Jagged Alliance: Back In Action Interview

Jagged Alliance: Back In Action Interview

Written by Charles Husemann on 8/18/2011 for PC  
More On: Jagged Alliance 2: Reloaded
If you read my E3 impressions of Jagged Alliance:Back In Action you know that I was pretty high on the game coming out of the show.  However I had questions, questions that need to be answered.  With some pestering and prodding I was able to obtain this intel on the upcoming game from Elmar Grunenberg, the Head of Development for bitComposer Games GmbH.

First things first, why remake a PC game that’s over a decade old? How much of your intended audience is fans of the old game vs. people who may have missed the original game?
The better question might be “Why not?” Fans (and we’re definitely fans), have been clamoring for a good remake of Jagged Alliance for nearly a decade. The game holds a special place in the dev team’s hearts, and is the kind of thing where you mention the name, and PC gamers immediately stand up and take notice. It just seems a shame to leave such a great franchise to wither and die, when we can bring it into a modern era, tweak it a bit, and make it a great title for both fans, and newcomers.

Obviously, we’d like everyone to enjoy the game, but if it came down to numbers, I’d say the intended audience is probably 70% fans, and 30% newcomers. But, anyone should be able to pick up and enjoy the game.

For those who didn’t play the original game could you give us an overview of the game and what people will be doing in the game?
The game takes place on the tropical island of Arulco, where the leader has been deposed in a vicious coup. The new leader is pretty nasty, so you, as head of a Private Military Corporation (PMC), have been hired to put together teams of mercenaries and retake the island.

The game has both tactical and real-time combat, which you can switch up however you please, though most fans will find the tactical format to be more what they’re used to. In real-time play, you click and move your mercenaries around the map, set up ambushes, blast enemies to bits, lay mines, breach doors, and just about anything else you’d do in a military game. However, at any time, you can switch to our Plan & Go tactical mode, which uses waypoints to set up your moves and actions. This is much more tactical, and closer to Jagged Alliance’s turn-based origins. You can switch between either mode at pretty much any time, or play the game in entirely one mode or the other if you like. But, like I said, real fans of the tactical genre will appreciate playing in Plan & Go mode more. It’s also very quick to switch between modes, just a tap on the spacebar, and you’ve switched. Plan & Go is much more fun for people who like to set up ambushes, or things like a bounding overwatch and such. There’s more of a real “control” feel to the whole thing.

Along with actually planning out and executing battles on the ground, you’ll be in charge of finances for your PMC. You’ll have to capture mines, which will provide income, then spend that money wisely on training, weapons, supplies and tactical gear.

Were you able to involve any members of the original development team with the project?
No.Unfortunately, no. It’s been quite a long time since the last game in the series came out, so original developers would be hard to track down.

Do you feel that you’re competing at all with the original game (which is available on GoG.com) at all?
No, we’re definitely not competing with it, and if you see what we’ve done, you’ll agree. The new graphics engine is a huge leap forward; combined with our translation of turn-based to “Plan & Go” play really modernizes the game. That said, we don’t want to alienate the fans, so there’s a lot of stuff in the game they’ll recognize, including the gameplay in general, the missions, the mercs, the guns,etc.

Does the move to 3D add anything to the gameplay? Will players be able to rotate the environment to get a look at things from different perspectives or is the camera locked down?
It definitely boosts the tactical gameplay. Going from 2D sprites to 3D lets you do all sorts of great stuff with the camera. So, you’ll be able to rotate the camera, pan, tilt, zoom, etc – all of which are handy for getting a better view on that blind corner your sniper is about to slip around (and discover a guard waiting for him).

What’s been the hardest thing to re-create from the original game? Were there things that you thought would be difficult but wasn’t?
Rebuilding Arulco in 3D turned out to be very time consuming. Our Arulco is much more detailed than the original and since the technology that brings the game to live is more complex than the originals tile based system a lot of time went into the level design.

In general we were not able to copy much from the original game but had to re-design almost everything based on the feel of the original.

I wouldn’t say there is much that did turn out easier than expected, but the challenges allowed us to try some interesting new ideas, like the Action Timeline that is part of the Plan & Go system and which allows a player to keep track of all the actions he planned even if his squad is scattered several screens apart.

The “Plan and Go” Combat system we saw at E3 was really impressive, could you talk about how you came up with the concept? How many permutations of the interface did you go through before landing on the final one?
We’re actually still making tweaks as we go. The E3 build was great, but we’re able to keep refining it as we go. As far as coming up with the concept, it was mostly to modernize the game – which has offended some of the fans, but when they actually get their hands on the final product, we’re pretty sure they’ll appreciate Plan & Go.

Were there things that you couldn’t bring over? To help set expectations with fans of the original, what’s the biggest thing that was in the original that’s not in the upcoming game?
It’s unfortunate, but we couldn’t bring in the original voice acting. We will have all theall the comedic dialog that the original had, but we had to find all new voice actors to re-act the whole thing. There was just no feasible way to track down the people who did the original work.

Have you changed the weapons that are available? Any personal favorites in the armory?
All the original weapons will be included, it’s quite an armory. Me, I just like the classic combat knife and a high stealth score – there’s nothing so pleasing as proving how awesome great a tactician your are by being able to sneak up on multiple guard posts and take everyone out with quick knife kills. Knives don’t need ammo :)

Have you made any changes to the missions or are they the exact missions from the original game? Have you changed any enemy placement or fixed any issues with the original game?
The main mission to liberate Arulco by assassinating its dictator is the same but it’s safe to say that almost everything else is different even though the differences might be bigger in some cases than in others. Back in Action is a reinterpretation more than a carbon copy remake with updated graphics.

They will recognize many of the NPCs or locations by name but they will notice as many differences as similarities. In a way it’s like going to see a movie that has been remade – the story may be the same but it’s told in a new way.

We felt that the original provided a very memorable experience for those who have played it through back in the day and that it would be more interesting for fans of the game to get new content to play.

So in general, we didn’t recycle any of the old content but rebuild everything from the ground up.

Will the new game support any kind of modding so that players can create their own missions?
We aren’t going to feature modding in Jagged Alliance: Back in Action at launch, though it may come in a future release.

Any chance we’ll ever see this game make its way to the console?
Never say never :)

Will there be a demo of the game? Any plans for DLC down the pipeline?
We definitely want to do a demo, and we’re aiming for one. As for DLC, we’re not talking about that just yet. We’re going to finish the game first!

I'd like to thank Elmar for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Ted for coordinating the interview.
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About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I was a Microsoft Xbox MVP from 2009 to 2014
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