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Frontlines: Fuel of War

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Frontlines: Fuel of War Interview

-- March 5, 2007 by: Chris Remo

Manhattan-based Kaos Studios, formed by lead designer Frank DeLise around the team that developed the popular Desert Combat mod for DICE's Battlefield 1942, is currently heading into the alpha stage of its debut title, Frontlines: Fuel of War. Heading to PC as well as PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Frontlines aims to take the nonlinear multiplayer mentality that is at the core of Kaos' heritage, without skipping the carefully crafted single-player experience of other modern shooters. Set in the near future as the Western Coalition of the United States and United Kingdom battle the Red Star Alliance of Russia and China, Frontlines is a team-based tactical shooter allowing players to choose various roles which can be improved from game to game. At a recent press event held by Kaos parent company and publisher THQ, I had the opportunity to sit down with Frontlines producer Joe Halper in order to get a sense of where the game is going, as well as how the past experiences of the studio and Halper himself have contributed to the game's design.

Shack: Could you describe what you do at Kaos Studios and how you got there?

Joe Halper: Sure. I've been with Frank DeLise for the last five years. We started out on Desert Combat together. I was one of the core team members. Previously, I was involved in military training--foreign and domestic militaries, all the way from the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Department of Defense, secret and top-secret. Game design was the basis of how I created training applications, and that's what got me into games. I started playing Battlefield 1942 when I saw a forum post by Frank and thought it looked like a cool hobby. Then, lo and behold, 9/11 happened and caused certain things within the military, and games became an addiction for me.

We had a good team, we did really well, and Desert Combat was downloaded over three million times, which was just insane. So we went from Desert Combat to creating Trauma Studios, which secured Desert Combat. We did an R&D project with DICE for Battlefield 2. That was very successful; a lot of the features that you see in Battlefield 2 were created by our team. We had a rigorous schedule and we built a strong core team.

From that, we were purchased by DICE and became DICE New York. We were a new studio and we created a new IP that was never released. We made a pitch, got it greenlit, then EA purchased DICE. One fish gobbled another fish, and so on. They wanted to move us to Stockholm, which we really didn't want to do. We started talking to THQ, and from that we pitched them the idea of Frontlines and created a new studio, Kaos Studios. It's a great place to be. We're so happy working with them, they really let developers do what they do best.

Shack: What do you think is going to set Frontlines apart from other games in the genre?

Joe Halper: Frontlines: Fuel of War is extremely intense and engaging. It's very cinematic but you still have this very open world, nonlinear gameplay. Another hook is the actual future generation weapons. We're not doing lasers or spaceships, we're doing technology we've extrapolated from real military designs. We've taken them and done our Kaos twist to make them a little more fun and exciting to play.

Our single-player game is very cinematic. We took the nonlinear action of Battlefield and the concentrated gameplay of Call of Duty and combined them together. We have this frontline game mechanic that keeps things centralized on a big open battlefield, and it works in both multiplayer and single-player. It keeps you where the action is.

Shack: I could see the frontline moving back and forth on the map while playing in multiplayer, but what actual effect does that have on the gameplay?

Joe Halper: In multiplayer, it increases or decreases the stress put on the other team. You want to push the frontline forward, and that gives you more weapons, more equipment--the more territory you have, the more you own. It really has an effect on the other side. Once it gets down to the final objective point--and they're either capture objectives, or kill objectives, or destroy objectives--there's a desperate measure that everybody takes to try and push it back.

Shack: And the frontline is used in every gametype?

Joe Halper: Yes. One of the maps is a small contained urban area, maybe seven or eight blocks, which makes it an assault infantry map. The frontline works well because it keeps that assault focused instead of scattered about, even over seven blocks. But in Oil Field, it's vehicle centric--as you move the vehicles across the terrain you could have two objectives to secure, four objectives to secure, whatever you want. When you're playing a game, you don't know if you want to defend the objective you just took or go try and get a new one. It's cool to see people hesitate and decide.

Shack: How does it affect single-player?

Joe Halper: It works in the same way. In single-player, you still secure these objectives any which way you want, and [the frontline] keeps it centralized. The enemies don't necessarily take it back from you, it's just something that you push for to get to the final objective of each map.

Shack: But as you do that, what's happening to the enemy? Are they getting demoralized, or...?

Joe Halper: The enemy actually increases and intensifies, but what you find is that as you secure these objectives you get other abilities, and there's a lot of replay value. There'll be one objective you can take out with an assault rifle, but there's another objective with some people who can help you take that first objective in a different way. There's a lot of gameplay variance. A lot of testers want to go back and do it faster or better. It enhances each campaign, with how to use the vehicles, how to use specific weapons.

The AI is very reactive. We actually focused on the single-player first when we started the studio. We knew we could do multiplayer, but we wanted a good single-player that wasn't just a bot war. We wanted the exciting, immersive action that happens in single-player, but without the linear, "go here, do that" part.

Shack: So it's still a full single-player campaign?

Joe Halper: Yes, a full campaign. There's a beginning and end. You start out in Kazakhstan, and you move your way over to Russia, which is a Eurasian territory where the Red Star Alliance and the Western Coalition battle it out. You have a lot of environments; you have huts and villages, and you also have these urban city areas, open desert terrains, giant oil fields. It's pretty wild in how diversified it is.

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