SWAT 3 was seen as one of the most 'hardcore' games available at the time due to its authenticity in replicating what the SWAT teams do. How have you retained this yet made the game accessible to a lot more people who want to play in an action style?
Joe Faulstick: One of the key challenges in developing Swat 4 was making the game more accessible to the casual gamers while maintaining the complexity that made Swat 3 such a hit tactical shooter. There's a fine line between making something more accessible and 'dumbing it down'.
One way in which we tried to make the game more accessible to the 'new and casual' gamer audience was in the control interface. Swat 3's command interface was a bit complex for the casual crowd, so we tasked ourselves with designing an interface that has all of the same capabilities yet is easier to use and so our Graphic Command Interface was born. The GCI allows the player to command their squad with their second mouse button without needing to dial in multiple keyboard button presses. Essentially, they can issue any command to their team without ever taking their hands off of the mouse or movement keys.
What has your team done to make sure it's the most authentic simulation of police combat available? How much influence have real SWAT team members had on the game?
Joe Faulstick: We were lucky enough to have Ken Thatcher on board to consult with during development. Mr. Thatcher is a long-time Swat veteran currently serving as an element leader for the Los Angeles Police Department. Ken enlightened us on Swat procedures and experiences. The level of information he provided was far more useful than any book could have been.
Our Swat training did not just come in the form of lecture, though. We had the privilege of getting some hands on training with a local Swat team in the Boston area. We've got a few really good Swat players in the office - though that didn't help us in our airsoft match against a real-life Swat team!
Can you give a bit of background on the story of the game and tasks that players may undertake during the game? Will there be different difficulty levels where in 'easy' you can lose a unit without mission over but in hard you can't, or something to that effect?
Joe Faulstick: Each mission is a stand-alone assignment for the player's Swat element. We decided to flesh out the characters and back stories for each mission rather than go for an interconnected story approach.
The difficulties in Swat 4 are 'Easy, Medium, Hard, and Elite', each with scaling requirements for mission success. In the easy mode, the player just has to successfully complete all of the mission objectives in order to proceed to the next mission. Medium and Hard add in a minimum score requirement which reflects how well the player followed police procedure. Elite is as it sounds, with a strict score requirement that forces the player to think carefully about proper use of force if they want to continue on to the next mission. It's like Halo's Legendary mode.
What has the Unreal engine allowed you to do? Why was the decision made not to create your own engine as you have done in the past?
Joe Faulstick: Irrational had already put a lot of work into our Unreal based Vengeance Engine while working on Tribes: Vengeance, so it only made sense for us to use the same technology as a starting point for Swat 4. The Vengeance Engine had all the tools we needed, from Havok physics to rendering features that take advantage of some of the new DirectX 9 effects.
We've seen Havok used in a multitude of games recently, other than ragdolls is their any other way that SWAT 4 uses this technology and what other technologies are included to enhance the realism?
Joe Faulstick: There are many 'havok' items scattered throughout the game world. There's nothing more fun than shooting a bottle of soda and seeing it fly across the shop room in a convenience store. Havok really goes a long way toward making environments feel more realistic and immersive. Other technologies used are bump-mapping and normal-mapping which really flesh out the small details, such as the small cracks in a brick wall or the subdued shine on a hard wood floor.
Multiplayer seems to be a hit thus far with the beta on the streets, what can players expect to see in this mode which is not in the current beta/demo? There has also been criticism about the mode currently available due to the fact the VIP can shoot enemies, but the enemies can't shoot him creating an inbalance. What comments do you have for that?
Joe Faulstick: We haven't changed too much in the VIP mode since the multiplayer beta's release. The competitive modes require team-work in order to be effective and the VIP mode is no different. The threat the VIP generates by shooting at Suspects can easily be nullified by taking less-lethal weapons in your loadout. If all Suspects are using lethal weapons than they really aren't equipped to deal with the VIP. The balance really comes from loadout versus situation and a team will always be at a disadvantage of they don't work together and choose a loadout that compliments their team as a whole. Swat 4 is a tactical shooter and a proper loadout is a big factor during gameplay!
Real world weaponry is included in the game. How much effect does the loadout have on a level, will different loadouts increase replay value of the game or is it really a case of if you don't have the right one, you won't complete the mission? Can you equip your other team mates? How did you make sure the weapons are authentically represented?
Joe Faulstick: A player's loadout can totally change the way they play any particular mission, especially when you take less-lethal weapons into account. You will never be unable to complete a mission due to an improper loadout, though some loadouts might be easier in certain situations (such as taking full metal jackets instead of jacketed hollow points when facing armored terrorists). You can select your own loadout as well as the loadout of your squad-mates.
To establish the look of the licensed weapons we used reference photo's, videos, and personal training time with our Swat consultants. It's much easier to design a proper reload animation when you know how the M4A1 reloads! Our lead designer, Paul Hellquist, has a massive spreadsheet which contains all of the relevant gameplay data for each weapon. This information was gained from extensive research and includes data for penetration, rounds per minute, and recoil effects! At the end, we wanted each weapon to feel distinct while also capturing the look and feel of its real-life counterpart.
You've now brought back two of Vivendi's most famous games from the past. How hard has it been to make fans happy with what you've done and how much pressure did you feel?
Joe Faulstick: This has been extremely hard! The Tribes and Swat franchises each have a dedicated community of fans. Many of these fans have been playing since the first title for each franchise. They have come to expect a game that has the same level of quality and 'feel' of gameplay that makes that franchise unique.
As Tribes showed, change isn't always well received by the hard-core fan base. The biggest challenge, and also the main source of pressure, is finding that fine line between refining the latest title so it improves upon the last and changing so much that the new title no longer has the unique feel that made its predecessor so great. One example is the Classic Command Interface in Swat 4. We included this interface for players who are more used to the Swat 3 command interface.
With SWAT 4 almost out the door, where do you see the SWAT series going into the future, would you like to work on it and what do you think could be added in a possible future expansion?
Joe Faulstick: My mind is so set on Swat 4's release that I haven't had time to think of future titles in the franchise yet. I do hope that the series doesn't stray too far from its roots in future iterations. The attention to police procedure is what makes Swat a unique game experience!
I would love to see what the Mod community has in store, though. Epic Games' mod contest really opened everyone's eyes and showed them just how far a mod team can go. It will be very interesting to see what they do to Swat 4! Personally, I'd love to see a mod that lets you play as Suspects against an A.I. Swat team.