NEWS - Monday, June 7, 2004

New Mercenaries Screens

Designer Diary – Matthew Paul Producer, Pandemic Studios Mercenaries Hello, and welcome to my Designer Diary. First, I’d like to point out that I’m not a designer. I’m a producer. We’re a different breed of developer than the designer, although we live in the same habitat. Now, I’m sure all you hardcore gamers know what I do, but just to fill in the 2 non-gamers who will read this article (my mom and dad), a producer has a huge range of duties, which keeps us in the office about 23 hours a day. We’re in charge of putting a team together, managing the task schedule, providing everyone with equipment, and making sure a Triple-A quality product eventually finds its way to the shelf. I spend my day talking to the publisher, coordinating the delivery of assets between the artists and programmers, and trouble-shooting the daily life-and-death situations. Much of my day is spent just talking to the team. We have a truly international staff: Swedes, Russians, Canadians, Chinese, South Koreans, Australians, and even a few Wisconsinites. You’ll be hearing from many of the other developers on the team in later Designer Diaries, including words from actual game designers. In the lot, there are vehicle artists, mission scripters, AI programmers, and even a few animators. Of all the teams with which I’ve worked, this one is the best. Mercenaries is a unique product and it's hard for me to describe the experience on paper. Trust me, as beautiful as the screenshots are, you won’t experience the gameplay from the screenshots. You won’t experience the tight controls from the movies. You have to sit down and actually play the game to understand the Mercenaries experience. To many who have played the game, the seamlessness of the mechanics suggest everything was all in place from the start. In fact, there are people who see the game and think everything on screen was planned from day one and the whole process from the start was easy. Not true. We've worked through some difficult challenges in order to push the PS2 about as far as it can go. I believe much of this innovation stems from a simple motto our Director proclaimed during the design phase – “if you can see it, you can use it/drive it/destroy it” - tall orders to demand from a video game. That meant if you took down an enemy who possessed a cool weapon, you should expect to be able to pick up that weapon and use it for yourself. Or if you saw an enemy driving a tank, you'd expect to be able to drive that tank yourself. Or, if you came to a bridge and had explosives in your inventory, you'd expect to be able to blow it up. In fact, you are running loose on a playground of destruction and have the ability to destroy every building, every object in the world with reckless abandon. To many, this is hours of fun in and of itself. However, as we dug deeper into this as the core of the game, we began to realize that there was a story that sold a much stronger fantasy than just being able to "blow stuff up". When we started pre-production, the U.S. armed forces were hunting through the caves of Pakistan for Osama Bin Laden. There had been massive destruction in the war zone, and yet the Coalition forces hadn't found the elusive figurehead. At the time, we thought, "hey, wouldn't it be interesting if the fantasy was that you were hunting down these High Value Targets that had escaped huge military forces from many different countries?" Now that fantasy thrilled us all - get to play with the toys of the real military while hunting down a Deck of 52 villains. Just from reading the news every day and watching TV, we saw our gameplay unfold before our very eyes. Now the next question arose, “so who's this hero you're playing?” Upon further research, we came across PMCs - Private Military Corporations. Working for a PMC, in essence being a part of a mercenary group, gave us the hero and the motivation we wanted. This hero could legitimately be able to use all the modern day weaponry of the different armies, but he had only to report to the PMC. As a mercenary, the hero gets to do whatever he wants. And the mercenary does what he does for one thing - money. We created this dynamic in the game by introducing the four different factions, all of which have different contracts for the hero to pursue. The hero can work with the Allied forces, the South Koreans, the Russian Mafia, or the Chinese, each with their own motivations, some which are only clear after you play into the game for a while. The mercenary can provide support to one faction only to turn around and accept a contract from another faction that crosses the first. The mercenary lifestyle became an integral part of the story and the game mechanics. Once pre-production had finished and we knew the game was going to be centered entirely in North Korea, the art staff went to work building the massive maps. We now have more than 26,000 square feet to run around in. Of course my work isn't done now that the game is designed, the staff is hired and production has begun. The asset artists are creating thousands of individual assets which need to be tracked, tested, and placed in the world by the level artists. The designers need to be inspired to continue making cool things. (And I just realized, the animators need to be fed.) Oh, I better get back to the team, as chaos could break out at any moment. Well, I've got to get back to work, but I hope that I've whetted your appetite for the game and you'll check back here regularly for further designer diaries from the team. We all believe we have something special on our hands, and in the coming months, you'll really learn why in much more depth.


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