In advance of the Arma 3 alpha dropping on Tuesday for Steam pre-orderers, I launched a salvo of questions at Project Lead Joris-Jan van 't Land and Co-Creative Director Jay Crowe. We'll have in-depth coverage of the alpha when the embargo lifts on Tuesday, March 5.
PCG: We were elated when Ivan and Martin finally returned to Bohemia safely. Are they actively involved in development at this time? How are they doing?
Joris-Jan van 't Land , Project Lead: The four months they spent in Greece were very troubling. It isn't easy to continue development as if nothing has happened. Welcoming them back on the day they landed was a surreal experience. They are both taking some time to get back into the game, absorbing the changes that happened, and doing what they do best in their respective fields.
Jay Crowe , Co-Creative Director: : Yeah, I'd agree with that, but, generally, it's just awesome to have the lads back! There was really no stopping either of them. I think Ivan could probably still work with a newborn baby under each arm, a beer in his lifting-hand, and a keyboard in the other.
It's been interesting to watch your projects cross-pollinate. What's something Arma 3 has gained--technically or in terms of design--from DayZ, Carrier Command, and Take On Helicopters?
van 't Land: It can certainly help us as a relatively small development team to be able to assimilate tech from other projects on the RV engine. Never is it quite a copy-and-paste job, but we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time.
Crowe: Exactly. Our programmers would kill us if we tried to suggest sharing tech was that simple! That being said—from Take On—there's a bunch of stuff like render-to-texture and the environments tech but, for me, the best cross-pollination is found simply in the finalization and release of other games. Particularly in the context of longer or delayed developments, you've got to maintain a real focus on “product” completion and have an awareness of the trials, tribulations and rewards associated with getting your work outside of the development bubble. Take On's development wasn't perfect, but it's tight, focused structure helped highlight these aspects.
van 't Land: Learning from TKOH certainly helped us to evolve the Arma 3 team. We needed to really start looking towards the finish line and stop adding new functionality and content. Doing multiple public releases within the project (last year's expo versions started this) helps train the team to deliver a final product. Doing this for the Alpha now, let's us get things out of the way for the Q3 release and should help it be smoother. We get some great support from our studio in Prague when it comes to distribution and publishing!
Crowe: One of the best things about the A3 Alpha is that we've dealt with some of these risks up front, and we're in a stronger position because of that.
What new AI behaviors does Arma 3 implement?
Crowe: With Arma's AI it will always be a case of carefully evolving it. We've given ourselves some quite big challenges with some of the new headline features. Now, it's our job to make sure they work and integrate well alongside the existing behaviors.
van 't Land: New functionality means we need to train our AI to do more things. We try to refrain from trickery and simulate AI behavior in all aspects; letting them walk around, engage in infantry combat, fly gunships, drive boats and do many of the things players do. It's a lofty goal that sometimes will mean the AI is seen doing less than intelligent stuff. Now we are teaching them to engage in underwater combat (this adds a third dimension compared to walking on land), to detect and avoid minefields and flames, to drive using the PhysX vehicles, and to use Under-Barrel Grenades well.
Crowe: Little fixes like the use of UGLs makes a surprising difference--even if they do sometimes cause friendly-fire problems! We've also tried to take care of certain things that impact upon AI. We've improved some of our tools so the terrain developers can see how their compositions are traversed by the AI. I mention it because this kind of work improves AI behavior through appropriate design. It's something our programmers often shout at us about. I like to think we've started to listen.
van 't Land: A lot of work goes into the actual configuration of all game content. Only when that is carefully done, can we see which things still need tweaking in the AI technologies. Internally we've set up something we refer to as “Task Force Balance,” headed by our Lead Sandbox Designer, Lukáš Haládik. They are trying to find the best balance between authenticity, realism and fun to match our design vision. Their initial focus has been on the regular infantry squad and their weapons, and now they are moving on to specialized weapons and vehicles. We want to be able to proudly show off our advanced AI by making sure it's properly configured.
Crowe: Looking at it from the perspective of our Alpha, we can say there's still some way to go, but it's rewarding to see progress and the alpha helps us focus on our goals.
Will Arma 3 take advantage of the “ headless AI ” that's recently emerged in the A2 co-op community?
van 't Land: We still harvest most of the changes and fixes done in the Operation Arrowhead beta program, and this could well be one of those. The success of DayZ has provided opportunities for our engineers to look at multiplayer performance, security, stability and functionality in more detail. This benefits Arma 3 as well.
How will the significantly greater number of indoor areas affect combat?
Crowe: Structures with interiors provide more opportunities for gameplay—offering the chance to bring combat in a little closer - and help to make the world feel more natural. They also serve a pretty basic purpose of providing cover. Everything is so bloody lethal! Being able to get behind hard cover helps out with basic survivability.
van 't Land: The animation team has done some magic when it comes to movement fluidity. The addition of adjustable stances gives you a tactical advantage when peeking through windows or hiding behind corners. Playing Operation Arrowhead recently, I often felt stuck in my avatar. I do think it's fair to say our focus is still on the big outdoors. Battles in natural terrain are where we excel. That said, with the new animations and some detailed interiors, there are very cool multiplayer opportunities. Next to that we are working on a set of Challenges which hone your skills when it comes to navigating obstacles as infantry in a fun way.
What weapon attachments can we expect?
van 't Land: Different kinds of optics, IR laser pointers and flashlights mostly for now. You could be playing a mission where at first you need sighting suitable for CQB, but then later you can loot something for ranged engagements. The community benefits are very interesting. Before, they would have had to create whole new weapon models, whereas now they can independently create new attachments.
Crowe: We're currently working on recoil and sound suppressors. They're not there quite yet. We need more work getting the sounds right, and configuring a decent balance between authenticity and usefulness for gameplay.
What's the most fictional or experimental weapon or piece of equipment you're putting into Arma 3?
Crowe: The future setting gave our artists some creative freedom, which we can see in things like the OPFOR's MRAP, which we've finally named the “Ifrit.” Don't get me started on how many times that's been renamed. It's this awesome, chunky beast. Perfect for our powerful enemy, and great for one of our talented artists to get his teeth into. There's other things, too, but we've not actually revealed them all yet...
van 't Land: ... let's just say we have some major vehicles hidden under the cover of darkness still, some re-imagined old favorites and classics. We're not trying to invent weapons and vehicles from scratch, but are always basing things off current prototypes, near-future concepts and feasible blends between them. There are plenty of technologies being tested in the real world now that many people have no idea about. Our underwater rifle is based on actual technologies and how they may project over the next decade or so.
There's a stigma around Arma that it isn't very well-optimized. How would you address the concern that Arma 3 will be too demanding for an average PC to run?
Crowe: I'd counter that it's about empowering the player, about providing options to configure the game in such a way that it runs well in the way the player wants it, on the hardware he's got.
van 't Land: This will forever be a topic when we're talking about the PC platform. Unlike with consoles, there is no fixed hardware target. Endless combinations of CPU, memory, GPU, motherboard, OS, drivers, third-party software running and peripherals make it a little tricky to get things running well for everyone. Improved auto-detection is in progress and we hope to explain the various video options better for people to experiment with.
Crowe: Personally, I tune my game so that I get a rich detail out to about 3.5k, which, in itself, can be quite demanding. On my old laptop that means cranking down the resolution less than 100 percent, so it's a big trade-off. On the other hand, if you want to fly around with, say, a 10K view-distance, we say “go nuts!” Unfortunately, players also have to option to literally go nuts, ramp up everything to “ultra,” max out the view-distance, and casually throw down a couple of hundred AI, too. There are also different opinions within the team. For example, my colleague, Pavel Guglava—our very own visionary artist, and one of the main guys driving Arma 3's splendid visuals—dreams of an 80k view distance! So it's about finding a sensible balance. Since it's so subjective, that means putting faith in players to configure the game how they please.
van 't Land: During recent weekends I've been evaluating the Alpha at home on a laptop, granted a fairly high-performance model—but its GPU is a bottleneck. The auto-detection worked much better than with previous Arma games. I could play comfortably without tweaking, but did go into the options to change the balance between graphical fidelity and performance as Jay pointed out.
Crowe: I must add, though, that it doesn't mean we're complacent about improving performance. Evaluating the Alpha build, I think we've got a long way to go—particularly in terms of getting our entity-count up for those big, epic battles we all love to see. This is something I really need to see us move forward with.
Arma 2's Scenario editor is powerful, but using it relies on scripting knowledge to some extent. If in fact it has, in what was is the A3 editor easier to use for beginners?
van 't Land: Arma 2 introduced “modules,” ready-to-use systems for handling things like strategic commanding and UAVs. It was all very advanced stuff, but we realized we can use the same approach for handling basic functions—imagine briefings, tasks or checkpoints—and letting designers configure them right in the editor. Many of the new modules can also be synchronized with an area trigger to activate them, so you can now easily set up a mission without knowing a single scripting command. There are definitely benefits to learning the scripting language though, your palette of options becomes virtually limitless.
Will Arma 3 use Steam Workshop for mod and mission downloading?
van 't Land: We are certainly looking at all the benefits Steamworks integration can bring us and the community. I do not want to promise features until I see them fully integrated. We're starting from the smallest type of modding and working our way up: scenarios, add-ons, mods and finally total conversions. Let's quickly talk about one potential feature: publishing scenarios to Workshop from the editor and downloading them within the game. Next to that you would still be able to place scenarios manually in the game's root Missions folder as well. It is important to us to help user-generated content developers to get their hard work to everyone who wants to try it. There should not be barriers like installation for those who cannot be bothered to find where they should copy some local file (but we have no intention of preventing loading add-ons and mods in these old/advanced ways).
I read about some concern that current content hosting websites become redundant, but I really do not believe that to be the case. They can see Steam Workshop as a competitor, but it would be much better to see it as an ally. Evolve and offer differentiating services. Write elaborate reviews and guides, run competitions and find other ways of adding to the mod community. My own history with Bohemia Interactive started with a fan site, about a year before the release of Cold War Crisis (Operation Flashpoint Network - OFPN). There were many similar concerns for example when big file-hosting services started appearing (e.g. Fileplanet), as well as dedicated mission depots (like the awesome OFPEC). Instead of fighting this, find ways to complement each other and cooperate. That benefits the developers, community and every single player of Arma 3.
The stance adjustments are one of the most exciting and interesting aspects of the alpha for me. Are you worried that being able to shoot through small gaps will make combat easier?
Crowe: I'm not sure if “easier” is the right word, at least, I don't think that's the intention! I The stances are great because they provide opportunities to make a shot you might otherwise not be able to but, sometimes, they make you a little more vulnerable--a touch less mobile. It might take a bit more effort to quickly get out of a jam. I'm fine with that, though, because it's your choice to roll on your side and shoot from under that vehicle. If a frag comes your way, and you're not quick enough to GTFO, it's a choice you made. So it's a trade off.
It's also important to consider the nature of combat in Arma. While it's often about facing off with your enemy, we're also not a corridor shooter, so you're liable to be out-flanked and attacked from the side. If you're peering down your sights in a stance that's enabling you to put effective fire down range--locked into your tunnel vision--you might just miss that squad moving up on your left flank! I like to think that game balances itself out in these ways, or at least provides opportunities for an advantage to be countered.
How will encumbrance affect my soldier in Arma 3?
van 't Land: Role-playing as a soldier, you have your limits. You are not able to perform everything without consequences as you can see in other games. You can't sprint several kilometers with a launcher on your back, or with a full backpack. This is something we would like to show the player. Managing your stamina really is crucial in real life, so we've taken this into consideration and put it into the game where it was useful and appropriate. We're careful not to let it frustrate unnecessarily and the aforementioned Task Force Balance is still actively tweaking the limits. The effects of being fatigued are noticeable in your movement speed and the stability of your aim most of all.
The terrain is at the heart of Arma's character. What's a specific part of the map you're particularly fond of?
Crowe: I really like the way Camp Rogain is shaping up, nestled on the edge of a forest in the north of Stratis. It's a great trade-off between being a defensive compound and a good spot for enemies to assault without being decimated. There are a few other really cool locations I could talk about, such as the underwater area we demonstrated in our E3 Scuba Showcase, but part of me doesn't want to spoil the fun of exploring yourself! All I'll say is that it's off the west coast of Stratis.
van 't Land: When I can still find places I've never seen after years of developing and playing, that's when we deliver something awesome with our terrains. Stratis is relatively contained, but the main Altis terrain coming with the Q3 release is gigantic. Many people in our team take a moment each day, insert a single soldier in the editor at a random location, and walk around. By just dragging the same simple mission across the map in the editor, you have a new experience because of the terrain. Terrains are perhaps the most important characters in our games.
I also talked with Jay and Joris about Arma 3's ballistics modeling . On the third page: more screenshots.