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Interview: Brothers in Arms, the real deal

Gearbox visits the Big Smoke to chat about its ultra-authentic squad-based World War II shooter

Assume that Gearbox's Brothers in Arms is simply another splash in the World War II FPS ocean at your peril. Its historical accuracy will leave you flabbergasted, the developer's pin-point recreation of the environment of the period is astounding. Its fact-based narrative and squad gameplay are more refreshing that a chilled pint of continental lager on a very hot day, it looks mint and, we're happy to report, features tense and explosive action.

If you hadn't already guessed, we rather like this game.

Brothers in Arms follows the experiences of Sgt. Matt Baker (squad leader, 3rd platoon, Fox Company, of the 502d PIR, 101st Airborne Division) and the squad under his command in the first eight days of D-Day, who parachute into Normandy six hours prior to the beach landings on June 6, 1944 as the Allied forces began their march on Nazi-occupied Europe.

Gearbox is currently in London as part of a European press tour for its game, so we nipped into the heart of the metropolis this very morning to get some hands-on time with latest code and chat with the developer about its project.

Hands-on impressions soon, but in the meantime here's the interview with Gearbox's military and historical director Colonel John Antal and Stephen Palmer, who manages the network and quality assurance teams, in addition to being part of the design team and also a programmer at the Texas studio...

What stage of development is the game at?

Palmer: We're at the fine-tuning and balancing stage now, the polishing stage. We're finishing some levels, but we're adding a lot of polish and stuff.

We've yet to see the very start of Brothers in Arms. How do things kick off?

Colonel Antal: You start off the game on D plus 7, at a place called Hill 30, and it's a horrific battle, and then you flash back to June 5, which is the day before the invasion. We believe other people will be copying our technique on this by the way (laughs). And we then take you through eight days of a paratrooper. You're Sgt. Matt Baker, squad leader, 3rd platoon, Fox Company, of the 502d PIR, 101st Airborne Division.

This squad consists of fictional characters because we're making a story based on true history. We tried to recreate this experience, and you're not just going to jump into a bunch of different movie sets, you're going to actually live the life of a paratrooper from the day you parachute into Normandy on the June 6 1944 - six hours before the forces land at Utah Beach...

There's been a lot said about Brothers in Arms' accuracy and realism. Where's the line been drawn between this and fun gameplay?

Colonel Antal: We think we've balanced it properly. Games are always a question of balance. If this was a simulation then you've have to live the life of a paratrooper 24/7.

But no health packs, right?

Colonel Antal: We do not have life canteens in this game or pretty nurses you can hug to make you better. You're fighting like a real solider and we give you these on-screen indicators that the bullets are getting close to you. And you should do something. Pretty soon they're going to hit you. And once you get hit, you're going to die. Or at least be wounded. If you start seeing red, it's really bad.

Also, We don't have friendly fire. We decided that because if you started shooting your squad then they'd have to start shooting you and we're then in the situation where they'd have to arrest you and have you in the stockade awaiting court martial. It wasn't good for gameplay.

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