Enter the battlefield with Ed Byrne, the Creative Director of Zipper Interactive's massive action game, MAG.
Can you briefly describe what MAG is?
MAG is the world's first first-person shooter to handle up to 256 players on the same map. It's going to provide a dynamic battlefield experience the likes of which players have never seen before on a console system.
Why did you decide to make a game with 256 players?
Well, it's a challenge - something that nobody has done before - and Zipper Interactive has a pedigree of tackling technical challenges. We thought that 256 would almost leap a generation; it's so much higher than what's currently out there and we want the game to stand out by creating an experience that very few studios would even consider at this point.
How will you ensure it isn't chaotic with that many players?
We've done a lot of tests inside our own studio, observing how people were playing the game, and we came up with a set of plans to limit the chaos. We found that real-life military structure, with squads and platoons, seems to work best. These real-life structures help the players feel that the game is organised.
How do you develop your soldiers to earn new skills and weapons?
You earn experience points for everything you do in MAG, whether that's killing enemies or completing objectives, and you'll get additional points if that objective was set by your Squad Leader. Those points can be used after each match to upgrade your character. You can learn new skills, enhance proficiency with different weapons and buy attachments for all of those weapons.
Rather than have a rigid class structure, we wanted more freedom. So if a player wants heavy armour and a machine gun, but also wants to be able to use a sniper rifle and heal a person on the battlefield, that's perfectly feasible.
What is the chain of command on the battlefield and how do you control your soldiers?
The chain of command isn't about control; it's about providing an incentive for players to work together. Everyone comes in as Foot Soldier and as you gain experience, you earn the right to be a Squad Leader in charge of the seven other guys in your squad. Then, you can be a Platoon Leader, gaining charge of four squads, followed by Officer in Charge, who commands four entire platoons - 128 players.
Rather than have Squad Leaders tell their squads exactly what to do, we've given them tools to provide incentives for completing key objectives. So for example, a Squad Leader might look at the battlefield and want their squad to attack a particular target; that leader's squad members will each receive bonus experience points for kills in the vicinity of that target and for destroying the target itself. Also, soldiers will receive an additional bonus for sticking close to their Squad Leader. There are many incentives for squads to follow orders, and incentives for Squad Leaders to issue them, but there's no such thing as forcing anyone to do anything.
We're fully aware that some players just want to be great soldiers, with no leadership aspirations, so only those that put themselves forward will be chosen to lead the squad.
Are you penalised for being a bad leader?
We're aware that not all Squad Leaders will be brilliant and some will not want to lead as much as others, so there's always a default objective set by the game. A Squad Leader can rely on this if he or she wants to spend more of their time fighting, and simply sticking close to that person is of benefit to all squad members.
How does the re-spawn process work in MAG?
We have a short re-spawn timer, so when you're shot there is a window in which medics can revive you and get you back on the battlefield. Failing that, you'll see a countdown timer, at the end of which you and any other squad member that have died recently will come back together.
For bigger matches, the spawn mechanics are based on vehicles. Some squads will re-spawn in APCs, which are mobile, armoured spawn points that can be deployed tactically and driven right up to the front line. Later on in these large games, squads can parachute in from helicopters carrying on-board mini-guns. Our spawning mechanics are far more exciting than simply reappearing somewhere on the map.
Will players be able to form a squad with real life friends?
Absolutely - once you're in the game you're able to send out invites, via PlayStation Network, or you can be invited by your friends. We want to make sure that friends are in the same squad, so even if you have seven other friends online, you can all be together.
Can players play alone?
We've got settings for everyone, so whether you want to go and shoot for ten minutes or get into a really long, strategic match, it's all there for you. We also support clans, so if you're really getting into MAG, you can join a clan and make new friends online.
What tips do you have for novices?
The best way to approach MAG is as you would any shooting game - you need good aim and quick reactions. I find the best way to start out is to choose the assault rifle, pick up a couple of grenades and keep your distance, as there a lot of good players out there who will take you out very quickly. As you develop your skills, you'll be better equipped for close-up combat and some of the more advanced weapons, like the high-powered sniper rifle.