Amidst the chaos and thunder of last week's E3 we managed to slip away to the subterranean Kentia Hall for a meeting with Bohemia Interactive, the Prague-based developer behind Codemasters' huge-selling Operation Flashpoint.
Pre-show speculation pointed to the fact that Bohemia would reveal a sequel to Operation Flashpoint at the LA extravaganza, but calls to Codemasters - which didn't even exhibit on the showfloor - proved inconclusive.
So we approached Bohemia's booth with more than a few questions on our mind. Will we see Operation Flashpoint 2? Will the long-promised Xbox version of Operation Flashpoint ever see the light of day? And what's with the lack of communication between Bohemia and Codemasters?
As it turns out Bohemia is working on three separate military shooters (one on Xbox and two on PC) but not of them could strictly be called an Operation Flashpoint game. As it stands all three games are unsigned to a publisher - Codies or otherwise - and since the Operation Flashpoint brand name belongs to Codemasters, Bohemia can't use the tag.
You could compare the situation to the Sports Interactive and Eidos saga. In that case SI kept ownership of everything about Championship Manger except the name (game engine, code, etc.) and followed it up with Football Manager, published by Sega. Eidos kept the Championship Manager brand name and had to create a new game from the ground up.
So instead of a range of Operation Flashpoint games at Bohemia's booth we saw Armed Assault, a PC update of Operation Flashpoint with an all-new game engine scheduled for launch late this year; 'New Generation PC Military Simulator' (working title, obviously), apparently the "true sequel" to Operation Flashpoint and due in late 2006; and OFPX (again, working title), the Xbox port of Operation Flashpoint in everything but name.
Armed Assault (check out the first screenshots here) promises to take all the content from Operation Flashpoint and retool it with a new game engine and a new storyline. All the playable military and civilian vehicles will be included as well as the 100 square km battlefield and multiplayer support.
OFPX, which we saw running, contains over 40 playable vehicle and aircraft, over 30 authentic weapons, squad commands, two large campaigns and 15 solo missions, four huge 100 square kilometre battlefields, a scenario editor and Xbox Live support. We'd be lying if we told you it's the best looking Xbox game we've ever seen, but if Bohemia can follow through on the sheer scale of the action it could be a winner.
New Generation PC Military Simulator
We also had the privilege of seeing the 'New Generation PC Military Simulator' up and running and while it's still rough around the edges, that classic Operation Flashpoint sense of scale is obvious.
This game is set in 2010 and will take you to several locations across Europe and Asia. Over the course of the game you'll play several different types of soldier, from marines to Special Forces, and Bohemia promises an RPG-style experience system.
Bohemia tells us the battlefields in this New Generation game will push 400 square kilometres and that the new engine will allow hundreds of soldiers and vehicles to be drawn on screen simultaneously. To prove the point we watched columns of tanks and jeeps trundle across a desert wasteland, flanked by infantry on either side. Again, while we've seen better-looking military shooters (Battlefield 2 springs instantly to mind), the sheer scale was impressive.
The environmental damage model has been beefed up, too. In another demo we watched as tank shells ripped through a deserted village, reducing a huge building to chunks of rubble. There was a disconcertingly Lego-ish quality to the destruction, but it's a cool effect nonetheless.
As well as the superficial stuff Bohemia promises that this game will be the most realistic and accurate military simulation ever. Every weapon and vehicle will be represented to "insane" levels, we're told.
Multiplayer support is a given, although no specific details about player numbers or game modes are available at the moment. One thing Bohemia is keen to talk about is how easy it will be to customise and modify the game - Operation Flashpoint gave rise to a thriving mod community, and Bohemia want this new game to be no different.
With all this potential it's a shame to see Bohemia held back by publishing issues. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see these games again sometime soon - whether they've got the Operation Flashpoint brand name on the box or not. In the meantime we've got fresh screenshots of all three of Bohemia's games right here.