I'm sitting in the Marine's Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco with Greg Goodrich, executive producer of the first Medal of Honor game in three years. About midway through our interview, I notice something interesting.
Most game producers exude total confidence in their project de jour, even if the game in question actually ranges somewhere between bland and dismal. While he clearly believes in what he's doing, at no point do I get that same pride of ownership coming from Goodrich. Rather, he genuinely hopes to do the people his game represents justice. He wants to make others proud to be a part of Medal of Honor.
Greg Goodrich's brother from another mother.
We chat a bit about military nonfiction. I bring up Black Hawk Down, which Goodrich admits he couldn't finish…too rough, though he's seen the movie. He counters with Jawbreaker, Kill Bin Laden, and Horse Soldiers, suggesting just how far he's immersed into his game's Afghanistan setting. He assures me no actual combat operations were copied for Medal — this isn't Six Days in Fallujah, a shooter recently canceled under the weight of its own controversy — merely inspired by. "People who understand and know that history will recognize things," Goodrich tells me. Sometimes too easily.
"There were moments that were too close to actual events, that our consultants ask be removed, and we did." Then he backs up. "Actually, we didn't remove them. We had alternatives."
Those alternatives came from the Special Operations soldiers themselves. Development of the game consisted of an amazing amount of give-and-take with the guys who actually served in Afghanistan, hunting Taliban forces. It didn't hurt that Medal of Honor's narrative jumps between people on the battlefield, from blunt-hammer Rangers to surgical Tier 1 killers, allowing for extra flexibility. In fact, each mission ends with an event that segues to the next man in line. Goodrich calls it a relay race.
The real trick? Upping the challenge from your normal shooter.
"Especially when you're talking about Tier 1 operators," says Goodrich, "who are supposed to be operating at this level. You've gotta have them doing interesting things."
When Tier 1 meets Tier 2.
You've also got to have them be interesting people. Goodrich confirm that, while the game contains moments of absolute seriousness, players will hear plenty of authentic banter and ego-checking among the operators. After all, that's a big part of who they are. Their story wouldn't ring true without it.
And even though the action stays in Afghanistan (instead of globe-hopping Call of Dufy: Modern Warfare 2-style), that story plays out over a pretty big canvas. "What we try to show is how one's understanding of how a conflict is unfolding is directly related to how close you are to having lead slung at you. So the guys on the ground are going to have a very different view of how things are progressing than someone who's sitting in the operations center."
"And this all came from the guys we worked with."
But as important as story is, Goodrich is fast to admit it's not the most important thing. "We've talked a lot about story and authenticity and plausibility and all of that, but you've got to start with a great game. If you don't have a great game, people won't sit around and listen to your story. And so, for us, we spent a lot of time on that experience."
Pvt. Shlotzki tests his weapon's new flamethrower attachment.
They also outsourced part of the experience. Danger Close brought in DICE (also owned by Electronic Arts) to take charge of Medal of Honor's multiplayer mode.
Goodrich scoffs at my argument that multiplayer might be the new primary mode, with short campaigns becoming secondary, but he loves the drop-in question fellow Bitmobber Brett Bates passed me: Is Medal of Honor a single-player game with a multiplayer component, or a multiplayer game with a single-player component?
"That's a great question, Brett!" Goodrich says into my voice recorder, laughing.
The answer, like the work itself, is pretty much split down the middle. Indeed, DICE producer Patrick Liu later answers the same question with "50-50."
Goodrich checks it off as a win-win. "Whether a developer will tell you this or not, everybody has their strengths, and far too often a developer will naturally concentrate on what they do best and the other side becomes sometimes an afterthought. And you can't do that anymore. Now gamers get the best of both worlds. The DNA of the team in Los Angeles is single-player storytelling in a very cinematic and engaging way, and the DNA of DICE is clearly online gameplay."
"That was partly the reason to get DICE involved, especially for a reboot of a franchise, and especially for a franchise like Medal of Honor, and especially for this time of year and the competitors Medal of Honor faces. Hopefully, this Medal of Honor will give people a full, rich product, equally good on both sides because each had a fully staffed team concentrating on what they do best."
"Good question!" he says again. It's probably a nice switch to get a controversy-free multiplayer question on occasion.
Just another day at the office.
Little does Goodrich suspect I threw the Taliban questions to soften him up. The real gut-punch shows up just as we're running out of time. I ask what his one "hell yeah" moment in the game is; "What's the moment where you stopped and said to yourself, 'Oh yeah, I'm doing God's work?'"
I only put it out there to see how much real passion Goodrich has for this game. It nets me the best answer of the evening.
"There's a moment," he says immediately. Then he looks down, thinking. "There's a moment that's…it's a very personal moment that we had, and it took a change, because…."
Goodrich abruptly stops himself. "I can't share it. There's a moment. There's a moment that when it ended up in the game, and it was suggested by someone it was very personal to, and we put it in the game…it really, it…it was a nod, and it was…it just basically said 'Thank you back,' and kind of 'You're doing it right,' and 'We appreciate it,' y'know? And the interesting thing is most people won't realize it — that that's the moment. But the people who were involved and the people who were there will know that was for them."
He lets out a long sound, like he's releasing something he's held onto for a very long time, in a very secret place.
"Yeah. There's a moment."