Operation Flashpoint: Red River Interview With Sion Lenton

By Darryl Kaye on March 11, 2011, 4:05PM EDT

Operation Flashpoint: Red River is the latest title to be released it the franchise, and Codemasters have decided to continue on with the path that Dragon Rising took them down.

There have been some changes though, and took the time to speak to Sion Lenton, the game's creative director, to find out exactly what's changed, and how he feels about the FPS market.

GamingUnion.net: With Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, there was PvP, but that's been removed for Red River. Why did you decide to change the entire multiplayer focus?

Sion Lenton: Yea, well one of the things that really worked in Dragon Rising was the co-op. It had co-op and PvP, and kind of the nature of the game lends itself to that kind of gameplay. You know, team work, people talking to each other, people actually thinking about what they're doing. And on the PvP side of things, there's a lot of people playing PvP out there, it's a very competitive market. And what we wanted to do was try to find our own space and do something different. The games that kind of inspired us the most over the past year and a half, two years are actually games like Left 4 Dead and Borderlands. They're the games that we play, as developers, for fun. So we really wanted to try and bring a flavour of that kind of gameplay to Red River.

In addition, I think it's going to be big, co-op. I think people underestimate it really. There's a little bit of genre fatigue coming in now with these big games where you're just playing against a bunch of strangers and you've got some 13-year old German kid screaming about what he's going to do to your mother when he finishes the game, and all this kind of stuff. I don't particularly enjoy that kind of gameplay myself, I like playing with friends in a regular session. I think just the more mature style of gameplay just lends itself to that kind of experience. We haven't ruled PvP out in the future, we have a longer term plan for the brand. But on this particular one we wanted to kind of have a fresh start, we wanted to position ourselves in somewhere that was unique and different. So, a tactical shooter based around co-operative gameplay seemed the obvious choice.

GamingUnion.net: So you're definitely planning for more Operation Flashpoint games in the future?

Sion Lenton: Yea, yea. Rod has gone on record as saying every two years, there's going to be a new Flashpoint. I know the first one received mixed receptions critically from some of the old hardcore fans, but it did bloody well. It got a good Metacritic rating and it sold well, so as a company we're really pleased with how it went. Especially as we got console gamers playing it and I think that was the big win. Flashpoint, traditionally, is a very PC orientated franchise and there's nothing wrong with that, but there's no reason why you should exclude everyone else from playing that type of game as well. So, it was quite a challenge getting it onto consoles and they're the building blocks that we're working with now.

GamingUnion.net: So, Dragon Rising was getting the expanded market with the console gamers, and Red River is going to consolidate?

Sion Lenton: Well what's gratifying is that we just had a bunch of guys from the community, on the forums and stuff, and it's good to see that there are console gamers in that crowd. These champions of hardcore aren't all PC gamers who want the game that they had 10 years ago; there's a lot of console players who want this kind of challenge. I think we're offering something different for people and I think, for me, that's quite exciting; to be in a different space and to have something different to offer.

GamingUnion.net: I found that Dragon Rising was as very intense experience, is Red River going to promote the same kind of thing?

Sion Lenton: Me and Adam [executive producer] had to do play-throughs of everything, because we're finishing up now and mastering everything. Just for our own sanity, we thought, let's play through the campaign today. By the time we finished it we were f***ing exhausted. I had intense back ache and I was completely hunched up. So we've still got that very visceral feeling. The great thing about Flashpoint is that the thrills, the excitement comes out of the second-to-second kind of stuff. Just crossing a street, just getting from point A to point B. That in itself is more exciting than leaping off a cliff on a ski doo or disarming a nuclear weapon. And the truth is that, that's actually what the day-to-day work is like for these guys who are actually in the field. That's what the excitement is for them, that's what gets their adrenaline going; just getting from A to B, that's enough.

GamingUnion.net: I could tell that from playing the game - you never know where an insurgent is going to pop up?

Sion Lenton: Exactly, bullets whizzing over your head and all this kind of stuff. It's pretty damn intense, yea.

GamingUnion.net: There are a lot of other real-world military games out there and they've all got their own stories. How do you feel that Flashpoint's story is different?

Sion Lenton: I think ours is different because ours is grounded. It's not an end of the world scenario, it's a flashpoint that's kicked off - a perfectly plausible flashpoint. We've used China twice now, the PLA, and people say 'why do you use the PLA?'. If you can come up with a better global super power in the world today then well done. Someone before was saying about all the stuff that's going on in the Middle East, and would that affect us? In short, no, it doesn't. What did happen last week though, which was quite interesting, was that China got named as like the second biggest economy in the world. So China's getting bigger and bigger. Our guys aren't heroes, as obviously they're all heroes, but they aren't heroes in that kind of "hollywood" sense. They're doing a job, it's what they're trained to do. The kind of "cog in the machine" approach to the way the game plays, that's key of us, that's really important to how we portray our narrative. Although, with that being said, we've spent a lot of time on the narrative this time around. The dialogue is a lot more colourful and we've got real characters in there, because one of the things we kind of took away from Dragon Rising was that, it was a little dry as an experience, a little sterile. People didn't really engage with their fire team members. They tended to use them to set off traps and things like that. But this time around, they've all got their own character, they've all got identities, they've all got their own specialisations and skills as well. So hopefully they won't be cannon fodder this time around, they will be people you want to keep and you actually get attached to as you go through the game.

GamingUnion.net: So you'll stick with those characters right now? It's a tendancy right now to switch between characters for different parts of the game?

Sion Lenton: That's right, yea. It gives us great replay value as you can play the campaign as a scout, then you can go back and do it as a grenadier, then as a rifleman. And the thing is, you won't actually max out a character just playing the campaign, you have to do more than that. You've got the FTEs and so on. So we're hoping that people will really get attached to this and will get attached to the weapons as well. They've all got very unique handling, they feel different and it's the kind of thing where it's not about how quick you are on the button presses, it's how smart you are. And the way you master our weapons is not by unlocking this, that and the other. It's by using them, by feeling how quick they are and how accurate they are. There's a world of difference between an M4 and the MP5. It's almost a nod we've taken from the guys upstairs doing DiRT and GRiD. You know, this kind of "handling" mentality; the difference between a Ferarri and a Dodge Viper. If you pick up a PKP, which is a regular insurgant machine gun, it weighs a ton and you're having to lug it around. But then you get a pistol out and you're all snappy. Depth is what it's all about. The longer you play this game, the more you'll learn about the guns.

GamingUnion.net: Is there a lot of in-sharing at Codemasters then?

Sion Lenton: Yea, yea. Even from a tech point of view. We're not doing shredding, which is a shame as I think that's a great feature. But things like, all of our lighting and post-processing and VFX are using the same system as our racing games, which is great. DiRT 3 is one of the prettiest games out there, so we're really proud of that. And it means that as we all push that tech forward, we all benefit from it. So, it's a great way of working as a studio.

GamingUnion.net: How do you feel about the saturation of the market? We've got Killzone 3 and Bulletstorm out now, with Crysis 2 and Homefront coming too. Do you feel your game is strong enough to compete?

Sion Lenton: Well, there's a lot of them out there. You've even got new genres like the "OTT" first-person shooter, with Bulletstorm and our Bodycount. I do sense some fatigue though with the traditional first-person shooter, especially the cinematic cutscene, go here, cutscene, go here, blood on the screen "it's so real". What you've got to do, and what we're trying to do with Flashpoint, is you need to be something different. You need to offer something different and you have to stick to your guns on it. It would be easy for us to go down the route of a corridor shooter, put cutscenes in have stereotypical characters. But we didn't want to do that because, well, why would we? Why would we take on someone who's pretty much nailed that market really? What we've got, is we've got a tactical first-person shooter and there's not that many of them out there now. Your old Ghost Recons and your Rainbow Six, they've all kind of gone by the by.

GamingUnion.net: Which in itself is kind of strange, considering how successful they both are as independent franchises

Sion Lenton: Well, that seemed to go by the by when it went a bit sci-fi - go figure. So, I'm sticking to my guns with it. We've got a different type of gameplay, we've got a different type of experience and I just get the impression that people are yearning for something a bit more challenging, something that's got a bit more depth that they can really get their teeth into.

GamingUnion.net: When you were looking at the FTE types, how did you decide which to go with?

Sion Lenton: We actually prototyped about 8 or 9 different gameplay modes.

GamingUnion.net: So some of those might appear in future games?

Sion Lenton: Yea, yea. The things was, they had to be fun. We wouldn't put them in just because we liked it, they had to be fun. We had quite rough prototypes, but we focus tested them and there was enough there to sink your teeth into. The four that we've gone with were the four most popular modes that we prototyped and focus tested. I'm really pleased with then, they're quite varied. Each one offers something different, a different type of gameplay and I think that's the key thing really. It offers a lot of replayability and it's that kind of thing that we want - something you'd traditionally get with your PvP. But ultimately, good gameplay is what gives good replayability.

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