Spec Ops: The Line Multiplayer Interview – Talking Online Warfare (and Sand) with 2K Games
Written Tuesday, May 01, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person shooter with sand, but there's a bit more to it than that. And in the game's multiplayer, 2K and Yager aim to bring the sand-based gameplay mechanics to the fore, enabling you to spring sandy traps upon your rivals, dropping tons of the stuff through skylights and from leaking walls.
Multiplayer also ties in with Spec Ops: The Line's narrative, pitting the Damned 33rd battalion against the Exiles. With the Damned tearing apart Dubai, the Exiles are a splinter group who turned their back on their bloody cause, providing the backdrop to the multiplayer action as the rival factions fight among the crumbling ruins of the suffering city.
Visiting 2K Games' UK base, we had a post-multiplayer hands-on chat to learn more about Spec Ops: The Line's online component, with Executive Producer, Francois Coulon and Multiplayer Producer, Chris Thomas on hand to answer all of our questions. Read on to find out more about multiplayer, the sand bits, the story and how Yager is hoping to make Spec Ops: The Line stand out.
Spec Ops: The Line is such a strongly story-driven single-player game, so have you attempted to incorporate the same kind of narrative sensibilities into multiplayer?
Francois Coulon: First of all, there's the setting. We're still keeping it in Dubai, of course, and it's the same kind of theme with this fallen utopia. There's still the same cool mechanics and gameplay, including the sand gameplay that adds elements like the sand avalanches, which are pretty cool, and sand falls to upset the sniper camper guy, who also can't cross the bridges easily when there's a sandstorm. Then there's sand traps too.
But to answer your question regarding the narrative aspects, there's the two factions from single-player, the Damned 33rd and the Exiles who are fighting one another. The Exiles are former Damned 33rd members.
Chris Thomas: There's a couple of really cool scenes in single-player that I think a few people will pick up on. When you played the single-player demo and saw the burned bodies... That's Konrad's command team and it was that team who led the Exiles. And some people may not pick up on it, but also the bodies hanging from the light posts, those are part of that unit too. That's kind of a cool tie-in. We wanted to connect it [multiplayer and single-player] but we didn't want to do it in a way that was obvious.
How much of a challenge did integrating the sand mechanics into multiplayer present?
FC: I don't think you want to get too technical here, but all the sand and effects we're a starting point for us for multiplayer. If we don't have the sand gameplay in multiplayer then there's not really much point to it. We had various techniques that we employed, used them where we could and actually now have more sand gameplay in the multiplayer than in single-player.
CT: In single-player the sand gameplay was a vehicle for telling the narrative. Most of it is used for these very cool, big narrative moments, whereas multiplayer gave us a chance to really just open the doors and let the designers really just go crazy with it. So, you can actually experience fighting through the sand and using it as a weapon.
Do you think that having the sand gameplay in Spec Ops: The Line will serve as a unique feature that'll help set it apart in an otherwise crowded genre?
FC: It's not just the sand gameplay that we're bringing to the table here. We have smaller 4v4 squad-based matches that are very different, and battles are fought on these very intimate battlefields. That's something very important on the multiplayer side. Why are the matches so small? It's more intimate and much more team-oriented with squad-based objectives like attacking the High Value Target in the 'Buried' mode. It's more tactical too, so you might have a rival manning a gun turret emplacement, but you can have one member lay down covering fire while you flank. I think that's what's important; having this strong squad-based multiplayer.
CT: Also in a lot of games, you have so many players that the barrier for entry is pretty high. You jump into these games where there's 24, 32, 64 people and it can be hard to get your bearings. We just want you to be able to jump straight into the game and have fun right off the bat, even if it's just with a couple of your friends.
FC: And not everyone has 30-odd friends, you know what I mean? You end up playing solo, getting your ass kicked by a 13-year old teenager and that can be frustrating. What we wanted to achieve here was lowering the barrier for entry, and I think we've done that. You saw that the first time you played against more experienced players, you were still able to get kills and have fun, which is cool. A huge multiplayer mode though? I don't personally enjoy that. I'd rather play in a smaller squad with three friends.
So was lowering the barrier of entry to players for multiplayer a very high priority on the agenda during development?
CT: Definitely. I think a lot of people are essentially tired of the feel of normal multiplayer in a lot of other games. Most of the games out there are really great, and I still love playing them, but even I get frustrated. It's so easy to jump into Spec Ops' multiplayer and just have pure fun. It's simple enough, but it's still fresh and interesting.
Has ensuring that your perks, classes and abilities are balanced all part and parcel of providing that accessibility to players then?
FC: From the very beginning we wanted the perks to be unlocked pretty quickly, and if you get the pre-order pack, you get double XP for the first week. But yeah, a big part of the multiplayer is balancing everything, because poor balancing could just ruin the game.
CT: We also have it set up so that we can continue to balance even after the game launches, but you could honestly balance a multiplayer game forever. Some of the games out there, FPS and MMO games are constantly being basically rebalanced all the time. We think we've got it to a pretty good point at this time. Even players at level 45 with three perks can still have their ass kicked by a level 1 player who's good at the game.
FC: We've spent a lot of time balancing the game to make sure it's fair.
In terms of the map design, there seems to be quite a contrast. There's the very wide and open Crow's Nest map for instance, and then there's the far smaller and more claustrophobic Last Resort and Consumed maps. Will the other maps offer a similar contrast?
CT: There's definitely one other map that's really wide open, but Crow's Nest is the one that feels the most open and is the best for sniper support. We have a couple of other maps that are also a little bit smaller and make for good encounters with medium to short range weapons. I think we've got a pretty good variety with all our maps, to be honest.
With Spec Ops: The Line nearing its June release, what aspects of the game do you feel need the most attention and polish?
FC: We are just polishing and polishing more and more, then balancing again and again. You may have noticed a bug in Rally Point where some waypoints didn't appear, these kind of things we're dealing with.
CT: There are some bugs here and there, and that's all we've got left. We're just working to get the game as bug-free as possible and then we're submitting it.
What kind of strategical tips can you give players for surviving Spec Ops: The Line multiplayer?
CT: I would say it's good to stick together. Staying in close proximity to your teammates gives you bonuses, so if you can keep the team together in groups or move together as a squad, the entire team will gain all of those bonuses making you stronger overall. Personally though, I like to hang back and snipe the hell out of everybody.
FC: That's a shame! You saw when we played the Buried mode, we had a chance to execute a strategy, all going for Vital Point A, and we managed to destroy it in about 20 seconds. It's pretty funny to change your strategy on the fly, as long as you stay together as a team. It is a team-based game after all.
Buried is Spec Ops: The Line's unique multiplayer mode. Were there any other ideas like this that you tried to push through, but they didn't work out for whatever reason?
CT: We definitely tried a few different things and we're still sitting on a few cool things. It's stuff we can't really talk about yet!
FC: With any creative process anywhere, you're always trying different things to see if they work or not. But for whatever reason, it doesn't always work out.
CT: We went through several different maps, several different mode ideas and it's all just stuff that you play for a while and you're like “meh. It's not as good as the other ones,” so until you're happy with something you keep changing and iterating.
FC: I mean, we just removed the jetpacks last week! Just kidding...
Spec Ops: The Line is out on June 26th in North America and June 29th in Europe.