MAG: The Massive Interview (part 1)

Gavin Mackenzie

Part one of our massive MAG interview with Zipper Interactive's Tony Iuppa

Published on Apr 16, 2009

We're not fusing three genres, rather we're expanding the shooter genre
Most games these days have long, convoluted names that try to evoke excitement and danger with phrases like ‘Unleashed’ and ‘…Of War’ and ‘Project Darkness Storm Fighter’. What made you take the much more straightforward, literal route when naming your latest game?

To be honest, the route was a bit circuitous. We started with the working title of “Massive Action Game” because it described what we were building. We wanted those words to encompass exactly what we were building, as a reminder to ourselves that scale and action were first priority. As time went on, the name stuck. We explored a bunch of different names over time, but none had the punch of “MAG.” So we dropped the acronym, and went simply with “MAG.”

MAG seems to fall somewhere between online shooters like SOCOM and Call Of Duty, MMOs like World Of Warcraft and Everquest, and RTSs like Command & Conquer and Company Of Heroes. Which elements does it take from each of the points of that ‘triangle’? And what are you trying to do with it that’s completely new?

There’s inspiration for MAG in all the genres above. However, we need to be perfectly clear that it is first and foremost an action shooter. Shooter players expect action from the get go, and any elements from other genres that compete with this (does anyone really want to spend hours exploring a continent, gathering resources, and crafting their sniper rifle in an action game?) were culled early on. However, MMO elements such as faction rivalry and strong community tools fit well within the action game we were trying to create. So those are things you can expect in MAG.

From the RTS genre we felt the interplay between different squads with different skills and objectives works perfectly with a large scale shooter, so those made the cut. But again, MAG is all about boots on the ground…the leadership abilities are there to support the shooter experience. There are no “god” characters micromanaging real players. Leaders work as coordinators to enhance the effectiveness of their troops.

As for what MAG brings that’s revolutionary, it all springs from the shooter experience. We’re not fusing three genres, rather we’re expanding the shooter genre with strong community tools, a persistent power struggle between three factions, and rich battle spaces that focus on combined and coordinated attacks.

You’ve revealed that players will be divided up into 8-player squads, with one player leading each squad. Will any player be able to adopt the role of ‘General’, overseeing and co-ordinating the whole battle?

In the 256 player battles, each side has an Officer in Charge (OIC). The OIC’s job is to coordinate the actions in battle by communicating with his platoon leaders. He also has the ability to call on “Strategic Maneuvers,” which affect all players on one side or the other in battle. These abilities include things like satellite recon sweeps (reveal enemies), enemy blockades (slow enemy reinforcements), signals jamming (blocks enemy command abilities), etc. These are the means by which the OIC enhances his team’s ability to wage war, or suppresses his enemies’ abilities. At the same time, however, the OIC is still a guy on the ground with a gun. In MAG, leaders lead from the front.

It’s difficult for any new MMORPG to get a foothold in a market dominated by World Of Warcraft. Do you think Call Of Duty has developed a similar monopoly for online war shooters? Do you hope to loosen COD’s grip on the genre with MAG?

Call of Duty is a great franchise, and we expect them to continue to make great shooters. What really sets MAG apart from COD and other shooters on the market, however, is our Multiplayer focus. MAG is100% multiplayer and has been since day one. This has let us spend all of our development resources on creating a deeper MP experience, which supports tight shooter gameplay seen in games like COD, but that’s just the foundation of our offering. The amount of gameplay variety in MAG, the depth of our skills and gear, the Shadow War (the ongoing tournaments between factions), and strong community tools all create an extremely rich MP environment, one we believe is truly unique on the consoles.

Online gaming has changed and advanced hugely since Zipper first developed SOCOM. What have been the most significant changes for you? Has it been a challenge to keep your games at the forefront?

With so many great games on the market, it’s a challenge for any developer to stay on the forefront. However, that’s what keeps things interesting! For Zipper, we’ve always led with technology. For SOCOM it was bringing tactical MP shooters to the PS2. For MAG, it’s developing the technology to support the scale we bring as well as creating compelling gameplay unique to such scale. Going from 32 or 64 players to 256 is a huge leap…the old tried and true game modes just don’t scale to full army sized battles. It’s been a big shift in mindset, but a very rewarding one, to start thinking about our levels and game mechanics on real world scale rather than a small analogy to real world combat.

The PS3 represents a massive leap over the PS2 as a platform for online gaming. What are the biggest advantages from a development point of view? Was it difficult developing online games for the PS2? Do you think it was underrated as an online platform?

The PS3 brings an entire suite of online gaming tools we didn’t have in the previous console generation. From built in wifi to existing friend and messaging systems, the PS3 has let us focus more on the game. It also gives our players a common base of systems they are used to using, further enhancing community development for MAG. It’s been a great headstart.

SOCOM was made in collaboration with the United States Navy, in order to ensure it was as realistic as possible. Have you sought similar collaboration for MAG in order to maintain that realism on a much larger scale?

As a new and wholly separate franchise from SOCOM, MAG isn’t intended to be a truly authentic military shooter. However, we definitely want it to feel as “real” as possible. The weapons are current, the battlefield tactics follow long established military paradigms, and our squad / company hierarchy will be familiar to anyone with military knowledge. We have a number of members of our team with military backgrounds, and we’ve also done consulting with former special operations soldiers to ensure these jive with current military themes. However, the goal of this collaboration wasn’t to be “authentic,” but more to create as gritty and believable a near future shooter as possible.

We’d imagine that a 256 player game might take some time to fill up. Will players be able to play smaller-scale games on smaller maps if they prefer?

They certainly will. From day one we’ve made choices to ensure our matchmaking is as fast and streamlined as possible. But should folks want a quicker experience, we have games ranging from 64 players to 256. The smaller battles are intended to be quick in / quick out experiences, and include both team deathmatch and objective based gameplay.

Will MAG be played in first person or third person? What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

MAG is a first person shooter. In looking at both styles of gameplay we felt that first person, which is the most effective camera to immerse players directly into the action, made the most sense. Third person perspective is great when you want to focus on the character, his look, his animations, and his style. It’s also great when dealing with AI team-mates due to the pulled back perspective of the battlefield. However, for MAG, it’s all about you, your weapon, and the 255 players around you. There’s no better way to experience the full scale battle of the MAG than from directly behind your weapon’s iron sights.

Follow the link for part two of our Massive MAG interview with Zipper Interactive.



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