Some years ago we started our 'Report In!' interview series to tell you a bit more about what it's like to develop games at Bohemia Interactive. With the newest Creator DLC (Western Sahara) just released, we felt it would be a good time to question its third-party developers, who lead the Rotators Collective team. This special 'Report In!' gives you a more personal perspective and a more detailed look at the way they go about their work.
Tell the people a little about yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?
Stefan ("Lexx"), Project Lead at Rotators Collective/on Western Sahara: During the day, I’m a desk jockey who makes it so that hospitals and pharmacies get their meds and technical equipment on time. Once that is done and nothing else is on the table, I’m developing mods for various games for about ~15 years now. It’s my creative outlet – if I don’t work on something for a longer period of time, I go mad.
What is your favorite BI game or mission?
Considering I’m running at something around 10.000 hours of playtime now, it’s probably Arma 3. There has been barely a month in the past 8 years where I did not boot up the game at least once, which is more on the extreme end, I guess.
Picking my favorite mission is a tough choice. In recent years I found myself replaying the second mission of the "Beyond Hope" Tac-Ops campaign every once in a while. Not exactly sure why. Guess it’s the combined attack with the IFVs, which feels tense and authentic to me. Also, all three of the mission “perspectives” are fun to play. I’m digging it a lot.
If it can be a bit more than just a single mission, the Laws of War campaign is the big winner. Its missions are more simplistic, but the whole package, the atmosphere and theme, are just so well done and well written. Hope that someday I’ll be able to create something of the same caliber.
And can you give us some random facts about yourself?
Ok, this is really random: One night, about 20 years ago, I’ve watched Lexx – The Dark Zone on TV. The next day I got access to the internet. When picking a nickname on my first ever forum, I went with “Lexx” and I’m still using that till today, never changed it.
How did the Western Sahara project start? And how/when did you start forming your team?
I started working on the concept for a Creator DLC (CDLC) project about two months after releasing “Callsign Minotaur,” which was somewhere around the end of 2017. The start was rather slow, and it took a while for ideas to take shape.
A few restarts and a few more months later, with me being on the edge of burning out, I decided to get a clear head with a new, small prototype project that was completely unrelated to the CDLC idea. This is where my “Dunes” mini-campaign came into play. The goal was to make something – anything – within the scope of only 7 days. I do things like that occasionally to free my mind and boost motivation (being able to release something, yay!).
Long story short, despite its multiple flaws, the project was a big surprise success. People liked it, more than I had expected, and I liked it as well. This was the kind of boost I needed to get the CDLC project back on track. Our little group started with the new terrain, fleshed out the factions, settled on additional weapons and vehicles, and then went wild for a while. Now we are here. Finally.
The core of the Rotators formed somewhere in early 2008 while playing FOnline, the fan-made Fallout MMO, which some might have heard about. We started developing our own MMO shortly after and kept it running for a couple of years. Fun fact: The only obvious emote available in that game was to rotate your 2D sprite character on the spot, and that’s what we did … we rotated.
What made you choose this particular setting?
What can I say? We like sand. Deserts are fascinating places and they come in all kinds of shapes and types. The Sahara desert has beautiful landscapes all over northern Africa, and we felt that our take on them would work well, especially as a unique addition to Arma 3. One of our primary goals was to “do things that haven’t been done before” - We have seen deserts in Arma games before, but never really a dune desert. That made the choice pretty easy.
This is the first Creator DLC to continue the setting into the future of 2035. How much connection is there to the existing Armaverse lore?
Our setting is based on known information we have about Argana (which sadly isn’t a lot) and deals a little bit with the backlash from the East Wind conflict -- NATO/CSAT forces pulling out of the country, leaving behind a pile of rubble that is now being fought over by the survivors of their past actions. Generally, though, we try to keep our footprint on the lore as small as possible, as to not interfere with potential future titles in the franchise.
How has your project benefited from being a Creator DLC?
The scope has increased by a lot. Without the Creator DLC program, many of the new additions would simply not have been possible or feasible for us. Actually, I’m not sure if I would have ever released a project of this size if it weren’t for the opportunity.
In terms of factions, did you always plan on having ION return and how did you select the different factions that appear in this CDLC? Also, camels?
The project started out with a focus on private military contractors (PMCs) in a small, story-driven campaign concept, so yeah, it always had ION at its core.
Regarding the other factions: Once we settled on the desert theme with a completely new terrain, we looked at prior Arma games and went a similar route with one new, bigger faction that can work as the “owner” of the terrain territory, the SFIA or "Sefrawi Freedom and Independence Army" in this case, followed by a smaller insurgent faction that faces them in occasional small-scale battles (the Tura). The UNA has been introduced, because blue helmets are regularly seen in media, and we wanted to give them a small side role in the grand scheme of things.
Camels (or actually dromedaries) are something I really, really, really wanted to have in this project. One reason being that Arma 3 never got new ambient animals with any of its addons, another being that they are just so iconic, specifically for dune deserts. A part of me hopes that we will be able to expand on them in some way at some point, but as usual, we don’t know yet what the future will bring.
How did you go about selecting the weapons and vehicles in your package?
Our general approach with everything in this project was to add things that haven’t been done yet in any other Creator and official DLC so far. Bonus points if it wasn’t in any mod yet either, but after 8+ years of Arma 3, this becomes an increasingly difficult thing to do.
To give an example, the base game and released CDLCs already featured AK rifles of various types, so it felt unnecessary for us to add yet another to the batch, even though our factions kind of needed them. Instead, we settled on our Galil equivalent – it basically fills the same role, but looks and feels fresher. Nice.
Our active development team is very small, so the choice to settle on new vehicle variants instead of adding completely new ones came quite naturally. We likely wouldn’t have been able to deliver new cars or tanks within a reasonable amount of time on a quality level that is accepting to us. Putting the focus on new variants of existing vehicles instead felt like the right thing to do. Of course, this also helped us to flesh out the vanilla lineup a little bit, which in my opinion is a great bonus.
What decisions or influences helped you develop your cooperative, open-world scenario "Extraction" to what it is now?
It originally started out as a simple COOP scenario with only a few randomly generated tasks. It was very experimental and we actually had never intended it to become anything big. However, after playtesting it for a while, we found out that it’s actually quite fun, so we started adding more meat to it. In the end, it became a combination of many good ideas from popular community scenarios and other non-Arma games. That said, it was important to us to give the players as much freedom in their playstyles as possible and not set too many artificial limitations... even if that means the player can send a huge drone swarm over the target area to make short work of it. This “openness” also means Extraction would be very easy for some players and very hard for others – but we felt this is the best way to go about it. Want to use your favorite guns and armor mod from the workshop? No problem, we got you covered!
How do you decide when something is finished?
To be honest, not sure if I ever feel that something is really finished. I guess things just slowly progress into a state where we aren’t able to improve on it anymore under current circumstances. In that moment, if I try to picture myself as a regular player and think “yup, that seems pretty nice,” it’s good to go. Of course, with this project it was also a matter of “does it blend well into the main game?" - that was very important.
What would you say has been the most challenging thing about developing Western Sahara?
Probably how to get it all under the hood while working a 40 hours/week job. The additional work can become quite taxing and requires a good deal of balancing to avoid burning out. Second in line, would be the whole design process. As I mentioned earlier, we wanted to avoid doing what has already been done before, so it becomes important to find those holes and think of creative ways to plug them with new and interesting things.
If there's only one thing you could point out, what are you the proudest of, and why?
How well it blends in with the main game. It was very important for me to have our CDLC feel like it’s an original part of the base game. I wanted this seamless experience, because that’s what I myself always keep looking out for when it comes to Arma mods on the Steam Workshop. You know… things that make you feel like, yeah, that’s always been here.
Based on many player reactions so far, it seems we were successful with that.
What type of experience do you hope players will get from playing this DLC?
We hope players are able to immerse themselves into the dune desert environment, with our new factions, weapons, and especially the dromedaries. It’s small details, but at the end of the day, they are the ones that make or break it.
And after a long day of work and creating new Arma 3 content, what do you like to do to relax and unwind?
Creating Arma content has kind of been the “relax and unwind” for a lot of the past 3 years. If it’s not Arma, then probably another game or a random TV show for a little bit. If the weather is accepting, I also like to ride the bike around town.
What would be your top tip for other developers out there?
Oh, that’s an easy one: Always start small and always write down your idea in at least a rough draft first. This way you’ll be able to identify possible issues and bottlenecks early on, and hopefully prevent running into a wall later. There’s nothing more demotivating than being stuck with a problem that seemingly has no solution, but could have been avoided with a little better planning.
All the video games in the world have disappeared. However, you find a genie bottle in the sand, and when it appears it offers you to bring back one game. Other than something from the Arma series, what game do you bring back and why?
That’s Fallout 1, easily the best of the Fallout games. No, wait. Let’s make that Fallout 2, because after years and countless hours of work by the community, we are now able to modify it in almost any way possible. Even bringing back Fallout 1 in the engine of Fallout 2 with all of the improvements and much more!
The Arma 3 Creator DLC: Western Sahara is available now on Steam!