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It's been a little while since we've seen the Secret Weapons franchise out and about, struttin' its stuff.  Well, it's about to step back onto the scene with a new outing set in WWII with Secret Weapons Over Normandy.  We recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of Albert Mack, lead programmer on the title, about what to expect.  We'd like to thank Albert for taking the time to do this interview.

 

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Secret Weapons Over Normandy Q&A

 

Tell us your deepest, darkest secret.  Barring that you could tell us your name, background in gaming, and your role as it relates to Secret Weapons Over Normandy (SWON).

 

My name is Albert Mack and I am the Lead Programmer on Secret Weapons Over Normandy.  As for my deepest, darkest secret...well if I told you it wouldn't be a secret now would it?

 

Why revitalize the Secret Weapons franchise now?

 

Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe has always enjoyed a lot of fan support and there had been numerous requests to resurrect the franchise.  The team had taken a number of years off doing Star Wars and Star Trek space simulations and felt it was time to revisit the WWII era again.  We're very excited with the opportunity to base a game on this time period when pilots were counted on to perform heroic and often suicidal deeds.

 

Is SWON an action game or a simulation?

 

SWON is a flight action game.  We've tried to maintain a historically accurate look-and-feel for the game but wanted to make sure that the game appealed to the broadest audience possible.  The game features very intuitive and fun-to-fly controls that make it easy to be a dashing pilot performing amazing aerial feats.  Game players can concentrate of immersing themselves in the combat without struggling against complicated controls.

 

What is SWON’s lead platform?  How comparable will the various versions be?

 

The PlayStation2, Xbox, and PC versions are optimized for their respective platforms and all have the same fun, accessible gameplay. The only difference in features is while the PS2 and Xbox version have split-screen multiplayer, the PC version will ship with a robust mission editor.

 

SWON is promising all sorts of historical battles but what kind of story will tie them together?

 

In SWON, you are an American pilot flying for the British RAF, and you will take part in numerous battles all over Europe, the Pacific, and Africa in your attempts to thwart the nefarious plans of the Nemesis group, a German air unit dedicated to developing and using "secret weapons" to win the war for Germany.  Many of the battles are familiar ones like the Battle of Midway or the Invasion at Normandy Beach, but we threw in our twist on it by introducing secret planes and weapons that would have changed the outcome of the war if not for the heroic efforts of the player.

 

Does SWON take liberties with history or is it simple “artistic license” (and is there a fine line between the two)?

 

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Though SWON tries to maintain historical accuracy, we do take a certain amount of artistic license when it comes to the secret weapons, since most of them never actually saw active duty during WWII.  We wanted secret weapons to be a large part of the game so you will face all sorts of weapons and planes that you wouldn't otherwise have faced if the game was 100% historically accurate.  Also, gameplay is king and so where conflict arose between historical accuracy vs. fun game play, we would often choose in favor of game play.

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How many mission objectives will gamers typically face in the course of each stage?

 

The gamer will typically face between 5 - 10 objectives per mission, some of which are hidden bonus objectives that must be discovered.  Also, there are secondary objectives that do not have to be completed to progress in the game, but yields increase in rank or acquisition of medals.

 

Could the Secret Weapons franchise be extended to other eras?

 

The Secret Weapons franchise could be extended to other eras since there is no lack of secret weapons out there for us to use in a game.  You'd be amazed at some of the wacky designs for planes and weapons that never made it out of the drawing room but could very well make its way into a future installment of the Secret Weapons franchise.

 

Collectively, how many hours have gone into SWON’s development?

 

We started the project back in March 2002.  So we've been in development for over 18 months now.  When all is said and done, we will have spent close to two years on this project, which we feel has been well spent on making an amazingly fun and visually pleasing game.

 

Is it true that members of the audio crew hung themselves out of planes to get the audio right?  (And were they wearing parachutes?)

 

That's actually true, and we're very grateful for the Air Museum - Planes of Fame in Chino for lending us their assistance in getting the most accurate audio samples for the planes possible.  The engine sounds came off of working models of the planes that they have there, and you can hear the difference in the game.  Everything sounds great and is as close to the real thing as you can get without actually being there.  As for the parachutes, I don't think they were but thank goodness they didn't need to use them.

 

How exacting is Lawrence Holland?

 

Lawrence Holland's not exacting at all, he just wants to make sure every little detail is perfect.  Wait...that is exacting, isn't it?  Well, fortunately for gamers, his attention to detail will ensure a solid experience for his many fans and for new gamers who experience a Larry Holland game for the first time.

 

What has been the most difficult part of SWON’s development?

 

Juggling development for three platforms simultaneously has been the hardest challenge of SWON's development.  It's very difficult to make a game that works well across three platforms that all have their own idiosyncrasies, but hopefully gamers will be pleased with the results that Totally Games have achieved.

 

Flight games on consoles have always had to deal with flight “bubbles.”  How will SWON deal with this limitation and will the PC version be without a bubble?

 

If by flight bubble, you mean a limited flight area, SWON boasts a very large terrain that can stretch several miles in all directions.  So you will not feel like you are trapped in a tiny little bubble.  Also, the draw distance in our game is pretty far, allowing you to see far off into the horizon.  Just take a look at all the trees that are scattered about and you will be surprised at the levels of detail we were able to achieve in our levels.  James Therien, our terrain 3D Graphics Programmer, has done an amazing job with the terrain tech that allows this level of detail on the limited memory and processor resources of a console.  Therefore, the PC and console versions will all be alike in that regards.

 

Does Totally Games have a driving moto behind SWON?

 

If there's one driving moto behind SWON, it is to make SWON an easily accessible yet challenging flight experience.  We were not out to make a super-realistic simulation but a fun flight action game that can be enjoyed by novice and hardcore gamers alike.

 

What’s one question you wish someone would ask you?

 

What's it like working for one of the legends of the games industry, Larry Holland?  I've been working with Larry now for over nine years and it's been a wonderful experience working with and learning from a truly great game designer.  He's very casual and relaxed and I don't think I've seen Larry lose his temper in all the years I've worked with him.  And hasn't got the super ego that some other game designers are rumored to have, which makes it a great working relationship since I feel comfortable arguing with him about game features without having to worry about hurting his pride or what not.  As he said to me, it's all about making the best game that we can.  Hopefully, gamers will feel as positively and strongly about Secret Weapons Over Normandy as Totally Games and LucasArts is.

 

(October 8, 2003)

 

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