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Joystiq interview: Zipper Interactive's Russ Phillips on MAG

Colin Torretta

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Last week we had the honor of being some of the first people outside Sony to try out MAG, Zipper Interactive's first game on the PS3. While you can find out a lot of information from our hands-on report, we wanted a bit more insight into one of the most ambitious shooters to come along in recent memory. Russ Phillips, art director for MAG, was kind enough to answer some of the questions that came up during our extended demo of the game. Hit the jump for the full interview.

With competitive shooters these days, one of the things that really drives the community is online integration. The ability to log on, see your character and his stats, see how your clan is doing, etc. Is that something that you guys are looking at integrating into MAG?

Definitely! We want you to be able to follow your character, build a career with him, and be able to get on any time of the day -- especially to follow your Faction's progress and what is actually going on in the 'Shadow War' so we'll have websites dedicated to providing this information. I think any player that has played a game like this will want to know where they sit and and where their faction sits. So yeah, we've given a lot of thought to that.

Gallery: MAG | 37 Photos

No need to restart at level one, as the battle is an ongoing rolling tournament.

Speaking of how your Faction is doing; what is the ultimate end-game point of your Faction 'beating' the other ones for total domination of the Private Military Complex (PMC)?

[Writer's note: He was unable to answer this question (didn't know)] Here's the response from Zipper:
When a faction wins a contract, it resets the scores for that contract. Each contract is handled separately, as if it were a separate tournament. So if Raven wins the battle for Escort maps, the scores reset, awards are given, and the battle starts over. It's an ongoing, rolling competition for each game mode.

Rewards given for each are still under works, but expect more than just bragging rights. There will be personal benefits for soldiers in the faction (such as experience modifiers), as well as benefits that help the faction as a whole (such as increased power for command abilities).

Characters do not reset after each contract is won. No need to restart at level one, as the battle is an ongoing rolling tournament.

In our hands-on, we were able to drive around in armored vehicles and various things like that, but can you at any point pilot aerial craft? Or are they purely NPCs acting on orders from the team leaders?

Yeah, that is correct -- we felt that there was so much in MAG already that we didn't want to over complicate it. Because it's just enough at this point to be on the ground, use the ground vehicles to go where you want to go and then be able to call in an air strike on a mortar or an AA battery. We didn't want to overly complicate an already massive game.

So just a bit ago when I was playing the game, I experienced some of the basic idea of classes in MAG. I saw the standard recon, trooper, heavy setup -- so how flexible are the classes? Are they basic guidelines, or strict templates -- or can you customize them or modify your abilities?

Well, there's definitely guidelines classes, but when you start you can definitely customize him to your liking by modifying his look, also you can add a custom specialty to him as well. Like for example, if you wanted to go in as a sniper recon guy, or if you wanted to go in as a heavy assault -- these guys look really different on the battlefield. So at least from an aesthetic angle, they look quite different -- if you see a big, tough looking armored guy running around, you know he's going to be a heavy assault guy. He's probably going to have a rocket launcher, or something you might not have. Or you can go in as a recon guy and be a bit more stealthy and have your sniper rifle, and you'll look the part -- a bit lighter and sleeker looking.

Well will you be able to customize your 'support' skills then? Could you be any of those classes and equip a medical kit for healing other players, or a wrench for fixing vehicles and buildings?

We're trying to kind of separate those classes so that you really build a career with them. And it's not like a free-for-all where you can go in and do this half-way through and this the rest of the time. We want you to really excel in the chosen path that you made, and I think it works really well.

Do you have any idea about the number of weapons available?

Geez, I'm not sure -- I know there's more than 70. I mean there are a ton of weapons that you can unlock as you level up.

We didn't want to overly complicate an already massive game.

So being the Art Director and all, it seems like you'd be a perfect person to ask this: what inspirations help inspire MAG? What sort of movies, games, or books influenced your look and feel of the game itself?

Well I think that the inspiration for MAG itself is to create that gritty, real world war feeling. And that was kind of a tough thing to do. With three very different factions (with very different looks), [it] helped make us look at how we were going to create a cohesive, unifying look to MAG while still continuing to keep three very different looking Factions. But we were able to use film grain and some post processing effects that can help bring out the dark colors that give it a gritty looking feel.

How many maps is MAG going to ship with?

It is going to have 15 total, I believe there are 12 maps in the 'Shadow War' and another three training maps.

Actually training maps bring up another question -- clearly this game is online-focused, but will there be an offline mode where new players can experiment and try out the game?

Nope, there aren't any bots or anything, but you'll jump into a training mission with other new players. But when you join the 'Shadow War' maps and you'll be put in a map while your level is loading up. This is a map where you can just run around and experiment with the different aspects of MAG. Think of it as a secondary map that you play before the 'War' starts. That gives you time to hone your skills or get used to calling in air strikes or whatever.

That's interesting, because one of the things I was thinking about was the idea of having to wait in a server lobby for 256 players to enter -- seemed like a boring prospect. But the idea of entering into a skirmish type of battle while I waited for the server to fill up sounds like a great solution.

Yeah, it helps you get used to the commands and controls, or just lets you kick some ass before you get into the main game.

Final question, this is a bit early considering you guys are focused on shipping the game out -- but have you thought about anything in regards to DLC?

I can't really comment on that too much, but definitely something we've thought about. The game is going to have long legs.

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