So after a quick lunch at Hooters ZJJ, BSAT, Payle and I headed to Red Storm Entertainment. BSAT and ZJJ took the lead as we neared the destination and hung me out to dry facing an incoming Miller Lite delivery truck as we executed an illegal U-Turn to get to the RSE entrance.
We were met by a few different faces and in moments Christian Allen (Serellan) and Angeline were located and the tour was on. I don’t think we missed a nook or cranny of RSE's headquarters.
The equipment room was very cool with all the gear used as models for weapons, uniforms and equipment.
RSE now has in house motion capture capabilities (luckily we were not asked to don spandex and try it out). All the great HD clips you see are made at RSE and they have a really nice capture room set up. We disturbed pretty much every department from Sound to Testing on our walkthrough and I have to say that the vast majority of the folks there seemed to be having a great time – well the Lead of the Quality Assurance team did seem a bit harried but that is to be expected.
After the tour of the facilities we made our way to a conference room that was ours for the remainder of the visit.
Serellan joined us and for the next few hours provided some great insights into the GR franchise, game development and GRAW2. I can not emphasize enough the graciousness of all the RSE folks and Serellan in particular to spend as much time as they did with us and their very open and forthcoming attitude to our questions.
One of the very first things that became apparent was that a lot of listening had been done and that fan feedback from GRAW had been collected from a variety of sources and used as a guide for the development of GRAW2. It also became very apparent that everyone involved with GRAW2 was proud of the product they were delivering.
We began by touching base with GRAW and asking what the evolution to GRAW2 entailed. It seemed clear to me that GRAW being the first game on a new system ran into numerous constraints - time and resources probably being the top of the list. With GRAW2 RSE was building on a now familiar platform and able to dedicate time and resources to providing great content and addressing some of the issues we saw in GRAW. One of those being spawn camping. Serellan shared with us his epiphany when he got mauled in an online room and RSE spent quite a bit of time working on a spawn system that would address spawn camping while maintaining the viability of Sharpshooter style game play.
Another portion of the discussion focused on maps and in particular map size. Serellan again made a very interesting point. The MP versus maps in GRAW were scaled the same as the MP versus maps in GR2/SS … the missing factor being that the campaign maps were no longer available for MP versus play. In GRAW2 that disconnect has been addressed and RSE is delivering what I thought to be a really great variety of MP maps in terms of size, terrain, lighting, verticality and game play.
For game types there will be a really nice variety that includes most of the old favorites as well as some new game modes that sound very interesting. Helo hunt is back and the Helicopter AI is significantly improved. Watching the Helo’s hunt targets is almost as fun as trying to shoot them down. Armor Strike did not make it back.
The coop missions have been really beefed up. They have been given more than just voice over for in game data and are tied to specific parts of the SP campaign. Serellan also emphasized that secondary objectives now impact how a mission plays out. The same scaling of difficulty is present for coop games. If the “Default” difficulty is chosen the game scales it based on the number of players by switching out AI roles – say a rifleman becomes a marksman – increasing aggressive tactics and increased accuracy.
After about 2 ½ hours or so of talking Serellan had a meeting to attend and we were ushered into another room and given over to the care of Patrick. He promptly fired up 3 machines and Payle, BSAT and I got to bask in the goodness that is GRAW2. I think a lot of people really like the graphics in the demo … and I don’t think the demo does justice to the final product in terms of the maps. Caldera, Locks, Fort, and Embassy were all given a tour as well as Aftermath and some others.
They all look great. The shadowing and light effects really make the game shine. The adjustment when you move from shadow to bright light just adds to the immersion. Some of the details really surprise you – I can still hear Payle saying “Damn – it’s a 240Z ... and it has the same rust spots that mine did .. “. Things like the coloring and images on signs or the carved text on statues that you stop and read, cannons with cannonballs that you want to try and fire … the detail is incredible and really adds to each map in a different way.
The night maps are really nice and even have moon shadows. The old night vision is back and to me it is a great improvement over the thermal vision. As we were exploring Lagoon at night with helo’s flying overhead you could look across the water and see Rocky Cove.
The character models are very detailed and look great. Many of the new camo’s are distinctive and seem to be easier to differentiate when IFF is off. We did ask about foot speed and it was reiterated that the code and game mechanics had been checked and there was no change in character speed from GRAW to GRAW2. In making some comparison’s I noticed the head and torso move much less in GRAW2 and the footfalls seem much more muffled which may be causing a sense of increased speed.
I spent a bit of time playing with host options and it looked everything we were used to seeing is still there. IFF is now associated with the drone - so the dreaded red triangles will only show up if the drone is being used. If the drone is not in use then Friendly IFF can be toggled between Names and Diamonds or turned OFF completely. I don't think you can have friendly only with the drone on.
The new camos looked very good. There is no plan to institute face mapping in the near future.
One of my wished for changes did not make it into the game. The host still has just 3 slots for custom games and kits and can not rename them. This is due to this information being linked to your profile and with the limited memory available it is not feasible to implement at this time. Hopefully MS will stop making developers support systems without hard drives.
We were unable to test the Clan function since we were not on Live but it is obvious that it was a priority to get it back into GRAW2 and to do it right. Serellan mentioned that Live enabled them to create a much more robust interface than was seen in GR2.
And yes – the compass is in the retail version as well.
I think we had about an hour and a half of time on the game when Serellan came back from his meeting. We returned to the conference room after reluctantly setting down the controllers.
The lead level designer joined us and talked about the play testing tools they had developed to allow for much more rapid evaluation of maps and game types. RSE has also developed some tracking tools that will give them some insight into which maps are played with which game types and for how long in order to better understand the player base. Serellan emphasized that no personal data is tracked, shared or otherwise compromised.
The wrap up questions were more generic in terms of product development and platforms. While no exact numbers were given it came as no surprise that 360 sales are between “ten and twenty times” greater than PC sales for GRAW. Having an even larger installed base of 360’s I expect that GRAW2 will be very successful as well. The marketplace and DLC are still being tested and the business models are constantly being developed to take advantage of what Live has to offer. With the capability of distributing HD content in the form of trailers, dev diaries etc the days when screenshots were enough to create buzz and entice buyers are coming to an end.
We concluded the visit and walked away eagerly anticipating GRAW 2's retail release this coming Wednesday. The great dinner that night at Ruth’s Chris Steak House was a perfect setting to go over all that we had seen and we all agreed that while GRAW 2 will not be perfect it really looked and felt like a next gen game and will keep many a 360 running late into the night.