When it comes to the first-person shooter combat game market, the Call of Duty and Battlefield series rule. But Electronic Arts and its Danger Close game studio are trying to get the previously neglected Medal of Honor series to capture the attention of the world’s most picky hardcore gamers.
This year, Medal of Honor: Warfighter promises to be a step up from past efforts in part because it uses the Frostbite 2 engine from the Battlefield series. Medal of Honor, last created in 2010, is about reproducing an authentic special operations experience. But this time, EA is moving the subject matter of the game beyond the Afghanistan-focused U.S. Tier 1 operators and to a global battle against terror.
Key to getting more gamers more engaged with the series is to get them to play multiplayer for a longer time. So we caught up with Kristoffer Bergqvist, multiplayer creative director at Danger Close, to talk about how Medal of Honor: Warfighter, which ships Oct. 23 on multiple platforms, will accomplish that. Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.
GamesBeat: If you pull out to the bigger picture — there’s Call of Duty, there’s Battlefield, and they’ve done very well. They’ve dominated. Medal of Honor still has to prove itself. So how is the multiplayer for Medal of Honor going to help lift you up to the level of the competition?
Bergqvist: It’s been interesting, defining Medal of Honor multiplayer. It’s something that happened very early on. One way to look at it is we’re the scalpel. Battlefield is the sledgehammer. They do the big tanks and jets kind of warfare. We’re about operators working on foot. More man-to-man combat.
One thing that defines our gameplay is the fighting functionality. Fighting as these two-man units. You and a friend pair up. You share intel. You share situational awareness. You can spawn on each other if you go down. Playing as a pair like that will pay off a lot, both in terms of score and in terms of kill/death ratio. It’s the single most important gameplay feature.
GamesBeat: What should we notice about this kind of multiplayer compared to what you were doing a couple of years ago, where it was all just American soldiers?
Bergqvist: There’s a couple of big things we’re doing that stand out. One is we’ve taken a page from EA Sports, where you can represent your nation. I go out and play as the Swedish unit, of course, because I’m Swedish. I represent my nation in the blue-versus-blue scenario. I can battle as the Swedish SOG versus, say, the American Navy SEALs to see who’s the best.
We also have a lot of classes — more classes than we’ve ever had before. Six classes. Each of them has unique support actions, unique abilities, unique gadgets and grenades. Unique weapons systems, of course. We have over 30 different abilities to try out. Everything from hand-thrown UAVs to trip-wire booby traps to flyable Apache helicopter gunships. That was a big focus for us during development — to add a lot of depth and a lot of content to the multiplayer experience.
GamesBeat: How many different worldwide special forces are there here?
Bergqvist: We have 12 units from all over the world? They’re from 10 different countries. We have three American units in there. You can play as any of those today. We’re going to start off with a smaller map, the same one that was playable at E3. After that, we’re going to northern Pakistan. We’re also going to play Sarajevo Stadium. It’s in Bosnia.
GamesBeat: That’s the way it’s going to be in the finished game as well?
Bergqvist: Yeah. You’re going to see all of them today. We have some combinations still locked in this version, though. Each of these units can exist in any class. We have 12 units and six classes, which makes for 72 possible soldiers in total in the final game. You’ll have access to 24 of them today, I think.
GamesBeat: It seems like a good marketing idea [laughter]. If you live in Pakistan, you don’t necessarily want to play as an American soldier all the time.
Bergqvist: The story behind it was that … when we started designing the game, we sat down and talked with the consultants we work with. We talk to a lot of American operators. They spoke very highly of other international special forces they’ve met and deployed with. We’re a very international development team, so we said, “Hey, that’s really cool. We want that.” That’s how it started, and we ended up with these 12.
GamesBeat: As far as improvements compared to 2010 — the buddy is there. You’ve got that. What else makes a difference?
Bergqvist: There’s a lot more content. We have six classes compared to the three from the last game. We have [five] game modes. We’ve done a lot of work using the ways in which Frostbite has developed since then. We’ve worked a lot with the control inputs, trying to take that to the next level. Making it as snappy and responsive as players expect.
Most of all, we have added a lot of depth to the game. We want a persistence system that will last for months. That’s also why we added all these features, all these gadgets. There are lots of things to unlock. We also added a weapon customization system that allows for hundreds of thousands of different variations on your guns.
GamesBeat: What else helps Medal of Honor become a year-round game? That’s the model Activision has moved Call of Duty toward with Elite and stretching the map releases across every month.
Bergqvist: We are increasing our focus on competitive gaming. We have a game mode especially designed for competitive gaming called Home Run. It’s more about a small team. It’s a one-life game mode with no respawning. If you get a group of six friends together, you can go online and choose to match up with any other clan that’s out there. Playing these matchmaking battles will earn you a ranking. You’ll get more ranking depending how good the clan you may have defeated was. That’s where we see most of the lifespan of the game.
GamesBeat: I noticed that you’re driving a car there in the single-player trailer. Are you going to be able to do that in the multiplayer as well?
Bergqvist: Vehicles are a part of some of our support actions, but not in that sense. There are remote-controlled drones, both flyable ones and ones that fly on tracks. We have this flyable Apache gunship that you can get in and control. You drive that with your fighting buddy, so you drive while he fires. Those are the kind of vehicles you can use.
GamesBeat: What are some other things people are going to notice as they start to unpack the game and start playing?
Bergqvist: The first thing they’re going to notice is, of course, the 12 different units. That’s the first option you get when you get in there. You see them all lined up.
Another thing they’re going to notice is the Battlelog integration. We now have Battlelog also inside the game clients, so you can access your news feed while you still have the game running. In Battlelog, we have a meta-game we call Warfighter Nations. By playing Medal of Honor: Warfighter multiplayer, you earn tokens. You can spend those on Warfighter Nations. You choose a country to represent there out of 193 different nations we feature in that meta-game. If you spend your tokens well, you’ll get more experience feeding back into Warfighter that will help you level up even faster.
GamesBeat: Are people going to be motivated to try more than one country, or do you expect people to stick with their native nation as long as they play?
Bergqvist: Actually, I see people switching a lot. I switch a lot myself. Partly because they have different support abilities. They can do different things. With all these variations, having 72 different soldiers to choose from, it’s pretty amazing. If you’re bored of looking at one, there’s a lot more to pick.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!