As a fan of FPS games I've been tracking Bodycount for a while now, especially since the game was made by the folks behind Black. Luckily we were able to get an interview with the folks behind the game so they could explain what the game is all about and why they should pick it up when it hits stores this week
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project?
I’m Andrew Parsons and I’m an Experienced Level Designer working on Bodycount. That means that myself and the rest of the level design team design and prototype the environments that the game takes place in. In addition to that we also author up all of the combat encounters and script out the mission content and VO. I also do some press work supporting the game ;-)
What’s the backstory behind Bodycount? What were the inspirations and motivations behind Bodycount? How did you come up with such an evocative name for the game?
Bodycount is set in a near-future scenario, wherein you play as an operative working for an organization called “The Network”. At their heart they’re basically peacekeepers, but they have a tendency to handle situations that governments don’t officially want to touch. As you’re thrust into this world you find that there is another, much more sinister organization out there, waiting in the wings. Much carnage ensues.
In terms of initial inspiration, Bodycount was always borne out of a desire to create a truly best-in-class gun experience; the mantra “Gun/Bullet/World” has always been our main focus in terms of inspiration. It’s all about the power of the weapons, the effect that your bullets have on the world and the havoc that that leaves behind.
Is it fair to call Bodycount the spiritual successor to Black? If so, was that the intention and what parallels/similarities will fans of Black feel in Bodycount?
It’s definitely been a comparison that’s hard to shake; we have some of the same team members, same geographical location, possibly some similar narrative themes. But overall I think we’ve moved out from under the shadow of Black. We certainly never set out to ape that style! Really what we’re offering is a massively explosive, arcade-action romp that has some of the most earth-shattering explosions and weapons. And colour!
What are the key components of a good FPS? Which mechanic/technological jump do you think has had the biggest impact on the genre in the last 5 years or so?
Yeah that’s definitely a difficult one. It’s hard to nail too many down, but for me, it’s really got to be all about the guns. Without strong weapon design and the associated feedback loop that comes with firing it, you’ve already shortchanged your audience. I mean, there are some major players out there who have supported that with incredible AI, scripted encounters, or an RPG slant. But basically it comes down to the feel of the gun.
In terms of the “mechanical/ technological jump” that you mention, again it’s hard to pinpoint specific tech. All aspects of shooters have moved on in some way or another, especially in design. If I had to pinpoint a few things, I’d say the current trend for dynamic lighting solutions is coming on leaps and bounds, along with some excellent new physics implementations and animation blending tech. When viewed by themselves, none of these are particularly ground-breaking, but when they’re brought together they can really make current-gen titles sing like never before. Then you’ve got the online component - simple things like drop-in, drop-out co op in full-tilt shooters is now becoming the norm, and that’s a technological nightmare in itself! Those crazy coders…
Guns are always an important part of any FPS, what kinds of weapons will we see in Bodycount? Do you have a personal favorite?
As I said earlier, to me the guns are an absolutely integral part of the FPS experience. On Bodycount, we’ve focused on a small but beautifully-designed roster of weapons (10 in all), including a couple of near-future specials. As for a favourite, the shotgun does it for me most of the time. It’s got an amazing kick to it, and is great for blasting though walls to carve your way through a building.
One of the cool things we’ve seen from the developer diaries is the destructible environments, how much of a game changer is this feature and how “destructible” are the worlds? (i.e. I can only destroy all the walls of a building but not the entire thing)
The destructibility angle has always been one of the core gameplay pillars- we refer to it as “shredding”. Basically what you’re talking about is a gradually eroding, constantly changing combat scenario that’s got glass, sparks, wood and plaster flying around all the time. Characters can shoot or smash their way through walls and forge new routes through the stages. We decided early on that we didn’t want to go for full-on building destruction as this can be quite limiting in terms of environment design, not least for the fact that if you clear out an entire level of buildings, players would have nowhere to hide! For us, the shredding is such a key part of Bodycount as an experience, but when it comes down it, we always want to front-end fun gameplay.
Every holiday season is rich with FPS competition but this one seems especially brutal with Battlefield 3, Resistance 3, Modern Warfare 3, and others...are you at all worried that you’re going to have trouble getting Bodycount noticed? What is Bodycount bringing “to the table” in order to compete with with those games?
I’ll tackle that in two ways- firstly we believe that there should be room in the consumer space for a game such as Bodycount. As you’ve listed right there, you’ve got some hugely serious, very intense shooter experiences. Bodycount is not that- it’s fun, arcade action, more along the lines of an 80’s action movie than a grim-face military sim. We like to think that consumers can make that choice for themselves when the time comes, and that there should be room for both on the shelf.
Secondly, I believe that the industry itself faces challenges, and that’s not just in the shooter space. Puzzlers, third person action-adventure, beat-‘em-ups; all of these genres are basically fighting for the same consumers’ hard-earned cash, and that’s a tough space to compete in when your main competition is so massive! So yeah- it’s a challenge not just for us as developers but also as an industry.
Is Bodycount a single player game with a multiplayer component or a multiplayer game with a single player campaign? Which aspect of the game did you most focus on?
I’d say the former, but we’ve aimed for parity across all 3 experiences, in the sense that they all maintain the full shredding fidelity and weapon feel of the core experience. In terms of focus, we aimed to adapt the single-player content to really make the most of the shredding tech and the furious firefights that can promote. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you think you’re in a safe camping spot and someone comes bowling through the wall behind you with a shotgun!
Could you brief us a bit about the single player campaign? What are the key things you want players to experience as they are playing that part of the game?
The single player campaign takes place across three acts, spanning three different geographical locations. The main crux of the narrative is that you’re there to sort out the world’s problems, which very quickly turn in to your own problems! We want the player to experience a sense of progression throughout, with different weapon loadouts, different enemy classes and new ways to blow sh*t up coming thick and fast across the campaign. Ultimately, we want people to feel like they always have a tactical choice as to how to handle a given combat scenario.
One of the design focuses that were mentioned in the developer diaries is the drastically different stages that will be provided in each of the game’s worlds and the different experiences each brings; can you explain this a little more and give some examples of the sort of differences players will see?
One of the key things for us as a development team is to constantly make the player feel this sense of tactical choice- and that goes for the environments as much as anything. I suppose the clearest example of this is the difference between the “overworld” stages and the Target ones- basically you’re going from huge, open space that allow for creative freedom in how you traverse, to very much “gauntlet”-style set-tos in these near-future glass covered bunkers. That fluctuation of space, and how that affects your play style, is what Bodycount is all about.
What kind of multiplayer experiences will we find in the game? How will the recently announced co-op mode work? What kind of design challenges does co-op present?
Bodycount features Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Co-Op multiplayer experiences. The nice thing about it is that people will feel a familiarity with the game modes - those mechanics which have been tried and tested for a long time now. Where we differ are things like the Intel (which you earn from kills and use to unlock new weapons on the fly) and of course there’s the shredding, which can vastly change the landscape of a multiplayer stage within minutes. The co-op is a great example of where this new destruction model comes in to play- as part of a team of two, you’ve really got to watch each others’ backs, as it’s no longer about just standing in a cupboard and hoping for the best. You’ve really got to communicate, otherwise someone’s going to smash straight through that piece of cover and own you!
In terms of design, the main focus for us was just upping the shredding fidelity and keeping it stable enough to support that crazy, physics-heavy gameplay. We carefully adapted a handful of the campaign stages to give us a basis for the levels- and now they’re much more arena- themed and rounded at the edges. There aren’t many “safe” places, put it that way!
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
Well, the Demo is available right now on XBOX live, and so we’d always suggest to people that they go play it. It’s hard to convey exactly what it’s like to bore through a wall with an SMG, then charge through and take someone off their feet with your shotgun, all the while cackling madly at the sheer carnage of it all. When it comes down to it, we’ve tried to be different in the areas where we thought it mattered- and we want people to see that there are alternatives to those serious, po-faced military shooters. There’s action and colour and MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS!!
We'd like to thank Andrew for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Jen and Range for helping to coordinate the interview.