Frontlines: Fuel of War

Anthony Holden sniffs out Joe Halper, the co-creator of Frontlines: Fuel Of War and chats about life after Desert Combat

Give us a bit of background on Kaos Studios...

Halper: Kaos Studios was started in late 2005 by the core members of Trauma Studios. We're most known for our work on Desert Combat, as well as Battlefield 2. We were DICE New York, and then we became Kaos.

What was your actual involvement on BF2, as Trauma Studios?

Halper: Mostly we did the R&D. Desert Combat was pretty successful and DICE wanted us to develop some of the features on BF2 and prototype them. They had a new engine which looked great, and while they worked on that we created things like the Commander system, the artillery strikes, the squad systems and the VoIP. It worked out pretty well, and as a result we were acquired and became DICE New York. At the same time, EA started buying DICE, and that was business, that's fine.#

However, they wanted us to move to Stockholm, and we had a really good team, so we decided to stay in New York and started communicating with THQ. And they said, 'Great, let's go'.

So what's Frontlines all about?

Halper: We wanted to create a fast-paced, modern military experience - like Desert Combat - but instead of present-day weapons and situations, looking at what might be coming. The game is set 20 years in the future, and it's based on a what-if question, which is 'what if our global energy supply runs out sooner rather than later?' And the answer, basically, is global depression and chaos, and our fiction results from that worst-case scenario. It draws from current events, and creates a gritty future with a real-world feel to it. Which was the same thing we tried to do with Desert Combat and the liberation of Kuwait.

What's the main difference between this and Desert Combat?

Halper: Well, we have a really strong multiplayer background and people are expecting that from us, so we're definitely going to deliver on that. But one thing we always wanted to make sure of with Frontlines was that the single-player is a huge focus. It's not a bot-match - it's a very story-driven, cinematic single-player campaign. As gamers, we really wanted to break away from certain linear gameplay elements and give the player more choice. 'Do I want to be a sniper? A machine-gunner? Do I want to drive a tank? And how do I want to take this city?' So it's a bit like a combat sandbox, but it's based on this frontline mechanic which constantly moves through the level as you take new objectives.

Given that you provided a lot of the ideas for BF2, how do you feel now that you're effectively competing against it?

Halper: We're not too worried. We know that there are features in Frontlines that are original, but it's also a combination of experiences from other games. We've combined the nonlinearity of Battlefield and the intense firefight feeling of, say, Call Of Duty. That's the simplest way of putting it.

You're doing an Xbox 360 version as well. Do you still see hardcore PC gamers as your core audience?

Halper: Yeah. We'll appeal to the layman too, but hopefully they'll become hardcore gamers as they play the game... The challenge for the Xbox 360 users is the control mechanism, but the interface is very intuitive.

You've got a lot of destructible scenery in the game. How will that affect gameplay?

Halper: What we didn't want to do was bring buildings right down to the ground, like the entire structure. If that happens too much, you can get kind of 'destruction fatigue' from that. What we wanted was to make it more strategic. So, if you have a wall, you can create a new path by blowing through it. Or if you have a bridge, you can blow it up to impede the enemy. But you can't just lay waste to an entire city.

Have you got a favourite weapon or tactic at the moment?

Halper: The remote-controlled drones, like miniature recon helicopters and robot cars packed with C4 - I love those. But I also love things like the blowtorch. It works like a repair wrench for repairing vehicles and so on, but you can see the flame from miles away. Plus, it's like a beacon - some guy will be repairing and you know they're going to have a new tank or whatever if they finish. So they're frantically welding, like 'come on, come on!' and everyone else is running at them, like 'kill him, kill him!' It's great fun.