There's a reason airborne troops labeled the corridor through Holland and into Germany "Hell's Highway." After running into two unexpected panzer divisions, the thousands of airborne paratroopers that jumped into Holland were suddenly cut off--ill-equipped, starving, cold, and alone. Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway will chronicle the failed operation through the eyes of Matt Baker, the protagonist in previous Gearbox entries in the franchise.
Heading toward release, we'll examine Hell's Highway brick-by-brick, from the new destructible environments to the history behind the largest airborne operation in human history, accompanied with new behind-the-scenes gameplay footage and screens. Today we sat down with Mikey Neumann, the writer and cinematic director on Brother in Arms: Hell's Highway, to talk about the Operation Market Garden, a bold plan indeed.
GameSpot: Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne operation in history, with 35,000 troops parachuting into Holland to secure a number of objectives. What were the major objectives of the operation and what will we experience in the game on day one?
Mikey Neumann: Well, technically, the game starts a few days into the operation in a decrepit hospital, but we quickly rewind the clock to get the player caught up to speed.
The major objective of Operation Market Garden was to punch straight into Berlin and end the war by Christmas. It was a lofty expectation and possibly even a greedy one. For the men (and hopefully the player), on D+0, this probably felt exciting after the victory in the French countryside...
GS: Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway tells the story of Matt Baker and his squad from previous BIA games, as well as the 10 days spent behind enemy lines as part of Market Garden. Walk us through the 10 days of hell Baker and company will go through.
MN: Well, I can't walk you through all 10 days as that would give away the whole game! S/Sgt. Matt Baker and S/Sgt. Joe "Red" Hartsock are in charge of two small "Recon" teams heading into Holland. They're responsible for going in ahead of the rest of the paratroopers and reporting back what they find. What they expected to find was old men and young boys barely able to hold rifles; unfortunately, what they found was platoons of experienced German soldiers who were not giving up the highway to Berlin. This creates some serious complications for Baker on his journey.
GS: The Allies were not expecting the 9th SS and 10th SS panzer tank divisions to be stationed in Holland for rest and refit. How are lightly armed airborne troops supposed to take on German tanks? Any strategies you recommend in the game?
MN: Well, that's where Stella comes in (pause, for audience laughter.) We give the player some bigger toys this time around to hopefully make it feel, let's say, "fair enough." Jasper totes around his bazooka, "Stella," for just such a situation. The missions where you fight tanks create a nice cat-and-mouse type scenario where it's more about how you can get shots off at the tank without it getting shots off at you. The bazooka is also nice for well-entrenched enemies using our new destructible cover system. In the previous games, enemies like that required a great deal of patience to take down; this go around, you can just blow them to hell and go on your merry [way].
GS: We haven't seen any vehicles yet in Hell's Highway. Will we be able to commandeer tanks or pilot a glider drop?
MN: We did it a little different this time around; we believe it's one better. In the previous games, we put the tanks under Baker's command, which was pretty fun. This time around (as we're pretty comfortable switching around the character perspectives at this point), we decided to actually put you in the boots of the men in a tank. It's creates a lot more chaotic and interesting gameplay for the player when he's taking on multiple 88's at once!
GS: There is a huge focus on authenticity in Hell's Highway as you used actual aerial photographs of the battle to design your levels. What are the challenges in balancing that level of authenticity with good game design?
MN: The most obvious challenge with the Market Garden landscape is that the Americans withdrew from the operation, so if our audience is constantly losing and getting frustrated, they probably won't want to be our customers anymore. In actuality, though, we find that most of the reconnaissance photography lends itself to our gameplay very well. We're using a lot of the same tactics to attack the enemy that the paratroopers used, which means you can stay startlingly close to the actual experience and still have a good time in the end. For our most hardcore fans, that creates a fun game of "How would you have handled the same problem?"
GS: There is really no question that you are attempting to connect players emotionally with the characters in the game. In your research and interviews with veterans of Market Garden, what are some of their stories that inspired you most?
MN: Too many to count. A lot of what affected me when talking to these heroes is the amount of loss they saw in Operation Market Garden was so high that it's still fresh in their memory and still gets to them. I think--and I'm speaking from my own interpretation at this point--that a lot of them left a piece of themselves out there on the battlefield. I did my best to build that same loss into Baker's journey. If we've succeeded in not just entertaining the player but in teaching our audience what it feels like to lose the men you care about and continue on--even just a little--then we've done our job. Hopefully, this gives people that play our game the desire to talk to veterans when they see them. Our World War II heroes are not going to be around forever, and it would be a shame to miss out on their journeys because we just never talked to them.
GS: We've seen Market Garden in many other WWII games before but not nearly to this extent. What locations and bridges will we see besides the requisite Arnhem and Nijmegen?
MN: Son, Veghel, Koevering, Eindhoven, just to name a few.
GS: Market Garden also involved British and Polish troops. Will Baker and company run into any other allies or is his squad truly outnumbered, outgunned, and alone?
MN: The British tankers played a huge part in the operation and in the interactions of the American paratroopers. The first big main objective (at the highest level) is finding and linking up with XXX corps and bringing them through Eindhoven. We did a lot more with side characters this time around and built some British soldiers into the main storyline that come into the story in surprising ways.
GS: The BIA franchise has often been compared to the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers for its focus on storytelling and the bonds of brotherhood forged in battle. Band of Brothers also went on to portray an Allied victory in Europe. Where will Baker's story end? Surely, BIA can't end with a failed operation...
MN: What's the fun of knowing the end before you're done with the middle? Baker's story surely has an end, and I have a pretty solid idea what that end is, but we're not ready to begin discussing our next steps until Hell's Highway is out the door. There are some really serious consequences from this operation to the dwindling presence that is "Baker's Dozen."
I will say the ending chapter of Hell's Highway called "Farewell is Goodbye" should give all our fans a fair heading on where Baker's going on his journey.
GS: Thanks for your time.