Feature: Medal of Honour reboot tips balance to the gamer

Medal of Honour aims to be a game for the gamer

The much-anticipated reboot of Medal of Honour aims to take the first-person shooter genre back to its roots with the focus firmly on the hardcore gamer, according to the lead producer of its multiplayer element. Adam Maguire spoke to him to find out just what that means.

“If you look at the competition or even DICE’s own games we added more and more features for every title released and at a certain point it becomes bloated and very difficult to balance the game,” says Patrick Lius. “We sort of leaned back and asked just what it was that makes games addictive and it’s basically a balanced game that requires a lot of skill.”

“That’s what gets people addicted and you can see that in some of the classic games that people are still playing today.”

Whether the average gamer realises it or not a good balance is critical to their enjoyment of a game, particularly in the age of the online multiplayer. If a developer allows a game out into the wild with, for example, an over-powered weapon in the mix it will be a definite source of frustration for any player looking for something more than easy stat-boosts.

The same applies when too much is left to chance.

“We leave as little as possible to chance as we can, for example if you throw a grenade over a wall and you just accidentaly hit someone,” he says. “It’s much more about your gun and your aim.”

However while the focus on eliminating this imbalance might be music to the ears of many gamers for some – namely the so-called ‘newbies’ – it will make things all the more difficult. In short with no easy way to break onto the score-sheet those unfamiliar with first-person shooters may find the learning curve to be quite steep.

Lius is unapologetic about this fact:

“It could be hard to get into if you’re a complete noob but everyone should play on the same terms. In those terms it’s kind of a hardcore game, it really is for hardcore gamers.

“It is a difficult balance to strike – to be accessible while also presenting a challenge for the players that are used to it but I think we’re geared towards the core gamer.”

It is a risky strategy and one that bucks the trend of an industry seeking to embrace the casual gamer. It is all the more of a risk when you consider just how much the competition has changed (and increased) in the three years since the Medal of Honour series last had a major release.

The Call of Duty series – or more specifically its Modern Warfare variant – has become a blockbuster title with a huge following. Battlefield’s Bad Company 2 – also an EA-made game – has followed close behind and done equally well.

There is a trend across all these titles, of course, and that is the move from historic to modern combat scenarios. For its own part Medal of Honour, a franchise which began life as a World War II shooter, is now set just eight years ago at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.

So why the shift?

“It was really a natural choice of telling the story of a modern warrior because that’s what people are interested in,” says Lius. “This is a new venue for the franchise but it just felt natural.”

Such a decision is not without its complications.

Basing a game in the modern world requires a certain level of realism that a historical or futuristic title would be able to fudge to a certain degree. To respond to that DICE brought in advisers from the US military to ensure they had combat details correct; they also undertook detailed studies of Afghanistan’s terrain which helped provide a wide range of maps for the multiplayer missions.

Of course realism is about more than getting the location right; in order to be truly realistic both sides of the conflict must be represented honestly. This is especially difficult when you are dealing with a war that in many ways has no easily characterised divisions.

This focus on an on-going conflict also creates significant political dynamics and sensitivities and it goes without saying that this is difficult to avoid causing offence.

In the case of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 much offence was caused by the now infamous terrorism level, which allowed the player to attack innocent people in an airport terminal. For Medal of Honour the realism is captured in a far less dramatic way; namely by making Taliban forces playable – and comparable to US forces – in the multiplayer game.

“It’s a feature that’s always been in multiplayer and there’s always an opposing force, whether it’s Nazis or cowboys and Indians, this is just another step,” Lius says. “In multiplayer we have portrayed both teams as equals with respect to everyone after all the Taliban are resourceful and skilful warriors and we shouldn’t take that away from them.

“The key is it is always armed combat – there are no civilians involved.”

While not on the level seen in reaction to the Modern Warfare 2 controversy it is perhaps unsurprising that this move has still been given a poor reception in certain quarters. British defence secretary has called it is shocking that anyone would want to play a game where they could kill British troops, while Canadian and Danish ministers have also come out against the feature.

In order to soften the blow somewhat the term ‘Taliban’ has been removed from the multiplayer game, replaced with ‘Opposing Force’, but in reality this is just window dressing.

In truth, however, the decision is unlikely to upset many gamers and the mainstream media in the way that that Modern Warfare 2 level did. If it can at least match that title in every other way – not least sales – then EA will be very happy indeed.

Medal of Honour is available on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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