Regarding Carrier Command, Bohemia’s Other Game

Surprise: I’m delighted that Bohemia Interactive’s big, bizarre remake of Carrier Command can be played with an Xbox 360 pad.* I love Arma II, but its control scheme sometimes feels like it was designed by a randomly picking menus from a… menu. In Carrier Command, meanwhile, you control a small flotilla of vehicles as you attempt to gain control of an archipelago of thirty randomly placed islands, and you can do it quite easily with a joypad. Someone somewhere in Bohemia’s studios has learned a valuable lesson in accessibility, and I want to hug them.

I didn’t hug them. This article can be the hug.

Holding back hugs, I excitedly mention the pleasingness of pad-interface to producer Jan Kunt, who is demoing the game to me before its September 28th launch. It’s important to him that Carrier Command draws from the strengths of each platform. He replies: “We didn’t want players to have to use both hands on the keyboard. You have more buttons, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to force the player to use them all. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. But we didn’t port the game. We didn’t cut back on the PC.” And when it’s the Arma studio that says that, you tend to believe them.

What they’ve made is a well-crafted oddity that sits somewhere between a slick strategy game and a punchy action game. It seamlessly allows the player to hop between the high-level view of the archipelago and your Carrier’s position and provisions, and directly controlling a unit on the ground. I’m impressed, but Jan points out this is still in keeping with the twenty four year-old template of the original game, as is a relatively light unit count: “We’ve kept to the concept in many areas. You still get four unit types: Walruses [tanks], Mantas [aircraft], and Drones [recon]. And you have the Carrier that sails the units across islands.”

This paucity reduces what could be a huge undertaking down into a manageable chunk. You only fight for island at a time, and you’re only up against one enemy Carrier who’s attempting to grab your islands as his own. Your defences are taken care of automatically, leaving you to play island-hunter across the huge map. The islands have the resources you need to tweak your fleet, and none give them up willingly. It’s a genuinely tough game, even if it has pick-up-and-play appeal.

Jan shows me how easy it is to control. Swapping from ship-to-ship in battle is as quick and easy as restarting a race in Trackmania. He has four Mantas in the air over an enemy placement, and he’s trying to weaken the defences for his incoming tanks. He drops into a Manta and assumes control, trying to keep away from the fort’s defences while bombarding it with laser fire. The other Mantas are doing the same, partly according to Jan’s directions, but also looking after themselves with AI control. On the bottom of the screen are icons, each representing a vehicle that he can choose to either directly control or remotely command. “We give the player the options, but it’s up to him to choose how he will play the game,” he says. “He can use the vehicle point of view, using his skills as a pilot or as a driver. Or he can give orders via a tactical radial menu, controlling other units with some basic orders like assist, attack, or move. Or the player can switch to give orders via the map.”

Whoosh! Now the battle is being viewed from the top. I can see the carrier on the side of the island, the planned movements of the spawned craft and enemy icons are sliding across the map. If he wanted to, he could play the whole skirmish from this POV, marking waypoints and aggression states from the haughty view of a commander. The low number of units to control, a holdover from the original game, keeps it all manageable, and a picture-in-picture view on the top right of the screen gives a tantalising vehicle level view of the fight. Whoosh! Back to in-vehicle, direct control. He flicks between the two easily, with no lag or stickiness in the UI.

Manageable and accessible doesn’t mean simple or shallow, though. There’s a lot of meat here. The three attack units each have to be prepared for the island assault, taking into account the ecosystem. “Ice islands require upgrades for Walruses to stop them sliding down hills. The same goes for the volcanic islands: the Mantas have intakes on their engines, and on these volcanic islands there is a lot dust in the air so you need to get special filters.” In addition to specialist tweaks, you can change the speed, agility, and armour stats of your vehicles, creating subclasses of brutal tanks or nimble annoyances. My favourite little bit of information: the Drones lose image fidelity if they’re too far from the Carrier. And that the trees are the same trees found in Arma II.

As exciting as this tree news is, it’s difficult to pin down Carrier Command’s place in Bohemia Interactive’s catalogue. The only similarity to Arma and Take On Helicopters is the player-driven sandbox. It has no multiplayer, there’s currently no mod support, it isn’t running on the Arma engine, and it’s been co-developed on consoles. It was made because Bohemia’s owner and his brother loved the original game as children. Nostalgia is an odd reason to make a game, especially when it generates a list of differences that seems contrary to a company’s ideals. After all their games have, until now, been the product of an ethos: they built Arma and its derivatives for the community to exploit, because they know that an invested community will be there for years. Carrier Command will be released in a state that Bohemia’s fans aren’t used to, and that’s odd given that they’ll probably be the bulk of the community. If this was wholly original, it might have included Bohemia’s stellar community tools

But Jan points out that there should be something coming post-launch: “It’s something we’d like to do after we finish the game and release it, and now I can tell you we’ve started working on that to make it moddable. I still don’t want to promise it, but it’s one of our targets.”

What form that will take is still up in the air, but Bohemia will do everything they can: “Best case scenario, they’d be able to create new campaigns, make new islands, tune up the units, import models from Arma for example.”

Part of what’ll hamstring them is that it’s single-player only. There’s the story mode, that Bohemia still have cloaked beneath a fog of war, or the sandbox that lets you set-up world states to fight in. He brought up the possibility of a post-launch multiplayer addon, but this isn’t a set plan. It really depends what they’re capable of producing and what the fans want. There’s already at least one mod that a Bohemia developer has made that they expect to release some time after launch, but Jan refused to elaborate on what that was. I suspect zombies Carriers.

Carrier Command is out on Sept 28th.

* Jim’s note: I’ve been playing the beta of this with mouse and keyboard, and it works a treat, too.


  1. TwoDaemon says:

    I know Carrier Command was the original, but I’m more inclined to compare to the excellent Hostile Waters. It’ll be interesting to see how they compare, since they sound very similar at the moment (unsurprisingly, given their shared inspiration).

    Of course, it starts on the back foot when it doesn’t have a Time Lord narrating…

    EDIT – Since I sound a little unenthusiastic there, it should be noted that I’m definitely in favour of a new version of the formula. There haven’t been nearly enough games in this style despite how entertaining it can be.

    • Jackablade says:

      Perhaps someone can mod Tom Baker back in.

      • Saldek says:

        If we just give him some time, perhaps he will have narrated it.

    • Dark Nexus says:

      If I can get half of the enjoyment out of this that I did out of Hostile Waters, it’s a winner in my books!

    • Ironclad says:

      Your own vessel, tested to her limits, cracks apart now, her revenant task done. The ship’s Creation Engine drops through steely fathoms to grateful rest. The two live machines, still suffused with the energy of making, lie together.

      And here, in the dark, something changes. The engines move closer. There is the bright, and awful spark of creation in the ocean night, terrible fire, and motion in the deep.

      These are hostile waters…

      • wu wei says:

        The story was written by Warren Ellis, which had a large part to do with the game’s awesomeness.

    • GernauMorat says:

      I was just trying to remember what game it reminded me of! Hostile Waters was an excellent tricky game

    • fredcadete says:

      Duuuuude, I was logging in to say exactly that.

      Oh, memories!

      • INCSlayer says:

        I still play hostile waters once a year its awesome

        MY name is RANSOM – Ransom
        This is not a tank – Patton

  2. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I tend to suck at strategy so direct-unit-control sounds glorious (haven’t managed to encounter that myself since Lego Rock Raiders). And singleplayer-only? As long as they don’t ruin it with (bad) DRM, I am suddenly very interested…

  3. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    I had a go of an earlier beta release of this, and it plays pretty nicely all told. The version I had could have stood a little tightening-up of the AI – it was easy to stay out of the AI’s engagement range but still be able to hit them, and the pathfinding of the vehicles can be a little sketchy (Land vehicles get hung up on the terrain, and air ones always seem to take a path that goes directly over as many enemy guns as possible) but those criticisms aside, it’s fun (and it looks very nice) and a pretty good successor to my very tenuous and sketchy memories of Carrier Command on the Atari ST

  4. Dominic White says:

    Before the ‘Consoles are dumbing it down!’ sillyness, I’d just like to point out that the original Carrier Command was meant to be played with an 8-way digital joystick with, at most, two buttons. A 360 gamepad is positively luxurious by comparison.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      I’d just like to point out that the original Carrier Command was meant to be played with an 8-way digital joystick with, at most, two buttons.

      …plus a keyboard since it was a ‘PC’ game in its day.

      • pantognost says:

        ehmm….not PC as in wintel. PC as in personal computer. The original Carrier Command was played at the powerhouses of the era, the Amiga and the Atari ST. And it used only minimum number of keys, F keys for swapping between the vehicles.

    • Werthead says:

      The PC, Atari ST and Amiga versions all used mouse-and-keyboard. The other versions (amazingly, it came out on the Spectrum) I think used the joystick as the primary control method.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Indeed. The “drones losing image fidelity if they’re too far from the Carrier” was in the ST version too, IIRC; there was a long-range antenna module you needed if you wanted to send your aircraft out scouting without the screen snowstorming over and them eventually crashing.

        Edit: Heh, you said the same downthread.

    • fish99 says:

      That isn’t true of the Atari ST or Amiga versions. The game was UI heavy and really benefited from a mouse.

  5. Tom De Roeck says:

    I have too played the beta, and I liked very much what I saw so far. It needed a lot of tweaks and a few more features, but aside from that, it looked very playable and enjoyable.

  6. scorcher24 says:

    I want this game so much.. I played the classic and can’t wait for it to come out.

  7. Zeewolf says:

    Wow, I can’t believe this is out so soon. Now to figure out how I can find time for it, because I can’t live with myself if I don’t.

  8. Jason Moyer says:

    This isn’t using the Real Virtuality engine? Weird.

  9. PostieDoc says:

    I can’t wait for this, one of my childhood favourites.
    Now if someone would just remake Midwinter and I can die a happy man.

  10. Donkeyfumbler says:

    Does anyone know if the beta is going to be opened up before release or whether there will be a demo?

  11. Warduke says:

    Speaking of what the community wants.. there were many many requests for multiplayer in the BI forums. I hope they take that into account at some point.

  12. Dys Does Dakka says:

    With XCOM, Xenonauts, Blands 2 and this coming up, this autumn is looking up to be the best possible one, ever.

    -I suppose it’s some form of cosmic balancing act that has prevented X Rebirth from appearing around this time as well; that much games-playing greatness at once might be too much.

  13. brulleks says:

    “Someone somewhere in Bohemia’s studios has learned a valuable lesson in accessibility”

    I hope they remember it when developing ARMA 3 then. I might stand a chance of being able to play it for more than an hour without becoming too frustrated to continue.

  14. Werthead says:

    “My favourite little bit of information: the Drones lose image fidelity if they’re too far from the Carrier.”

    That’s actually taken from the original game. Any of your units which got too far from the Carrier would find their camera image (including the UI) being swamped by static, which gets worse and worse before the vehicle is lost. Nice to see they retained this :-)

  15. Trithne says:

    I really don’t mind the singleplayer only aspect. I feel like there’s a lot of merit to a good, well-made singleplayer game, where you start out against seemingly impossible odds but work your way up to victory. I don’t know if this CC will manage it, what with the AI also only having the one carrier, but hopefully it can give a sort of JA2-esque campaign feeling.

    Don’t tell the “competitive” sorts I said anything about singleplayer being good though. They’ll go wild.

    • Dominic White says:

      There’s actually two sorts of campaign – the regular classic Carrier Command mode, and the story mode. The latter has more scripted events and a few on-foot missions, but is still mostly familiar stuff.

      Even in classic CC mode, the big addition is that each island has an attached mission if you want to capture it. Objective points defended by increasing waves of defenders and such.

    • Mavvvy says:

      Hey this could be great fun co-op with mates. One commander and the vehicle slots filled with your disposable friends.

  16. Caiman says:

    I loved the original on the ST, but I must admit I never really got that far into the game. I dug the idea and the gameplay, but I always got overwhelmed pretty quickly. I like the idea of revisiting it with a more structured approach, and then having the classic sandbox available once I’ve learned the ropes. Presumably the campaign acts as more of a tutorial for the classic mode?

  17. mr_zen256 says:

    Seriously? No one is going to make any juvenile remarks about Jan’s last name? RPS you disappoint me :)

    On another note.. I loved the original although I was too young to really grasp how it was played properly at the time. I am looking forward to this revamped version.. Looks awesome :)

  18. Dwarden says:

    erm, ARMA 2 / ARMA 2: OA supports xbox controller too :) lot of people use it to e.g. fly and drive ;)

  19. fish99 says:

    As I remember the big problem with the original was that you could finish it very quickly just by finding the enemy carrier and suicide bombing it with all your mantas.

    Rather odd to see this release without multiplayer btw.

    • Werthead says:

      You could do that in ‘arcade’ mode (where you and the enemy carrier started with tons of islands already captured and both carriers relatively close to the middle of the map). IIRC, the enemy carrier always took the same islands in the same order, so it was easy to intercept it and then ram it with your aircraft. In full strategy mode, where neither carrier had any islands and you started on opposite sides of the archipelago, that wasn’t possible.