GB: How many people did it take to work on this over five years? Is there anything along the way that’s helped you add efficiency to the process?
Abboud: The first thing it took is time, obviously. It’ll be almost six years once we’re finished. On the other hand, though, it’s not necessarily that you need to have lots of people working the whole time. It’s that you need time to develop your ideas. You need a concept phase, a preproduction phase, periods when you don’t have very many people, but you need time to build ideas and prototypes. You need to be able to put something aside, take time to think about it, and come back to it. It’s not massive production all the time.
When it comes to efficiency, the big thing I’ve said to the team is that if everything we do is in the build, that’s worth it. The issue is when you do lots of things, you make the wrong decisions, they don’t work, and you have to throw stuff away. Like they say in the movies, if you can see it on the screen, it was worth it. In the same way, for this game, we believe that everything we’ve done for the last five years can be seen on the screen. We have this massive world, 21 regions, 60 vehicles, all the A.I., all the gameplay — when you get your hands on the game, you can feel all that content. We didn’t throw our work away.
We have a very senior team — people who have 10, 15, 20, even 25 years of experience in the game industry — and we’re very passionate about our work. A lot of the stuff we did here has been tried and tested in the past. We tried some things on Future Soldier and decided to refine them for this game, like the Gunsmith. Clearly we didn’t start from scratch there. Some things we weren’t as happy about on our past projects, we were able to take them to the next level here.
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GB: With the massive world, it seems like the challenge is to make every part of it interesting. At the very beginning there, I was in a car, and I was about three kilometers away from the target on a nearby mountain. It made me wonder, do I really want to drive that entire way, or do I just want to fast travel there? How closely do you have to watch out for those kinds of lulls in the experience?
Abboud: To be clear, there are going to be situations – especially when you’ve played the game for a while and you’ve gotten into the progression – where you’ll want to use the fast travel. What we face is the concept of distance. If you’re down in a valley and look up at a mountain, it needs to be high enough. If we make it not so high so it’ll be easier to get to the top, that does something for us in terms of gameplay, but visually it won’t work. No matter what, we have to take into account the reality of what we’re presenting. We also need a certain amount of space so that four players can have some space in the world, and so that helicopters and planes can be a meaningful way to get around. They need to be able to go at a certain speed.
Once that’s been laid down, what’s important is that in this game you’re behind enemy lines, in an area that’s full of bad guys. There’s always action. Yes, there will be some moments where the fun just comes from driving around. Sometimes you’ll know where to use a particularly fast road to get somewhere quickly. But something we worked very hard on — and that’s why we chose a setting where the cartel is in control, where they have a big impact on the population — is making this feel like you’re in the most dangerous place on earth. You’re almost never going to feel like you can completely relax. You’ll always feel like something might be about to happen.
In terms of gameplay, we have what we call systemic activities. Things will spawn that you have to deal with, like patrols from the cartel. Things will happen in traffic. Different parts of the world around you will interact with each other. We have the Unidad, the military, which is sometimes working with Santa Blanca, but there can also be situations where they’ll oppose each other. Maybe you’ll be driving along and you think you have plenty of time, but if someone from Santa Blanca starts shooting at you, the Unidad might start shooting at them. It’s going to make your drive that initially looked very simple into a whole separate adventure.
GB: That definitely happened to us during our co-op game. We were leaning out the car windows with our guns drawn when we passed by a parked Unidad truck. They took great offense to that.
Abboud: Exactly. For us as a team, the most fun we get out of this game, now that we’ve put all the pieces together, is seeing how people play with it and come up with crazy ideas. Of course we’ve played the game a lot ourselves, but everybody runs into a different story. There are so many elements in so many combinations. We have some people from the team here setting up the technical aspects of this event, and when they take a break they still play the game, even though they’ve been working on it for years. They still have fun playing with this toy we’ve built.
GB: It seems like you couldn’t really count the number of hours you could play with it.
Abboud: It’s like I say about a toy. It gives you a lot of different ways of playing with it. You’ll get better at it over time, and you’ll learn different things you can do with it, so in some ways you’re going to change. But you’ll also play it with other people, and that’s very important. If you look at all kinds of other games and sports, what makes the difference is the players. The universe, the setting that comes with the game, that’s always the same, but it’s never the same experience when you play it with different people.
Some people will want to play with a lot of stealth. Some people are going to want what’s almost like a role-playing experience, where you communicate a lot with each other, giving orders and so on. Some people are going to go for an assault style and rush through the missions. Some people will try to use lots of different systems together. And sometimes you can mix a little bit of all of that. Maybe you’ll have three players who want to play stealth and one who’ll go assault and set off all the alarms. That might be a little annoying sometimes, but it’ll totally change the way you approach the game.