With Mercenaries 2: World in Flames just weeks out from release, GameSpot AU caught up with Pandemic director Cameron Brown to chat about making next-gen explosions, building up your band of soldiers of fortune, and what role Pandemic's Australian studio played in the development.
GameSpot AU: Mercenaries has always been known for its focus on destruction, and that seems to be the case again with Mercenaries 2. How taxing on the CPU is it to not only create an explosion, but for it to have wide reaching effects such as collapsing multiple buildings?
Cameron Brown: It's extremely taxing. That was one of the big focal points when we moved Mercs to next-gen--making use of the power of the CPU in the PS3 and 360, so that we could create those effects, like you're talking about. Something that's interesting about it is that it's not just the explosions themselves that is taxing on the system; it's also the fact that we've got to prepare everything to be destroyed. For everything you see in the game, we have to go ahead and make destroyed states for them and have additional access, data, and physics that the game has to carry around at all times. So that the player can have that experience of calling in an air-strike at anywhere they want and having the world react. It's a lot of extra data, so it's not just the CPU, it also makes the streaming and the physics calculations very challenging. It's part of the challenge and part of the joys of making such an explosive game.
GS AU: How does the size of the maps compare to the original Mercenaries map?
CB: Well, it's a lot bigger. What we decided early on, because of the power we had in these newer systems, was that we wanted to have the game take place on just one seamless map. If you remember in Mercs, I don't know how familiar you are with it, that map was actually divided into two big maps and then it had four ace maps, as we called them. In Mercs 2, we've actually got one big map. It's actually larger than all of those Mercs one maps combined--just into one big streaming world.
GS AU: Can you explain how the mechanic of building a Private Military Company (PMC) works within the game?
CB: Something we really wanted to do is do a better job of immersing you in the story and having richer characters in the second game. So, what we have you do at the start of the game, you get screwed over by the main bad guy--so you're working for him. You end up staying in Venezuela having to level the entire country to get paid. Part of doing that is setting up your base of operations. The second level of the game is all about you acquiring this place where you can stay, move in, and customise it mercenary-style. Some of the key story features in the game see you meeting these other people in the world who have a beef with this guy. When you do something for them, they join your team and supplement your abilities. You recruit a helicopter pilot, mechanic, and these people enable you to do other things. The helicopter pilot is what unlocks the ability to deliver things to yourself and picks things up in the world; your mechanic unlocks the ability to get customised vehicles.
GS AU: Say if your helicopter pilot gets shot down, do you then need to go and recruit another pilot?
CB: He's a persistent character. If he comes under heavy fire, he's smart enough, once his helicopter is on fire, to take off and flee. Rather than have him shot down, what happens is, he'll panic and whatever he was bringing in, he'll drop wherever he is. You might be calling in a customised monster truck that you worked hard to get, if he comes under too much heavy fire, he might drop it in the ocean as he's fleeing. You've got to be careful where you call him in, because you might loose your cargo, but we never let you lose the actual helicopter pilot.
GS AU: Seeing as the game is getting close to completion, can you go into a few more details about how the multiplayer will work?
CB:That was one of the big things we wanted to do over [with] Mercs. What we decided to do early on was we didn't want you to go to any kind of special mode or arena. We really wanted you to play multiplayer and that it would be the full single-player experience. What we focused on was co-op, it's just two players--you and your friend--in the game. We focused on this very easy to get into, drop-in, drop-out, co-op. I could be playing my game and see you pop up online, I could send you an invite and you jump into my game. There's literally no interruption for me at all, I'm just playing around with the world. If I'm in a vehicle, you'll appear there, like in the gunner's seat. If I'm running around, you'll appear beside me. We just keep playing the single-player game, with the two of us in there together. We can play from the opening credits to the final credits--all the way through the game in co-op.
GS AU: One of the cool things about the original Mercenaries game was its Easter eggs hidden throughout the game. Will there be similar Easter eggs in the sequel?
CB: We've definitely got some crazy things in there for you to unlock. You might have seen some of the screenshots with some fairly unusual costumes. There are definitely things in there for players to unlock. It's integrated into your home base, so the things you unlock are crazy vehicles and things for you to wear. I think you'll find plenty of things to find and unlock.
GS AU: Will you be supporting trophies on the PlayStation 3 version?
CB: No we are not. We were deep into development by the time that SDK was made available. We love the idea and we'd really like to, but this time we have no plans.
GS AU: What sort of role is Pandemic's Brisbane, Australia, studio playing in the development of Mercenaries 2?
CB: They actually did do some work on the game. Once they shipped Destroy All Humans, a bunch of their programmers and some of their artists flew over to LA to help us work on the game. Some of them also worked on it when they were back in Brisbane. We actually have a pretty healthy back-and-forth relationship with those guys. We pretty frequently go and visit them and they pretty frequently come and visit us. I'm actually in our video conference room and I just came in on the tail end of a meeting with the Brisbane studio--we have a pretty good video conference set up, so we can talk to those guys all the time. They definitely had a contribution to Mercs 2 and helped us out in the middle of development, when we were really pushing to get some key features done, with some physics.
GS AU: Can you go into any detail as to what they worked on?
CB: They wrote the original ladder code that lets you climb up and down ladders in the game. That's Aussie borne and bred. They actually wrote the original implementation of motorcycles as well.
GS AU: What's your opinion on the complaints made against Pandemic by the Venezuelan government?
CB: We think it's kind of interesting; we're flattered when anyone pays attention to us. Some of the things they claim, like that we're in league with the Bush administration, is pretty funny stuff. Our attitude is we're not out to offend anyone. We regard Mercenaries purely as an action movie. It's kind of like James Bond in a way; we'll take a real world place and turn it into an action movie version of that place. It's very fictionalised. I don't think anyone should take it too seriously--we certainly don't. Ultimately I think it's kind of interesting and we don't mind the attention, but I don't think it's anything serious.
GS AU: Other than the obvious graphics difference, what's the difference between Mercs 2 on PS2 and on next-gen consoles?
CB: They're actually very different games. Obviously the basic story is the same and the basic arc through the game--we try to share voice actors and things like that. Overall, the games are very different. Mercs 2 on the PS2 was developed out of house, with some oversight from us. In terms of the actual missions, it's quite a different game--it actually plays quite differently. Given I directed Mercs 2 and Mercs, this is the first Mercenaries game that I personally wasn't involved in with day-to-day. It's kind of exciting for me that I have a Mercenaries game that I don't know how it goes.
GS AU: Cameron Brown, thanks for your time.