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Gamescom 2012: Exclusive Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel interview discusses destructibility, cover system and guilty pleasures

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During EA’s Summer Showcase at the beginning of August, the publisher revealed that a new game in the Army of Two co-operative action series was in development at Visceral Games, the California based studio that brought us the Dead Space series.

We learnt that the full title of the game is Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, and that it will take players to the deadly streets of Mexico as Alpha and Bravo, two operatives working for Tactical Worldwide Operations as they face off against a deadly drug cartel. The game, which will include online and split-screen co-op play, with improved upgrade and customisation options, is due out on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in March 2013.

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Behind Closed Doors Demo Room

The Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel Behind Closed Doors presentation room at EA’s business lounge at gamescom

We found out a bit more about Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel at EA’s pre-gamescom press conference, with the debut trailer being shown and Visceral Games’ Executive producer Julian Beak and Producer Zach Mumbach demoing the game for the first time ever.

Later in the week we went hands-on with Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel (you can look forward to reading that preview soon) and we also sat down with Julian Beak to find out a bit more about the game. Read the interview below to find out what impact the Frostbite 2 engine has had on Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, as well as details about the cover system, the control system and customisation options.

Visceral Games' Julian Beak and El33tonline's Lisa

Visceral Games’ Executive producer Julian Beak and El33tonline’s Lisa

El33tonline:

The control system is very intuitive to people who have played a third-person shooter before ‒ was it designed with this in mind, and how do you go about implementing it?

Julian Beak:

“Once a team has their engine up and running, the second to second experience like in a videogame is kind of the first thing you want to do. I liken it when I’m describing it to people like this: when you’re playing a third-person videogame the player is almost like a vehicle, whereas in a first-person shooter it tends to be about what the player sees. In third-person because you have another camera that you’re controlling in addition to the player, we almost treat it like ‘how does it feel to drive your character.’ So it was a very early thing that had to feel good. It had to feel like it wasn’t too twitchy, or that character animation might jerk around too much, but it has to be slightly more responsive than probably real life otherwise you won’t feel as responsive to your controls. So yes, we spent a lot of time and we’re not even done…you know you never feel like you’re done because you run into situations where you go ‘oh, is that the way I want to do that?’ or ‘did that feel clunky?’ so we tune that right to the end.”

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 10

El33tonline:

Will you be able to customise the controls, or is that something you’re still working on?

Julian Beak:

“Certain controls, but just the obvious stuff, like inverting and things like that. Maybe some sensitivities, yes, those are things that I think are the really obvious ones. But we won’t probably change tons of mapping and things like that.”

El33tonline:

Now that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is powered by the Frostbite 2 engine, what does this allow you to add to the game, and how will this affect how players can interact with the environment, for example the destructibility?

Julian Beak:

“Because Frostbite 2 is already a really robust engine and it’s up and running, what it has allowed us to do was just basically concentrate on the gameplay. So we’re not worrying about rendering and networking, or any of that, it’s already working. And so you’re then just getting the character models in, the environment in the way you want it, setting up your rules a bit, how cover is going to work and things like that. That is how the engine helped us.

How the players experience it is that Frostbite 2 makes it really easy to blow stuff up, so what we’ve done is really concentrate from the smallest items to the biggest items and how we are going to do that. And you have fun, things that are in your way are like the smallest items, but just slightly in the medium category are things like cover where you might get behind this and they’re shooting at you and you’re like ‘ah, I’m in cover’ but it will blow up because in a cover based shooter there’s the risk that you feel invulnerable behind cover, right, and that ‘yes I can be shot when I peek but if I blindfire I can stay here forever.’ Know the Cartel guys are going to just carry on shooting at this cover.

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 12

We also like to create a visual language, so if you get behind something that for the most part would be safe from bullets you’ll hear the Cartel guys shooting at you, like loud ‘tang tang tang’ so you’ll know that you have their aggression, but you’re fairly safe yet maybe you can’t vault over it or maybe it’s not very big, you’re kind of in a phonebooth almost. So the mid-level for Frostbite 2, being able to destroy cover, being able to see a really heavy enemy behind cover, and being able to take their cover out, then that heavy enemy is just out in the open and you can both concentrate fire on him, that’s the mid-level. And then at the bigger level sometimes we actually want the buildings and the environment to be the boss in a boss fight if you will, big towers with machine guns in them and if you go into Overkill or if you just concentrate a lot of fire at it, throw grenades, you want to be able to bring those down. So there are experiences in the game where it goes to that level and you can bring really big things down.”

El33tonline:

Is there any way to flank enemies by like breaking walls?

Julian Beak:

“Yes, to take another path that wasn’t there. In the game you probably saw some walls that were partially destroyed, they can be destroyed some more but in some cases we are going to make a visual language that’s obvious. For example, ‘hey if I lob a grenade over here I can maybe make another path and blow this locked door and then I can get behind.’ You get points for that in this game, that was a big thing for us, we’re trying to honour the co-op features from the previous games, but reward you for doing things that you are naturally already doing in multiplayer games or even in the Army games, which is one player would take the aggro and one player would flank. So we are going to give you both points for that, because player one is taking all the fire, and player two is being sneaky. So throughout the game we look for opportunities to give you a little bit of points for something simple and a lot of points for something more complicated and then when you have enough (clicks fingers) you’ve got Overkill:have a party!

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 1

El33tonline:

It also makes you feel almost scared when you’re by yourself. You don’t realise how much of a safety blanket it is having your partner there, and then suddenly you’re split up and I’m on my own. It just shows you how much of a co-op game this really is when that happens.

Julian Beak:

“That’s our goal!”

El33tonline:

What will the limited edition of the game include?

Julian Beak:

“The limited edition will include Tactical Co-op Gear in the form of the G18 side arm, the game’s only fully automatic weapon, and G18-textured polymer outfit and mask, a lightweight battle dress combo. It will also include Overkill Extras, a mission designed for Overkill co-op rampage. You’ll be kitted out with the Overkill mask and outfit, wielding the DAO-X automatic shotgun. Lastly you’ll get the Day of the Dead themed assault rifle and Day of the Dead outfit and three custom masks.”

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 11

El33tonline:

“Any plans for a Collector’s Edition? It would be awesome to have that mask!”

Julian Beak:

“I don’t know. Well you see the dev side, we love it when people ask for stuff, we’re like we’ll make more, we’ll do tons more. And then the people who are figuring out what we can afford they decide that.

El33tonline:

How did you create the cover system and what is your goal with the cover system?

Julian Beak:

“To think of it as a second choice for locomotion, so instead of it just being I locomote, get to cover, and then hit a button and I’m in it, and then hit a button and I’m out of it, we’re thinking one of the things that we’re doing naturally in games where we’re scared of the foes is we’re going from cover to cover. Like so I’m out of cover, I vault, I locomote to cover, I get in cover – so one, two, three steps kind of thing. So our design team basically thought what if we sweep the environment when you’re looking and just little icons will show up on the cover that is legal valid cover from where you are, and you hit the button and you will do all of the steps I just said right to that cover. Now you don’t have to, you can just run around, you can run and gun, and play the game you want, but if you want you can go from cover to cover to cover.

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 2

I’ll give you an example: sometimes they’re teaching me how to play it better, because there is quite a bit of depth to the cover so the obvious cover is you aim at it and you go to it. But when you are in that split situation and you went down and your partner was playing up, when you are up there are all these pillars on your side so if you’re looking at your enemies and lean your stick over, a very subtle prompt comes up to say move to adjacent cover. And if I hit ‘A’ I actually shuffle along this plane so not only is it forward plane but it’s also side plane so what I do when I play is actually move from pillar to pillar so the guys can’t shoot at me. There are all these places in the game where the dynamics of the locomotion in cover is really fast and fluid and I just love it!

El33tonline:

It makes it more strategic so you can play more strategically or you can run and gun:

Julian Beak:

“Yes! Yes, and that’s the idea behind Overkill as well, which is that the players who play strategically, because maybe there is overwhelming fire and they are needing to stay in cover, we’re going to reward you so that in a few minutes you can leave that cover with Overkill, and run and gun, and be like really overpowered. Certainly if there’s only one or two enemies we want the game to allow you to run and gun, but there’s a couple of those routes where there are five or six, or seven guys all shooting at you from all directions. This is a good time for Overkill and that’s as a videogame as a more abstract thing, if there’s not tension in a videogame you don’t really enjoy the other side so we really have to keep this up.

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 7

Like what you played, even though there are a couple of times that there are a lot of enemies, they’re actually easier in the demo than what they’ll be in the real game. You get more Overkill in the demo than what we’ll probably give you in the final game. I mean if you played the demo well you could have turned on Overkill like six or seven times no problem over that span of time. And we wanted you to experience it, but for some players who were having difficulty there was a lot of tension and they said they loved the Overkill but for others I think they got it frequently enough that they liked it but they weren’t worried about it.”

El33tonline:

Can you tell us a bit more about the customisation options for weapons and masks in The Devil’s Cartel?

Julian Beak:

“When we looked at Visceral taking on this game there are people on the team that worked on the previous games, it’s not a trivial thing to take weapons and figure out what you are going to put so we are doing it very similarly to the previous games. It’s really like that’s coming along for the ride for sure. Not as in literally in terms of the interface, but in terms of what you can expect from previous games. It’s very similar to previous games. The same would be true for mask customization.”

El33tonline:

The battle feels very authentic ‒ how did you go about creating this? Just in the way the soldiers cover each other, move about, the AI is flanking you etc.

Julian Beak:

“The AI team will love this question, they are so happy that you feel this way! The quick summary would be that when we make a cover system we have to figure out how we are going to use it. And then the AI team basically asks how are you using the cover system, and then they want the AI to know how to do that. But one of the things is, and this is common for Artificial Intelligence, is that they have this vision of the world like what they know versus what’s actually in the game. You don’t want the AI to know everything, else they’ll know what’s behind walls. So their vision of the world allows them to be surprised. You may not have noticed it, but it happens sometimes that if you flank them, they will be shooting at the guy whose got their aggro and if that person who has their aggro stops shooting they will kind of reload and they will look at you and go ‘Woooah’ and go down on the ground. They will take a pot shot at you from the ground and be scared so those are a big part of the Visceral experience.

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 8

Someone asked me a question about why in the demo there is no aggro meter, like why isn’t there another HUD element that tells me the aggro. And where we are at right now in development is we won’t put that meter in until we feel that we have failed to make you feel scared when you have all the aggro. Like when you hear bullets hitting the cover, and it’s flashing, and there’s just muzzle flashes and tracers coming towards you, you know you have the aggro of all those people. So again that’s sort of the Visceral thing is that we want you to feel it more than we want to put it. We don’t hate HUD elements, we just feel like ‘let’s keep trying to do it this way as that’s very natural, certainly if you are wearing headphones or if you are playing and have speakers on, I mean I ducked with some of the ricochet noises that the audio team made, it’s really good.”

El33tonline:

Will the split-screen be left/right or top/down?

Julian Beak:

“Currently we actually have split-screen here and we are working on split-screen kind of in parallel as we believe couch co-op is the most natural multiplayer co-op ever. Especially if say you own the game and really enjoy it, and someone comes over and you are like ‘hey we should just play one level of Army of Two’ – one screen, one console, piece of cake. You know you have some fun, and it’s like a classic videogame. The orientation that it is right now is top and bottom, so you get the full kind of wide screen experience, you get your peripheral, so that’s the current one. They keep working on them, but I think any others would be additional, they wouldn’t be replacements.”

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 9

El33tonline:

How long do you have to save your partner before he dies?

Julian Beak:

“We keep tuning that – here we gave you probably more than we will. I mean we want any given experience to feel like it’s a game, it’s a videogame and I want to beat this experience and if there isn’t that tension it doesn’t work. When I say it’s probably a bit high, I think it will probably be a little less time, I think there will be that anxiety that ‘ you’ve got to come get me’ – so if you’re playing on the couch you might say ‘come get me, I need some help!’”

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 4

El33tonline:

How long has The Devil’s Cartel been in development and how big is the team?

Julian Beak:

“I can say it’s a big team, and that’s a coy answer. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and development teams start really small with the concept, you just keep trying it out, then you build the prototype and then you can see where my hands are going right (he indicated bigger and bigger), and then it can get really big. So when you are in production, for example Visceral has studios all around the world who are all helping out. So Dead Space is actually made by multiple studios, who are working on it at any one time.

The same is true with Army of Two, multiple studios are working on it. The base studio who does the core creative is in Montreal and that’s a big team. But then there are a lot of people in China working on it, there are people in California who are working on it, and people elsewhere working on it as well. So EA is really good that way. I mean I said we are using Frostbite 2, Frostbite starts at DICE right, they are trying to make this awesome game Battlefield 3, and then as the engine got nice and solid and mature, then other games started using it. And what those teams do is they actually innovate and put that code back into Frostbite 2, so everyone is adding to it and we have already added a bunch of network code to the engine after we started using it, to help out the game because a co-op game is slightly different than how a competitive multiplayer game would be.

I didn’t give you numbers, which I can’t, but I wanted you to understand what happens. Remember I said at the beginning it is small and you can imagine that it’s really small, and you can imagine that for the most part when we are working on games that when we finished the last one that little slow ramp starts for the next one. So that’s pretty much how long.”

Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel Screenshot 5

El33tonline:

How long is the singleplayer campaign?

Julian Beak:

“It will be comparable to the other games. One of the things is that tuning something can change the length of the campaign without you even noticing it. So if we make the AI even a little smarter, so there are some things that the AI do that we are going to improve so they are going to be a little bit harder so that scene will only take a fraction longer, it might take you 30 seconds longer for that one extra guy that does this tricky thing I’m talking about. You just keep adding that up and then now it’s an hour longer.”

El33tonline: Thank you so much for your time.

Julian Beak: You are very welcome. It was fun, those were good questions.

El33tonline:This one is like Army of Two on Overkill.

Julian Beak: Yes good, that was our goal. We wanted it to be like a guilty pleasure. This is just a fun videogame. It’s good times!

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is out in March 2013 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Read over El33tonline’s previous coverage of the game for more information about the game, and look out for our hands-on preview from gamescom 2012 soon.


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