F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Developer Q&A
Monolith gets into the finer details of the guns, enemies, and explosive environments in its upcoming horror shooter.
The original F.E.A.R. earned acclaim for tense, close-quarters firefights that combined great weaponry with a downright spooky atmosphere. With the long-awaited sequel, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, developer Monolith is aiming to keep players on edge while simultaneously adding more variety to the combat. Primary art lead Dave Matthews and senior software engineer Matthew Titelbaum help explain how they intend to accomplish this goal.
GameSpot: The heart of any game's combat experience is the conflict between the player and the enemy. In F.E.A.R. 2, those enemies look pretty tenacious. Early builds of the game have shown them opening car doors to use as cover, and limping back up from the brink of death to make you really work for the kill. What are some other ways you've improved the enemy AI to add more combat depth?
Dave Matthews: One of our biggest successes in F.E.A.R. was our AI, and that's not something that's going to be overlooked. In F.E.A.R. 2 we've enhanced what was created for the original game and built upon the strengths of that system. You're going to see enemies that are far more aware of their environment and a lot more capable of adapting to the way you play. We've added awareness to environmental hazards such as fire and electrified areas. An AI that catches on fire doesn't just continue fighting with complete disregard for being engulfed in flames. They will now drop their weapons, try to extinguish the flames by patting, the ever-popular stop, drop, and roll, or if there is water nearby, run to it. If they can douse the flames, they'll switch to their secondary sidearm or find a weapon nearby, pick it up, and reengage in combat. There'll be plenty of opportunities for the player to experiment with new and glorious ways to bring about the demise of their foes.
As for combat, you can think about it like sandbox combat. The environment you fight in doesn't change, but the way enemies attack you and react to your behavior changes every time you play. The AI are now aware and will take advantage of combat opportunities within the environment. Just as you can target the gas tank of a car to take out the foes, they will be able to find the same types of advantages and leverage them against you. What affords us this emergent behavior is that our AI is not scripted, but educated, so as you enter combat volumes, enemies will adapt to your play style. If you are a run-and-gun kind of player, the enemies will see this and use opportunities to flank you and attack you from behind. Players that use cover more heavily will find enemies using various strategies, like throwing grenades to your location, to flush you out into the open so they can attack you. The goal is to make players not notice that the enemies are controlled by the computer.
GS: On the subject of enemies, what are some of the types that players will encounter? How will their various strengths and weaknesses affect the way people play the game?
Matthew Titelbaum: We have a few new enemies in F.E.A.R. 2, as well as some that have carried over from the original F.E.A.R. with significant modification. Regular and heavy-weapon soldiers are back from the original F.E.A.R. with a few modifications. Some ATC soldiers now carry "cleaning" equipment to cover up Armacham's tracks, but the tanks they carry are very vulnerable to gunfire. Also, some soldiers are packing flamethrowers now, which also require carrying a tank of fuel on their backs. The player will definitely want to aim for the tanks to quickly incapacitate the enemy. Assassins are also back, quick as ever, but now they have much improved mobility. Assassins can now climb and jump all over the environment, sneaking up on the player from where he or she least expects it. Slow-mo will definitely help the player out, but using the environment to his or her advantage is also key. Finally, soldiers equipped with powered armor are also back in F.E.A.R. 2, along with their technological successor elite powered armor. Both of these enemies pack tremendous firepower and require the player to be fully aware of available cover. Luckily for the player, though, both enemies are heavily susceptible to electromagnetic attacks, so a well-placed chaff grenade can render these deadly enemies immobile.
The new enemies in F.E.A.R. 2 are wholly different sorts of threats. The abomination enemy is the result of an Armacham experiment gone wholly wrong. Barbaric and quick, the abomination will appear where you least expect it and bound off the environment and right at the player. If given the chance, the abomination won't hesitate to jump right on top of the player and won't relent until the player is able to wrestle him off. The abominations also tends to show up in groups, so the player should also be sure to frequently look over his shoulder. The remnant enemy, though, is a wholly different ball of wax. After Alma's taint overwhelmed the city, many civilians were devoured by her tremendous power. These lost souls are now neither alive nor dead, stuck forever repeating their final moments. These remnants seek their revenge on the living by reanimating soldiers to attack them, sort of a puppet master, if you will. Killing the remnant's soldier puppets is an exercise in futility, though, as the remnant will quickly reanimate them once again. The trick is to run down and kill the remnant before his minions can kill the player.
GS: You've expanded the type of weaponry available for players to pick up over the course of the campaign. Can you tell us about some of these new guns and describe how you've tried to make them more appealing in a genre where typically one only needs an assault rifle and some grenades to survive?
DM: In F.E.A.R., there were a few weapons that definitely made an impact with the community, and those items, like the penetrator, are making a comeback in F.E.A.R. 2. But early on we realized that we would not be able to just deliver another set of weapons alone. Coming back to one of our mantras of "variety," we brought an armor-penetration value to each weapon. For instance, the pump shotgun has a high damage value, but a low armor-penetration value. This means it's great for your standard troops, but starts to have less and less effect against those with heavy armor. Whereas a rocket launcher has a concussive element to its damage, all of these factors will play out in how the enemies will react to you and being hit. This type aspect of your arsenal will have impact on how you approach combat against each enemy type. Depending upon how you use your weaponry, [this] will ultimately affect the combat resolution. I think as you see the enemies leveraging elements in the environment, the player's options in the combat volume, the weapons in your hands, and the various type of grenades that shape the space, you will see that F.E.A.R. 2 will require the player to make very tactical decisions about which weapon to use and at what time.
GS: It's not just the enemies that will feel the effects of the weapons, but also the environments. They seem to be quite destructible. What type of work have you done to make these environments more realistic, and how does that affect the combat?
DM: One of the things that made combat in F.E.A.R. so satisfying was seeing things go flying as your bullets tore through helpless objects caught between you and your foes. That kind of interactivity is something you'll see a lot more of, this time out. The elite powered armor (EPA) is a great example of the interactive nature of the environment. Its chainguns and rocket launchers will pulverize anything it hits. When the wall that enemies are using as cover gets destroyed, they have to find a new way to survive and their strategies change. There is also the addition of interactive cover objects, which are everyday objects in the combat space which you can flip or slide and turn into cover. Enemies use them, and we encourage the player to use them as well. You're going to find yourself surrounded without a place to hide, and flipping a table or a bench to create cover where there was none before gets the player to think strategically about the battlefield and look for ways to get the advantage.
GS: One of the stated goals for F.E.A.R. 2 is to make the levels more diverse than the first game, which featured a large number of darkened office environments. How does expanding the scope and variety of environments affect the combat?
DM: One of the comments we got after F.E.A.R. launched was that while the graphics were incredible, it got tedious to navigate the same spaces repeatedly. Players suffered from office fatigue by the end of the game. When the designers sat down and began thinking about the sequel, one of the first things they wanted to address was the variety of environments. The expectations that we carried from F.E.A.R.'s close-quarters combat differed from what actually happened. One of the blessings of the close-quarter combat was the way it created moments of incredibly high intensity, fast encounters. It was just the nature of the space and how players ended up utilizing it. When we opened the world up, we found that encounters changed as a result. They weren't the same frenetic combat experience as before. That's not to say it wasn't fun, it just means that players were forced to change their strategies and find new ways of overcoming foes who aren't as easy to flank due to the space. This variation of combat styles, afforded by the different environments, gave us the opportunity to change the pacing of the game more dramatically and incorporate opportunities for AI advancement like object interaction, environmental hazards, and taking advantage of world-based combat opportunities. By changing the battlefields, the experience alters throughout the game and players won't get inured to space and become desensitized to it. It helps keep the game experience fresh and rewarding for players.
GS: Speaking of variety, one of the big new additions in F.E.A.R. 2 is the ability to pilot a mech suit for extended sequences. Is there any worry that the game's trademark tension will be lost when players suddenly become much more powerful? Or have you taken measures to balance the difficulty and maintain a sense of challenge during these parts of the game?
DM: We love how active our community is, and we take the comments very seriously. Shortly after we shipped F.E.A.R., we started receiving requests to make the powered armor from the first game into a skin or a selectable character. We thought it was a great idea, [but] as we started to implement it for F.E.A.R. 2, we realized that it wasn't enough and didn't carry all the great things we liked about F.E.A.R.'s combat. So we came up with the big brother version called the elite powered armor (EPA). More firepower, tougher armor, better maneuverability, and new environmental responses were created because of the upgrade. What's great about this is it acts as a palette cleanser for combat...completely reversing the dynamic of combat. Of course, if you stayed in the EPA for long durations of the game, it might get a little numbing, but we get you in and out throughout the game at just the right places to keep things interesting. Also, every opportunity that you have to pilot the EPA, the player can choose to ignore it and face the foes on foot. This gets back to one of our main tenants of variety throughout the game. And I think it goes without saying that it feels good to be a badass!
GS: When we saw F.E.A.R. 2 at E3, the game was using a fully regenerating cover system. However, you've since removed that in favor of a more traditional med-pack system. What's the reasoning behind this move?
DM: We did originally have a regenerative-based system, but changed to the traditional medkit implementation because we found that players tended to use the same strategy when they regenerated health. They would take damage to a point and hide, waiting to get back to full health before attacking again. With medkits, players can control when they resupply their health, encouraging them to experiment with more combat strategies. It's easier for them to adopt a more aggressive strategy when they control when they heal.
GS: One big difference between F.E.A.R. 2 and the first game is that the sequel will be released simultaneously on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. Obviously, developing for three platforms is much different than just developing for PC, like with the first game. How does the fact that the game will be played on systems with various hardware and control capabilities change the mechanics of combat?
DM: One of the biggest goals for F.E.A.R. 2 was to ensure that no matter what platform you played the game on, the experience felt as natural and intuitive as possible. Whether you're playing on the 360, the PS3, or the PC, the controls have been tailored specifically to the strengths of the platform. Our current pipeline of development affords the opportunity to create and test assets and gameplay on all three platforms simultaneously. I can very quickly see if a certain experience is synonymous across all three platforms before I put it into the game. We haven't taken a port mentality with F.E.A.R. 2, with a lead SKU that gets copied over to other platforms. Gamers used to playing FPSs on the PC will have no problem jumping right in and knowing exactly what to do, and the same goes for gamers used to playing games on their platform of choice.
GS: Thanks a lot, guys.
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