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Int: Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers

WH Stahl, creative director of Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers flushed out of cover and prodded until he squeals

Full Spectrum Warrior is returning to action in Ten Hammers, the sequel being whipped into shape at Pandemic Studios and deploying on PC, PS2 and Xbox. Promising to build on the well-received original game's authentic military experience, number two in the series drops you into the combat boots of a squad leader in command of multiple infantry fire teams.

As squad leader, you'll be co-ordinating the actions of the multiple infantry fire teams and leading them through a variety of hostile environments and combat hot zones. Squads can be directed real-time via an intuitive command system, players able to utilise authentic battlefield tactics, hardcore firepower and military equipment and player-controlled mechanized units to duff up the opposition. A new multiplayer system, player-controlled coalition forces, enhanced character abilities and advanced enemy A.I. are also on the cards.

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We recently nabbed hold of William Henry Stahl, creative director on the Full Spectrum Warrior franchise, to discuss FSW in general and extract details on Ten Hammers warfare.

So how did the concept for FSW first come about? Only it's a sort of game that we'd never really seen before...

Stahl: FSW began life as a training aid for the US Army back in 2000. Basically, the Army was looking to leverage the talent and expertise of the video-game industry to create a training aid that was more interactive and more cost-effective. They had very specific needs for the game which pushed the design and technology in a very different direction to convention. In that respect, it was the US Army that really forced us to rethink the squad-based video-game genre.

So is it still used for military training?

Stahl: To my knowledge, the original Army version is still being used, and we're still in contact with several representatives from the Army who are interested in doing subsequent training aids. Our relationship really came about by coincidence. Pandemic was pitching around this military strategy game - based on the Dark Reign engine - at that time and a mutual friend who had Army contacts heard about the pitch and put us in contact with them. Of course, the game had to change somewhat to function on a console (it was originally a PC exclusive proposal) but the majority of the ideas in that original pitch found their way into the finished product 4 years later.

FSW prides itself on realism, could you explain the process of development that takes the thoughts of military specialists and places them within the game?

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Stahl: It's very difficult to create a game that attempts to be as true to its real-world subject matter as possible. In a traditional game you are completely free to envision any situation or ability you want. With a game like FSW: Ten Hammers, you always have to check to be sure that the ideas you come up with are true to how the Army actually operates. Our military advisors are heavily involved very early in development. They ensure that our features and mission structure are authentic. Once we enter production, Subject Matter Experts (or SMEs) become less involved in day-to-day production. By then we only check with them when features need to be modified or new ideas change the direction of the overall game.

Do you ever get feedback from soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan or Iraq who play your games?

Stahl: We've gotten a tremendous amount of positive feedback from soldiers that have played both the Army version and retail version of FSW. If there was one common thread in all the feedback we received I would say it was a general "thanks" for focusing more on the soldiers as a team as opposed to individual heroes.

What is Ten Hammers bringing to the FSW experience that wasn't present in the first game?

Stahl: We approached FSW: Ten Hammers with several goals. First, we wanted to add more replay-ability to the game. Second, we wanted to give the player more choice and more "tools" to play with. Lastly, we wanted to tighten up certain areas of the first game that we felt were too "gamey" and undermined immersion in the experience. The game has expanded in so many ways; it would be hard to list them all here. Probably the largest addition to the game would be the new versus multiplayer component. Now, in addition to single-player and co-op campaigns, you can also play against other gamers online.

Is the new game set in the same fictional area as before?

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Stahl: Yeah, the game takes place in the country we created called Zekestan. We wanted to present a different look and feel this time around so we moved the setting of the game from the south to the north of the country. The Art Director based much of the conceptual design of Kardiman on Kashmir.

How are you going about making levels less linear?

Stahl: Probably the biggest change players will encounter is that the enemy forces are now randomly generated and also AI controlled. This means that's every time you play a mission, the same enemies won't always appear in the same locations and they'll not always do the same things every time. Also, now that our enemies are more aggressive and less predictable, the pacing of the game has really sped up - it's a much faster game now.

And what's next on the FSW radar?

Stahl: Right now we are just focused on finishing Ten Hammers and getting that out to our fans. After that, the only plans we're making are where to spend some well earned vacation time.

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