SAN FRANCISCO–The first game from Electronic Arts' new Montreal Studio, Army of Two, brings the covert operations of today's private military contractors (PMCs) to light. The development team of 80, which included the core team behind Ubisoft Montreal's Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell team, worked closely with PMC Woodie Mister to bring the realism of modern day combat to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Powering this new cooperative shooter is Unreal Engine 3.
"We’ve had a great partnership with Epic over the years," said Army of Two producer Reid Schneider. "We were using Unreal technology when a bunch of us were working on the original Splinter Cell back at Ubisoft, including our animation director, art director, lead level designer, lead programmer and myself. We like that Unreal is battle-tested, and it gives us a good platform from which to jump. We’re not about technology. We’re about building our content on top of it. We’d rather let Epic worry about that and then we can focus on making a great, cool experience for the user with our content layer and creativity."
The key focus for the development team was to make an outstanding cooperative gameplay experience from the ground up. The team harkened back to classic co-op experiences like Contra and Double Dragon.
"We built the best co-op experience that anyone has ever had on a next-gen console," said Schneider. "No one’s really brought that classic co-op experience to next-gen yet. We really want people to feel that with Army of Two. Now that more people are connected with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, you can have this amazing co-op experience where two people can be in their own living rooms and have a lot of fun playing together."
The game's been designed, both for the campaign and versus modes, to require both teammates to communicate effectively and work cohesively to accomplish the missions. The game takes place in current hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq. There's even an entire level that takes place on an aircraft carrier.
"Unreal as an engine has always been focused on graphics, and those guys have always done a great job with that," said Schneider. "The fact that artists can create their own shaders and do some really cool things has really opened things up. We’ve seen our artists do some cool things with UE3. Having a shader pipeline is a really popular tool. I think when people see the graphics of Army of Two they’re going to be really impressed. At the end of the day it’s about great gameplay, but great graphics never hurt."
Since Army of Two will ship for both Xbox 360 and PS3, Schneider said the new Unreal technology has enabled them to create a solid gaming experience across platforms.
"Epic has really focused on the multi-platform side of Unreal technology, and I think that’s a good direction for them to go in," said Schneider. "Big publishers are platform agnostic, and it allows game makers to create games across platforms, which is good to see. We had to do a decent amount of work to get the game up to the level we wanted on PS3. Having the Gears source code was great for us."
Like many development studios, EA Montreal has taken the core Unreal toolset and really made it their own in crafting the Army of Two game. One of the reasons Schneider believes they have a hit with this game is because the team, including the engineers and artists, enjoy playing the game over and over again.
"I'm really proud of what the team was able to do with the technology," said Schneider.
"We added tone mapping, high dynamic range lighting, and a bunch of post-processing effects as well. On the rendering and graphics side, we took UE3 and then added a layer on top of that to give Army of Two a distinctive look. We added our own layer of AI and behaviors. You won't see UT or Gears types of behaviors in our AI. We've created that all from the ground up. Our AI is pretty deadly. None of it's scripted. When you play, it's always a different experience. You have to pay attention to them. Going in guns blazing, you're not going to last long with this game."
Gameplay offers a different experience every time one embarks on a mission in a number of ways. In addition to the AI always changing, playing with different co-op teammates also makes each game unique.
"You have a persistent character in the world," said Schneider. "All of the money you earn, and the weapons and armor that you buy, belongs to you. You can play with one guy who hangs back and lets you do all of the advanced combat work and then switch to another guy later who wants to fight right by your side."
With more gamers adopting broadband and playing over Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, Schneider believes new co-op experiences like Army of Two will become the norm. He points to games like Gears of War and Halo 3, which had added cooperative gameplay to standard campaign modes.
"People have played death matches for so long, and now we're at the point where we can create some really compelling cooperative experiences and let people play in a way that they haven't played in a long time," said Schneider. "You don't need to be sitting on top of each other with split screen. We ran Army of Two from EA Singapore to EA Vancouver, and there was no latency. More people will be able to play together worldwide. When you're playing and working together on a game, you're sharing discovery together, and that's more powerful than playing by yourself."
EA Montreal has added its own take on multiplayer with four Versus maps for the game. Two teammates will work together against another pair of soldiers to compete for cash.
Schneider said the team looked to Hollywood when creating Army of Two's original story, which focuses on the relationship between Tyson Rio and Elliot Salem.
"We were really influenced by buddy movies like Bad Boys, the original Lethal Weapon and the recent Miami Vice movie," said Schneider. "In terms of tone, Bad Boys was something we really wanted to bring to the game space. No one has really done that. I hope gamers feel like they’re getting that Bad Boys experience but in the interactive space."
The type of Mature-rated banter that comes from these characters also will likely live on through the actual gamers communicating and playing their way through enemy territory in Army of Two.