Czech developer Illusion Softworks quietly released the original Hidden & Dangerous in 1999. It was a game that let you take a squad of soldiers behind enemy lines in World War II. The studio then announced a sequel for the game--though it stopped releasing updates on the sequel's development for some time. Then, in 2002, Illusion quietly released Mafia, one of the best games of that year. Now, the developer is finally finishing what it started. Hidden & Dangerous 2, which ships later this month, is nearly complete, and it features an intriguing combination of tactical strategy and third-person shooter gameplay. For more information on this upcoming sequel, we sat down with development director Luke Vernon.
GameSpot: What parts of the game is the team working on at this point?
Luke Vernon: Tweaking a very few variables, fixing bugs, taking in the feedback from all the people testing and playing the game across the world, and double-checking a thousand small things that will add up to something special.
GS: We know that Illusion Softworks' previous game, Mafia, was created with a lot of research and a lot of emphasis on authenticity--reproducing classic cars, using a traditional jazz soundtrack, and so on. What measures did you take to ensure Hidden & Dangerous was an authentic World War II game?
LV: The team built a basic time machine (with travel limited to 70 years). Two of them went back to 1940 and met David Stirling (founder of the SAS) in order to find out his true thoughts on how small squads would operate to cause chaos amongst the enemy. They also took photographs of many textures and faces from the time, and they also made recordings of the weapons and vehicles. They stayed in 1940 for about a fortnight and then came back. Their first attempt to come back caused them to arrive in 2002, so they helped finish Mafia. They then jumped again to the present day, where all their findings were incorporated into the game. If it wasn't for a simple bug in the time-warp algorithm, the game would have been finished earlier.
GS: Hidden & Dangerous 2 seems like a very ambitious game--especially because of the way it combines first-person shooters and tactical strategy. What are some of the challenges that you faced in combining these two very different styles of game?
LV: Many, many challenges. There are two ways to approach the development of a game of this nature. Firstly, after you have ascertained that you are going to have first-person, third-person, a supporting squad, quick commands (to teammates), and a full-on tactical mode (that runs in real time with a pause option), the challenge is to decide how the game environment and enemy soldiers are going to allow a balanced game when approached from any of these gaming styles. And there are two answers. One, either have the whole thing dominated by "on rails" scripts, where the events and potential gameplay combinations are predictable and controllable, or two, give the enemy a very sophisticated artificial intelligence system that will overrule the scripting system and allow for the game to dynamically adjust in accordance to your unique style of play, speed of movement, experience of teammates, equipment carried, use of stealth, and even changes between the different game modes. Naturally, option two leads to a much more exciting game in which each player experiences something more or less unique compared to the next player. Also, option two is clearly the more-difficult development option, and so is the option Illusion Softworks took.
As an example of just how dynamic the game experience is, on a press tour about a month ago, the executive producer, Rups, demonstrated the same Arctic campaign level over 30 times and said that it was different each time. On top of this, he even approached the level in the opposite order as suggested by the mission objectives, and that, too, led to a different sequence of events.
GS: Now that the game is nearly complete, what aspects of the game do you think work particularly well? Is there a specific part of the game you're most proud of?
LV: All of the game works particularly well! But seriously, I think the best thing about the game is that it is so different than the many other wartime shooters out there. It's not another Rambo-style B movie. It may very well be a timeless classic. Play it. You will talk about it.
GS: How do you think players will approach Hidden & Dangerous 2's multiplayer modes? Will they mostly play the game as a shooter? Are there other modes or features you have planned to help differentiate the multiplayer from other online shooters?
LV: The game has three multiplayer modes. Deathmatch, which everyone should be familiar with at this point. If it moves, shoot it! Occupation mode divides players into two teams and lets them fight over territory. The winning team either has the most points for captured territory at the end of the match or simply controls the whole map. In objective mode, one team is given a list of mission objectives that it must complete, while the other team must stop their opponents from completing these objectives to win. Both the occupation and objective multiplayer modes should promote extensive teamwork and strategic play.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Hidden & Dangerous 2?
LV: The original game helped define the squad-based action game genre. Hidden & Dangerous 2 has been in the making for four years, with over a hundred people working on it. We have no option but to pick up from where Hidden & Dangerous left off and leave the competition standing again. Anything else would leave the game hidden and only dangerous to our reputation.
GS: Yes, indeed. Thanks Luke.