Army of Two: The 40th Day Interview
With EA's Reid Schneider & Alex Hutchinson
Long before Resident Evil 5, Resistance 2, and Call of Duty: World at War offered dedicated co-op experiences, the masked duo of 2008's Army of Two had already proven there was strength in numbers. And while the title only scored middling reviews and received plenty of backlash, mostly for its lame fist-pumping humor, it still moved enough copies to warrant a sequel. With Army of Two: The 40th Day, the team at EA Montreal hope to retain what worked in the original while excising the aspects that left a bad taste in gamer's mouths. Atomic Gamer recently sat with the game's behind-the-scenes ass-kicking duo Creative Director Alex Hutchinson and Executive Producer Reid Schneider, to find out where the series is headed, and how their masked menaces can remain relevant co-op badasses in a gaming landscape recently changed by Chris Redfield's and Sheva Alomar's zombie-slaughtering tag team.
AtomicGamer: Please tell us a bit about the storyline and gameplay in the Army of Two sequel?
Reid Schneider: Our approach in AO2:TFD is to focus on a much more organic approach to COOP. That being said the gameís focus remains 100% pure COOP, with Two-Man tactics/strategies. We really want people to be able to use the COOP moves anywhere in the game. In the original game we had some big ideas, and we were able to execute on some of them, but the pacing of the game was not as smooth as we would have liked. In this game weíre really thinking about consistent rhythm and a pace to the experience.
On the story side we really want to put people in the middle of a disaster scenario. We have not really seen that conveyed in a believable way in a game previously, and thatís our goal. Finally, and this is probably the MOST important thing; we really take our customerís feedback to heart, and we want to deliver them the game they want to play. We actively look at forums and talk to people who played the first game to find out what they liked/disliked. This helps inform our decision making as we go forward.
AG: How does it relate to the original game, if at all?
RS: In the original game our challenge was to create interesting/iconic characters. Obviously Rios and Salem are coming back, and Alice Murray will be in the game as well. Basically AO2:TFD takes place a few years after the events of the original game. Rios and Salem have set up their own company called T.W.O.
Alex Hutchinson: We wanted to link it loosely to the first game but we want new players to get into it easily. We donít want massive back story hanging around. We want new players to have a complete, self-contained story and old fans to catch some references and characters from previous titles.
AG: What was the most significant feedback--both negative and positive--you received from fans about the original game?
AH: I think tone was an issue. People didnít always realize the first game was slightly tongue in cheek Ė for me it was kind of like a modern day Contra, but I donít think that was clear, especially to European audiences. But weíre taking steps to address that without turning the characters into cardboard cut-outs. We want the characters to tell an occasional joke without becoming jokes, so thatís a fun line to tread.
I think the fact that it was really co-op focused and it was easy to pick up and play was a huge positive and something weíre continuing to polish Ė we want the through-the-gun experience to be a cut above the previous game and be really competitive with other modern shooters. We also know weapon customization was a big positive in the first game so that will be making a return.
AG: What are the biggest changes you've made to the sequel?
RS: Again, really focusing on an organic/systemic approach to COOP and putting people in a disaster scenario. Also, we have been really fortunate to bring top talent into the team. We added people from Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, Rainbow Six, Battlefield 2, Force Unleashed, and even Spore. All these new people are really helping to push the game in new directions.
AH: Yeah, the additions to the team are a big change. My last game was Spore on PC, so itís fun to be back in an action genre and back on consoles. And itís really exciting to be working with a bunch of new talent from other projects. The level of experience in the shooter space is really fun to collaborate with, and I think youíll really see it in the final game. I also think weíre focusing more on a holistic experience this time round, so trying to make sure you feel the evolution of your mechanics, the story, the relationship between the characters over the course of the whole game. Great games are no longer judged on a single mechanic replicated for X hours, theyíre judged on the entire experience, so weíre really trying to make that obvious and satisfying for the player. I really want players to put the controller down at the end and feel as though they lived through a complete experience.
AG: Anything you felt worked so well in the first game that you didn't want to change it at all for the sequel?
RS: Again, the focus on pure COOP is really what worked, and the feeling of you and your buddy against the world.
AH: The core fantasy was really strong in the first game Ė itís an exciting idea that itís just you and your buddy versus the world which is something we want to keep and heighten in the sequel. Now not only are you in heavy combat but the whole world is collapsing around you and we want you to feel like your buddy is the only reliable element remaining in your universe.
AG: Is it difficult to stay relevant as THE co-op game, when so many other titles are adding this feature? If so, how are you tackling this challenge?
RS: I think our approach to COOP is still different then the other games. In many other titles COOP is a mode in the experience, rather then the focus of the experience. In our game everything we do is built for COOP from the ground up. The major difference is the way we design levels, and that you need your partner to be successful. In other COOP experiences having your partner there just equals more/smarter firepower.
AG: What do you think of some of the other co-op experiences out there--Call of Duty, Resistance 2, RE5? Do you make a point of checking out the competition?
RS: We ABSOLUTELY check out the competition. The games you mentioned above are all top titles, and the teams who built them did a great job. But again, our key point of differentiation is that our game is built from the ground up to focus players in COOP. One could probably argue RE5 is very similar, but weíre a shooter first and foremost, whereas they are survival horror. Also, we like that there are more COOP games on the market, since these are the types of games we like to play. It pushes us to be even better as a team. If you look at first person shooters, or even sports games, we see the same thing. There is always many in a given category, and the customer is the one that benefits from more choice, and better quality.
AH: Those are some great games, and itís a compliment to even be in the same sentence as them to be honest. Of the three I think Resident Evil 5 is probably the most interesting challenge. In COD and Resistance 2, the co-op is an optional mode as I mentioned before, but in RE5 it feels much more integrated. It was interesting to see the co-op step jump move in that game as it was something that worked pretty well in the original Army of Two, and I really like their sharing mechanics in relation to supplies and ammo, as I think it feeds into their core horror mechanic, but it also shows how the games are very different Ė theyíre still a survival horror game thatís leaning more toward combat, but Army of Two: The 40th Day is an action shooter, and they feel very different.
AG: Can you talk about the possible presence of different moral paths in the game?
RS: Unfortunately we cantí talk about that now, but we have some ideas weíll share soon.
AH: I wish I could! Thereís some really exciting stuff here, but weíre saving that for a bit later. It all fits back into the COOP though, if thatís enough of a tease.
AG: What can you tell us about the game's subtitle?
RS: The 40TH day represents the plans of a rival PMC in the game. We canít say much more than thatÖ
AH: Yeah itís part of the new gameís mystery, so we canít really spoil it yet.
AG: What can players expect from the multiplayer experience?
RS: Weíre investing in multiplayer in a BIG way for AO2:TFD. We canít say much right now, but I think people will be happy when weíre ready to discuss it.
AH: Bigger, more, all those good adjectives. We have a strong base to build on in both single and multiplayer, so the whole title is a much bigger production which is exciting for us and hopefully for fans, too.
AG: In your opinions, what are the absolute coolest aspects of the game?
RS: For me, itís the core satisfaction of playing with your friend, and creating tactics as you move through the world. Aggro is coming back in AO2:TFD so combining it with our new suite of COOP tactics becomes really powerful for a player.
AG: What was behind the decision to reveal the character's faces this time?
RS: In this game we really wanted to make the game more personal to people. By letting people see our characterís faces as they advance in the game, the player has a much more immediate connection to their character. Also, this is a way for us to show people that there is no ďdangerĒ around. When all the enemies are dead their masks go up, and their animation changes. This is another tool for the player to use.
AH: It gives us the chance to have faceless, powerful killing machines when in battle and then human beings outside of battle. It gives us a lot more dynamic range without losing the iconic masks.
AG: Besides the obvious co-op hook, what would you say is the title's most defining feature?
RS: Actually I think itís the visual look of the characters that defines the game. The masks and armor have a really distinctive ďArmy of TwoĒ look that we donít see in other games. Itís realistic, and just a bit exaggerated.
AH: Masks and COOP are the cores of the franchise, and surviving a disaster is the core spin on the new game, apart from a few new features weíre still holding back that I think will surprise people.
AG: Achievements and Trophies have become a much more integral part of the experience since the first game. Are you approaching this feature differently for the sequel?
RS: We take these seriously because we know they matter to our customers. I think its really about balance, you want to make some of these easy to get, but others should require some effort from a player to achieve. Also, we did not have Trophies in the original game so thatís new for us.
AH: Iím a massive achievement and trophy fan. I think I still have the highest gamerscore in the office, although Iím sure Iíll get a mail from a tester as soon as this sees print challenging my 35K! So I guarantee the achievements and trophies will be more interesting and unusual than mostÖ get ready to do some strange things to earn those points!
AG: Can fans of the original count on any Easter eggs or call-outs to the original game?
RS: I canít reveal too much right now, but letís just say that people who played the original game (and still have the save file) may get something that others donítÖ.
Thanks to EA's Reid Schneider and Alex Hutchinson for the chance to talk about Army of Two: The 40th Day. If you're interested in more cooperative explosiveness, be sure to check the game out when it's released this fall on 360, PS3, and PSP.