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Too often there's a collective yawn when a sequel is announced.  But that didn't seem to happen when Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich was announced.  Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich is a follow-up to the popular original and it recently hit retail shelves to good review scores.  We chat with Ken Levine, the Creative Director at Irrational Games, about the newest release from Irrational and cover who was wearing Underoos during the game's development, what the original title taught the team, mods and technical issues, Games of the Year, and walking the line between light-hearted camp and heavy drama (and so much more).  Thanks for your time, Ken!

 

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Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich Q&A with Ken Levine

Conducted by Omni with questions from Mr. Nash

 

The introductions please.  Who are you, what was your role on Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich, what experience do you have in the industry, and whoís your superhero of choice and why?

My name is Ken Levine.  Iím the General Manager and Creative Director at Irrational Games.  After spending several years as screenwriter and playwright, I found my way to Looking Glass where I conceived the original design for Thief.  From there, Jon Chey, Rob Fermier and myself all decided to start our own company.  Thus Irrational Games was born.  We were lucky enough to be offered the chance to work on the follow up to System Shock.  We all know where that led.  

 

Iím not really one to pick favorites.  I tend to be pretty straightforward and unoriginal in what I read.  Give me Spidey and Iím happy.   

 

What hard lessons did the original title teach the development team?

That multiplayer needed a lot more attention than we gave it.  Thankfully, we learned our lesson and spent a lot more resources to it in FFv3R.  Multiplayer should not disappoint this time around.

 

Was Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich built with the same engine that powered the first game?

FFv3R uses Gamebryo, the next iteration of NDLís NetImmerse.  The leap has been fantastic for us.  It meant being able to add dynamic lights, drastically increase the number of objects in the world and significantly raise the resolution on every texture.  And thatís just for starters. 

 

Nothing Iíve read gives away much of the story line of Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich.  The Naziís are there, time travel is somehow involved, but thatís it.  Why all the secrecy?

Since we didnít have to spend as much time introducing new characters we were able to get right down to business.  This also meant that thereís a lot more spoilers.  There are many huge twists that could have easily been ruined for players if we werenít extra careful.  I think people will thank me for keeping quiet. 

 

freedom force vs the third reich          freedom force vs the third reich

 

In the interim between the originalís release and Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich, has City of Heroes filled the void of superhero games?

I donít think that void can ever really be Ďfilledí though it probably did tide people over to some degree.  I do want to be careful here since FFv3R and CoH couldnít be more different. 

 

Any of the development team wear superhero Underoos during the development cycle?

Iím afraid to know the answer to that.  Judging by what people have on their desks, Iíd be shocked if they didnít. 

 

With a firmly litigious culture, did the team have any problems making sure all the characters in Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich were wholly and totally original so lawsuits could be avoided?

Letís just say we try and do everything we can to avoid stepping on any toes.  We ask our fans to do the same. 

 

Would Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich in its current form work on a console?

With some work, perhaps.  It would take some creative interface solutions primarily.

 

When it comes to sound design, was a sound effects library used or did the sound team capture the sounds ďin the fieldĒ?

Eric Brosius, FFv3Rís sound designer, was our one-man wrecking crew.  To be perfectly honest, I donít think any of us fully understand how he gets such fantastic results.  Heís a bit of an enigma.  I think it was a combination of both.

 

Who composed the soundtrack and ambient themes for the game?

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Once again, that was all Eric.  And what a job he did.  He was able to create everything from the poppy and the kitschy to the amazingly atmospheric.  Thereís really nothing that he canít do.  

 

Should every gamer own a deluxe audio rig?

It will certainly help you appreciate the subtleties that Eric has created, but since itís a Strat-RPG hybrid, it doesnít really take too much advantage of spatial audio.  That didnít stop us from winning all sorts of crazy awards for sound in the original game however.

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In terms of the writing duties, did everyone on the team have input on the direction of the story and the dialogue?

Dialogue was definitely something that a lot more people had their hands in.  Mission structures change enough that designers, for example, have to be able to fill in holes as they pop up. 

 

For the dialogue, is it difficult to walk the line between light-hearted camp and serious drama?  Or are those two pretty much interchangeable?

Good question.  Itís a tough balancing act.  Generally speaking, certain characters have the tendency to lay the heavy drama on.  Thatís whatís great about Tombstone.  Any bad news, give him a line.  Anything technical usually go to Mentor or Ant.   

 

Is it hard to ensure the story is action-packed but cohesive and interesting enough that it helps to drive the action?

Yes, especially when you have as many characters as FFv3R. 

 

The team must have bandied about a host of ideas for the story.  Give us one storyline that was thrown out early on as completely unworkable.

The game was originally going to take place in the 1970ís. 

 

Will Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich feature a level editor so gamers can create their own levels and missions?  Or should level design be left to the professionals with an expansion pack?

We want FFv3R to be as moddable as possible.  Weíll give players the ability to mod levels, missions and, of course, characters.  Weíll have many tools with the game and a few available for free download at www.freedomfans.com

 

The interface design has undergone some improvements since the original.  Were these changes based on player feedback or did the design team make these changes?

We made changes based on a combination of the two.  At Irrational, we do our best to listen to our fans.  We did receive quite a bit of feedback about how your team AI would often take a beating without fighting back if you left them alone.  Needless to say, that was something we not only fixed, but evolved entirely new systems around.

 

freedom force vs the third reich          freedom force vs the third reich

 

What kind of equipment was Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich developed with and what software tools were used?

We use a wide variety of custom-built machines.  The software tools were all the usual suspects like 3ds Max, Photoshop, etc.

 

What kind of hardware will the typical gamer need to make the game run the way the team envisioned it?

Thanks to the new engine, we were able to crank up the detail and effects without drastically changing the requirements.

 

System Requirements:
Minimum:
733MHz Intel Pentium 3 or AMD Athlon processor or equivalent; 128Mb RAM; ATI Radeon 7000 or NVIDIA GeForce GTS or equivalent; DirectX 9.0c compliant 32Mb video card with hardware T&L; Microsoft Windows 98, Me, 2000 or XP operating system; DirectX 9.0c (included); 4X CD-ROM; 700Mb of free hard drive space; DirectX compatible sound card; 56K modem or broadband internet connection for online play

Recommended:
1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 1800+ or equivalent; 256Mb RAM; ATI Radeon 9600 or NVIDIA GeForce FX 5700 video card or equivalent; 24X or faster CD-ROM; broadband internet connection

 

Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich has gone gold, so whatís the team doing now?

Hang tight, weíve got a few things in the oven thatíll have you panting in the near future.

 

If you had to put a number on it, how many gallons of coffee were consumed during the gameís development?

Haha.  Surprisingly enough, we only have a few coffee drinkers in the office.  Now animal crackers, theyíre a different story.

 

With videogame-based action figures really hitting the mainstream, what are the chances we could see a Freedom Force collectible or two?

We did just kick off the official comic with Image Comics.  Check it out.  We may have a few other treats planned.

 

Why is it that most ďGame of the YearĒ nominees and winners come out of the 4th Quarter?  The fact that Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich is being released in Q1 hurt its chances of being a Game of the Year pick?

Iím not convinced thatís true.  Certainly it was the case this past year, but there are usually a good number of amazing games that come out during the rest of the year.  Thankfully, I think publishers are finally starting to realize that people donít buy games exclusively during the holiday season.  I really donít think the release date will affect its chances of being considered GotY.  The original Freedom Force was also released in March and that didnít keep it from picking up some huge awards.   

 

Why develop computer games?  Is it fame?  Money?  Free pizza?  Or a combination of all three?

Because it means that you get to develop computer games.  ĎNuff said.

 

(March 10, 2005)

 

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