With the Art of War Charity DLC being put on full display recently for the whole world to see, we asked Project Lead, Scott Alsworth, to take a minute to discuss the finer details of the project in a new Report In™ dev interview!
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.
The Arma 3 Art of War Charity Pack features an in-game art exhibition showcasing community artwork, a new singleplayer combat scenario, and new game assets such as a formal suit, parade uniform, new backpack, and various t-shirts. It also adds several props related to art galleries and memorials that can be used in custom scenarios and compositions. We ask Scott about his work, and how it stands to contribute to the Arma 3's community and the purpose of the charity as a whole.
Tell the people a little about yourself. What's your role? How long have you been with Bohemia Interactive?
I'm an ex-bookseller from the South Coast of England who began my journey into video games with my brother's G7000.
In 2015, I joined Bohemia Interactive after enjoying some success with my entry in the Make Arma Not War contest, receiving an unexpected email from my friend and fellow Art of War coordinator, Korneel van 't Land. It was basically an invitation to work with him on a launch trailer for Arma 3 Apex. Of course, I jumped at the chance and soon found myself on the road to becoming a full-time developer — a career turn that really caught me by surprise, as I'd recently left university with a degree in Classical History and Literature. Regarding my role, well, it's complicated! I tend to do a lot of different work. And I love that. One week I could be designing a scenario, or doing a spot of 3D modeling. The next, I might be writing dialogue, or preparing key art for release, or even capturing game footage for a video. You know, it's just great to mix things up and hop from one creative challenge to the next.
Which projects have you contributed to, and what is your favorite BI game or mission?
I've been involved with many of Arma 3's DLCs and expansions, having worked on Jets, Tanks, Apex, Tac-Ops, and Old Man. My major contributions though have arrived with projects undertaken by our team in Amsterdam; namely, Laws of War and Contact. Of course, there's also the Art of War Charity Pack to add to that list now too, and that's been a brilliant experience. Regarding my favorite Bohemia Interactive game or mission, I'll just go ahead and answer both: Operation Flashpoint — which, for me, steals the win over Arma 3, if only for nostalgic reasons — and Showcase Marksmen, lovingly crafted by my good colleague, Václav Oliva. Rifles and long-range shooting were a big thing in my family growing up, so, I guess this one just sort of struck a chord with me.
And can you give us some random facts about yourself?
Alright, why not? I used to live in Spain with a one-eyed dog.
Art in Details
Arma 3 Art of War Charity Pack - Can you tell us a little bit about that? What is it? What does it include? And how did it all get started?
Those are great questions! It's really a celebration of creativity, as well as an invitation to effect some positive change in the world, both as developers and as players. I mean, sure, we wanted to give Arma 3 a heartfelt send-off with some official content and support for a colorful sandbox, but much more than that, we wanted to showcase the artistic talents of the very thing that makes this game so special — its community. As for what you get, the DLC includes two showcase scenarios. The first is an in-game art gallery, displaying over a hundred incredible entries from the Art of War contest, while the second is a more traditional Arma mission, set just after events in the East Wind campaign. I don't want to spoil the surprises, but basically, you're part of a team tasked with securing a small town and an item of cultural property in the midst of a newly brokered ceasefire. Only don't be fooled by that last part. There's plenty of action. Furthermore, and in addition to a bundle of props that are free for everyone, owners receive a modest selection of premium gear.
Now, concerning how it all got started. I think probably when I ambushed the aforementioned Korneel van 't Land at his desk with some excited ideas about a screenshot competition and virtual exhibition. Somehow — and no doubt on account of his expert communication skills as brand manager — he was able to decipher my ramblings and reach the underlying concept, which we then put forward as a coherent pitch to our Commander in Chief, Marek Španěl. Together with Joris Jan van 't Land, overall Arma 3 Project Lead, we prepared the vision for the pack, as well as its charitable focus.
Was including an entire gallery always the plan?
Not exactly! From the get-go, we knew we needed some sort of dedicated space for the art, but I think we all assumed we'd utilize an existing structure, such as a hangar or one of those lovely villas on Malden. I recall mentioning a physical gallery in a meeting and no-one seemed too terrified by the prospect, so we just went for it. I'll be honest, I was a bit nervous — even though there was obvious potential. The project was very small in scope and creating multiple structures, even without exteriors, was really going to put my limited modeling skills to the test. It's true though, we would have liked to have done more and gone all out, with several floors and a full facade, but that wasn't realistic, not with the resources and time we had available. Plus, having a closed area with limited viewing angles meant we could add a fake skyline and position the building anywhere in the world. Needless to say, we ended up in Amsterdam, home to IDAP's founder, Lars Blanken.
What did the process of creating an entire art exhibition look like? Why did you choose to go that route for displaying community artworks?
The process was pretty fluid, to be fair — and maybe not a lot different from how exhibitions are organized in the real-world. Our theme, 'International Humanitarian Law in future conflict', was our starting point and we introduced it early with the contest. In retrospect, it was actually a very demanding remit and I'm really impressed with how participants engaged with it. That creative understanding enabled us to raise some (hopefully!) interesting talking points and draw attention to the multivalent complexity of the art itself. Our aim was to avoid a gallery of stunning but thematically disjointed pictures, which, I think, we achieved. Regarding why we went this route, it felt like an accessible and intuitive approach. Art displayed in a conventional gallery is probably more fun to explore than, say, a video presentation or a static UI interface, though no doubt both these could work as well. Moreover, our approach was a splendid opportunity to hear the thoughts of our in-game, Armaverse visitors!
Are there any interesting facts or lore details we should know about it?
Absolutely! It's probably a good moment for me to add a translation for the gilded inscription on the gallery's marble fresco, written in Dutch: 'Man's humanity has been weighed and found wanting. Together we can tip the scales — Lars Blanken'. If you're curious, you can find out more about this chap by exploring the whiteboards in Showcase IDAP. All the lore is there! As well, in the first room, you can find an advertisement for a forthcoming exhibition, entitled 'Lost Horizons', featuring cultural treasures from the Horizon Islands. So, for sure, there are definitely these little details (and characters!) hidden about the place. Concerning the building itself, it's loosely inspired by the Courtauld Gallery in London, rather than anything you'll see in Amsterdam. If you want the real experience, I recommend a visit to the Rijksmuseum or even the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem.
What would you say were the most significant challenges to building "Amsterdam" in Arma 3?
For starters, there are no bicycles in Arma 3! Similarly, we experienced a general shortage of Dutch-themed assets; narrow houses, canals, boats — you know, all those sorts of things. But really, the most challenging part was the loading screen. The satellite image became a bit of a labor of love for me. That said, as painstaking as the work was, we were able to sneak in some fun additions, including Vrana Corp's head office in Europe. Did anyone spot that yet?
Charity in Action
One of the major selling points of this DLC is the fact that 100% of the proceeds go to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). What were the motivations or reasonings for working with them for charity over any other organization? How did that come about?
A major reason was that we already had an existing relationship with the ICRC, having worked with them extensively on the Laws of War DLC. They're a fantastic bunch — and I don't just mean because they're dedicated to humanitarian action. They're also valuable contributors, helping us present modern warfare, or, more specifically, International Humanitarian Law and the Laws of Armed Conflict, in a sober and informative light. But it wasn't only about going forwards with what we knew and felt familiar with. Far from it. All of us here really believe in the life-changing work that the ICRC are doing. It's inspiring — and if you don't believe me, just check their website!
In the showcase Cultural Property, there are a lot of points about international humanitarian law. What were the motivations behind this scenario? Where did you get your inspiration for the idea? Also, can you talk a little about its development and what you hoped players would get from it?
The aim of Showcase Cultural Property was to offer players a very different kind of Arma experience, while simultaneously addressing a common misconception that all conflicts end the moment an armistice is signed. Moreover, we were hoping the mission might make an appropriate supplement to the playable content in Laws of War. That DLC delved into a lot of topics relevant to International Humanitarian Law, but one area which we didn't fully explore was cultural property. To be honest, it's actually a subject I can get quite passionate about and, if we're talking inspiration, I'd definitely cite the impact of a temporary display at the British Museum, which I saw some fifteen years ago. It basically provided an overview of the archaeology of ancient Babylon, which was being destroyed by the weight of tanks, operating from a nearby military base. Looking back, it moved me to appreciate that connection between culture and identity. Cultural property provides a collective sense of nation and selfhood, and is well worth protecting. It's also a legal obligation in times of war, being enshrined in the 1954 Hague Convention, so, you know, there you go. The scenario also alights on the central theme from Showcase Art of War, weighing up the pros and cons of robots on the battlefield.
In relation to actual development, it was quite straightforward — we weren't breaking any new ground on a technical level, and we didn't have to worry about new features or gameplay mechanics, like we did in Contact, for example. That's not to say we didn't encounter a few problems though. AI pathfinding required a firm hand and the COVID-19 pandemic did slow things down a bit with a slew of practical complications. But all in all, it was a smooth enough ride. I suppose, if players get something from it, I'd want it to be a few passing thoughts on cultural property, as well as the opportunities, and not to mention dangers, of technological innovation in situations of violence.
Beyond just art, there are several new assets related to ceremonial memorial settings, as well as civilian dress in general, what were the reasons for the focus on these themes?
It was important to us that the assets accompanying this charity pack didn't send the wrong message. On the one hand, yes, Arma 3 is a military simulator; weapons and military equipment are an integral part of the game. But war is not an isolated phenomenon. It explodes in civilian spheres and alters our lives, often irreversibly, and I don't think we wanted to, or ever want to, sanitize that reality. Indeed, you might even say it's a moral obligation. On the other hand, it makes sense not to ignore the fact that military service can be a source of enormous pride. Patriotic duty, courage, sacrifice, and fellowship are positive qualities that have long been associated with the realities of conflict. So, from this perspective, you can sort of see how the content came about. In addition, because these items are synonymous with war and its consequences, they also become useful for mission-makers and screenshot artists. Coffins, wreaths, parade dress uniforms, folded flags — all of these have a story to tell.
If you had to name just one fun experience or aspect you really enjoyed while working with this DLC, what would it be?
Just one? Okay — well, that would have to be early on in development, when I was checking my inbox every day and being the first to see the awesome submissions we received for the Art of War contest. That really was an honor. It was an amazing experience too, having the chance to chat with so many familiar names from the community. Internally, we are always sharing social media posts, marveling at our players' creativity. It's always rewarding and so nice to see.
What would you say are the major reasons players should get this charity DLC?
For starters, there's some unique new content available, and we've worked really hard to make it special. Then, there's all the artwork — your artwork — and everyone should take a look. It's true, entry into the Lars Blanken Gallery is free for all owners of Arma 3, but that leads me to my next major reason, and it supersedes all the rest. Buy a copy of the Arma 3 Art of War Charity Pack and support the International Committee of the Red Cross. Together we can tip the scales!
A special exhibition for video games is being presented in your local gallery. You've been asked by the selection committee to nominate one game that you consider your favorite to be featured in it. What is the game you would nominate and why?
Ah, I never seem to give the same answer twice with this kind of question! Never mind. I guess, right now, I'm thinking back to when I was a kid in the 1980s, on family holidays in the States. Some hotels had arcade machines in the lobby and I have very fond memories of scoffing M&Ms, necking Pepsi, and pouring quarters into a dungeon-crawler called Gauntlet. I'm nominating that one, not just because it put me in a happy place, but also because it's a wonderful example of a video game that brings people together — it was a multiplayer pioneer, replete with a massive control panel and four joysticks. It was just the best way to make new friends!