August 17, 2007 - Brothers in Arms: Double Time for the Wii was announced back in April, but the game hasn't made a peep since. While the BiA series was created by Gearbox, Boston's Demiurge is handling most of the development of this Wii edition. We recently checked in with Al Reed, the studio's dir. of development, to find out more about this little-known title, and to get to know Demiurge Software.
First-person shooters have been a mixed bag on the Wii. We questioned Reed extensively about the game's controls and his thoughts on Metroid Prime, which many claim really nails FPS controls on Nintendo's newest console. Will we want to make BiA: Double Time a member of the family when it is released in October?
IGN: What other games have you worked on besides Brothers in Arms?
Reed: We've been the man behind the curtain on a bunch of stuff. Right now we're doing Frontlines: Fuel of War, helping out the team at Kaos and THQ on that. We're working on another project that should be out in March but isn't yet announced. It's another big property like Brothers in Arms. We worked on BioShock, which you've probably heard of. The crew at Irrational, or I guess 2K Boston now, is right down the subway line from us. So we're trying to keep the Boston game community alive and kickin'.
IGN: Can you tell us what, specifically, you worked on for BioShock?
Reed: We did a bunch of art. Most of the work you'll see in the first part of the demo, from when you surface until you finish that little trip. And a lot of concept art and other assorted artwork. We collaborated pretty closely with those guys about a year ago.
IGN: And you're working with Gearbox for BiA?
Reed: Yeah, it's their property. They obviously did the first BiA games on the Xbox. When the Wii came out and was so successful everybody started looking around, asking, "well, what can we shovel onto the platform?" And Gearbox and us were like, "shovel's not such a good idea." I mean there's a lot of crap, right? We looked at BiA critically and thought if it would work. I think what happened in that process was we realized BiA is not a straight up WWII shooter. It's a lot slower paced, there is not a lot of sprinting and gunning. It's a lot more tactical. It actually lends itself to the Wii pretty well. Pick up other shooters, I won't name names, but in the fury of a standard PC FPS, trying to win a round really quickly just doesn't work with the Wiimote. So you need a different kind of shooter. You can look at Resident Evil 4 as a game that was really well suited to being moved over to the Wii. Because the pacing was a little more "shooting gallery."
IGN: Does Demiurge have plans to start making games on its own?
Reed: A lot of indie studios start out with a big title that they're gonna go and make, or end up signing onto a game that doesn't have a budget that will let them do quality work. And our take on it was to grow slow and focus on doing parts of really high quality projects. The little studio trying to land a $10 million budget out of the gate isn't gonna get the deal that they need to really succeed. We've done a bunch of internal property development, released a couple puzzle games in our early days. Now that we're sort of a full-fledged studio we've started shopping around a couple of our own properties.
IGN: How is the game controlled with the Wiimote?
Reed: When you set out to do a Wii game, that's the brass ring. That's the first thing you look at. So from the very, very beginning it's what we've probably poured the most effort into. The controls are similar to what you've seen in a lot of FPS games, but we've actually put in two control schemes. We sat our designers down and asked them, "what do you think the right way to do this is?" And they went and played every game out there and brainstormed on their own, implemented a couple schemes and tossed them up. And while we think our designers are brilliant, they're also not everybody. So, we took their designs, put them in the game, and started bringing in reams and reams of people to play the game and give us feedback. So we forced the designers to prove that they know what they're talking about.
But that turned out to not be the hard part. If you take the standard Wiimote IR input, if you pick up any shooter right now -- the movement is not great. It's either too crisp or too swimmy. And that's because you get the Wii hardware and you have to write code to make it handle the movement well. We actually have a guy here who did his Master's Thesis in mouse control. And we put in a bunch of stuff to help the cursor drift in the right direction and make it feel crisp but not swimming and try to anticipate what the player is going to do. And on the targeting side we made sure the player is getting good feedback when they're aiming at something they should be shooting at and when they're not.
The other thing that came out of our user testing is a lot of games use gestures and that is obviously something the Wiimote can do well. But we found that players, after playing the game for a few hours, if you were using the gesture instead of a button, people would rather just push the button instead of waving their arms around. So we were really picky about the places we put gestures in and made sure that they made good sense for gameplay. So you throw grenades, tell your troops to fall in, and you do melee with the actions on the Wiimote. You stab to hit with the butt of your gun, you wave your left hand to tell your troops to fall in, and throwing a grenade is just like throwing a grenade.
IGN: Have you been following Metroid Prime 3? Because people have been saying it really nails FPS controls on the Wii.
Reed: We have absolutely been following it. Every time the tiniest bit of press about Metroid would come out we'd grab it and we'd ask Gearbox and Ubisoft to talk to Nintendo and see what information we could get about what they were doing. And they have the Z-targeting, the same sort of thing Zelda started. We looked at that and thought about putting it in. But BiA is about tactics. It's about slow and careful movements, ordering your troops to go to the right spot. So circle strafing doesn't really have a place in WWII. It feels goofy. We put it in and tried it out. But it doesn't feel like WWII anymore when you're circle strafing.
But what we ended up doing in the grenade interface -- if you throw with the Wiimote you pull your cursor off the screen, and your character is looking all over the place… Again, playing on that slower paced, more tactical gameplay, we made it so you place your grenades in space by pointing. So you can pop out of cover and point where you want your grenade to go, then go back into cover and throw with your dominant hand. And once you've placed it the game switches to circle strafe so you can move around a little bit of cover. And that worked really, really well.
IGN: How is development being divided up with Gearbox?
Reed: Gearbox brought us the project and asked us to make it. We've been doing most of the development. The controller was very much a collaboration between our studios. Our QA guys would fight with their QA guys about which scheme was better. And that collaboration resulted in a much higher level of quality in the control scheme. They're really supporting us with their experience with the franchise.
In the course of remapping the controls we had to get rid of jumping. So we took advantage of their designers' deep knowledge of how the levels are built to help us change the places where jumping was a requirement. That's a really good example of our attitude going into this, which was: this is not a port. This is a Wii game and we just happen to be starting way ahead of everybody else. Nothing was sacred. It was: what do we need to do to make the best Wii game we can make. It just so happens that, conveniently, a lot of the art was already finished.
IGN: How long has BiA: Double Time been in development?
Reed: About a year.
IGN: And it includes levels from previous BiA games, yes?
Reed: A lot of the content will be familiar. But we are really building this game for the Wii gamer, not the guy that played it on Xbox before. It's a different type of person that owns a Wii, we think, than the Halo player on Xbox.
IGN: What about multiplayer?
Reed: It's not included.
IGN: Have you done anything new with the weapons?
Reed: We've put a lot of work into simulating the scope of a sniper rifle well on the Wii. It's a pretty different scheme than the standard FPS on consoles. So we're actually drifting the scope across the screen. When you go into iron sights, which is the development term we use for pulling the gun up to aim more carefully, we actually change the cursor movement. We assume the user at that point is trying to do something more precise. So we incorporate a little less smoothing and a little more precision in the movement. All of the guns got a new iron sights treatment.
IGN: When do you anticipate development being completed?
Reed: Any day now.
no multiplayer at all? that sucks... Well I think this will be another mediocre port like so many before... At least they have another project in development for next March.. Well... Next Summer