Joint Operations Preview
Novalogic's next game will let you and up to 64 players duke it out by land, sea, and air.
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First-person shooters started out as unrealistic arcade-style games in which you played as a faceless character who had to run about blasting everything that wasn't you--and that usually included monsters, robots, and other fanciful critters. But as time passed, technology became more sophisticated, and so did these action games. Rather than running through a single-player game shooting at a bunch of mutants, players found increasing enjoyment in networked and online multiplayer sessions that let them test their skills against real people in both head-to-head competition and team-based matches. In fact, team-based shooters are more popular than ever, and the developer that created Delta Force intends to expand on team-based gameplay in a big way with its next project, Joint Operations.
Before we tell you what Joint Operations is, we should probably explain what it isn't. Though developer NovaLogic has made a name for itself with Comanche, its helicopter flight combat series, and Delta Force, its tactical shooter series, Joint Ops won't be a part of either series, and it won't put you in the role of a member of the elite Delta Force squad. This is because although Delta Force is composed of highly trained soldiers who expend hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammo each year on various missions and training, these operatives are specially trained only for ground operations--they don't drive and they don't fly--and Joint Ops will let you do battle on land, at sea, and in the air.
Joint Operations will take place during a fictitious near-future conflict between US armed forces and separatist militia in Indonesia. As such, you can expect to explore close, indoor environments such as the mountain tunnel networks of powerful drug lords. We watched a brief demonstration in one of these tunnel levels that consisted of winding passageways flimsily supported by planks of wood and chicken wire, through which dangling roots swayed slightly. You can also expect to be assigned to dense Indonesian jungles packed with trees, underbrush, and tall grass--all of which will sway in the wind, and all of which can be used for cover in infiltration missions. The developer has taken a good, long look at the game engine it used for Black Hawk Down and enhanced it considerably to allow for "super-foliated" jungle levels, which will feature fallen trees that can be actually be climbed, as well as rivers and streams that will use the all-new water effects that NovaLogic is developing.
Though it's common for developers to get caught up in producing the shiniest, clearest water possible, most actual bodies of water (such as rivers, ponds, and rice paddies) aren't crystal clear, and they won't be in Joint Ops. The revised engine allows for various degrees of opacity and color, so that muddy jungle rivers will be filled with debris and brown silt, while polluted seawater will be a healthy shade of murky green. While this new graphical effect looks nice, the development team will also put it to use in the gameplay. As art director Chris Tamburrino explained, water might be a good place to conceal yourself, but it'll also provide a dramatic effect when an enemy soldier who's spotted your hiding place suddenly bursts through the clouds of silt in front of you and takes you by surprise.
Soldiering Around the Clock
Joint Operations will also feature an enhanced dynamic lighting system that will support a few key features, including everyone's favorite special effect, the lens flare. Looking directly at the sun will put a fierce glare on your screen that will cause your character's vision to become slightly washed out for a few seconds. Luckily, you'll be able to compensate for vision problems in the field with night-vision goggles, as well as an all-new piece of equipment, the ITPIAL infrared sensor, which can be attached to the scope of an M-4 rifle. Infrared will essentially act as a low-light flashlight and will help you spot objects that wouldn't normally be revealed with standard-issue NVGs--but any other player using infrared will be able to spot you from a distance and pick you off if you're not careful. In addition, the new game's lighting system will also cause muzzle flashes to illuminate the immediate area, so carelessly opening fire at night will give away your position, along with your character's face, weapon, and uniform.
But these effects pale in comparison with the most impressive feature of Joint Ops' new lighting engine: dynamic day-night cycles. As time passes during a mission, you'll actually see the sun rise, pass through the sky, and set, and as it does so, the shadows of objects will change in length and direction. As Tamburrino put it, the new game's lighting engine will eliminate the concept of static night-ops missions that take place only under the cover of darkness. And the lighting engine will go hand in hand with the game's environmental effects, which will feature fog that will automatically gather at the base of foothills and around dense forests and will automatically burn off after the sun rises. The game's environmental features will even allow for ambient wildlife, including jungle birds that will gather at specific times of day and get spooked by gunfire.
Of course, the main attraction in Joint Operations will be its team-based gameplay. The single-player campaign will consist of eight to 10 lengthy missions that will take place in the game's huge environments--according to NovaLogic, many of the game's maps will be 10 to 15 times larger than a standard map from the original Unreal Tournament 2003. The single-player game will take you on a tour of duty through Indonesia, and though it will have as much of a story as NovaLogic's previous games, it will also serve as a primer on using the game's many different vehicles.
Though the team is currently working on the final vehicle count and balance, the game already has quite a few vehicles that are implemented and working. These include the FAV (fast attack vehicle), a speedy jeep with a mounted .50-caliber machine gun; small armored ATVs; and larger Humvees with mounted side guns and open cabs in the back. Just about all of Joint Ops' vehicles will let their passengers look freely around themselves and poke their weapons outside to deliver fire while their ride is in motion.
An Army of...64?
Joint Ops' aircraft will also let its passengers poke their guns off the sides and return fire en route. The game's aerial vehicles will include the Black Hawk helicopter, the Little Bird, and the Chinook, and all three of them will have multiple positions for passengers and gunners. You'll also be able to take to the water in smaller Zodiac motorized rafts, larger Mark V speedboats (which can carry a few ATVs loaded with foot soldiers, or a few Zodiacs to infiltrate enemy lines), and huge LCAC hovercraft--amphibious transports that can carry plenty of everything.
As we saw from our own hands-on experience with the current version of Joint Operations, despite the fact that many of the game's vehicles will be modeled after real-world modern-day military equipment, they'll be extremely easy to use. According to level creative director David Durand, "if you can move [as a soldier] in the game, you can use any of the vehicles in Joint Ops." Movement on foot and with all vehicles will be based on a standard first-person shooter setup, and like Black Hawk Down, the new game won't have an incredibly demanding physics model or flight model, so players of all skill levels can hop into a vehicle and get going.
Even at this stage, the game seems to be coming along quite well. Though the team is still determining the specifics of what sort of character classes will be available and how players will equip themselves, the game will definitely have separate character classes such as medics (who can revive downed teammates immediately) and close-quarters specialists who will likely have some choice in choosing their weapon loadouts before a match. In the current version of the game, vehicles spawn in stationary locations as they do in Battlefield 1942, though they typically hold many more players than the vehicles in that game. This not only helps move more troops faster, but it also helps accommodate larger numbers of players in a match. The game's final maps will accommodate 16, 32, and up to 64 players simultaneously, and the developer will attempt to really encourage players to play big games on the company's proprietary NovaWorld online service.
The on-foot action seems fast-paced enough at this point--like in previous games from NovaLogic, you play as a lone soldier equipped with a primary weapon, such as an assault rifle, and a number of secondary weapons and items. Just like in Black Hawk Down, you can zoom your view using any weapon, though this limits your field of vision. You can carry grenades, and you'll also be able to carry heavier anti-vehicle weapons and make use of mortars and stationary turrets. The development team is making sure to include a good amount of anti-vehicle weaponry for foot soldiers so players who get stuck on foot (or simply prefer to be on foot) aren't at a severe disadvantage against players in vehicles.
There's no question that Joint Operations is NovaLogic's most ambitious project to date, considering the game's impressive terrain and lighting effects, its wide array of sizable vehicles, and its numerous play options, both in vehicles and on foot. The company has reaffirmed its commitment to its Delta Force tactical shooter series and confirmed that its next Delta Force game, Team Sabre, is still very much in development, but the team is committed to making Joint Ops the best it can be. We'll have more updates on this large-scale team-based action game before its release next year.