I'd never met Jamie Keen before this interview, but I had read some other interviews he'd given in the past. That's a dangerous position to be in, as I've found that when you know something about someone which you haven't learned firsthand then it can make the entire conversation kind of awkward and forced.
It's like talking to your best friend’s mum after you've just walked in on her in the toilet by accident. Honestly, I swear it was an accident.
Thankfully though, sitting down to interview Jamie was a much less formal affair than most other interviews I've done before. Instead of being sat across a table from him in a quiet room, we were laid back on leather sofas and watching the latest build of the game. Instead of being offered coffee, which always makes me too tense, Jamie just waved a hand at a bucket full of ice and bottled beer, which always makes me too giddy.
In other words, I shouldn't really need to say that it was a far nicer set-up than I've had for some interviews...
Bit-tech:Well, this is a nicer set-up than I’ve had for some interviews. I like it.
Jamie Keen: Pfft, to hell with the interview – let’s just play some games and drink some beers.
BT:Let’s get to know each other a little bit first – what’s your role on Bad Company?
JK: I’m the multiplayer producer for Battlefield: Bad Company, which means I’m responsible for the whole multiplayer side of things and keeping the overall quality of the game high. I look at everything from a core gameplay perspective – map design, weapon balancing, vehicle placement. I make sure that everything comes together and that it happens on time.
BT:I imagine that last bit is perhaps the most important point.
JK: Heh, definitely.
BT:Now, the thing that puzzles me about Bad Company is that this is a series that is known primarily for the multiplayer. Why are you trying to put a singleplayer aspect in at all?
JK: It’s kind of the next step for us I think. A core part of doing a console game is giving a good, solid singleplayer performance. It’s been a real challenge for us making this game and we’ve always been interested in pushing the envelope in all areas, so while multiplayer has been important in the past we also wanted to have a go at this.
BT:So you’re just up for the challenge then?
JK: Basically yeah – why not? Bring it on.
BT:And I imagine one of the biggest challenges has got to be designing maps with destructible environments. Normal maps can be made of just connected rooms, but with destructible environments you have to bear in mind that the player can just blow holes in the walls and cut their own paths.
JK: Absolutely definitely. Especially when you think of the scale of maps we’re using here in Bad Company because these are really wide areas and are much bigger than the types of levels you’ll see in a lot of other games. Adding destruction to it is, like you said, very difficult. It adds a whole new area to design.
You need to think about things in more than a 360 degrees way really, because people can get around things anyway you want and forge your own paths. It’s a big challenge, but the payoff is that you end up with a game that’s truly emergent and situations that are constantly changing. There’s a lot of tactical depth in there. That kind of tactical depth is something you don’t see in many other shooters out there.
BT:How does the destruction work exactly then? I get that you can blow a wall up with a rocket, but if I shot the same wall with ten thousand machine gun rounds would that blow the wall up too? Is there a damage limit or how does it work?
JK: There are certain types of weapons that cause damage and certain types that won’t, but it also depends on the material you’re shooting at. You can blow a concrete wall up with a rocket, but not with a pistol – on the other hand, you can take down a wooden fence with bullets. It depends on the material you shoot at, the weapon you shoot with and the vehicle you hit things with.
We’ve tried to make it match player expectations wherever we can – they think ‘I’m driving a tank, can I knock that over?’ Yes, because that’s logical. There are bound to be bits that people say are unrealistic, but in the end we aren’t a wholly realistic game. We spend a lot of time balancing to try and make sure player expectations are realised.