Hot on the heels of our recent interview and hands-on with a work-in-progress build of the game, we chat with KAOS Studios' general manager, Frank DeLise, about user-generated war, sequels, and the technical back end of online game serving.
GameSpot AU: You're releasing three versions of the game: Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3. Is the PC version a straight console port, or is additional work being done on graphics and control system tweaking?
Frank DeLise: We're pretty big PC fans--it's where we came from--so we're putting in a lot of effort on the PC. One of the things people really liked about the stuff we did in the past was the helicopters and some of the controls there and the physics, so we spent a lot of time making the vehicle controls, the gun controls, very specific to the PC versus the consoles. One thing we're big on with the game is that with some games it's hard to get better. So that means that a lot of shooters can be 80 percent spread and 20 percent recoil. We're actually the opposite; we're 20 percent spread and 80 percent recoil, and that means you can get better at your aiming with a mouse and keyboard because it's more about controlling the gun than controlling randomness. That was one of the big things. We always wanted to make a game on the PC side to be very skill-based--you can get better at it and make it competitive.
GS AU: You guys come from a game modification background. Will you be adding any tools or support for the community to create user-created content?
FD: Yes, we have an amazing mod suite. We're using Unreal Engine 3 for Frontlines, and everything we use will be 100 percent available to the public. We pretty much use Unreal Engine and then tools--there are some tools for Maya and Max. We've heavily modified the engine for the large-scale openness, but everything we use is going to be available, so the cool thing is not only can they make multiplayer maps, but they can make single-player maps, vehicles, weapons, and everything we've done.
GS AU: What will the restrictions be on that? Will I be able to make my own single-player map or campaign and share it with my friends?
FD: The way we've set up the single-player system and how the whole game works is it's just like opening a multiplayer map, so if you just add a new single-player map you can access it as a new map.
GS AU: Will this be available only on the PC version, or do you have plans to roll it out cross-platform?
FD: Only on the PC version.
GS AU: Will you be offering cross-console multiplayer support?
FD: No, we looked into it pretty heavily and found that besides the obvious auto-aim versus non-auto-aim--which wasn't going to be too much of a problem--the only way to do it for Xbox was the Live system, and while Live is fairly interesting, it has a lot of problems, one of which is that it takes a lot of things you can get for free and makes you pay for it. So we felt that it wasn't ready yet for our public. It takes away matchmaking, and you have to pay to host games, so it just didn't seem right at least on the PC side. On the PS3 side, definitely possible, but we're not supporting that out of the gate though. The PS3 is much more open for that type of gameplay than the Xbox is.
GS AU: A lot of people seem to be interested in a co-op single-player campaign. Why have you chosen not to include that?
FD: Purely for time. The scope of the game is really big as it is from the sense that there's these 6-inch drones all the way up to jets in the same game, so there's a lot to polish. The single-player and the multiplayer depth is pretty big, and we prototyped the co-op and it's a game definitely well suited for it, but it just meant that less polish was going to be put everywhere else in the game. We're definitely big fans of it too, and we want to do that in the future, but it just wasn't possible for this version of the game.
GS AU: When we spoke with Joe Halper from KAOS Studios recently, he talked about some of the planned Sixaxis support for Frontlines in the PS3 version, but nothing was finalised. Has it been nailed down now?
FD: Some of the key ones are the drones. You can fly them with the Sixaxis controller, and you can also use the helicopters with the Sixaxis. We're doing some stuff with melee just by flicking the controller. We're still experimenting with sniping, trying to make some interesting stuff there, but mainly right now it's for vehicle use and some infantry movements and the melee.
GS AU: Have you confirmed rumble support?
FD: I don't know if that's confirmed right now.
GS AU: Obviously there's been a lot of talk about the PS3 version of Frontlines. What can you tell us about the reason for the PS3 delay?
FD: Mostly the engine we're using--Unreal Engine 3. One of the main things about it is that the PS3 came a year later than the Xbox 360, so that actually delayed us making a budget in a sense for what's possible on the PS3 versus the Xbox and PC. Also, the engine wasn't ready for a year later because the PS3 came out a year later. So [with] the Xbox and the PC platform we've found more solid a platform to develop on, but the engine is literally just finished for that platform and that's actually a long time. All the first games for the PS3 are coming out now for the PS3 on that engine.
GS AU: Do you think maybe it's a case of the Unreal Engine being released prior to being ready to be rolled out to developers?
FD: They've always said that too. They said that the engine would be ready for the platform a year after release, so they said that for the Xbox and they said that for the PS3, but they let people develop on it. If you were making a simplistic game, or something that's not as demanding in scale, the engine was pretty good for it. But for things that are memory and streaming intensive, that's the stuff that wasn't quite as ready yet.
GS AU: Why have you opted to tell the game's story from a journalist's point of view rather than that of the soldier character you control?
FD: The main thing was that we wanted a storytelling device that was able to see from all different perspectives and not just an individual soldier. So it was a really good way to give a backstory and have a future around this character. In a lot of single-player games you go back a few minutes in time each time you die and do the same moment again. We wanted to make sure that time never stopped and you were always chipping away. We felt the embedded reporter was a fun way to tell the story of the game.
GS AU: In our hands-on time with the game, we've noticed the reporter doesn't seem to do all that much. He's just there to move you between the campaigns by recounting some backstory via narration and the odd cutscene.
FD: He comes in more and more at the end too, and he's the ending, but it's more about telling the story than being a character in the game. He's really just a storytelling device in the game from backstory to a timeline, but he's not actually in the game a lot. We have a lot of ideas how to do more things with him in the future, but he's not in the game as a character you get to play or interact with much.
GS AU: So we're talking a Frontlines sequel then?
FD: Yeah, we've designed much more than is in there. One of the goals is to be able to play the whole Red Star side. The whole idea of the game was not to have this political agenda, but to tell the story from both ends. We designed the whole story from both sides, so there's some interesting stuff there, and we want to do more stuff with the embedded reporter, especially in the way of recording stuff in the game and being able to run around and actually record things and share it with your friends.
GS AU: Pete Isensee from Microsoft spoke at the GCAP conference in Melbourne a few weeks back about the Xbox Live Server Platform (XLSP). He acknowledged it's a huge potential for game developers, but also restrictive for smaller developers because of the time and cost involved. Given you're using the technology, what are your thoughts on the platform?
FD: XLSP is really good for stat servers. It was mainly designed for doing stats, but its functionality is to connect to a server, and there are limits to what you can do on a server. Not a lot of games have done it because he's right, for small developers it's not easy. It's all about cost. The whole benefit to these servers is gameplay experience and giving people environments where it can be lagless. That only comes in an expense to THQ, so THQ wants to provide that next-gen multiplayer experience, and it costs money, but they're willing to do it for this game because it's an important aspect of the title. So you've got the ability to create your own servers for eight to 16 players with your Xbox and then anything over 16 players is a dedicated server. We've got hundreds of dedicated servers throughout the world placed strategically in all the major locations Microsoft approves.
GS AU: How does that work on the PS3 side given Sony doesn't have Microsoft's XLSP?
FD: It's actually a lot easier on the PS3, and this is no different to the dedicated servers you do on a PC--you set up a PC and it shows up in a lobby. The only difference between the Xbox, PC, and PS3 is the Xbox has another server at the data centre that says "send the data through me before you can go to Microsoft." All it does is keep it secure. That's all XLSP is. It's just a gateway to Microsoft. They don't want everybody creating their own lobbies; they don't want anyone else creating Xbox Live. This is where Sony in the future can get very interesting if they decide not to close it. Right now it's not nearly as closed, but there could be a lot more options for people to do things that are very different on that console. They could do MMOs, ways to charge, their own video service. Whatever it is, the fact that it's much more open and they can do what they want to do, whereas on Xbox it's much more closed and there's much more approval. They're getting closer with the Live platform because Live is on the PC now, and we were just a little too late and iffy about the whole "keep charging people to do this" stuff, but theoretically one of the capabilities of Live on the PC is dedicated servers for Xbox games. Theoretically you could download a server application with that Xbox Live application and dedicate a server for the Xbox anywhere in the world. That's coming, and I think eventually that'll replace XLSP.
GS AU: Frank DeLise, thanks for your time.