Combat Elite
John Sonedecker Interview by zjj, Rocky and SOTO Mac
Published : 30th December 2003
Feedback : Here
Related Links : Battleborne
Downloads : Combat Elite PS2 Movie

Hi John, thanks alot for taking the time out to answer our questions!

JS- Always a pleasure :)

Many fans will recognise your name from the credits in Red Storm Games such as the Rainbow Series and Ghost Recon.

Now that you have left Red Storm, joined Battleborne and have a new game in production there are many questions the fans would love to have answered - so let's get started!

You've put so much of your time and effort into such well known tactical simulators & first person shooters such as Rogue Spear, Urban Operations, Covert Operations Essentials, Black Thorn, Ghost Recon, Desert Siege, Island Thunder, & Raven Shield that the question has to be asked - what prompted you to leave Red Storm Entertainment?

JS- It was a combination of things really. Sometimes a company gets big and secure and with that security comes complacency. On one hand it's great to have a job and do what you like. On the other hand you know that what you are doing could be so much more and you could be getting rewarded for what you are doing; more so than " be happy you have a job".

I loved working on those games, but in this industry it is very easy to see others gain on you and pass you by. Not to mention the total lack of control one has in large companies.

Let's just say that I saw these things and decided it was time to move on and make some decisions for myself. RSE is still a good place with good people and I am grateful for my time and opportunities there, but the vision for the future was not shared between us.

Which of the previously mentioned titles above was the most rewarding for you once it was finally produced and then released ?

JS- Each one holds something special for me. I would say that Rainbow Six because it was the first, but Rogue Spear would have to be the most rewarding overall. We put together a superb team and completely kicked ass in getting that game done the way we wanted (for the most part) in something like 12-14 months. Back then that team made most decisions internal to ourselves and just had a great time making it.

Which of the previously mentioned titles above was the most dissatisfying for you once it was finally produced and then released ?

JS- This is a tough one. Nothing was dissatisfying in the sense that I wasn't happy with the end result. I believe all those titles were solid. With that said, and it may be surprising to most of you reading this, but Ghost Recon would have to go down as my "dark" project from RSE. The game turned out great and I had the privilege of serving as a Lead Artist, but that is when my vision and that of RSE started to veer away from each other. That development time is also around the Ubi Soft purchase. Ubi Soft is a very good company and is making a lot of great business decisions, not to mention the Montreal Studio is producing some super titles, so I do not fault them for "bad" changes at RSE. The exact issues are really internal to myself and them, but Ghost Recon marked the beginning of the change to the way things are done at RSE these days.

Can you briefly fill the fans in on what you've been doing since you left Red Storm? Were you "taking a break", or did you immediately start looking for a new design house to join?

JS- Well, I went straight from RSE to being a part of forming the BattleBorne Entertainment that you see today. I was sort of in a "lull" in my career, but wouldn't say I wanted a break. I needed some new challenges and felt there was more out there. It's a great story on how this all came together, but it wouldn't be "brief". LOL!


Intriguing, we'll maybe try and tease that story out of you another time! What's it like working at Battleborne, a relatively new games developer, after working with a big outfit like Red Storm?

JS - Everyone who wants to be in the game industry dreams about how cool it would be to make a game that they are passionate about. Most often, though, you end up working for management or a publisher that is very controlling. The beauty of our situation is that we are self-funded and have enough money to build quality titles to our own specifications. Only a few game development studios like Blizzard, id and Valve have that type of freedom. It also means that we will only succeed by producing fun games that the public likes, instead of catering to marketing statistics.

What do you miss about working for Red Storm, and what do you enjoy about working with Battleborne?

JS- The main thing I miss from Red Storm are the people I worked most closely with on the R6, RS and GR projects. There was this close knit, highly motivated and skilled core group of developers there and we could produce anything, if allowed. Part of why I am where I am today is because of that group.

I always told myself that if I ever left RSE and started a new development studio I would set that studio's art department up a certain way. That is the best thing about BattleBorne. When we set up the studio we wanted and got a highly motivated, dedicated and versatile team that isn't bogged down in petty corporate politics or too secure in their surroundings to be afraid of taking risks and go after what they want. It's a great feeling to be able to come up with an idea and, as a group, see it through then reap the rewards.

As fans will have seen already from the PS2 movie we scooped at recently, the game you are working on is a WWII shooter called Combat Elite : WWII Paratroopers. In the movie the game is viewed from various viewpoints, such as 3rd person and top-down, what can you tell us about the player viewing options?

JS- Yeah, interesting that it is out. That is actually a teaser trailer meant to introduce BattleBorne and the game.

The main game play camera is very similar to the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance game camera. We are using a heavily modified version of that engine and the camera has been redesigned to facilitate better ranged combat.

There are some instances of a first person camera as well. We are experimenting with various camera settings for both indoor and outdoor settings.

Will this be a mission based campaign?

JS- Yes. There are 4 campaigns in the game with each one having 5 - 12 separate levels in them. There will be plenty of play spaces!

What sort of weapon options will be open to the player?

JS- The available weapons will be standard WWII fare. They will include a Thompson, M1 Garand, M1911, M1 Carbine and the like.

Will there be interaction with vehicles?

JS- Not this time around. There will be a few vehicles that will attack you, and some that you will need to destroy, but none that the player can manipulate.

What special, or innovative features have you included?

JS- The biggest thing for me is the visuals. I have never worked with a more artist friendly and What You See Is What You Get game engine.

I love it! I am going to say it now, there is no other fully 3d real time rendered game that looks as nice as Combat Elite: WWII Paratroopers on the PS2.


Of course graphics aren't everything. I think we have achieved an almost perfect balance of run-and-gun action and tactical game play as well.

The title almost infers that this could be the start of a series of "Combat Elite" games - is that the case?

JS- Good catch! We do indeed have some big "franchise" plans for Combat Elite. There are many military stories, conflicts and units throughout history and present day. We definitely are not short on good ideas. :)

Because of the unique way we've set BattleBorne up, we can react quickly to new technologies and we'll be listening closely to fans of the game as we design future titles.

What is the tentative release date?

JS- June 6, 2004. It is the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of occupied Europe. Otherwise known as D-Day.

When will the official website go live?

JS- I believe around mid January.

What can you tell us about Snowblind Studios, the technology Battleborne are using?

JS-In my opinion, it is without a doubt some of the best console engine technology available. The guys at Snowblind made an incredible game engine that leverages the strengths of each of the consoles and creatively works around the limitations. You will be hard pressed to find a better looking game on a PS2 than the original Baldur's Gate:Dark Alliance or our Combat Elite:WWII Paratroopers.
We have also created some amazing tools of our own to compliment their technology. We made a decision early on to create a highly efficient artist friendly pipeline, and we have successfully achieved that.

What tools have you developed in house and how will they help the games development?

JS- We've basically re-designed the entire tool chain. Snowblind is famous for developing award winning games and technology with a relatively small team. Thanks to the experience of our founders at efficiency powerhouses like Microsoft and Dell, we've managed to build a code and art pipeline that results in each member of the team being nearly 100% productive all the time. Each member of the team can touch any part of the game from levels to animations, cutscenes, scripting, unicode gametext, and code all with the same tools. I'm proud of the group we've assembled because each one could probably make a great game on their own given enough time. Well, I still can't code my way out of a box! :)

The way that we manage information and designs in order to keep everyone thinking and acting as a single brain is cool too, but that's for another interview. Maybe we'll have to give you some screenshots of our tools. They really are a joy to use.

Cool, we'd love to do a follow up interview and delve into those details.

Who else is on the development team at Battleborne?

JS- The team consists of 13 people. We have an outstanding CFO and a part-time operations person, but other than that we are all in production. We have 4 artists, 5 coders, 1 scripter and one designer/producer.

Our Lead Architect, James Kosta has a history in the software and hardware industry that is solid and he has brought a lot of products to market, but never a game. That's why his first hire was yours truly and then we brought in Eric DeMilt, our designer/producer. Eric has done everything from helping on the Jet Fighter series to being producer on Fallout 2 and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. From there we have chosen the best talent from in and out of the industry. If BattleBorne is recruiting, which we hardly ever are, we look for raw talent and we'll often steal it from those who don't appreciate it.

We have a lean and mean machine going, just the way I like it!

Acclaim have just announced an exclusive publishing agreement with Battleborne, this raises a few questions! Firstly, Acclaim publish more console games than PC-CD versions - can you tell us which platforms we can expect to see Combat Elite on?

JS- As of now, Combat Elite will be published on the Sony PS2 and Microsoft Xbox. There has been some discussion of the PC, but nothing has been decided.

Acclaim is all for publishing on different platforms as long as it is financially viable. :)

Will Combat Elite be multiplayer capable and if so what connection speed will most users need to enjoy the MP aspects of this Title?

JS- It will not have multiplayer except for a 2 player cooperative mode. We are investigating online play for future titles. Snowblind is wrapping up Everquest: Champions of Norath for Sony and we may look at their multiplayer tech.

Will Combat Elite be Modable ?

JS- As it is right now, on consoles only, no.

What type of support can users of this title expect once it's released ? Will it be community based much like or will the new company provide this level of support?

JS- I am a strong believer of fostering an online community. This first title will not be a moddable game, but my hope is to do our best to help start and support an online community and keep that community going into future titles.

I would really like to bring some members of the mod community in to see what they can do with our tools. Maybe make some downloadable levels on the Xbox. We'll have to see though.

Thanks again for your time John, and good luck with Battleborne.

JS- You are very welcome, and thank you.