We flash, bang and clear to interrogate Irrational on its justice-dealing SWAT sim..
Being Big Fans of inflicting virtual harm on one another, we decided to grill (from left to right, so pay attention) lead designer Jay Kyburz, producer Joe Faulstick, designer Bill Gardner and lead designer Paul Hellquist on exactly what makes a good SWAT game. Is it the gritty realism? The believable story structure? Or is it just the ability to torment people you've tied up? Turns out it's all of these things, and a bit more...
- Urban Injustice:
Hellquist: "When we started work on SWAT 4, we" took the canned Urban Justice design materials and went through them - there wasn't much we really liked. I don't think we took anything from the design, as they had some really wacky ideas that just didn't feel like SWAT, so we tossed a lot of that and started over. We started more from a foundation of what we thought was great in SWAT 3 and built on that. I thought SWAT 3 was definitely the next step forwards from Rainbow Six in the sense that you didn't have to spend 20 minutes to an hour planning before you got to play - you could plan on-the-fly. That was a big breakthrough which I think SWAT 3 doesn't get enough credit for. We tried to take that and then make it a bit easier to use with the interface. Instead of doing it all with keyboard commands, we focused on making an easy-to-use, mouse-driven interface so that beginners could wrap their heads around it easier."
Hellquist "In SWAT 3, you had unlimited everything. We updated that so that you had to make tougher decisions about what gear to bring, because SWAT officers don't necessarily know what they're up against - they have to try and take the best equipment for whatever situation they're expecting. We wanted snipers in the game because snipers play a huge role in real SWAT operations." Kyburz: "We improved a great deal from an art point of view as well. A lot of work went into making these places really realistic, having hundreds of objects and really creepy spaces."
Hellquist: "We definitely focused on trying to make gritty, urban environments that SWAT teams always encounter; whereas SWAT 3 had very bright and airy spaces, we tried to go more into the nitty-gritty reality of what SWAT does every day."
- Arsing About With Guns:
Hellquist: "We had Ken Thatcher teaching us everything he was allowed to tell us about how SWAT teams work. He's a veteran and still an active member of the LAPD SWAT. We also had a session with some guys from Boston's Metro SWAT. They took us out to one of their training areas, we got to play around with some air-soft versions of the weaponry and they showed us some flashbangs and how it feels to really be in those situations. They were very safety-conscious with flashbang training - they did it outside in a very open area and we were about 30-40ft away when they detonated it. It was impressive, and apparently it's nothing compared to being indoors where the force and the sound is bouncing off of everything."
Gardner: "It was outside at high-noon in the snow, and it was still blinding." Hellquist: "You could just feel this wave of force go through your body - it was impressive. They let us put on all the armour and stuff too so we could see how heavy it was and how you could move in it - that was interesting."
- Details, Details:
Gardner: "One of our designers, Sean Robinson, is a real gun nut - so he modelled all the weaponry for us." Hellquist: "We got reference photos of weapons from the SWAT guys too, got to shoot a shotgun and we were able to shoot some of the beanbag rounds on a training range. Plus, there are loads of websites about weapons - that was an asset we used for some of the more exotic weaponry."
Kyburz: "Sean was joking with me the other day about how he put way too much detail into the weapons he modelled, and every moving part works k even though you never see them doing so in the game - he had a lot of fun getting right down into the details. One of the pistols in the game is his grandfather's WWII Colt 1911."
- Crazy Swat Weapons:
Hellquist mmr "There were some really interesting things that we came across in our research which we would've liked to have added, but there were too many technical hurdles. Real-life SWAT have this weird foam now that they can spray on people, and it hardens up and encases them. They have net guns and all kinds of crazy things that sounded really cool, but we had trouble thinking about how we could get them to work in the game." Kyburz: "We looked at all of that stuff again when we did the expansion - we added seven new weapons and went for the more interesting types like the grenade launcher."
- Individual Mission Stories:
Kyburz: "The individual missions were one of the things we really liked about SWAT 4, and although we do have a central theme to the missions in the expansion, they're still standalone." Hellquist: "We wanted lots of very different environments, from the banks to the little houses to the restaurants - we had so many different environments that we weren't confident we could make an over-arching story that wasn't going to be ridiculous. So what we tried to do was have each mission be its own fully-contained story between the briefing and the resolution part, which you get to be more directly involved in. I think the reviewers and critics really understood that and realised it didn't have an over-arching story, but the stories of each mission were better than a lot of overarching stories in other tactical games."
Hellquist: "One note we were given from Vivendi was that we couldn't have any children in the missions as hostages or anything like that, because we didn't want any children getting killed with strays or anything. We had the child graveyard mission instead, which suggested all that terribleness happened prior to your arrival."
Gardner: "I think when Ken Levine comes in and is stunned by the darkness, we've gone too far. Beyond that, we pretty much created whatever sort of environments we wanted." Faulstick: "That's the nice thing about SWAT: it's not gratuitous violence - buckets of blood and so on - it's just kind of creepy in a Silence Of The Lambs way." Hellquist: "There were many times when I was playing the game and I was just blown away by the intensity and decisiveness of the violence in it Sometimes, it just hits you in the gut how brutal it is. I'm sure that's what it's like for the actual SWAT guys too - it's just an instant and it's over."
- Irrational References:
Hellquist: "With the subject matter being so serious in some of the levels and situations within SWAT4, it was good to have a few light-hearted Irrational references slotted into the game too, just to remind people that you're still supposed to be having fun." Gardner "Also, we thought it was going to be our only chance to do this because it's based in the real world. In a game like Freedom Force, it's tough to get those easter eggs in without completely blowing the universe. I'm not sure you'll see too many of those in BioShock."
Hellquist: "We also had fun making up wacky products and the weird arcade games like 'Karate Fighter' - we wanted to add a bit of fun to the depressing world, and we enjoyed doing it too."
- Sadism And Needless, Glorious Violence:
Hellquist I was so happy realising how much fun it was to torment the person you've arrested in multiplayer VIP mode - that was just a happy, fun thing that evolved."
Kyburz: "You can punch them while they're down as well! You can arrest them, spray them, punch them and scream at them with the voice-over IP." Hellquist: "That was another awesome feature that we'd started work on in the original but just ran out of time - the voice-over IP with the microphone. We were sad we didn't get that into the main game."
Faulstick: "Going back to the whole torturing the VIP thing; that's become a big tried-and-true online tactic. I was playing a couple of months ago and I saw that the people on my team would tazer the police as they were going for the bombs, but wouldn't kill them - they'd just continually keep them tazered until the bomb exploded."
Kyburz: "Keeping two enemies down, tazering and peppering them is great fun. Keeping them occupied is better than letting them respawn."
Download SWAT 4
PC compatible, Intel Celeron 1.2 GHz, 256 MB RAM 3D Accelerator 32MB DirectX 9
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode