Bohemia On Carrier Command, Arma III

Last week I had a chance to talk to the Bohemia Interactive bossman, Marek Spanel. As one of the brains behind the original Operation Flashpoint, and then the three Arma games that followed, he is one PC gaming’s most ambitious developers. He’s now embarking on a huge project of developing three games across three studios at the same time: Arma 3, Take On Helicopters, and Carrier Command. I had a chance to talk to him about this bold undertaking.

RPS: How did you guys come to be remaking Carrier Command?

Spanel: It really begins in my childhood when Carrier Command was a game my older brother Ondrej (he’s the lead engineer at Bohemia) brought this game home on Atari ST. I think I was like twelve years old, and he became really addicted to that game. I wasn’t very good! But I watched him playing a great deal, and this game had a big influence upon us. Many years later and our colleagues from our simulation office in Australia met some of the original developers of this game, and they got the idea to recreate the game. And so we became part of that. I said: “Let’s do it!” It’s a game that is part of us, and it is still fairly unique, so let’s try to give it new life.

RPS: So who is working on that? Is it Black Element? How does that work?

Spanel: Yeah, so our company has grown, and we have expanded in the Czech Republic, bought various studios. We are now three development studios in the Czech Republic, and it’s a dedicated studio for Carrier Command. Development on the game is not always as simple as we hoped, for various reasons, but basically our goal is to make it fun for a modern audience, and true to its original depth. Of course there have been attempts to remake the Carrier Command style gameplay in the past, but what I am interest in is the open world game. We want to make a very large game world. We are going for thirty two islands, and you freely roam in that environment, and it is up to your strategy how you play – what islands you take, what you build on the islands, how you fight with the enemy carrier. In the hands-on build you have this aspect is only somewhat visible in the strategy part of the game, but in the full game this is what I consider the essence of the game.

The campaign mode is very streamlined. It does give you freedom, but gradually. You start on one island, no carrier, nothing. You have to fight your way to the carrier and get it, and you have to first repair it, and then you can explore just three islands. On those islands you get your first Manta and you then gather resources. The game world is designed in such a way that you open options gradually – an island, three islands, fifteen islands. You can of course play the strategy game on the full scale of the game from the beginning. The campaign is, in a sense, a long introduction to the gameplay. There is almost too much you can do, so the campaign is designed as a training mode, in a way.

RPS: And the strategy game is a broad strokes sort of sandbox?

Spanel: Absolutely open. It is up to you to decide the balance of power, to decide how many islands you own, how many the enemy carrier owns, and how much is untaken. You can also set an economy multiplier, which will make it easier or harder for you depending on the setting.

RPS: But you also have an action game? Is that like the original action game, or something different?

Spanel: This is an excerpt of missions. It is something we have done to make the game instantly playable by anyone. But the full game offers two main modes. One is the campaign, which is more preset, more staged, with some story as well – we have an Austrian writer writing the campaign for us – but it is basically about introducing the options. As you start you have to seize the carrier, which is damaged and in very bad shape, and you gradually build that to introduce the features of it. You have to fix it to travel to the next island, and you explore the environment there and discover blueprints to get the next thing, and that gradually unlocks all the options. Plus you have the full open strategy game.

RPS: How much can you play from the map screen? Can you rely on your AI units to fight?

Spanel: First of all each island has automatic defences. You only control troops from the carrier. But we try to tune the AI as much as possible for it to be up to you to choose how you play. From our feedback so far there are several players who try to play it as strategy only, and others who play it as action only. Mostly though people combine the two. We will be tweaking to focus on that.

RPS: So is this the Arma 2 engine?

Spanel: This is pretty much a new engine because it is a multi-platform technology, which Arma 2 was never designed to be. It is not easy to bring Arma 2 technology to consoles, it is very complex, and just too big. So this is more focused and a new technology. It’s built from scratch, but of course we can reuse some technologies – vegetation is using the same techniques. Generally speaking though this is new for this game.

RPS: And it is just single player?

Spanel: Yes, it is just single player for now. We hope that we can eventually expand the game to multiplayer, but not now. We are focused on the single-player game.

RPS: And will the PC version have mod support?

Spanel: Yes, but it will be nothing like that of the Arma 2 technology. We want to support modification, but there will be some compromise. We cannot support the same infrastructure that we do for Arma 2. Our priority here is to make this work across multiple platforms, unlike Arma 2 which is the hardcore PC-platform crazy thing!

RPS: Ok, let’s talk about Take On Helicopter, what can you tell me about that?

Spanel: So here is a story. Out of the blue someone contacted us last Friday – I will not name him – but it was a guy who had been in touch in 1999, and he was an advisor to us back then, and he says to us “I am running a start-up helicopter business in Seattle!” And he offered his services with testing the game. Such a funny coincidence! He is basically doing what we are doing within the game – running a helicopter business in Seattle. The circle has closed!

RPS: Weird!

Spanel: But it seems logical to do a commercial flight simulation game. We wanted, however, to do something more focused. There are many good flight sims, many helicopter combat games, but there isn’t a complete civilian helicopter game on the market. We feel that there is a hole and we want to fill it in. It’s also really refreshing to focus on something very specific! Unlike Arma where we do too many things, and it is difficult to make it as detailed as possible, here we focus. It’s still very complex, but it’s a different approach to development. Here we will make helicopter simulation as authentic an experience as possible.

RPS: So what’s the basic experience of the game?

Spanel: It’s a large, open game with full mod support. It’s based on Arma 2, but it is a heavily upgraded and improved version of our helicopter experience. We felt that the terrain detail and terrain size of Arma 2 worked well with helicopters, so it was logical to use it for this game. So players in Take On have a variety of options to play. In the centre of the game will be the campaign mode where you will play a narrative-driven experience of a helicopter business where two brothers take a struggling helicopter business in Seattle and make money. That is part of the fun – getting contracts, making money, and upgrading helicopters. There is a story where you find yourself in competition, and there are eventually some more dangerous missions in South East Asia. There are some tutorials of course and also a free-flight mode, where you can freely fly helicopters. There’s a mission editor, of course, and we hope there will be a community of people creating new helicopters and new scenarios. We hope to design it so seriously that this game could last for years. It will be an authentic flight model on a completely new level compared to what we had on previous titles.

RPS: Let’s move on to Arma 3. What’s the big idea for that?

Spanel: There are several things that I think of, randomly. I don’t know what is most important! One of the interesting aspects is that we are designing a game environment that is based on one real island. In previous games we always designed environments that were nearly real, or semi-authentic, but this time it really is one-to-one. This is a big challenge for us, because we have to be more accurate with the terrain development than ever before. We are trying to address various technology limitations that our userbase was not happy with in Arma 2, and that means we are heavily pushing engine development as well. We are addressing things like physics simulation and animations – two things we feel our userbase is not happy with in the last game.

At the heart of the new game there is a story-driven campaign where this time it is a bit more player-centric. We have created a scenario which is near-future, and which is more logical for the player to start as a lone-warrior on this island, fighting for survival of civilisation. We want to make this quite believable, and so we set it in not-so-distant future, which allows us some creative freedom compared to our previous games. As well as the spectrum of units and vehicles, we have some freedom to experiment. We have some people who design modern weapon systems trying to figure out what weapons systems will look like in the near future. We do the same thing in house, we take the next twenty years and try to extrapolate. We will make it as real as possible.

RPS: Has the series of expansions you released for Arma 2 been a success for you? Is that the sort of direction you will continue in?

Spanel: Arma 3 is a big long term venture, and so we will want to support it. I can’t say if we will support that via smaller DLC or standalone expansions, but we will be doing something like this, and so yes it has been a success for Arma 2, and it was a good move. Our userbase reacted well to it.

RPS: Anything like that for Carrier Command?

Spanel: Yes, we hope so, but right now we need to sort out the release. We are only really a PC developer, although we do a few mobile games now, so this is important for us in terms of taking on an all-platforms release. Once we done with it we will see the potential for additional content for the title.

RPS: It’s funny how we’ve gone from maybe downloading some patches and add on to a game you bought on disc, to downloading whole games, and now downloading the game then adding to it over time. Digital distribution really is everything for PC now, isn’t it?

Spanel: Yes. If it were not for digital distribution we would no longer be doing PC games. It’s as simple as this.

RPS: Thanks for your time.


  1. kuran says:

    Strange to see ARMA 3 go in a direction where the weapons and vehicles will partly be fantasy.. stranger enough to see Carrier Command have no focus on a story mode, yet also lacking multiplayer.

    All three games are looking great though.. looking forward to them.

    • Anthile says:

      I doubt it’s going to be as “bad” as GR:AW. We’ll probably just see a couple of experimental weapon systems and vehicles but there will hardly be any rail guns or plasma blaster.

    • Roaring Panda says:

      Yeah, it’ll probably just the inclusion of some guns that are just in prototype at the moment or something along those lines.

    • metalangel says:

      AarmA3 being fictional equipment puts me off. A large part of the appeal is using real military hardware, not the hordes of annoying drones seen in any number of “near-future” combat games (Frontlines and Homefront stick out in my mind).

      Plus, you know damn well the first two mods out the door will be contemporary WW3 in Europe and contemporary operations in Afghanistan, rather like the default content of ArmA2.

      (yes, I know the third mod out the door will be WW2 Western Front stuff)

    • El_MUERkO says:

      Looking at the walk-through videos from E3 most of the infantry stuff is current equipment, they’ve made up a few boats and brought the Comanche back to life but we’re no getting lasers or shoulder mounted homing rockets.

      To make the East Vs. West fight more balanced it looks they’ve speculated intelligently on where Russian/Chinese weaponry may go in the future but I don’t think its too radical.

      Anyway, for insane levels of simulation and accuracy we’re have A.C.E 3.X :D

    • royaltyinexile says:

      I suppose it’s only natural for people to be a little antsy about A3’s near-future setting, but the majority of the content is firmly rooted in present day reality.

      The new context gives the developers some degree of flexibility, sure – both in balancing factions and the narrative – but we’re not talking about the kind of tech you see in, for example, Carrier Command.

      Edit: Also, Mr Jim, leaving Take On out of the title seems to me to be a deliberate provocation! Have at you, sir! I’m ready to throw hands!

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      C’mon guys! You know you want a horde of new Sukhoi PAKFA T50s or Chengdu J-20s instead of the whole tired routine of Su-27 variants vs F-35s.

      And can we already get rid of the Humvees in our manshoots? Haven’t the Oshkosh M-ATV replaced it for quite a while now?

  2. Nighthood says:

    Funny how a screenshot of a car hitting boxes can be so impressive.

    Great interview too, though I can’t see Take On Helicopters taking off much (for lack of a better term).

  3. Njordsk says:

    Any preorder DLC to boycott?

    Oh wait…

  4. kuran says:

    Take on Helicopters should have herding missions, where you have to fly low and fast and herd as much cattle as possible in the ranch.

  5. MiniMatt says:

    Oh *THAT* Carrier Command – I was wondering what folks were wittering on about – I had that on a Speccy – I vaguely recall it being ace. Though Rentaghost was also considered “ace” so I hope my rose-tinted cataracts aren’t playing up.

    • TeraTelnet says:

      Rentaghost WAS ace, you heathen.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      TeraTelnet, your comment was spoken in my head as the voice of the professor in Futurama, and made me lol, good work sir!

  6. DainIronfoot says:

    I’m just a small tank, nobody loves me

  7. Joseph-Sulphur says:

    “We are trying to address various technology limitations that our userbase was not happy with in Arma 2, and that means we are heavily pushing engine development as well. We are addressing things like physics simulation and animations – two things we feel our userbase is not happy with in the last game.”

    • rebb says:

      No mention of the atrocious UI ? ( which still seems to be in the Arma3 Demos they showed )

    • royaltyinexile says:

      Note, any footage from E3 is based upon a pre-alpha build. The UI is being overhauled, both in A3 and TKOH.

    • rebb says:

      Well, this sounds promising then :)

  8. Dinger says:

    Marek and Ondrej were raised on the 520ST, and it shows in their work. So close to the glory of the Amiga, just falling short of perfection due to hardware limitations.
    They have an Austrian doing the Carrier Command campaign story? And the backstory is based on the book by the Australian who did the heavy metal songs for OFP? This could get confusing fast.
    Anyway, here’s wishing BI continued success.

  9. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    I don’t know how I feel about ArmA 3 being in the future, good I guess, I love ArmA 2, but yeah, I don’t know.

    I do know I love BIS and everything they do, I hope not too much changes, they are one of a dwindling number of (bigish)devs that I really like. <3

  10. Chris D says:

    I had Carrier Command on the ST when I was 12. Never really got much beyond the first few islands because it would take twenty minutes or so to sail between each of them. Looking back now it seems like there had to be an accelerate time mode or something, but I’m sure I looked for it at the time and never found one.

    Does anyone else remember this? Did I go through all that pain for nothing, or were we really making games where nothing happens for twenty minutes back then. ( I say we… Not me, obviosuly, I was too busy sailing between islands in real time.)

    • Trukkle says:

      @chrisd I loved the ST version, but I think it was lacking time-controls and you just had to lean on the ship’s accelerator and remember to pull your decoys in otherwise they’d reduce your max-speed.
      As far as I’m aware, only the DOS version had time-control (and a nicer grey interface, compared to the ST’s eye-burning golden/orange).

    • GameOverMan says:

      Apparently the Amiga and Atari ST versions didn’t have a speed up function, it was implemented in other ports, though. The PC and Spectrum ones had it, the option was called Time Lapse, I think.

    • Werthead says:

      The Amiga version had a time-lapse, but oddly only as a cheat-code. But it was pretty much essential if you wanted to play the game in less time than it took the universe to expire from heat death. I think I poured several dozen hours into the game and saw the enemy carrier once before it zoomed off over the horizon whilst I tried in vain to ram my Mantas into it.

      Completely off-topic, but I think a modern version of DAMOCLES could be interesting. Anyone else remember that? You could fly anywhere in a whole star system across dozens of moons and planets and had to stop a comet crashing into one of the planets with a massive fusion bomb. Though if you wanted you could stick the fusion bomb on the surface of the planet and just blow it up yourself, and then get points for letting the comet – a huge tourist attraction – survive. Mental.

    • Trukkle says:

      You must be me, as those two were my favorite games of the ST too. There’s a 1:1 faithful PC remake of Damocles, and it makes me weep a little that I’m terrible at it now. I used to fly planes through windmills on moons covered in pyramids while holding a red-herring and a teleporter, dammit!

    • GameOverMan says:

      The Mercenary games were ahead of their time, I played the first one (Escape from Targ) on the C-64 and Damocles on the Amiga. At first I enjoyed watching the final minutes before the comet’s collision using various locations as vantage points, even Eris’ surface, then I started to play the game properly trying to prevent its destruction.

  11. Tei says:

    Crossover mode, where your carrier stop nears the isle of a Tropico 3 player, and demands a fortune in iridum and gold, OR ELSE… bonus points if this works in singleplayer, so the tropico 3 player don’t event expect some multiplayer interaction :D

    > > > >
    I had Carrier Command on the ST when I was 12. Never really got much beyond the first few islands because it would take twenty minutes or so to sail between each of them. Looking back now it seems like there had to be an accelerate time mode or something, but I’m sure I looked for it at the time and never found one
    > > > >

    I remember attacking isles in the C64 version, but never finding a way to replenish the oil of the carrier… or the ships, so the fun was in crashing things around, then restart.

  12. Colthor says:


    Also, “We feel that there is a hole and we want to fill it in” would be the worst porn dialogue ever.

  13. Gap Gen says:

    I love how Bohemia’s development strategy is working out for them. I guess it helps being in the Czech Republic where the exchange rate is probably quite favourable, but now they’ve got some cash-flow the quality control of the campaigns is starting to catch up to Operation Flashpoint (i.e. the original). ArmA II’s campaign was ludicrously ambitious but very broken and not much fun. Here’s hoping that they start to make everything a bit more streamlined and improve their QA further now that they don’t have to panic-release games that are excellent in multiplayer but clunky and broken in other respects.

  14. jackflash says:

    “vegetation is using the same techniques”

    oh dear god

  15. Stranglove says:

    I find it interesting that the OpFor (From previews and screenies) seem to be Iranian, but their technology is very much Israeli tech, such as the Merkava and Namer AFVs and Tavor T.A.R 21s. Hopefully we’ll see some of the top-notch BIS Advertising addressing how this came to be. I must admit, this is the first time I’ve actually been interested in a BIS storyline.

    Also, Carrier Command’s SP sounds very slow. I hope the MP is faster.

  16. Stranglove says:

    Isle of Lemnos.

    The ‘Hostiles’ don’t look russian, the flag on that badguy’s shoulder is more Iranian than anything else.

  17. metalangel says:

    That’s okay, then, as I say I don’t really enjoy near-future stuff too much because all they seem to do is take an Abrams/Apache/XM8 and stick a few extra bits on like a point defense laser/fan ATRO/glowing blue scope.

    I think I could quite happily just play ArmA and nothing else. I’m actually considering this for next year… what with online passes, launch DLC and other stuff, I’m being put right off console gaming. Lord only knows what the next generation is going to be like. (sorry for tangent)

  18. Ginger Yellow says:

    there isn’t a complete civilian helicopter game on the market. We feel that there is a hole and we want to fill it in.

    Now there’s a sentence you’ll never hear from an American publisher.

  19. Maxheadroom says:

    35 comments in and no ones mentioned Hostile Waters yet? That was Carrier Command in all but name – plus it featured 2 of the cast of Blakes 7! :)

    • Leo says:

      Oh man, reading of ‘Take On’ brings back some very fond memories of SimCopter. Anyone remember this amazing Maxis product from the days of yore?

      link to

    • JB says:

      To be fair, HW got a lot of love in the previous Carrier Command post.

      I’m looking forward to seeing how all three of these games go.

      (Not 100% sold on the near-future ArmA3 thing yet, but we’ll see how it plays out I guess!)

    • metalangel says:

      We all remember SimCopter! I still play it!

    • malkav11 says:

      Not to mention Tom Baker. And the writing talent of Warren Ellis.

  20. MadMatty says:

    Im looking forward tp Carrier Command a LOT- the head honcho said all the right things, at the right places wich bodes well :)
    Hostile Waters: Anteus Rising was only 1 island at a time, but damn, that game was GOOD still.

  21. MrBRAD! says:

    How to make ARMA3 a success: Take VBS2 and maybe give it some nicer menus or something, then just rename it “ARMA3”. Bohemia Interactive really doesn’t have to put any extra effort into it at all. It’s all been completed for years already.

    I would be more than happy if somebody tried to call me out on this, but you won’t because you know it’s true ;)

  22. ZIGS says:

    So wait, Black Element is making Carrier Command? The same Black Element that made Shade and Alpha Prime?

  23. wazups2x says:

    I really hope ARMA3 doesn’t have negative mouse acceleration. If it doesn’t I might actually give it a try. I tried that demo but that made me quit immediately.

    • dodgymadman says:

      A patch gave you the option to disable that waaaaay back. Of course the demo wasn’t affected.