Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was one of 2002's biggest hits, and it marked the successful PC debut of Medal of Honor, EA's World War II action franchise. Allied Assault made artful use of scripting to make memorable events unfold before your eyes, and it did a great job of re-creating the monumental scale of the D-Day invasion and the subsequent fighting in and around the small towns of Normandy. Spearhead, the first expansion pack to Allied Assault, was released at the end of last year, and a new expansion pack, Breakthrough, is scheduled to take the action to the North Africa and Italy this fall. The expansion is in development at TKO Software in Santa Cruz, California. We recently spoke with TKO's Jody Hicks to get more details on the game's missions, weapons, and new multiplayer features.
GameSpot: The first Medal of Honor expansion, Spearhead, took us through a D-Day airdrop and missions in France, Belgium, and Germany. Where does Breakthrough pick things up?
Jody Hicks: Medal of Honor Breakthrough takes place during the Italian campaigns of World War II. We start players off with a bang as they enter the massive tank battle of Kasserine Pass and then enter missions located in Africa, Sicily, and central Italy.
GS: Tell us about some of the specific missions in North African and Italy. How will the missions fit into the historical campaigns there?
JH: We have taken great pains to ensure that our missions and locations maintain historical accuracy and offer the fans the style of gameplay they have come to expect from the Medal of Honor franchise. Our first level takes place during the Kasserine Pass battle in Africa. Historically, the Allies didn't fare too well during this encounter, and we reflect that in the game through story and plot development. Of course, players will have the opportunity to make their own mark on history by being directly involved in the outcome of the battles, but we never completely rewrite history.
Another example would be the Italian mission that takes place near the Anzio Beach landings. Historically, the Anzio landings were disastrous for the Allies, with shellings and a very concentrated force of Axis troops holding the Allies back from the beachhead. We didn't want to re-create the Normandy beach landing as seen in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Medal of Honor Frontline, so we delved deeper into history and learned why the Anzio beach landings were so difficult. The Germans had built massive K5 railway cannons that could fire a shell roughly 90 miles. We decided that the player's mission should be to find and destroy these cannons in the rural hillsides of Anzio to open the beaches to the Allies. We made a very concerted effort to accurately research the history of the missions and their locations so we could accurately portray the events that took place during the Italian campaign of World War II.
GS: Every one of the previous games featured a battle sequence that was particularly impressive. What's the most exciting sequence in Breakthrough?
JH: I think it's safe to say that Medal of Honor Breakthrough has more than just one highly exciting sequence. We knew that if we devoted all our resources to creating a single sequence and then slacked on the rest of the game, the hard-core Medal of Honor fans would eat us alive. It's for that very reason that we decided to really push ourselves and develop each level as if it were the most important level in the game. From the opening sequence, as the player enters the tank battle of Kasserine Pass, to the glider landings on Sicily, all the way to the climactic battle at Mont Battaglia, Breakthrough will offer a memorable experience from start to finish.
GS: What are some of the new weapons and items planned for the expansion?
JH: Ah yes, the weapons. Well, Medal of Honor has a robust selection of weapons already, so it was a challenge to find new and interesting weapons that were not only historically accurate, but were also actually used during the Italian campaign setting. Since the game is set in Italy, the obvious choice was Italian weapons, so that's where we started. We added the Carcano rifle, the bomba a mano (an Italian hand grenade), and the Moschetto Automatico Beretta MOD.38A (an excellent Italian automatic submachine gun).
The new weapons don't stop with the Italians, though. We've added a new British bazooka-style weapon called the PIAT. It's a spring-loaded shoulder-firing mortar launcher. British weapons also include the Vickers Berthier Mk3b, an excellent machine gun with amazing accuracy and power. This isn't a definitive list, as there are many more new weapons, vehicles, and artillery pieces that will be included in the retail release. Of course, all the new weapons will be available in the multiplayer modes.
Liberation and MinelayingGS: The previous expansion, Spearhead, was widely considered to be extremely short. How much time will it take to play through the Breakthrough missions? How has the design approach shifted from one expansion to the other?
JH: We are shooting for between 45 and 90 minutes for each level. Obviously, the individual player's skill will dictate the overall length of the game, but rest assured that Breakthrough was designed and developed with longevity in mind. During the initial preproduction of Breakthrough, we took a long hard look at both Allied Assault and Spearhead, read the forums, and listened to what the fans of the Medal of Honor series wanted. Once we had our initial design, we made many, many passes at our concepts and ideas to make sure that we were delivering something that not only lived up to the Medal of Honor name, but also added to it.
GS: There will be some new multiplayer features in Breakthrough. Tell us about the new game mode, liberation.
JH: Liberation is akin to the Quake mod Jailbreak in that once a member of a team gets killed, he or she respawns in the enemies' jail. A player who is jailed must either find a way to escape from the cell or wait for the rescue party to show up and open the jail door. It's a blast to play, and we have burned many valuable development hours "testing" the new game mode.
GS: We hear that players will get some new abilities in multiplayer games, like driving vehicles and calling in air strikes. What are some of the other abilities? What sorts of effects will these have on the gameplay?
JH: Unfortunately, due to time constraints, drivable vehicles will not be included in Breakthrough. Our goal from the beginning was to introduce new gameplay and features that enhanced the player's experience. Given the technology and time, we decided to sacrifice this to add more-impactful gameplay. The drivable vehicle code, while functional, wasn't up to the standards of Medal of Honor, and ultimately we weren't happy with the feature in the state it was in. We decided to pull the drivable vehicle feature to focus on the rest of the game, and quite honestly it was a small addition and the effort to perfect it wasn't worth the benefit.
We are looking into allowing a new minelayer class to place land mines that disappear from the screen and are detectable only by the minesweeper. This will have a great strategic effect on the gameplay for those not using the minesweeper class.
GS: Will the new game mode and abilities be available in existing maps or only in new ones? How many new multiplayer maps are planned?
JH: Currently, the minelayer abilities are being refined and tweaked. We are hopeful that the class will be useable with the older Allied Assault maps, as well as the new ones. As of right now, there are nine new multiplayer maps that leverage their locations and settings from our single-player campaign. We have three new liberation maps, three new objective maps, and three new tug of war maps that will be shipping with the retail product.
GS: How far into development is Breakthrough?
JH: Breakthrough is now currently entering its alpha stage. We have been at it for roughly five months straight, and a lot of guys have sacrificed many nights of valuable sleep, but it'll be worth it in the end. I think a lot of people will be surprised and impressed at the level of quality that Breakthrough will ship with, considering the insanely short development cycle that we signed on for. But hey, that's all part of the job.
GS: When is the expansion scheduled to ship?
JH: The plan that TKO Software is marching to is reach alpha on July 3, with a planned release date this fall. The final date is being set now with EA, and I suspect that they will have some type of official announcement once the plans are final. However, to be perfectly honest, we are so busy tuning, tweaking, testing, and retesting that we don't look at it as, "When is this thing going to ship?" It's more like, "Do we have time to add this cool new thing?" Rest assured, though--Medal of Honor Breakthrough isn't that far away from shipping.
GS: Thanks for your time, Jody.