Taking a big franchise in a new direction is always a risky proposition. Sure you can explore new gameplay options and open up the game up to a new audience but you risk alienating the core fanbase that's been supporting you for years. The folks at Double Helix have such a challenge as they take the turn based Front Mission series and put a third person action spin on the game. Curious about the game and what we could expect from the game we fired off some questions to get a better feel for where they were taking the game.
Can you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project? How did you get into the game industry?
David Verfaillie – Design Director, Double Helix Games. I collaborated closely with the game's producer, Shinji Hashimoto, and the Square Enix creative team, to create the high-level vision for Front Mission Evolved. I also manage the design team at Double Helix and ensure that everyone is working toward that agreed-upon vision in a consistent, high-quality manner.
Hashimoto: Shinji Hashimoto, Producer at Square Enix
You've changed the game play quite a bit from previous Front Mission games (moving from turn based to pure action), why the change? Are you worried about alienating existing fans of the game? What's been the one part of the change that's been harder than you thought it would be?
Hashimoto: Up until now, the Front Mission series generally was a turn-based simulation RPG, with the exception being Front Mission Online which is a Real Time Simulation and Gun Hazard which is a Side Scrolling Action game. The reason we chose FME to be a Third Person Shooter was because we feel that there is room for many genres within the Front Mission universe and we hope fans appreciate that – the more gameplay options we present for Front Mission, the more the universe will grow. Of course we understand that the existing Front Mission fans were happy with the turn-based simulation RPG genre, but we have made sure to keep the essence and world of Front Mission alive, and hope that they, too, can enjoy FME.
The most difficult task when changing the genre was the balance of exhilarating controls, while still expressing the massive weight of these Wanzers. Wanzers are not super robots, but the evolved form of weapons of mass destruction, so they can’t zip around at high speeds. At the same time, as long as we were creating an action-based game, we had to give it a certain amount of speed to make the gameplay enjoyable. The balance between the two was definitely a struggle, and we made a lot of adjustments to have the end result we are very happy with.
Can I play Front Mission Evolved if I haven't played any of the previous games? How does the game fit into the rest of the Front Mission universe?
Hashimoto: Anyone can enjoy Front Mission Evolved! The story in Front Mission Evolved is completely stand-alone and is the furthest in the future in the series timeline. It is a period in the timeline which had never been told before. So anyone will be able to pick up the game and enjoy a great story. However, we do incorporate the themes and mechanics of previous Front Mission games. Even some of the locations will be familiar to fans of the series – Huffman Island for instance.
What types (classes?) of Wanzers will be in the game? What kind of ways will players be able to customize their machines? About how many total customization options are there in the game?
Verfaillie: The customization options in Front Mission Evolved are vast. There are over 15 wanzer types to choose from when constructing your wanzer. There are over 40 different types of weapons which you can equip on your wanzer. And Battle Skills can be applied to those weapons to further specialize them – these are really cool. They can do things like disrupting the electrical systems in your opponent’s wanzer or deteriorate their armor with acid-tipped bullets. There are also a ton of visual options to customize the look of your wanzer.Will you always be in a Wanzer or will there be times when you are on foot or in a vehicle (like a tank)?
Verfaillie: Front Mission Evolved has on-foot missions, as well. These are great moments where you really get a chance to see that scale of the world and wanzers. The first time you battle a wanzer on foot you gain a new respect for the power of these war machines.
Are there any differences between the various versions of the game? How will the controls work for the console version vs. the PC version?
Verfaillie: Xbox 360, PS3, and PC all provide the same core experience, but there are some special things we’ve added to each version – but I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to divulge! The controls on the PC are focused on delivering precise mouse and keyboard control, but a game pad is supported also. Yeah so there are some special things I’m hoping we get to share with everybody soon.
Is the entire game set in New York or only part of the game? Why did you choose New York and what landmarks can we expect to see in the game?
Verfaillie: Only a portion of the game is set in New York. Many landmarks will not be readily discernible as it's years in the future, but there are still some things to keep your eyes open for. We chose New York because it’s an economic capital of America and a natural place for one of the orbital elevators to be located. The attack on the New York orbital elevator is what provokes the set of events that changes the life of our main character, Dylan Ramsey.
Can you talk about the mission structure in the game? What was the most important thing to you while you were designing the missions? Are the missions linear or will there be an option for branching?
Verfaillie: Front Mission Evolved is a story-driven game in which you control one character, Dylan Ramsey, throughout the course of the single-player campaign. We chose this structure because it allowed us to focus on telling the story from his perspective. After a level is complete you can always replay it through Act Select, so that you can earn extra cash or complete military assignments you may have missed.
Any tips for players when they first pick up the game? What skills should players focus on learning first? What about tips for players as they get further into the game?
Verfaillie: For beginning players of the campaign I suggest using the pre-built wanzers while you get used to customizing your own wanzer. Pre-builts are wanzers that have been customized for you to fill specific roles. As players get further into the game, experimenting with different weapon combinations and figuring out how to get the most firepower without going overweight is key.
What kind of multiplayer action can we expect in the game? How many players will be supported at one time and how many different ways will they be facing up against each other?
Verfaillie: The multiplayer in Front Mission Evolved is geared toward team gameplay. There are four different modes: Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, Supremacy and Domination. Supremacy and Domination are team-centric games in which you fight for control of locations on the map. 8 players can be in a match at once, so teams of 4 on 4 will be the norm. This combination gave us the perfect balance of teamwork strategy and action gameplay.
Is there any thought of DLC for the game? Is that something you think about at the start of the development process or something you figure out after the game is over?
Verfaillie: No specific details for DLC have been announced yet.
Did we miss anything important?
Verfaillie: Front Mission Evolved will be released world wide on September 28, 2010. With an engaging single player campaign, competitive multiplayer, and deep customization, we can’t wait to share it with new players as well as fans of the series. We’re also looking forward to seeing you online on the launch day, as there’s a special perk you get when you kill a member of the development team (I’d aim for our producers, they’re the weakest!)
We'd like to thank Mr. Verfaillie and Mr. Hashimoto for taking the time to answer our questions. A big thanks to Tom Ohle who helped coordinate the interview and dealt with my constant nagging about when it was going to be done.