Published July 20, 2007
Medal of Honor Airborne™ is landing on Xbox 360™ in August, and adds many elements never before seen in a World War II shooter. We recently caught up with industry vet Patrick Gilmore, Executive Producer for Medal of Honor Airborne, for some more information on this highly anticipated game.
Xbox.com: What exactly makes Medal of Honor Airborne a unique gaming experience?
Patrick Gilmore: Airborne breaks the formula of linear shooters. Most first-person shooters (FPS) put the player in a twisting graphics corridor, lurching him along from one shooting gallery to another, like an amusement park ride. We were determined to add tactical choice and freedom to the great core gameplay of aiming and shooting.
Choose your drop zone and plan your assault.
As a result, players never start where a designer tells them to. Instead, they start in the air, above the battle, and can choose where and how they want to attack. The game offers complete freedom of choice, and the systems we've put in place, from the A.I., to battle lines, to enemy cooperation, to a "command layer," all adjust and react to player decisions. If you make some dangerous choices and die, you will respawn in the air, with a new set of tactics available.
Xbox.com: Wow, that sounds innovative and a departure from anything we've ever seen before in an FPS. Does Airborne feature linear gameplay or are the environments open?
Gilmore: The environments are completely nonlinear. We've designed every objective with a multitude of different approaches, which makes recon, flanking, firing solutions, and other tactics uniquely important in Airborne.
It's been amazing to watch an FPS fan play Airborne. Most players are so conditioned to the single-path solution that they always attempt a frontal assault. That can be perfectly valid, but, invariably, those same players discover a flank through an alley or vacant building, or a ladder which takes them to a rooftop overlooking a fight, or a balcony or open window they can access with the drop for a totally different assault route. No matter how many times we show the game to someone, we get the same reaction—"Now I get it!" It makes the game more real and authentic than any FPS you've played.
Instead of a frontal assault, flank the enemy.
The other cool thing about the nonlinear environment is that, to accommodate the air drop, we have had to make every surface playable. That means that the "designed" paths on the street level and through buildings are useful, but so are the rooftops and other high ground. You can play this game from places that would break every other FPS—it is possible in most games to attack from a direction the A.I. is not scripted to deal with, in which case you get guys aiming and animating away from the player. Since most games funnel the player, the AI only has to deal with an attack from one direction. Not Airborne. You can come from any direction, including above, and your enemies will react and adjust.
Xbox.com: So it sounds like there has been some work put into the A.I. in Airborne.
Gilmore: To be able to provide gamers with player choice, we had to build a new A.I. system from the ground up, as previous systems wouldn't allow for this type of player choice. That's when we came up with the new "Affordance A.I." system, which has been developed to react to player choice—no matter your play style. Affordance has given each ally and enemy the ability to think and react like a human, which makes for engaging and unpredictable A.I. In the military, an "affordance" is anything that provides soldiers with a combat advantage, whether it be cover, high ground, or even window or doorway which limits your enemy's firing solutions. The Affordance system basically evaluates the environment, and scores every feature of the world in a way that the characters in the game can interpret and leverage.
Affordance A.I. gives enemies options so that encounters are handled intelligently by the game on the fly instead of relying strictly on a built in, scripted event. In your standard scripted and linear shooter, for example, you may be forced to enter a building through a side door where you'll be encountered by the same enemy every time, or the same plane or helicopter will crash at the same spot each time you play it. With the new engine, you can come in from the rooftop, a window, a back door, or the front door, and the A.I. will react to your presence differently, and enemies will leverage the environment to resist. That kind of intelligence has been scripted in previous games. In Airborne, the enemies really are that smart.
Xbox.com: It appears that the Medal of Honor Airborne team has been very focused on making this an innovative and replayable experience. Anything else you'd like to let our readers know?
Gilmore: Well, player freedom has been a core focus through the entire game, so, although exploring and learning the maps provides a lot of satisfaction, we wanted to find other ways to reward the player beyond "you've passed this linear toll gate." To do that, we introduced the ability to "level up" your weapons via an upgrade system. What we found in our research was that historically, there were a variety of upgrades, field modifications and customizations used by soldiers in WWII, and we've integrated them into each weapon in Airborne.
Get weapon upgrades as you play through the campaign.
As far as how it works in game, the player needs to gain experience with the weapon he wants to upgrade. As he gains experience, he receives proficiency commendations which unlock upgrades for the gun being used. This allows for players to get invested into their weapons, to gain experience and upgrade them for more firepower, quicker reload, a scope, grenade launcher, or whatever it may be. Once the player has upgraded his weapon, it stays with him, so there is a payoff from the investment in the weapon. It also creates some interesting choices—do I stick with a really powerful weapon which I've gotten fully upgraded, or do I invest in another aspect of my arsenal?
Beyond the upgrades, we're also proud that Michael Giacchino, who originally gained fame as composer of the first Medal of Honor back in 1999 and has since scored The Incredibles, Lost, Ratatouille, among others, has returned to score Airborne.
Xbox.com: What do you have to say to people who think WWII is played out, that it has been done over and over again and there is nothing new to present?
Gilmore: Well, since Medal of Honor in 1999, these games have been following the same formula—and I agree that approach has been played out. We chose Airborne because it was a source of great gameplay innovations, as well as an opportunity to get out of the French countryside and into more urban and industrial settings—places the war touched which haven't been the subject of previous games.
The Airborne was also the beginning of a legacy which survives to this day, so the opportunities to bring a unique new game style to different eras and settings is also there. After playing the game, I heard one guy comment, "the list of things that are different about Airborne is longer than the list of things that are the same." So, yeah, WWII was played out. Airborne is our response to that. Try the game and you'll see.
Xbox.com: We can't wait to start parachuting onto the open battlefield. Thanks for your time, Patrick!