For a publisher that's most well-known for their World War II shooters and zombie apocalypse game, you wouldn't exactly expect their office to be in a second floor of a church. Sure enough though, that's exactly where Tripwire Interactive is based. The PC focused publsiher is most well-known for their Red Orchestra franchise and their PC hit title, Killing Floor. Thankfully, I had the oppurtunity to jump into the office of Alan Wilson, Vice President of Tripwire Interactive and talk about the Red Orchestra franchise, their unqiely developed Red Orchestra 2 expansion, Rising Storm, as well as the possibility of expanding into consoles.
gamrFeed: I want to first ask you about the Red Orchestra franchise in general. The last one came out in September, and the original Red Orchestra came out in 2006.
Alan Wilson: It was released in 2006, the original mod started in about 2002. We ended up winning the Make Something Unreal contest in the back end in 2004, and the team was actually announced in January 2005. We set up the company in February / March 2005 and started working on the commercial version.
gamrFeed: With Red Orchestra 2, you guys stuck with World War II, and everything is moving modern now. I was just curious what kept you with the World War II setting?
Alan Wilson: The first meetings and discussions we had on what became RO2 was about December 2006. At the time we were thinking, what are we going to do with the setting. And already by then, everyone was talking modern warfare. Call of Duty was going modern warfare, Medal of Honor was going modern warfare, Battlefield was going modern warfare. Everyone was going modern warfare and we thought, we could but everyone else is doing it. So why do the same as everybody else. As we kind of got delayed with RO2 anyway, it worked out in our favor in a large extent. I think we've said in one or two interviews when people said, 'there hasn't been many World War II games for awhile.' We said, 'well let's rephrase that, there hasn't been a good World War II game for three to four years. It was about time there was one again'. Because at the end of the day, if you're into the whole combat scenario, it's the root of all modern combat. You've got the early versions of pretty much every piece of modern weaponry, without it being very asymmetric warfare. Especially if you're trying to take the realism route we take, asymmetric warfare is very difficult to model. It's called asymmetric for a reason. Someone has a ton of people with piss poor equipment. Someone else, usually the U.S., has far fewer forces but with enormous quantities of equipment and material. That's why it's called asymmetric, and modeling that in a realism based game is kind of hard. Where as World War II was pretty symmetrical. It was one of the last substantial symmetrical wars. We like the period anyway.
gamrFeed: I don't want to sit here and focus on popular first person shooters too much, since I know you guys go for a really different direction. You're going for a hardcore PC crowd. Do you guys look into bringing new audiences and do you make choices based on that to make something less realistic?
Alan Wilson: With RO2 we wanted to broaden the appeal. So we did a fair amount of work, which looking at it now, two months after release, has partially worked. It certainly has attracted the attention of new players. Really, given it's a primarily multi-player focused, time will tell how successful we actually are with that. We've got a lot of support planned for the product. Killing Floor , on the other hand, was always meant to be mass market appeal. I don't think we realized it when we released it in 2009, how much mass market appeal it was going to have. We're closing in on a million sales. For a PC game, that's enormous. Any PC game that gets above a quarter million units these days is an amazing success. To get across the million barrier, which we're hoping we'll do at the toe end of this year, is a major achievement by any measure. So clearly we hit the mass market far better with Killing Floor .
RO2 has never been about being mass market or main stream, 'let's take on Call of Duty, Battlefield, and everyone else head to head.' That's a no-win scenario anyway. Depending on which rumors you believe, EA and Activision has probably spent two to three million on development and marketing on those titles. Which is money so far beyond our reach it's not even funny. But not Killing Floor. It's very much mass appeal. It's a much simpler style of game. You don't have to be into the period or anything else. It's you, the zombie apocalypse and big guns. At the end of the day, if you do it right, because so few people actually do it right, it's a shit load of fun.
gamrFeed: Let's go ahead and move onto Rising Storm. Red Orchestra 2 was based in Stalingrad, and Rising Storm is moving to the Pacific. I was wondering if this one is focused anywhere in specific? Stalingrad is a specific area, but this sounds more broad.
Alan Wilson: It's much broader because Stalingrad as a setting provides you with a rich and big variety, although it is a very compressed time period, it provides you with a vast battle. It was one of the largest battles ever, so it's very easy to pick out a broad range of scenarios that give us a full range that we wanted to hit. For the Pacific, Rising Storm, the team doing it wanted to look at the island hopping campaigns, rather than worrying about the mainland. Guadalcanal is a reasonable size, but islands like Wake are like a spits of lands in the vast ocean. There isn't too much variety on them, wake or Peleliu or whatever, they're tiny little islands. So to get the variety, you do need to spread out across a much broader physical area, just to get the kind of variety in combat and variety of environments we wanted.
gamrFeed: In RO2 you did a lot of research on Stalingrad.
Alan Wilson: We went to Volgograd, and we were the, as far as we can tell, the first westerners into the Grain Elevators since the Germans were burnt out of it in 1943
gamrFeed: Do you have this same level of research for the Pacific?
Alan Wilson: With the Pacific, it's different. The material available on Stalingrad is shockingly poor. It's amazingly poor. What you can find in the archive comes down to a bunch of captured German aerials, which are very high quality and very good, but they show you, an aerial plan of the city. Ground level photography of Stalingrad as it was in 1941 and 1942 is extraordinarily hard to come by. Photos and movie material taken in the city during combat is close to non-existent. There's a bunch of photography around from after the battle, which just shows big piles of rubble. What it boils down to is that there isn't a huge wealth of readily available research material on the battle. There is on what happened, but even that becomes debatable because a lot of the German records were lost one way or another. A lot of the German recollections after the war are hard to come by, as so few survived and were very biased. The ones that were available were Soviet Union accounts of the battle. I say Soviet deliberately because they were heavily biased as the Soviet Union as it was when through the end of the Stalinist era and the De-Stalinization under Chris Geffen, and the very sort of bizarre machinations that were going on. So getting to the truth in Stalingrad is extraordinarily difficult.
The Pacific, on the other hands with the Americans there, was one of the most documented fields of combat, strange enough. Every square of the Island of Peleliu, we can just go to the achieves and find Marine Corps achieves and U.S. Army achieve with every inch of the island photographed. The German aerial photography we get for Stalingrad is usually taken from 10 to 20 thousand feet, straight look down photography and that's it. Aerial photography of Peleliu and islands like that are taken from every altitude; low level flybys, high level flybys. Pacific, you've got an enormous wealth of material taken before the battle, during the battles, after the battles, so as fun as it would be to have an fun excuse to go fly out to the weird bits of the Pacific and trumping around Guadalcanal and Peleliu, there's actually no need to. We can get topographic maps from the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps actually has a unit based in California whose sole task is to work with film, movie, TV, and games company. The U.S. Army has its own equivalent, whose primary role is to insure that every portrayal of the Marine Corps or the Army is proper and accurate. And they're extremely helpful. Down to advising the right buttons, and everything else.
So getting a hold of the material for the Pacific War is a completely different thing. There's no challenge to finding sufficient material. It's down to how many shots of this particular bunker on Peleliu can we find. That isn't the challenge. The challenge then is representing the environment. I mentioned symmetrical and asymmetrical warfare, you could argue that the combat in the Pacific was somewhat asymmetrical. The Japanese took phenomenal and improbable casualties compared to the Americans.
gamrFeed: In a past interview with GameSpy, you were talking about balancing between the two sides since the Japanese didn't have as advanced weaponry.
Alan Wilson: You got some very basic stuff, unlike with the Marine Corps and Army forces that went to shore had good efficient modern weaponry in terms of machine guns, sub machine guns, semi autos, and all the rest of it. So for example, balancing what we put in the set for the Germans and Russians, a suitable set of U.S. Equipment isn't too hard. When you look at the Japanese, you realize that some of their equipment, like their light machine gun, was truly awful and was a dreadful piece of design. Instead of having a decent belt-fed MG light machine gun, they're wandering around with the Nambu with a little stripper clip of thirty rounds that you have to push through the ground. They had sub machine guns, but it wasn't issued very often. There is an issue there that, if we're being ultra realistic, the Japanese should take far more casualties and have some truly awful hardware, and that is a challenge.
While we want the game to be realistic and authentic, for a multi-player game it needs to be balanced in some shape or form. In RO2, we don't, say the Russian PPSh and the MP 40, we don't nerf them so they have the same rates of fire and fire the same effective cartridge. They act like they did in real life. So how do we balance that since the PPSh had a hell of a rate of fire, in comparison to the MP 40. You balance it by perhaps having slightly different squad make ups between different sides. It's a much harder thing to balance if you don't just balance weapon against weapon. Clearly, making it so that the less well equipped Japanese can compete face to face with the more heavily equipped Americans... it's challenging. We'll see how it comes out in the end.
gamrFeed: Will Rising Storm have more features or anything, or is it just going to be more of what RO2 was. Because it is an expansion pack.
Alan Wilson: Yeah, it's an expansion. I think the team has already admitted that, yes, they are working on flame throwers. It's kind of one of those iconic pieces from the Pacific War. So they'll be lurking in there. The team has got quite a few other tricks up their sleeves which we'll reveal when the time is right, and we have bits to show about. But yes, picking on Stalingrad, we were looking for everything that was iconic about Stalingrad. Looking for everything that was iconic in the Pacific island hopping campaign, if that involves flamethrowers and stuff like this, that's where they'll go. So yes, there will certainly be a bunch of new stuff to play with. There will be some new weapon systems in there, and there's one or two little fun pieces they've got up their sleeve.
gamrFeed: Are vehicles returning?
Alan Wilson: Yes, it will have vehicles in it. We're building more vehicles for RO2, and there will certainly be more vehicles in Rising Storm. Again, of course the challenge there is that there aren't too many tank clashes, tank vs. tank engagements, on volcanic coral islands. But they'll find places to do it.
gamrFeed: With weaponry in general, I guess this goes back to research, are you going and modeling the entire tank, including the interior, again?
Alan Wilson: Yes.
gamrFeed: Is there somewhere here you're able to look at those?
Alan Wilson: Strange enough, we got better real world access to T-34s than we did to Panzer IVs. We hadn't realized there were so few Panzer IVs in-tack. There's one in Münster in Germany. The Royal Armor Corp tank museum have got a couple, but they're not in great condition. There isn't a single one on this continent with the interior in decent condition. There's a bunch of them in museums, like the now closing patten museum. They've got one there, but it's in appalling condition. Japanese armor, yes modeling the interior is an issue. The interior of Sherman M3s or M4s aren't hard to find. The Japanese tanks, they didn't make many of them. Half of them are at the bottom of the Pacific where the U.S. Navy sent them. The rest are sort of rusting lumps of steal on a remote island. We used contacts with access to the now Russian army tank museum in Kubinka. They've got a couple of Japanese tanks there. So there are some still lurking, and the trick is getting access to them. That gets very difficult.
gamrFeed: The original Red Orchestra, didn't have a single player, just like a practice mode to train. I thought it was kind of strange that everyone is now, like, 'we need to do multi-player,' and you guys are like 'well, let's add single player.' I was wondering, what kind of experience you're trying to give the player. Red Orchestra 2 featured single-player, but are you trying to do anything different with Rising Storm?
Alan Wilson: We're actually looking at that at the moment. We took at pitch at it in RO2, some people liked it and some people didn't. That's the way it goes. We very deliberately weren't aiming to do the huge story-line single player. It's time and money. We'll certainly do something. We may do similar structured campaigns within Rising Storm. We're looking at a few alternative options. We've come up with some ideas to throw some wrinkles onto the single player. But there will certainly be some form of single player in there. Which will be interesting because, RO2 was the first time anyone had a German single player campaign shooter. This is probably going to be the first time there is a Japanese single player campaign.
gamrFeed: I feel like I played one... But I don't remember. I think it was something on the original Xbox and I think it was actually really terrible. [The title I was thinking of was Sniper Elite, which was actually German campaign... Where you're actually an undercover American... And is actually pretty decent. I was successfully way off the mark there.]
Alan Wilson: There may have been. I'll have to go looking. As you said, there may have been something awful lurking somewhere that everyone's trying to forget about.
gamrFeed: As you have mentioned, it's another team that's working on Rising Storm. Actually, a team of modders. I was wondering what kind of experience that's been working alongside modders?
Alan Wilson: Well, we were modders ourselves not that long ago. It's probably better off asking them what it's been like working alongside us. It's challenging. We wanted to do this as an experiment, to make sure that the mods were running long before the game comes out, so that some of the big mods can be available within a decent time span. Mods like Darkest Hour and Mare Nostrum for the original Red Orchestra took two to three years to build.
The issues it has given us is reminding us that we actually have to pass stuff off to other people during development. We can't just completely focus on what we're doing. So with things like the SDK, we got to just keep focusing on that and we can't just shelf it for six months. Which, when you get really busy, it becomes an issue. If we're looking at the issues and the learning experience – Of course, we've had those guys nagging at us asking when we're going to get access to this system and this system, and going, 'Uh, we don't know. We can't even tell our own level designers. Um, next month – Honest!'
There's kind of a sharp reminder lurking there. There's not just fans waiting for us to deliver the game, but actually those we're working alongside. We're not just working in isolation. That was a challenge – It still is. There's a whole bunch of stuff we're hopefully delivering to them in the next couple of weeks which should enable them to really make some leaps forward. You know, for fishing off systems that they need and so on in the base game. I think they'd probably say it's been both great to work on the game very early, but also very frustrating. Because, of course, they're waiting for us to finish stuff and to get this, this and this into the SDK and ship it to them. So they've been stuck waiting for us a number of times. It's been an interesting experience. We're actually now moving into that phase, with RO2 actually out the door, where we'll start turning around and get our hands on what they've built and actually start playing, since we've had no chance yet. So all being well, we should actually be starting to play Rising Storm levels with Americans and Japanese in the next six to eight weeks. It will be very early stuff, but it will be very interesting to see how it feels in comparison to Stalingrad.
gamrFeed: So from a concept perspective, you guys aren't doing anything?
Alan Wilson: We're doing absolutely nothing. The idea of the experiment was that they'd get as far as they could. To the point where they think they've got a near complete product, while working with us as closely as possible. In an ideal world, their team is good enough that the product they produce is ready to go straight to market. Our expectation, because our guys are full time and theirs are not, is that at some point, when they think they've done as much as they're going to do, we're going to bring it in-house and add some polish. You know, add a few bells and whistles. Do the clever stuff with bits of art and things like that. How much of that we need to do, we have no idea at this stage of the game. We just don't know. I mean, it's going to depend on the talent and skills of the team there. We have to remember that a lot of the guys are doing it part time. They're doing it during the evenings and weekends. You know, all the other things that modders do, and they're learning on the job. Having seen some of the content they produced, some of it does looks very very good. Some of it is definitely up to professional quality. If it all makes it to that quality, we'll be very happily surprised. But we'll see.
Because we're finally getting our own heads out of RO2, we're kind of looking forward into actually getting into a completely different environment with different weapon sets and a whole different feel to it. They've done a whole pile of Japanese voice, for example, because it's something they can get ahead and get doing. We're used to playing with Germans and Russians. We've done it with RO for years, but hearing Japanese is very alien because we've never been there before. As a westerner, and playing as the Americans, I think the first few times you play and you hear some Japanese yelling going on, it's going to be kind of spooky and kind of weird. There's an obvious issue lurking there as well, because when you're playing as the Japanese, the foreign language is English, which isn't going to be terribly foreign. I'm not sure how we'll handle that one. I'm not sure if there's an easy answer to that.
gamrFeed: It sounds like you've been giving them a lot of space. How much have you been watching over them or directing them?
Alan Wilson: The idea is not that we'd sit there and go, “yeah, that's really nice but this isn't. Do that, do this, do that, do this.” We wanted them to be a fully stand alone mod team. We had them run the design by us just so we could be sure we were comfortable with the scenarios they were choosing and the general direction and a feel that we felt was reasonable. That didn't turn out to be difficult at all. They're very much of the same mindset as us. So frankly, we've been very much hands-off. We're just getting to see some of the content. On the internal forums when they're sharing content in the game, we can go, 'yeah, you really haven't cracked Japanese faces yet, have you?' And they're going, 'no, we haven't. We haven't figured out how to model an oriental face really well.' So there have been those moments we're I'm going, 'whoa, those weapons look really nice... But this looks like crap.' So, there's been that going on, but largely we've been hands off.
We've got Tony Gillham in there running as the producer, and he's our main point of contact. We've been quite deliberately hands-off. We haven't got the times ourselves to just start poking around and doing all that stuff anyway. That was never the intention. The intention was for them to run with it and do what mod teams do and go off and do their own thing. And they have done that. They've got some real talented guys on the team. Things like the weapon models, the tank models, they do look very nice. There's a few tricks that we've learned that we'll show them over the next few months to make them even nicer, but they're looking very very nice.
gamrFeed: Have there been any moments where you've seen something they've done and say, 'wow, we wouldn't have done that if we did it.' Not, in a bad way, but more along the lines of, 'we wouldn't have thought to add this.'
Alan Wilson: There hasn't been really, because to-date we've mostly seen assets. What we haven't done is get our hands on the gameplay and how does it actually play. They are facing that key challenge of asking, 'How do you balance a game? How do you make the multi-player enjoyable without the Japanese merely being the side who run charging into .30 cal machine guns and die quickly?' That sort of gameplay is not fun. Well, not for more than about 10 seconds. That's where we're really interested to see how they've dealt with it. What's the approach they've taken to get the gameplay feeling balanced. Man on man, it doesn't have to be perfectly balanced, that's not the way we work, but the two sides have to have an equal opportunity to win. That's the trick they've got to come up with. That's about pulling all the pieces together, the system's you've built, the level design, and the objectives you give the different sides, what constitutes winning. That's where it's going to get really interesting to see how they've think they've cracked it.
Once we have more people playing it, first ourselves, then testers here, then maybe a little bit of beta testing, then we'll get a real feel of “is this working, or is that working.” Until we actually get in to playing it, that piece – which is probably for my money at least – is the most challenging. So, we'll wait and see on that.
gamrFeed: Geographically, the team is spread out. Are they having any trouble collaborating?
Alan Wilson: Well, that's how we started and when we first started as a company we were spread out around the world. It's always tricky. You want to get the level design team together to discuss, “okay, which levels are we going to do?” Spread across eight or nine time-zones, and people working on it part-time, of course it's difficult. Part of thing to committing to a project like that is that you've got to be willing to work around that. For example, two or three of their coders are in Australia, Tony is in the UK, and they've got guys here in the U.S. They've got a team spread across 13 or 14 time-zones. Two or three of the coders are already in bed asleep by the time the Americans get up the next morning. Of course it gets complicated. So you use e-mail a lot, you use Skype a lot. You be sure you've got systems where things can be checked-in and checked-out. If the team works well together, it can actually work well in your favor. One person can be checking-in stuff they've finished at the end of the day when they're going to bed when other people are getting up and can continue working on it. You can actually have the team working around the clock.
Although, it gets very complicated. Yeah, they've had their issues as you always do with mod teams. People with the best possible intentions leap on board going, 'hey, I can do this. I'm brilliant at animation,' or whatever it happens to be, and they turn out to be somewhat lacking in the talent department, or they over-commit, and they forget they've got to go back to school in September, and that they're going to have work to do. They've been through all those problems. It's a mod team; Part-time, part semi-pro / amateur. You'll have all the problems on it that you'll have in any mod. They've had all the classic mod issues of people over-committing, under-delivering, people whose talents don't quite meet up with their personal PR, and on the flip side you have the guys who are superbly committed, who turn out to be young kids with little experience but superb talents. Some of the weapon modeling is just really good. Like any mod team, you work through that. You find out the hard way what people are really good at, what they can really deliver and how much time people have really got. The best you can hope for is that the people on the team will be really honest with you or themselves. If they're not going to be good at doing whatever this is, then they're going to admit they're not good, or they don't know how to do it, and they'll look for help. I'm sure they've had their good moments and bad moments. It's always the same with mod teams, it has to be.
gamrFeed: Tripwire Interactive has primarily remained on PC.
Alan Wilson: Everything's been PC based to date. You may have seen announcement that we're doing The Ball on mobile. That will be available on the mobile platform soon, probably in the new year.
gamrFeed: What about the PC market is so appealing to Tripwire Interactive?
Alan Wilson: I guess we got into the PC market because we were all PC gamers, and we started as a mod team. 2002 and 2003, the only way to go as a mod team was PC. There's always been discussions of why can't Microsoft or Sony open up so you can push mods and everything else through those, but that's a whole other problem. We started out as a PC team because of that. We were one of the first onto Steam with the original Red Orchestra, so that was home turf for us. We used the Unreal Engine, so we develop on the PC and deliver on PC. Unreal Engine has kept growing through Unreal 2 and Unreal 3, and Unreal 3 in particular has opened up other platforms for us. We've done The Ball on OnLive and we're doing it on mobile right now. Yes, we will most certainly look at the console market going forward – we'd be crazy not to.
There's been discussions of RO2 on consoles, but it wouldn't be a great first step. It's a heavy duty game, and it has got a big big foot print. With 64-player multi-player, trying to take that and hack it down to fit on current consoles would be challenging in the extreme. Something like Killing Floor , which is six player co-op with a much lighter footprint and a much simpler game, of course would be a much better target. So, we may explore that route over the next year or so.
gamrFeed: Do you have anything else you want to add?
Alan Wilson: I guess we're just coming down from a fairly mad year, getting RO2 finished and out the door. We're just kind of enjoying ourselves at the moment, so we've been sitting down and planning out the next year or two of goodies we'll do for RO2, and all the stuff we'll continue to do for Killing Floor . We've done well with RO2 and it's made good money for us. Now it's a question of, what support do we continue for the games that are out there? We enjoy supporting the games and doing the events and such with Killing Floor , so we'll sure as hell do more of that. We have more content for Killing Floor, and we have a ton more content for RO2. And yeah, we're busy concepting our next titles, so there's plenty going on.
gamrFeed: Oh, new titles?
Alan Wilson: Nothing we're prepared to talk about at this time.