With all of the Fireteam Bravo talk lately we figured we'd keep the trend going, at least for the moment. Now, we have an insightful post on the fine-tuning it takes to get a game just right from another of Zipper's fine designers, Brian Jennings.
Okay ... this is the part I love. The FIreteam Bravo prject has reached that wonderful window of opportunity between post-alpha and pre-beta where the game is almost entirely there in code, art and design, but is not completely locked down to bug-fixes only. My friends, we've reached that deliciously sweet spot of opportunity where the magic of tweaking happens. This is when those awesome little details start filling up the missions as the play experience is refined and crafted into its final form that is ... sweet, sweet gameplay.
The single-player, story-based experience for SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo, as has been the case for previous SOCOM titles, can take quite an open-ended route. Upon entering a mission, you have many options at your disposal including different potential styles of play and a wide range of weapon load-outs that allows a player to approach a given mission from quite a large number of ways.
At first glance this seems bad for us poor level designers. These guys can do whatever they want! They can go anywhere! What do we do?! But as the Shaolin Masters teach us, we can now turn disadvantage into advantage. What if the SEAL team enters through an unexpected door Ö reward them for it! Come barging in the front door and youíll find resistance. Theyíll take cover behind that desk like pros. Come in the back? Oh my Ö seems itís your turn to do some schooling.
The open-field aspect of this series is all the more reason to work on getting more and more of those small details in that make a good game truly great. Sure, you wonít be able to run into all of these added details in a given play-through, but given enough neat little details youíre bound to run into SOME of them Ö and perhaps knowing there might be more will give some more incentive to play it through a few more times, eh? In the end these nudges and adjustments should all collect into a seamless immersive experience, much of which you wonít even notice.
Let's put a ramp here so the player can get up without walking all the way around to the back. Let's bring in the tension music here as those footsteps approach. Oh, I'm sorry, did you forget to check around that corner and someone just opened fire behind you, sending you scrambling for cover? That was me. That bush you were able to scramble to and take cover in and thankfully saved your butt? That was me too. Well Ö actually, that was the levelís artist because heís a softy, but you get the idea.
In fact we hope you donít notice such things. The environments and situations should just feel logical, rewarding, and smooth as silk ... well, at the very least not frustrating in the game logic sense of the term. You might be frustrated with a difficult foe or unique situation that might require a fresh tactic or two (thatís good, manageable anxiety), but not frustrated with, say Ö figuring out how to get into a building or which way to go for the next objective (thatís uncontrollable, baaaaad anxiety and completely our fault should it happen, bad designers!).
So fine, just for you guys, because I know you dig it (and also thatís what they pay me for, but I wonít mention that part). I'm currently combing through the single-player missions on my plate, living inside my PSP devkit, playing the missions over and over from various angles, trying out different weird methods, and making hundreds of tiny adjustments here and there just to make the experience all the more captivating for you, the player.
So are you happy now? I hope you guys appreciate all the trouble we go through for you! But even if you donít, thatís a-okay because we think youíre worth it regardless (as is the sweet, sweet paycheck).
Brian Dean Jennings
Designer, Zipper Interactive, Inc.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo