SWAT 4 Q&A - Updates on Multiplayer, Single-Player, Editing Tools
Now that development on SWAT 4 is nearly done, associate producer Joe Faulstick discusses what it's like to be part of the thin blue line.
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A lot of us played cops-and-robbers when we were younger. One team was the cops, the other was the robbers, and "playing" the game usually meant running around and pointing fingers while making crude gun noises. SWAT 4 from Irrational and VU Games will be a step up. Maybe two. This upcoming game, which will be powered by a heavily modified version of Unreal technology to allow for all the latest flashy graphics, will also incorporate team tactics and intense close-quarters battles. Now that development is nearly done, we sat down with Irrational associate producer Joe Faulstick for a look at how the game is shaping up.
GameSpot: Give us a progress report on SWAT 4. What parts of the game is the team working on now?
Joe Faulstick: Polish, polish, polish! SWAT 4 is currently in its beta state, which means that all features are functioning and there's no more new content coming in. Right now the team is busy playtesting the game and squashing the final few bugs. It's very hectic, but also pretty nice since we can finally view the game in its oh-so-close-to-completed form.
GS: Now that the game is much closer to being done, give us an overview of the game's single-player campaign and how it's structured. How much flexibility do players have in approaching each single-player mission? Why was the decision made to not make a continuous, story-based single-player game that chronicled one character's rise through the ranks of the police force?
JF: The single-player campaign is a progression of unconnected missions. We wanted the campaign to show off a range of realistic missions that SWAT might undertake. We chose not to have a story-driven campaign with interconnected missions so that we could place the focus on each mission being a totally different deployment.
Your flexibility is only limited by what you're willing to do in order to accomplish the mission's objectives. Do you run in guns blazing and potentially fail due to unauthorized use of force? What if you stock up on tactical aids and take a less lethal approach? Maybe you'll just hang back and control the element through the helmet cameras and let them do the dirty work! The choice is really up to you...just be sure to follow police procedure!
GS: Tell us about the game's gritty and realistic environments. Why aren't there any outdoor levels with sunshine or rainbows? Were there any specific inspirations, such as movies, TV, or comics, which the team drew upon for the game's level design?
JF: We wanted the environments in SWAT 4 to have a dark and gritty feel to them. The team drew from a large variety of sources while designing the levels. [The movie] Seven was a source of inspiration for at least one level's art design. The artists and designers are a very creative group and it's hard to tell which ideas were influenced [by other sources] and which came from their imaginations.
GS: Tell us about the game's AI, both for squad teammates and for enemies. How did the team go about developing this AI--how much research was done into real-world SWAT tactics, for instance? How in-depth is the AI--what kind of tactics can we expect to see friendlies and hostiles pull off? Move-and-fire in groups? Breaching doors? Calling for help?
JF: Your SWAT element will be with you throughout the entire single-player game, so we knew that the artificial intelligence was important from the beginning. We wanted the AI team members to come off as realistic, not just in terms of how they function, but also in terms of how they behave. Fortunately, we had some good insight on how a SWAT element "behaves" from our SWAT consultant, [25-year veteran officer] Ken Thatcher.
With Ken's help we could design AI that would function like a real element at the player's command, from realistically breaching and clearing a room to holding their own in a fire fight. The SWAT AI is capable of doing all actions that the player can.
With interesting officer AI, we needed to match that up with intelligent enemies. The enemies in SWAT 4 were designed to respond dynamically to every situation. An enemy will not respond the same way twice under identical circumstances. They might surrender easily if caught alone and off guard or they may decide it's better to barricade themselves behind a door with a hostage or two. Essentially, the dynamic behavior of the AI was designed so that no two missions will ever play the same.
GS: Give us an overview of SWAT 4's multiplayer gameplay. There are already plenty of multiplayer shooters out there--what will SWAT 4 offer online that other games won't? (Such as co-op, for instance.)
JF: The cooperative mode will definitely help SWAT 4 stick out from the rest of the pack. All single-player missions can be played cooperatively by up to five players. Coop gameplay was one of SWAT 3's strongest features, so it only made sense to include it in the sequel.
As for the adversarial modes, one of the major things that SWAT 4 has going for it is the less-lethal weapons. In all three head-to-head mulitplayer modes, you can score more points by arresting a player [on the opposite team]. Pick the less-lethal shotgun, CS pepperball gun, or one of the other less-lethal tools, catch a player off-guard, and then move in with the zipcuffs! It's very humiliating when you're arrested by someone when you're packing serious heat!
GS: Tell us about the different multiplayer modes, especially the non-traditional modes like rapid deployment (bomb disarming), and VIP rescue. How are these modes going to challenge players to approach multiplayer differently, and how will they challenge players to act as a skilled team? What kind of in-game options and balances will be put in place to minimize team-killing and generally goofing around to disrupt the flow of the game?
JF: Barricaded suspects is the most basic of the three modes, and it will probably be the most familiar. It's essentially team deathmatch with the SWAT and suspect teams facing off against one another in order to get the high score. As an added twist, you can select to disable respawns and go for a round where the last team standing wins.
In rapid deployment, the SWAT team must locate and disarm a number of randomly placed bombs within the mission area. It's the suspect team's job to guard the bombs and prevent SWAT from disarming all of them before the bomb timers run out; they receive bonus points for each bomb they successfully guard if SWAT fails to get them all. SWAT wins by clearing all bombs.
VIP rescue was the mode we selected for the multiplayer beta, and it is the most unique of the three. One of the SWAT members is randomly selected to be the VIP each round and the rest of the team must safely escort him to the extraction point. The fun twist is that the suspects can't kill him off right away. Instead they have to arrest him. Once the VIP is captured, the SWAT team has two minutes to rescue him. If time runs out, the suspects are free to assassinate the VIP and win the round. It's really a blast. Next to coop, VIP is my next favorite multiplayer mode!
GS: Tell us about the map generator in the game--how much control does it afford you over the game's existing maps, and to what extent can you change those maps using the out-of-the-box tools? Tell us about the editing tools--how easy will it be for fans to throw together their own maps?
JF: With the quick mission maker, players can design their own missions using the current single-player maps or maps made by the community. They can set the number and type of hostages and suspects, objectives, and more. Since it only sets mission data, each mission is small enough to email to a friend to share too!
GS: We understand that SWAT 4 will be running on heavily modified Unreal technology--carried over from Tribes: Vengeance. Now that the team has had a chance to get familiar with the engine and the tech, what kind of great technical tricks and features can fans expect from the game?
JF: Bump mapping is in, for one. Pixel shader 2.0 and DirectX9 have let us upgrade and tweak the rendering engine so that we can really capture the look and feel that we wanted. The inclusion of the Havok physics engine is no small bonus, either!
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about SWAT 4?
JF: There hasn't been a new SWAT game since 1999. SWAT 4 brings the franchise up to par with today's games while maintaining the same gameplay and feel that made its predecessor such a popular tactical shooter. Fans of the series won't have to wait much longer, either. SWAT 4 will be in stores on April 5.
GS: We can't wait. Thanks Joe.