The Average Gamer

Visceral’s Beak: “Army Of Two Is That Guilty Pleasure Action Blockbuster”

Army Of Two: The Devil's Cartel - Run And GunReleased back in 2008, Army of Two, developed by EA Montreal was a fun, over the top, co-op shooter. It was rammed full of action as you took control of a couple of mercenaries called Salem and Rios as they battled against terrorists in Somalia, Afghanistan, South Korea and Miami. [Co-op parachute battle! Aaaaaagh! – ed.]

Following the release Army of Two: The 40th Day a few years later, development duties were handed over to Visceral Games, who are best known for their fantastic Dead Space games.

I talked to Julian Beak, Executive Producer at Visceral Games about rebooting the series, switching to the Frostbite 2 engine and the system to reward co-op play over raw skill.

After playing the demo, it feels like the first Army of Two game.

Julian Beak: People like the control mechanics and the player mechanics in the first one in terms of what it felt like to drive the characters. In the third game we started with what is the best from the first two and how we will use the Frostbite 2 engine move it forward to make it feel really responsive but still look good. Sometimes if you make the characters too responsive they look like they are magic [laughs] and they fly around.

Did the gameplay drive the move to the Frostbite 2 engine and all its destructive capabilities or was it the other way round with the technology enabling the gameplay?

JB: It was an opportunity. Having Frostbite 2 meant that I didn’t have to have my rendering team figure out how to get it to look good. It just looks good. They still work on extra features but they’re “extra” features. It means that the creative parts of the game are really what you are spending most of your time on. You’re trying to figure out whether we should add team overkill this way or do we add this feature this way.

Frostbite 2 can already do vehicles, great rendering, time dilation and all these things. It’s almost like there are so many ingredients sitting there on the table, it’s just us playing and making a recipe that unique to the other games.

Army of Two is that guilty pleasure action blockbuster that you play on the couch. It’s got some tension of this new setting. You’re in Mexico and drug wars are not fun. That’s scary stuff. You’ve got real tension in who your adversaries are and what the stakes are. It not trivial what you are going down there to do in terms of your mission. But you have the story sets you up there and then it’s all about the characters. It’s really how do they survive through this scenario.

It not a big geo-political thriller.

The protecting your partner sequence with a helicopter and a minigun was a lot of fun. That gun can cause some serious damage.

JB: You probably did that [protecting your partner], intuitively the best you could. In the previous games and in this one we are trying to sense all the times that you do that [work as a team] and then give you points for it.
Army Of Two: The Devil's Cartel - Destruction
There was a feature in Army of Two: The 40th Day when you would go back to back. It’s so powerful I wish I could do it more. People on the dev team were like, ok can we fit it in one more time or two more times. Then you got this sentiment of well [sarcastically] “why don’t we just put it in everywhere!”

Then we thought about it and decided we could if we made an economy out of it. If you do co-op moves, which you did when you were playing the demo, you’ll get enough points and you’ll get overkill. This is essentially as powerful as back to back, but you can do it anywhere you want.

This met the spirit of what that person was saying in the design session, that it would be great if the game had the tension of the difficult enemies and having really good co-op but that builds up to a reward where you can run and gun and be really powerful. That’s the biggest change in the Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel.

Is generating overkill points is dependent on your skill as a shooter then?

JB: It’s actually on how cooperative you are. We’ve seen players who are really good at head shots and really good at killing and run and gun and they don’t earn overkill as fast as player who say…ok, get their attention, you go around… you get something around 4/5 times more points for doing flanks and here’s the thing. Both players get it.

If you coordinate with your partner and you decide to take all the aggro and getting shot up and moving from cover to cover and then your partner gets three flank kills you share the points are you both worked for them. Your team will get more overkill than the team who plays kinda of FPS, run and gun, Duke Nukem style. We do give them points for kills, head shots and stuff like that but give way more points for flanking, sneaky kills and tag team kills.

In the demo there’s one guy who kicks open a door and he’s all armoured up when he comes in. When you guys concentrate your fire and take him down together we’ll give you more points for that. We want to reward co-op more than we want to reward raw skill.

When you use overkill at the same time you’ve got slow-mo and all the other toys. It’s total carnage.
JB: Yes, you’re ridiculously powerful and it’s slow motion so you can see all your handiwork. You have a slight advantage on all your enemies as they are moving slower.

You used to be able hide behind cover and randomly shoot to generate aggro but now enemies take out your cover.

JB: That’s right. You get behind cover for example and you start grabbing their aggro like you say. You know you’ve got their aggro as they are shooting back at you and your cover if you’re peeking out you’re still going to get hit a little bit. Some covers are going to get destroyed really quickly, other ones will be more substantial and you can be behind them for longer.

The thing about a movie or a game, things are more interesting when you are moving and when there is action. We don’t want you to feel like it is a stealth game or a game where you have to go find a bunker to hide in and shoot for 5-10 mins.

Any changes to the way the two main protagonists act together as the previous titles had those buddy moments.

JB: Salem and Rios are still in the game. You’ve got these characters that you know and love or hate depending on which one you identify more with. You’ve got those two as a backdrop to two new characters who have different personalities to Salem and Rios and also different from each other too.
Army Of Two: The Devil's Cartel - Cover
Because you’re in this high intensity environment these guys are going to react in a whole human way and the hope is that you’ll start to identify with these two new characters. As we are moving through the franchise it’s growing up with us so that’s it’s got a real honest feel to it. But it’s a fun feel. It’s still like an action blockbuster. When the action is over these guys are just glad to have survived. But, there will be humour and levity in the game.

Can you still drag the other player when they are down so they can keep shooting?

JB: We decided to make it a quicker experience so it is more about getting to your player and healing them and getting them up. You don’t drag them any more in this one when they are wounded.

You wanted to keep the pace of the game high then?

JB: There are good things about that because it really felt like you were dragging someone to safety. But during that time it was kind of like driving an 18-wheeler. Also while you’re pulling the player to safety you were getting shot at the whole time. We wanted to make the experience be difficult to get to your partner, have your partner on the ground and still be able to shoot but once you heal them they are back up.

You don’t want any resentment on the couch either. We are playing and then you’re like…and now I’ve got to drag you to safety! Now once I get to you, I heal you and your up and it’s ok, now stay alive.

Two people sitting on the sofa is still your target audience?

JB: There’s a huge base of fans who continue to play the Army of Two games and they want to play them with their buddies and I’d say the same is true of my buddies who phone me up and want to play Battlefield. People ask me is we are putting multiplayer like Battlefield 3 in the game. We often say, that we are concentrating on the co-op experience.

Thanks for your time.

Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel will be released in March 2013 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.