It has been a while since the last ‘Report In!’, but we’re back and kicking off a fresh new series with no one other than Arma 3’s Sandbox Design Lead, Lukas Haladik!
We're often asked to let some of our people talk about what it's like to develop a game at BI. 'Report In!' gives you a more personal perspective on our team, a more detailed look at the way we go about our work, and fresh information about our ongoing projects.
Today we check in with Lukas Haládik and talk about what it means to create an authentic, enjoyable experience in a massive game environment. We also discuss some of the new ‘sandbox’ features in Arma 3, reflect on the Alpha and briefly look into the future.
Tell the people a little about yourself. What's your role? How long have you been with Bohemia Interactive? Which projects have you contributed on and what is your favorite BI game or mission?
[thumb class="pull-left" clear-xs]lukas_haladik.jpg[/thumb] My name is Lukas Haladik, but everyone at work calls me Luca (the ‘c’ is pronounced as ‘ts’). I also come by the cheesy nickname ‘Ghost’ or ‘Ghostone’. As one of the Design Leads on Arma 3, I’m responsible for all the sandbox features and assets in Arma 3. It means I’m responsible for all weapons, vehicles, equipment, houses, objects or modules that will be in the game. It also includes the scenario editor. Anyway, it’s my fifth year here at Bohemia Interactive and it’s been really cool. I started with Arma 2, and then I moved onto Operation Arrowhead and all of its DLCs. Afterwards, I worked on Take On Helicopters - and now Arma 3. Personally I’m a big fan of the Arma series, but I don’t have a particular favorite mission. I mostly enjoy the missions where you have a certain feel of realism and you’re required to make decisions.
And can you give us a random fact about yourself?
I’m the father of three beautiful girls :)
What’s In The Box
Let’s start from the very beginning. Can you elaborate on the meaning of ‘sandbox’ in gaming (and Arma 3 specifically). What should we consider to be sandbox content?
[thumb class="pull-left" clear-xs]a3_report_sandbox_6.jpg[/thumb] Well, there’s always been some confusion about when something can be called a ‘sandbox’. In my opinion, a true sandbox offers tools to players that let them do what they want and create their own experience. For example, Arma 3 does this by providing players with the powerful editor, which enables you to easily create own content. Some of the other games, that are usually referred to as sandbox games, I would say are open-world games. You can do whatever you want in that world, but within certain boundaries. A typical example would be Red Dead Redemption. You can do a lot of the things that you want, but it is still limited and you can't create your own content. Arma 3 on the other hand is both a sandbox as well as an open-world game. This idea is reinforced by the huge community, which is already – while the full game is still to be released – producing tons of content that you can play and use. It shows that the sandbox options in Arma 3 are limitless.
Not many games feature 290 km2 of virtual terrain. What kind of challenges does that bring along?
To give an example, we need to carefully consider how long the distances actually are that players have to cross. This, for example, helps to determine which vehicles should be in each faction. Specifically, in Arma 3, we now also have underwater transport – which literally adds a dimension on top (or below?) the sea, air, land vehicles.
That said, a huge terrain is particularly challenging for mission designers. In the case of Arma 3, players can take many different approaches to a single mission, which means you have to account for a limitless amount of mission combinations and actions. This freedom for the player means less scripted control over the experience by the designer.
Can you pick one new feature/task/concept you’re working on now and tell a bit more about it?
Well, I’m working on a new squad concept. In the past our squads consisted of 10 soldiers, but now we are moving to a more concentrated squad concept with 8 men. We felt that it’s too difficult to micro-manage 10 soldiers when you're the leader. A squad of 8, where each soldier has been assigned a specific role, gives you more leeway for leading and micro-managing. The roles are not fully decided yet, but it's coming along pretty well.
The scenario editor in Arma games has been a continuous source of creativity and fun. What is the most significant improvement to the editor in Arma 3?
The editor layout is now customizable, and people can choose from a couple of preset layouts. Alternatively, you can load external layouts, such as those created by the community.
Secondly, we added a mini-intel section, where you can quickly change the time or weather of the mission – including the settings for wind, rain, waves and lightning.
I personally really like the concealable UI, which gives you more space for editing on the screen. The buttons for ‘config’ and ‘functions viewer’ are also really useful. Without going into too much technical detail, there have been a lot of minor changes in different dialogues of the UI which made it more clear and accessible.
We’ve talked about the editor technically, but what about the missions you can make? An example of a good community mission?
The scenario editor in Arma 3 is a very powerful instrument. It enables you to make missions in as short a time as 5 to 10 minutes. I think players are sometimes a bit overwhelmed by the editor, but it's really quite simple to use, especially if you just want to create something like an urban firefight.
Of course if you're more into it, and want to make complex missions with different endings, you'd need some scripting skills. However, these are all things you can learn. Just join our forums and ask.
I really like the micro-management aspect in squad combat, so usually I'm creating simple missions with one ending - just to fool around and try different tactics. It’s the freedom that really does it for me: here's your objective, deal with it. There's one mission from the community I remember in particular. It was the Occupation from BangaBob, which sort of merged my favorite game mode Domination with Insurgency.
Keeping Things in Czech
The Arma 3 Alpha has been released and in that time we’ve seen three updates. Could you name a few things that have changed or are being evaluated based on feedback?
We've taken the need for a stance indicator into serious consideration, as it was one of the most requested features. But there's always work to do in terms of balancing. Hence, we've recently hired a new game balance designer. The interviews we did were really exciting as we tried a different approach. The applicants had to answer our questions while playing a co-op game, and also tried to design and balance some of the weapons. We wanted to create a different experience for the applicants and also explore their gaming skills, their designing potential, overall creativity and communication skills.
[thumb class="pull-left" clear-xs]a3_report_sandbox_4.jpg[/thumb] But to elaborate, balance is really important - not only for content assets, but also in terms of small tweaks in the AI behavior, reaction and precision. Our goal is to make the game enjoyable and believable, which means that we need to cross reference the game with reality, and make the best of it. You’ll probably notice that in firefights, you are often being shot at but not killed instantly. This is the way we would like to go. Before, the AI was really deadly. This is definitely not to say that Arma 3 isn’t challenging anymore, it’s mostly less frustrating.
Looking ahead, what will your team work on towards release of the Arma 3?
We really need to focus on the basis of Arma 3’s gameplay, which is infantry. I would like us to refine the controls and fluidity of the game play further. We also still need to revise the equipment, which can be improved in some aspects and needs more balancing. Also, we will be looking at the grenades and handling of weapons: there is a big recoil enhancement going on, and some more cool stuff about which we can hopefully tell more in the near future.
And after a long day of making games, what do you like to do to relax and unwind?
Play games, design board games, play guitar.
How does one become a game designer and what advice would you offer to aspiring game designers?
In the end, the best thing is just to show what you can do. Also, as a designer you should not only have fresh ideas, but also be realistic. Not everything is possible, not everything will make it into the game. It also means you have to be really strict and set your own priorities. The MoSCoW method is a good start. It helps to divide your own tasks in an efficient manner.
Cyber warfare ignited the virtual apocalypse – putting an end to all things digital. Leading a troop of code monkeys, you launch a final counter-attack to save that ONE game. Which would it be?
I would have to say Arma. Also because I'm familiar with the development process, and I could use it as a platform to create new games ;-)
Be sure to check our first Community Guide for a brief introduction to the Arma 3 sandbox!