Medal of Honor Warfighter, like its predecessor, has been touted by EA and Danger Close Games as the most realistic and authentic shooter ever created. On the other hand, it's still very much a video game. So just how realistic could it be? And what makes it so realistic?
We had the chance to chat with the game's Lead Multiplayer Producer Kristoffer Bergqvist about exactly what went into Warfighter, including the developers' close relationship with Navy SEALs and Tier 1 Operatives. We also got to ask about toeing the line between fun and respect. Check it out.
Complex: What makes Medal of Honor Warfighter so authentic?
Bergqvist: I think it comes from how we work with [Tier 1 Operators]. And the single-player campaign storyline is written by two Operators. It was written while they were deployed. And they wrote this as kind of a vent book, to get everything they experienced down on paper. It was a way for them to kind of help with the situation I think. So everything comes from them. It's of course a very authentic and real story because they wrote what they were doing and what they were experienced, and they also wrote about everything else that they experienced in terms of what happened back home. I mean, because when you're away for 300 days a year, you get pushed into very violent situations a lot, and in your line of work, how it affects who you are and how it affects your family is—we were able to take that…and that is adding a level of authentically portraying these guys that I think no one else is coming close to right now.
And then, we've been working with those two—they have been with us [for four years]…and through them we have met more guys, and we've had something like two dozen Operators working with us on a regular basis. And they look at everything from, like, the storyline, to how you handle your equipment, what kind of equipment you have, and we weren't really satisfied until they felt like they had total sign-offs on this and said, "Yeah, that's right. Get it in the game."
How much of a direct influence did they have?
So it has been obviously not all two dozen of them have been here every day. But the two who wrote it have been here at least on a weekly basis. We also hired an ex-Army Operator full-time, so he's been here. He's always here. And he's part of Danger Close, like, the dev team. And they're part of—of course, the story and all of that is a big thing—but it's also just having them sit down and work with our animators, and just making sure [it] looks correct. We had this situation where we were trying to design the typical anti-personnel mine, like, claymore gameplay. I'm not sure how much multiplayer you've played, but it's that kind of—you place something on the ground, someone comes close, and it blows up. It's a way of kind of personal defense, protecting your back. And we didn't get that fun, and it was a little bit too simple. So now we have sat down and talked with Operators and they're like, "We don't use those anymore. We use these new things." They call it M86 Pursuit Deterrent Munition (PDM), we call it Spider Mines because it's easier to say. Basically a mine you throw out on the floor, it fires out trip wires all the way around it, and you hit the trip wire, it blows up.
And that created really cool gameplay from both where you plant it, because you need to be strategic with where you place them, because those wires need to connect with something, and it's also pretty cool gameplay when you encounter it, because you can walk over those and jump around it. So that was an example of when they being with us, bringing [knowledge of] real gear, really helps us to develop gameplay in a very direct way.
So it's been high or low, everything from making sure that the tone in single player—we deal with very serious topics, that they feel they are represented correctly—down to these things, like how does this new mine work? What kind of sound does it make when you activate it? So it's been high or low.
So on a practical level what separates Warfighter from other war shooters?
One big thing for us is our "Fire Team" feature. Fire Team is our way of kind of bringing co-op into multiplayer. It's us pairing you together with a friend, and you fight like a two-man combat unit within your larger team. And by pairing you together like that, we can allow you to share a lot of data. So you always know where your fighting buddy is. You can see kind of, think, hang out with him at all times. You know, if he's low on ammo, if he needs help, if he's dead, and so on. And there's also this gameplay where if you go down, you can spawn on your fighting buddy if he is staying out of combat. So it taps into this kind of persistent gameplay where at first when you come to life you need to be aggressive and just take ground, and when one of you falls, the ally one needs to stick back to make sure your buddy can spawn in on him, after four seconds of staying safe, then bam, you're in. And that—if you play that right, it's going to reward you a lot. Like both in terms of score, because you get closer to the combat faster, and also it rewards you with K/D ratio because you get—it's pretty hard to take down a well-balanced Fire Team. That's the most apparent thing that comes in that you will see when you start playing.
Minute-to-minute, on a practical gameplay level, how is it more authentic to real life?
Okay, so the authenticity when you play comes mostly from the gear. That's how it works. It's important for us that you get to play with the exact same tools that are being used out there. That's the big thing for us. And then when it comes to the game mode, we have this game mode where you take control points in a set order. All of those were designed with our writer, so the level designers worked with an Operator, to make sure that it feels authentic in how the defense line is set up.
But then, of course you'll bring up the point that respawning—yes, of course, we have respawning in most of our games modes, because we're—it needs to be fun, and we need to get you back into the game. We're not trying to simulate those parts of war, where you die and don't come back.
Is it a concern for you guys balancing authenticity with fun?
I think to be honest, as a developer, I was more concerned about it before we really started building. I was expecting it to be a discussion, like, fun vs. gameplay, that happened often in the design team. But more often it was actually helping us in finding the fun. I mean, having those Operators there was like a never-ending source of inspiration. For once again, the Spider Mines example, where a discussion with them made the game more fun and more authentic. So that actually helped us a lot. I think the discussions we had in how we portray this type of conflict was more in the single-player team. Because it's a big topic, with a lot of people getting hurt, getting affected by this. I think they have been working hard in finding the right tone.
It's been harder for the single player team to find the—it's been more a part of their team focus to find the right tone to make it feel respectful and authentic. I know they have been working with people who lost their close ones at war, and run through the story, worked with them, and it's added a realistic tone to the single player campaign.
I've heard it mentioned a lot how Warfighter deals with how war affects soldiers relationships with their friends and their families—can you elaborate on that?
I'm sorry, I really can't get into the specifics, I would like someone from the single-player team to answer more of those questions. The single player campaign is touching on a couple really serious topics, like what is happening to you when the worlds that you've seen as kind of being the good guy and being the bad guy, is not clear anymore? And—because it's important to consult back on. And because you're doing it for the greater good. That's why you're doing it. And when you start to question that, what happens to you? And the single player campaign touches on that, but I can't talk about the specifics of that. I'm really sorry.
Is it difficult to make it respectful, while at the same time not glorifying war?
Yeah. It is absolutely hard, and I'd say it's also something that we have been aware of for many years now. I think my first time I felt I experienced this was when I was working Battlefield 2, and the first invasion of Iraq happened. And that was when it occurred that this is very real, what we are doing right now. And I mean, it's been with us for a long, long time. And the big part, yes—and we're talking about it a lot—I don't have a good answer like "This is how we do it." It's all about balancing it, feeling, listening to our own feelings, and also talk as much as we can with the guys who have experienced this and the families around these guys. So that's our way to do it. We're working close with the Wounded Warriors project, and the Navy SEALs Foundation. As long as we feel that we have their respect, it feels like we're doing the right thing. Making it authentic about war—you need to be aware of that, and work with that balance. I mean, we know that drama makes excellent entertainment. We know that from video games and TV series, movies, and everything. And war is kind of the ultimate drama, the ultimate conflict. And that's why we make entertainment out of it. But glorifying war is not what we're trying to do at all.
Do you find the people you're consulting with are pretty candid and honest in their feedback if they find something disrespectful, inauthentic or inappropriate?
Yes. I mean, they are…from my perspective, when I worked with them, honor and respect is everything for these guys. Honor, respect and trust. If they felt for a second that we were misrepresenting them, they would walk out. They have no obligation to be here and help us, right? That's the key to this entire relationship. The thought that this enormous Navy SEAL standing here in my office wouldn't tell me when something was wrong is—that won't happen. It would be very clear what needs to be done.