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MAG producer tells Play how to make a 256-player shooter

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This month’s Play has an exclusive interview with Tony Iuppa, producer on 256-player online extravaganza, MAG (a.k.a. Massive Action Game). As usual, we’ve not been able to cram every detail into the pages of the magazine, so here’s some extra bits. For the best bits, you’ll have to pick up the mag. The magazine, that is…

Play: You’re one of few developers to have really focussed on developing online games for the PS2. How does the PS3 compare?

Tony: The PS3 brings an entire suite of online gaming tools we didn’t have in the previous console generation. From built in wifi to existing friend and messaging systems, the PS3 has let us focus more on the game. It also gives our players a common base of systems they are used to using, further enhancing community development for MAG. It’s been a great headstart.

Are you producing MAG in collaboration with any military consultants in the same way that you did with SOCOM?

As a new and wholly separate franchise from SOCOM, MAG isn’t intended to be a truly authentic military shooter. However, we definitely want it to feel as “real” as possible. The weapons are current, the battlefield tactics follow long established military paradigms, and our squad / company hierarchy will be familiar to anyone with military knowledge. We have a number of members of our team with military backgrounds, and we’ve also done consulting with former special operations soldiers to ensure these jive with current military themes. However, the goal of this collaboration wasn’t to be “authentic,” but more to create as gritty and believable a near future shooter as possible.

Will players in MAG be able to play games with far fewer than 256 players if they so choose?

They certainly will. From day one we’ve made choices to ensure our matchmaking is as fast and streamlined as possible. But should folks want a quicker experience, we have games ranging from 64 players to 256. The smaller battles are intended to be quick in / quick out experiences, and include both team deathmatch and objective-based gameplay.

How are the online servers and play modes structured?

MAG games are similar to the lobby-game system we’re familiar with. However, after each game players are put back into the matching system. This keeps new games kicking off, keeps our squads and platoons balanced, and gives folks a change to change loadouts, buy new skills, invite friends, etc. between battles. It also lets players see the results of their battles on their faction’s overall strength in the ongoing Shadow War. And of course we also include plenty of tools such as group matchmaking, mute, kick, etc. to let players choose who they play with and ignore those that are less than desirable.

What steps have you taken to ensure the game is fair, balanced and accessible to newcomers?

Even the newest player will start out with an effective rifle, some good old fashioned frag grenades, and a good set of body armour. As players grow in skills they do become more effective in battle, but more so they become more specialized. So a new player coming in and being a general soldier will be well equipped to compete.
But more than just gear and weapons, each player is always matched into a squad with seven other players of varied skill levels. So while you may be new, you won’t be alone. Just like in a real military situation, those guys need you to succeed as much as you need them. And they’ve got tools to help you. All it takes is a buddy bringing you back from the brink with a well timed shot of anti-coagulant to get you two working together!




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