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Join date : 2010-03-03
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PostSubject: Medal of Honor   Sat Mar 20, 2010 1:57 pm

Hearing executive producer Greg Goodrich describe things, you'd wonder why a developer would want to use military advisors at all. He had just finished showing us a demo for the upcoming Medal of Honor reboot. It was a tense scene from early in the game--a group of Navy SEALs prowling though the Afghan mountains under cover of darkness. More than anything else, the sequence seemed intended to show the surgical precision with which these elite Tier 1 soldiers operated. Characters slid from one al Qaeda campfire to the next at a pace that was nothing short of brisk, dropping enemies before they heard the M4s go off. It was a ruthless level of efficiency on display, and it seemed that the only things keeping the player from falling behind--or off a cliff--were the objectives whispered from his squadmates. So, of course, when EA Los Angeles showed the demo to real-life SEALs, their only feedback was that they'd never speak a single word during a mission like this one. Silence is golden.

Such are the challenges of developing a game where the primary goal, according to Goodrich, is authenticity. There's a difficult balance to strike between what paints the most realistic picture of special military operations and what works as a fully functioning video game. Finding that balance has meant developers have had navigate the murky waters of a give-and-take relationship with the very Tier 1 operators depicted in the campaign. Sometimes, the result has been taking things out of the game that these elite soldiers can't afford to make public, and at other times--like the example mentioned above--the development team has had to politely disregard feedback in order to keep the game playable.

But for all the hiccups or roadblocks in this relationship, Goodrich says the developers have been able to draw from a mountain of helpful advice and stories. Case in point: The aforementioned demo is based on a real military operation, described to EA LA by some of the SEALs involved in it. It's the night before a major offensive, and the plans call for a group of army ranger cargo helicopters to pass through a particularly dangerous mountain range in Afghanistan. As part of a SEAL unit, you're sent in beforehand to eliminate a number of targets to give those Chinook helicopters a safer flight. An easier way of putting it might be this: You need to soften them up a little.

Goodrich likes to use the catchy phrase "scalpel and sledgehammer" to talk about missions like these. You have to lurk through the darkness to methodically take down unsuspecting enemies, and once you've loudly announced your presence by blowing up their antiaircraft guns, there's suddenly AK-47 gunfire cutting through the nighttime quiet like an angry swarm of bees. According to Goodrich, that's how real life Tier 1 operations work. At any moment, you can go from precise and deliberate to utter chaos; thus, keeping your cool in those jarring transitions is what matters most.

Fortunately, you've got advanced technology on your side. Toward the end of the demo, you see a fleet of enemy trucks coming up the pass. It looks as though these heavily armed vehicles are going to spell failure for your mission. But if you flip down your night-vision goggles to get a better look, you'll see a flashing strobe light on each truck. Off in the distance, a friendly airship fires a missile at this caravan and immediately wipes it out of the picture. Without any context, it seems like you've just been rescued by the military equivalent of magic and pixie dust. But as it so happens, those strobes were carefully planted by a different playable unit in an earlier level. That gradual intertwining of various Tier 1 missions is a key part of Medal of Honor's narrative. And as an example that "narrative" doesn't have to equal "fiction," Goodrich quickly points out that those strobes were planted in the real-life mission as well.

That's one of the more obvious ways EA LA has drawn from this military advisory relationship. After the demo wrapped up, Goodrich told us about some of the more subtle bits of feedback that have been incorporated into the game. If you glance at the cover art, you'll see a real-life Tier 1 operator sporting a thick, impossibly manly beard. He's not just there for looks. This soldier is responsible for switching up one of the most overlooked parts of a first-person shooter: the hands holding the gun. When EA LA brought him footage of handgun combat, he abruptly noted that the player was holding his gun like a cop. That led to the realization that various units within the military will often employ different gun holds from one another. This is all a long-winded way of saying that you'll see different hand configurations on similar weapons as you bounce between military branches in the game. It's one of those subtle things most people probably won't notice, but it's an interesting example of the team's focus on details.

Driving all of this is a heavily modified version of the Unreal Engine. Medal of Honor's matter-of-fact presentation is a far cry from recent EA games that have used this tech to render highly stylized visuals (think Mass Effect 2), but the art design isn't without its striking ambitions. If you climb your way up one of the game's mountain perches, you'll be greeted with an impressive vista showing the sprawling valleys and peaks of Afghanistan's mountain ranges. These views capture a nice sense of scale, which should hopefully give the final game the feeling that you're just one man--however highly trained--in a much larger battle.

At this point, we're looking forward to seeing some of the other parts of the war in Afghanistan that this latest Medal of Honor will seek to portray. We're told that the final game will offer up missions that are set in dusty mountains, urban slums, and even some lush environments that few would recognize as Afghanistan. In the meantime, you can expect Medal of Honor to arrive this fall.

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