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At a Glance: Spec Ops: The Line (A gDNA Guest Post by Wastelander-75)

Posted by Christian "Wolfkill-Shepard" Spring on Thursday Dec 29, 2011.
12.29.11

Wastelander-75 aka Marcus was originally a member of the gamerDNA community in 2008. He recently came to our attention in the gamerDNA Social Guild where he was one of the first members to communicate with us and suggest ideas. In a post on our general forum, Marcus shared his gaming blog with us and after reading a few of his articles I immediately wanted to share it with our community on gamerDNA.

 

A Little About Wastelander-75

 

"I started writing game articles mostly as an experiment I'd say about…..a year, year and a half ago. A friend of a friend had this little gaming news site (now defunct) and I decided, 'eh, what the hell, let's give it a shot.' Month later I was the site's Head Writer. Unfortunately due to some mismanagement on the owner's part, I decided to move on.

 

I became a member of another site, and found out that they had Blog support so I decided to keep doing what I enjoyed. Been doing it since July 4th, and it's been great. Some of my best work has been there. Personal favorites include: My Batman: Arkham City, Tomb Raider, My Gaming (r)Evolution series (my god that took forever to write, but totally worth it), and my Elder Scrolls V articles (both the review and my pre-game arts are my top 2).

Right now, I'm taking a break from writing, you know, enjoying the Christmas (yeah, that's right. I said it) Holiday season."

 

"Come the first of the year, guns blazing."

 

 

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A Line in the Sand

 

"They were men enough to face the darkness……Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed 'round him – all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is detestable. And it has a fascination, too, which goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination – you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate." - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

 

It goes against our nature to kill. I think you have to be a little broken on the inside to actively want to. That's why they have to train you, to prepare you for it. There's an old saying about war and killing. "War is simply a trick on the young to fight for old, bitter men." I suppose that's true to a point. But the morality that separates killing and murder is as simple as a pull of the trigger, the plunge of a knife, the thought that compels you to say "yes" or

"no."

 

It's easy, sometimes, to see the world when it makes black and white choices. Some tyrant invades, we fight them back. Some dictator threatens the world, we take them out. Black. White. Clean. But it's those shades of grey that I have difficulty with the most. Dealing with the black, that's always been easy. But the grey…..I honestly don't know what to do with the grey. – Thoughts from an Unknown Soldier

 

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A Kingdom, Desolate

 

Originally announced back in 2009, the latest iteration in the long standing Spec Ops series went…..surprisingly dark for almost two years. In fact, it went so dark that rumors began to circulate that the game had been quietly canceled. However, with a recent flurry of activity on 2K and developer Yager's part, it's just been aging to perfection. "The game has actually always been there, we’ve been working very hard on it the entire time. 2K is all about delivering a really quality game – really quality experience – and sometimes that just takes a while," says 2K Associate Producer Chris Thomas. "So we’ve been just really trying to push the envelope and we’re not going to go out with this game until we’re extremely happy with it and I think now is the perfect time – now, we’re all really happy with the narrative and really happy with the gameplay."

 

This decision was a welcomed treat for Yager's Senior Designer Shawn Frison. "Honestly, that’s one of the best things about working with these guys, is the 'don’t ship it until it’s done' philosophy, which is awesome. As a developer, if you don’t get time to polish, there’s always those things where you’re like 'oh man, if we’d just had a little longer to put in this thing that we wanted to do.' But yeah, it’s been great." Originally slated as a Modern Warfare-esque hybrid, the teams at 2K and Yager eventually scrapped those plans and instead redesigned it to focus more on character development, pivotal story points, and the ambiguous nature of morality. To do that, the team took a look at some of the more….disturbing elements in war, mainly by watching a few iconic war movies. "Movies in general have probably been a bigger inspiration for us than other games," Frison says. "Things like Apocalypse Now of course, but also things like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Generation Kill and honestly a lot of real life stuff. We [also] have a military adviser on the game who’s given us a lot of interesting stories and information that has really inspired us."

 

"I think that one of the things that people are really noticing, or that what’s really setting us apart here," beams Thomas, "is that the narrative of the game…the really just dark story that we’re presenting, you don’t really get a lot of that in most games in the military genre, it’s more just about the moment-to-moment action… the run and gun stuff. We think that we’re really pushing envelope when it comes to this deep connection to the characters and making you really feel like you’re a part of this world and part of this story. So far, it seems like people are really digging that, really loving that connection with the characters and the environment. I think it’s been great so far."

 

Voice work is something that 2K wanted to perfect as well, sparing no expense to channel iconic personalities into, what they hope, will eventually become iconic characters. "Nolan North, as you know, he’s in a lot of games and the guy is great to work with," Thomas says. "He’s a really wonderful voice actor and we really wanted to get him on board and to play a character that’s just really different to what he’s normally played. And this character, Captain Walker, he’s very gritty and he’s very serious and it’s really cool to see the way that he takes this character and really evolves with it. He’s not actually the only big voice actor that we had…[Colonel] Conrad, that’s Bruce Boxleitner." 2K hinted that on top of that, expect to catch other familiar voices filter down the line, one in particular being a former rap star with a fetish for house parties (wink).

 

With the game's new story-driven direction, development slowly began to look at the morality of war or, in certain instances, the lack thereof. This walk through the grey area has always been something that fascinated Lead Designer Cory Davis, but never fully realized in a military shooter until now. "We want to allow the player to take part in a number of scenarios where they have to make decisions between their moral preconceptions and what they’re willing to do," explains Davis. "We ask them to approach that line with the soldier’s duty in mind. The inspiration for this came from our discussions and our research of modern conflicts. It’s the grey area that the soldiers of today find themselves in. Typically, there’s not a bad guy that they’re fighting against. It’s very hard to tell who is a good person or a bad person on the battlefield. These things get mixed up, and that’s the scenario we present in The Line, we want the player to experience it for themselves."

 

Hopefully, as Davis looks at it, The Line will be something more than just a squad-based cover point shooter, and something more akin to an actual thought-provoking conversational piece because of these decisions. "It’s very disappointing to only be able to make a choice to be good or bad because I think, especially in a military shooter, that’s not the type of decisions soldiers make on the battlefield," he says. "When I play games that are that explicit, I lose a lot of the suspension of disbelief, and that’s also because I don’t believe that’s how choices are made in the real world. We really wanted to just open the door to the player and say you’re in this scenario and this scenario’s important, and that’s all we tell the player. So he has to literally look around and make a decision for himself and look for opportunities because not everything is apparent the first time you play."

 

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A Coming Storm

 

Months before the game has even been released, controversy has already hit the title, with the decision by the United Arab Emirate to officially ban the game in their territory, because it "paints Dubai in a negative light." That's not something the game's developers intentionally sought to do, according to 2K's senior producer Denby Grace. Dubai was simply a design choice based on possible scenarios that could occur in the middle east. "One of the reasons we chose Dubai for the location is so the player would feel quite cut off from the rest of the world," Grace says. "I mean, obviously, we're not making any statements about capitalism or global warming or any crap like that.

 

"But in our heads, you could conceivably cut Dubai off from the rest of the world with some sort of natural disaster – six months down the line, nothing would be heard from anyone in the city. That's the scene we wanted to set. We also wanted…to use contrasting environments to build a unique picture for gamers. You have these beautiful, stylised skyscrapers that are all shattered and broken. You have these opulent-looking rooms filled with corpses. It's a pretty unique place for a game….[but] we're not using it to make any social or political statements. Its strength is seeing those contrasts side by side."

 

Storyline-wise, 2K is still being tight-lipped about it all, but expect to see more than a few nods to notable fiction and movie works along the way. "The main narrative is pretty linear," Grace says. "Well, there's obviously stuff in the narrative we can't talk about right now for spoiler reasons. The way we approached these choices is that they sort of create small branches, which dovetail back into the main story arch. You'll see small instances where some expositions or some gameplay is a little different because of the choices you made, but ultimately it all comes back to the same story."

 

Gameplay-wise, expect the usual squad-based shooter flair, but with a twist. "Your ammunition runs out quick [if you're not careful]," explains Yager's Associate Producer Michael Tempson. "There are weapons that'll accommodate you more than others – you can pick up a heavy machine gun….which allows you to mow down opponents at the cost of accuracy. But with the M4, you want to use your bursts a bit and always aim for the head. The way the game's balanced at the moment is that our enemies aren't bullet-sponges and neither is the player. You want that to keep the tension and have the player to use the cover system throughout the game."

 

As far as having to worry about micro-managing your squad during heavy firefight moments, not to worry, Tempson adds, the game's got that covered. "We wanted the game to be fast-paced and not have the action get bogged down like it would, say, in a tactical shooter," he says. "So the squad is mapped to the shoulder button and the AI takes care of targets contextually. So, for example, if you're targeting [someone] who's far away, your sniper will take care of them. If the target is closer, your gunner will do it. They'll kind of manage themselves and stay out of your way and behave as you'd expect them to."

 

Another major hook in the game is the fact that sand can be used as a weapon or an asset, or act as a danger to you during the course of the game's narrative. 2K and Yager are touting this "Dynamic Sand Element" as something that can drastically change the way you approach certain firefights. For example a pile of sand behind a glass window. You can easily shoot out the window and have the sand come piling down on top of anyone unfortunate enough to be under it, or having a large pile of sand on a ceiling element that, with a well placed shot, could bury an opponent as well. Obvious hazards, on the other hand, will have you trying to avoid being swept up in it as well. Sandstorms may also ravage the landscape during firefights, darkening the sky to a hazy rose colored fog, thereby severely limiting visibility, and just causing chaos.

 

As 2012 draws closer, as the veil of secrecy has finally been lifted (a bit, at least), Spec Ops: The Line is shaping up to be, by all accounts, a shooter that's something, well, more than a simple shooter. That's a thought that's echoed by it's Lead Designer. "I think Spec Ops is, at its heart, an action game;" says Davis, "it’s an exciting game, it’s a fun game, but at the same time there’s going to be a lot of moments where you step back and say ‘wow, should I pull the trigger here? I need to actually think about what I’m actually doing’.”

 

Spec Ops: The Line is on track for a Spring 2012 release.

 

 

-Wastelander-75


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