game in Q3 2013 will be a better experience for those people waiting to enlist at that time.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Next time: Jim vs men with guns! (Again!)

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48 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    DarkLiberator says:

    Looking forward to trying out the alpha! Glad to hear its fully moddable!

    • jonfitt says:

      The alpha sounds like such a good idea.Those who would be scared off by Arma’s inevitable initial bugs can wait until release, but others who have no fear can get a good discount.

    • Kim-Dick says:

      like Pamela replied I am amazed that a single mom can earn $7316 in four weeks on the internet. did you see this web link… http://tiny.cc/0ui8sw

    • Guppo_26 says:

      Does this mean we can expect ArmA 3 content from you? ^_^

  2. Screamer says:

    I wonder how they got it right for all 4 soldiers in the title pic to look the same direction?

    • Connor Magee says:

      Do you mean that they look similar or that they’re looking in the same direction?

  3. Rossi says:

    This is why PC gaming is awesome!

  4. Synesthesia says:

    i have butterflies in my stomach. Or is it a post decompression blast thing? I don’t know. I like it.

  5. Redkid says:

    No click to embiggen? :(

  6. ankh says:

    Cannot resist any longer! The “Alpha” edition on steam seems like a good deal, but what does it mean that I won’t be getting “Digital maps”?

  7. Njordsk says:

    screams a little bit too much “need your money now” to my taste.

    I love arma series, but I dunno, I’m skeptical over that one.

    • Connor Magee says:

      They’re doing two things.
      1: Asking for pre-orders.
      2: Making sure their alpha players/testers are actual customers/fans and not people taking advantage to play the game for free, get their kicks out of it then never buy it on release.
      Neither of these are unusual or unethical for a game dev team.

    • zoog85 says:

      You get a massive pre-order bonus (24,99 euro for final version and early access right away). It’s a good way to say thank you for those who are willing to pre-order and (possibly) test and give feedback as well.

  8. Premium User Badge

    El_MUERkO says:

    EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    /all the excitement

    /angry look from wife

  9. Shooop says:

    That doesn’t really answer the question, “Why Steam exclusive” at all.

    How does making the game Steam-exclusive make it easier for them to develop it? Maybe to update it, but develop it? And makes it easier to mod? It’s easier to browse websites like the Nexus ones to get mods than Steam Workshop.

    • Barman1942 says:

      If you would read their dev post they explain why going Steam-exclusive makes it easier for them to focus on the game very thoroughly.

      And hey, Skyrim has a Steam Workshop, I guess that means the Nexus for it is dead, right? Steam exclusive does not mean Steam Workshop exclusive. Steam Workshop and Nexus are pretty much the same, they’re both CDNs. There’s nothing special about the workshop that makes it the only way to install mods for specific games.

      • Shooop says:

        I’ve re-read my post twice and I still don’t see anything that suggested Steam Workshop would mean the end of Nexus sites.

        I said I don’t see how that makes modding any easier because using Nexus sites work just as well.

    • DetCord says:

      From a development standpoint, it makes a great deal of sense. Having one singe Digital Distribution Platform to that delivers the game, post-launch content, and having a single version as opposed to numerous ones (a-la ArmA II) reduces developer costs greatly.

      Contrary to popular belief, patching costs a lot of money.

      Furthermore, you don’t have to sync to the various build-trees that come with developing a game, and instead have a single DBS in which to develop upon. You can track bugs in real time and then triage based on number of unique users. Steam has a auto–collect feature for minidumps and include minidump parsing tools and, Dev’s can find and address bugs even before they’re reported by the player.

      • Shooop says:

        I wasn’t aware of the data-collection tools built into Steamworks. But aren’t comparable tools built into most big-budget games by the developers themselves? Especially ARMA, since it’s so ambitious. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bohemia had a superior app for that.

        And how many versions can they have of the same game? The only thing that should be different is the distributor unless there is store-exclusive content. It’s all data, whether it be on a disc or digital-delivered files.

        • doublethink says:

          Arma 2 used GameSpy for the friends/server browsing portion of things.

          GameSpy SUCKSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. (notice all the S’s for effect)

          Think about all the features of Steam. Now think about having none of them. For any developer to work outside of that means to create all the backends, databases, authentication mechanisms everything from scratch. And after you do all that, what have you done to your end user? Another name and password to remember, fragmenting them away from their existing library, and friends. Plus as mentioned by people above, patching. You need to design a full client for that because users these days are accustomed to that. Long gone are the days of going to filefront and doing everything manually. Its a wonder 1/2 the people can find the shortcut for the game itself on their desktops.

          When I see a friend on steam open a game I don’t know, I check it out. That’s built in residual business and advertising right there because your withing existing networks of like-minded people with existing friends.

          There is literally hundreds of reasons its a win for both the dev and the gamer. The only loss could possibly be what the licensing fees are on the backend or what Valves cut may be. But as a gamer, you don’t really see that. The dev internalizes that cost as part of development.

          Another negative could be those without internet at all, but I am not sympathetic to people who choose to live where there isn’t real internet.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      Having used both Steam Workshop and Skyrim Nexus to mod that game, I can say with some confidence that I believe Steam Workshop is much easier to browse.

  10. Premium User Badge

    FullMetalMonkey says:

    I can’t remember if its been confirmed or not but is Conquer The Island going to be in the final release? I remember the mode in Operation Flashpoint and spent about 12 hours playing a session and it was immense.

    I miss those days.

    • Batolemaeus says:

      It sounds likely to me considering that this mode is also present in Arma2 and is very popular.

  11. DyingTickles says:

    I love that he mentions the Battle Bus.

    I’ll be getting the alpha as soon as possible. All other responsiblities will go on hold for a bit once that is released.

  12. jkz says:

    Cant wait for Altis life mission file where you have two factions, the Police and the tourists, the tourists take innocuous photos of the airport that doubles as a military airport and the Police throw them in jail for it.

  13. TV-PressPass says:

    I am extremely excited for this. I’ve been competitively shooting a Tavor TAR21 rifle for 2+ years now and logged a few hundred hours into Arma 2 over that span. I love that they’re bringing the IDF rifle online with this iteration and am pleased to see some of the equipment I use on a daily basis being simulated on screen. Definitely going to do the pre-order.

  14. slimcarlos says:

    If you think Valerie`s story is really great…, 5 weaks-ago my friends sister actually earned $8566 workin eleven hours a week from there apartment and the’re classmate’s mother`s neighbour was doing this for 6 months and made more than $8566 part-time from their computer. use the advice from this address, http://www.pie21.com

  15. Jambe says:

    Nice interview; nothing to add there.

    One irrelevant niggle: the pullquotes on these articles are hideous.