What can leap tall buildings in a single bound? In the original Freedom Force of 2002, the answer was: you. You could also knock said building to the ground if you wanted. The 3D tactical game, which let you command a team of powerful superheroes as well as judiciously use their powers for good (while throwing lampposts and taxis at evildoers), combined addictive role-playing game elements with a great story that could have come from a Silver Age comic book. Now, developer Irrational Games has just finished up work on the follow-up, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich, which pits your team of superheroes against a time-traveling trio of World War II supervillains. The new game will also have an all-new multiplayer mode, and we have details on it here from executive producer and creative director Ken Levine.
GameSpot: We've been waiting for this. Give us an overview of the multiplayer in the upcoming Freedom Force game. How many players will it support? Will there be any community-specific features, like tournaments and ladder rankings? We know there are new features that really draw upon the game's comic book roots. How so?
Ken Levine: In order to keep the team-based aspect of the single-player game, we opted for two- to four-person multiplayer in all our modes. Besides the fan-created mods, the original game was very basic in its multiplayer modes and execution. We knew we had to change that for the sequel. We did that first by conceiving eight different multiplayer modes. They include: arena, team arena, deathmatch, team deathmatch, massacre, team massacre, and tag.
The most promising mode has to be "story-based multiplayer," though. It was created to give mod makers a chance to give their characters meaning. We're essentially allowing our fans to create whatever scenarios they can imagine using whatever characters or assets they can come up with. It can be as simple or deep as you want it to be. I think this mode is going to have legs like no other aspect of the series.
There are thousands of heroes created by the fans' imaginations out there. There are also tons of fan fiction and mods. With story-based multiplayer, we're giving gamers the chance to merge all these things into a completely open-ended multiplayer extravaganza.
GS: Are any other multiplayer modes from the original game, and its fan-made modifications (like the "Danger Room" mod), going to make appearances in the game?
KL: We're not shipping with any fan-made modifications in the box. We believe that the best fan-made mods always rise to the top. The forums at Freedomfans.com are always a good place to get pointed in the right direction...or just do an Internet search for Freedom Force. There's an insane amount of sites out there.
GS: How will characters be managed in multiplayer? Will players use characters from the single-player game in multiplayer, or will they be able to use custom heroes?
KL: We wanted to give players a balanced multiplayer roster, while at the same time, [we wanted to] let them play with the characters exactly as they were in the single-player campaign. The best solution for this was to give players two different versions. You'll be able to select single-player and multiplayer versions of nearly every character. The multiplayer versions have been rebalanced so that there are no dominant characters.
The autobalance feature is something that can be used for fan-created characters as well. Each character's overall abilities are ranked. We were very careful about balancing the characters that are included, and we wanted to make certain that [this balance] didn't all get thrown out the window when people started recruiting their own heroes.
GS: The original Freedom Force's multiplayer modes (and mods), along with its editing tools, helped extend the game's life span considerably. How will the new game's multiplayer and community features help keep fans playing long after launch?
KL: The game will have new-and-improved versions of all the tools that were available in the original game. The focus this time around was not only in making the tools more accessible and further empowering mod makers, but also in giving players the chance to put their mods to good use. Story-based multiplayer was designed with this in mind. That said, the new version of the character tool will give players a lot more freedom in what they do with our effects system. Being able to attach particle effects to characters like we do with El Diablo or Entropy gives mod makers the chance to create completely different types of heroes.
GS: Tell us about the process of creating custom heroes in the new game. Is it more or less a similar process to that in the original (creating an appearance, buying powers with prestige costs, then recruiting in the campaign)? Have the multiplayer modes changed any part of the custom-hero-creation process? Also, in light of recent events--seeing as how video game companies may not always have free reign (or, arguably, even legal rights) to use comic book characters in video games--what steps has Irrational taken to prepare for such issues?
KL: We felt that the recruitment aspect of the original worked quite well. We didn't want to step on our fans, so we've kept the functionality the same but have added a few features, like an autobalance option that can be used to make sure multiplayer remains competitive.
We want to make sure that our fans respect the intellectual properties of others. This means that unless you have permission, you really shouldn't go about re-creating established characters. Freedom Force was never about that. We designed all these tools to allow gamers to create that hero that's been cooking in the back of their minds. We've seen some amazing characters rise to the top of our community. If people were simply creating preexisting heroes, nobody would get to the fresh and original stuff.
GS: Give us an update on the game's progress. Is everything more or less done? What's being worked on at the present?
KL: The game has, in fact, gone gold. We've got our stethoscopes to the tracks and are dying to hear feedback.
GS: Won't be long now. Thanks, Ken.