While at the Major League Gaming event in Dallas earlier this month, I stopped by the Sony booth and ran into Mark Rogers, one of SOCOM 4's developers. I asked him for an interview, and he obliged.
Why don’t you introduce yourself, Mark?
Mark Rogers: My name is Mark Rogers. I am a senior producer attached to Sony, and I work with Zipper Interactive.
And what do you do at Zipper?
MR: My role is basically to help Zipper make great games. My mandate is to basically support them in every way that I can and to help them do what they do.
How has your experience been so far at the Major League of Gaming?
MR: It’s been amazing! It’s actually one of my first times here and just to see the excitement people have around competitive gaming is really incredible. The response that we have had over SOCOM 4 has been great! People have been really enjoying playing it. We have been showing off the Sharp Shooter [PlayStation Move bundle], co-op implementation, single-player 3D, and competitive multiplayer.
So would you say — in an industry saturated by first-person shooters and competitive multiplayer — that the co-op is going to be the thing that sets SOCOM 4 apart from the Call of Dutys and Killzones?
MR: I think that is actually just one part of an overall package. SOCOM is about team play. That really permeates all parts of the game. With the single player, you get to control a five-man team. In our co-op, you have a five-man co-op and our 32-man competitive multiplayer. We have team-based objectives. Teamwork is very important. When people are playing by themselves, they have a single narrative, but when you are part of a team, that story expands and lengthens. It has to do with the way you approach a particular problem — how you overcome it –that expands the depth of the narrative and the experience itself.
So it’s that shared experiences with others that makes the experience of SOCOM 4 unique?
MR: Yes, and you can see that here [MLG], as well. I am not saying this concept is unique to SOCOM itself. There are people here that play as a team, going up against the best of the best and trying to beat them, but it is that shared experience that they can talk about. For example, in SOCOM 4’s co-op mode you can become incapacitated. Your friends can come revive you. Of course, they have to be careful, as whatever targeted you may be still hanging around, but it is to everyone’s benefit for everyone to succeed and prosper in SOCOM 4.
It’s not like "I did really well, but you didn’t," and we were on the same team. It’s a shared goal, where you lift everybody up and move forward.
Talking about the shared experience and how that relates to the competitors in the MLG, do you think SOCOM 4 has a future here as a game on the circuit roster?
MR: SOCOM 4 uses a centralized-server technology, which makes it amazing for home use, and allows us to have 32-player competitive multiplayer. So we don’t use a LAN based system, which the games here require. Unless MLG was to change their technology or we changed our technology, they are a little incompatible.
Beyond that, the actual game itself is highly competitive. We have a very strong user base, internal tournaments, and leaderboards. People can play thousands of hours. Our community is an essential part of what makes SOCOM what it is. We do is supply the framework: environments, characters, gear, and game modes.
The other half is the community and the way they behave and interact — like in Classic SOCOM Mode. There are no respawns, so once you are incapacitated, that’s it. You’re out for the round, and it is up to your teammates to go through and achieve what you couldn’t. That changes the game remarkably.
I suppose it’s the level of risk one is willing to take when you know that there are no respawns?
MR: Knowing that you can respawn, you are more risky, but knowing if you get shot you're out for this round means you are covering all the points, making sure you are covered and your friends are covered. Mics are used to really communicate effectively. Communication is a big part of SOCOM. In addition to a standard mic, we use a system called a proximity voice chat. Your voice is actually propagated in the world from your position. If we are on the same team talking, the enemy can actually over hear us if they are close. You have to be careful about what you say.
That is very cool. Just to backtrack a little bit and discuss the single player, how is the campaign being fleshed out and will there be plenty of content for people who avoid multiplayer?
MR: Yes, SOCOM 4 itself has a really comprehensive single player mode. We have 14 missions, character development and progression. You scavenge weapons as you go along. The overarching story is that you are assigned to a NATO peacekeeping force based in a city in Southeast Asia. That city comes under attack by an insurgent force, and the NATO naval fleet is crippled and being bombarded in a bay. You have to take care of the artillery that are shelling the NATO peacekeeping force, and move on to try and restore order out of the chaos. There is no extraction. You are in the field for a full six days.
Will you be able to customize your loadouts in the single-player campaign?
MR: SOCOM 4 is a very weapon-centric game. You don’t take on a particular role, like a sniper, that restricts the weapons you can use. Your role is really defined by the gear that you carry, and you have a lot of flexibility in that. It really depends on the play style of the individual. Some people like to go through using sniper rifles and pick their way methodically through the level. Others like to do submachine guns — run and gun and blast to see how far they can get.
Funny you should mention that, because I was looking through the Trophy list for SOCOM 4, and I saw that you had a trophy for stealth-based combat. How does that exactly work?
MR: OpsCom commands a five-man team. Part of that team are two soldiers from the Korean 707. The Korean 707 allows active female operatives. So we have an active female operative called Forty-Five, who is used for stealth missions within the game.
Bitmob is actually running a community article this month called The Real Girls in Gaming, celebrating strong female characters. Since you are introducing a playable female character into the SOCOM universe — if this game had been out in time — do you think Forty-Five would have been one of those characters?
MR: Absolutely! She is extremely competent at what she does, and you know she is fully fleshed out as a character. We have a lot of narrative scenes within the game, and we spend a lot of time on creating those scenes. All of our narrative scenes are real-time rendered. That actually helps us because we have a very innovative 3D system within the game. It is second-generation 3D, which allows full resolution with no drop in performance.
So it's not like rendering the same image side by side anymore?
MR: You still have to render two images to get 3D. There has to be a divergence of the images which simulates the distance between the eyes. It is just the technique we use to display those images essentially allows us to have full resolution with no drop in performance. So it’s the technique we are very pleased with, and we have a lot of developers asking about it. This is fine. We are more than happy to share with them. Since we are Sony first party, part of our mandate is to develop new technology and support other Sony developers.
Excellent. Well, thank you. I really appreciate your time, Mark.
SOCOM 4 will release on the PlayStation 3 on April 19.