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BRUTE FORCE Xbox -- Spent a day at the Digital Anvil studio....info & impressions

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BRUTE FORCE Xbox -- Spent a day at the Digital Anvil studio....info & impressions

Old 07-30-02, 01:26 AM
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BRUTE FORCE Xbox -- Spent a day at the Digital Anvil studio....info & impressions

Earlier today, teamxbox.com put up a 'Day 1' report on their trip to Digital Anvil, the developers of Brute Force. Well, I was fortunately one of the people who went on that trip last Friday and wrote up a little report on it myself on another board, and I figured I'd post it on this board for anybody who's interested. It's pretty long, so I'll post it up as three different sections. If you have any questions about the game or Digital Anvil, feel free to ask and I'll answer if I can.


It's a little hard to remember all the specifics off the top of my head, so if anybody wants to know anything about the game that I don't touch on, I'll answer if I can. I'll just mention random things of interest, and get to some impressions. Keep in mind I didn't really pay attention much to in-game names and story stuff (partially because I didn't want to).

The game will have 22 missions. That either does or does not (I'm pretty sure doesn't) include the optional side missions. According to one member of the dev team (I can't remember who said what), a good player will probably be able to get through an easier mission in around 20 minutes, and a harder mission in around 45 minutes to an hour. The regular missions and side missions will be differentiated by the amount of plot development at the beginning of each.....obviously the side missions won't have much. One of the developers said it would take longer to beat the game than Halo.

There will be no controllable vehicles, although you will see NPCs cruising around in some. I think one mentioned was a dropship-like vehicle; no others were mentioned. There are no vehicles for you to control because when dealing with four characters at once it just wouldn't work out right, and they want the player to focus on the tactical shooting aspect of the game.
A dev member (I think this might have been one of the programmers) said at one point a while back they did have enemies ride vehicles, but then play-testers didn't like the fact that you couldn't hop into a dead enemy's vehicle, so the whole idea was dropped.

Brute Force allows you to play the single-player game cooperatively with 1-3 other people controlling other squad members. A player can even jump into the game and take control of a character mid-mission, and drop out with the AI automatically kicking right in.

In terms of deathmatch, no Xbox Live support and no system-link. 4-player split-screen and the player can choose to be any character/enemy/creature from the game. There will also be a deathmatch mode where two players control their own entire squad and duke it out; the developers are still deciding on whether or not to make this mode 3-4 player compatible. There may or may not be other modes such as King of the Hill and CTF at this point (although the they may have mentioned some 'for sure' modes that I've forgotten).

Cloning / Money
As the story goes, all your characters except Flint (the 'female' cyborg) are clones of clones of clones...etc. So when one of your team members dies during a mission, you can use money (earned from completing missions)....$10,000 specifically, which supposedly isn't a whole lot in the grander scheme of things....to buy a clone of that character. No mention of buying clones having any effect on any attributes and whatnot on that character, so I assume it doesn't. Makes sense anyways.

Also, money is certainly not just used for clones. Before each mission you can buy items and weapons for your four characters. There are around 30 weapons total, ranging from smaller firearms to rocket launchers to machine guns to a couple sniper rifles (one's has a farther zoom) to.....well, that's enough to mention. Buying weapons isn't the only way you can attain them. When you kill any enemy you can pick up their weapon and use it.

Speaking of which, while all four characters can use many of the same weapons, weapons such as the sniper rifles are restricted to Hawk and Flint (the two more nimble, female characters), while the bigger guns (think 'chainguns') are of course restricted to Brutus and Tex.

Controlling your squad is done as such: each character is represented by a direction on the d-pad (it's always shown during gameplay which is which). Press one direction and the screen will go to a paused state showing a picture of each character in a circular lay-out (just as they corelate to the d-pad. At this point, one of your team members is selected (their picture will be highlighted), and you can select or de-select any team members you want (again, they'll be highlighted or not highlighted depending on whether or not they're selected). Each four colored buttons- A, B, X, Y- gives an order. Pressing one of those buttons will give that order to all selected team members at which point the game will automatically switch back to gameplay.
The four orders are (and these aren't the exact wordings) "fire at will", "follow", "stay put", and "go to location". When you select the order to tell your teammate(s) to move somewhere, an arrow will appear and you can move it to certain spots around you.

The controls are as follows:
  • analog sticks work just like in Halo
  • right trigger: fire
  • left trigger: use item (grenade, health pack, Hawk's blade, etc.)
  • d-pad: selecting teammates to give orders (explained above)
  • A: jump
  • X: exchange for weapon on ground (I think)
  • B: change weapon
  • Y: change item
  • white: enable character's special ability
  • black: cycle through squad members
Special Abilities
Each character - Tex, Brutus, Flint, and Hawk - have a special ability. Their special ability uses up their 'stamina' bar (I'm pretty sure I'm getting this right), which drains away until the special ability is deactivated, where it slowly fills back up.

The special abilities: (each has a name, but I can't remember them)
  • Tex -- I think this one's called "rampage". Activate it, and he can use two guns at once- any pair. There might be something else with his speed and/or health, but I can't remember.
  • Brutus -- now this is useful. It enables an alternate vision mode, not unlike heat sensory, where all creatures (I think even including dead bodies) are seen as bright orange/red. Very useful for spotting enemies. Not only that, but charge right into an enemy and you'll knock him dead into the air as seen on the bridge after one of the female characters dies in the original trailer shown.
  • Flint -- this one I didn't get to try out myself since she wasn't in the playable demo, although I did get to see her in action. Keep in mind she's a cyborg... basically she goes into a sniping rampage where she'll automatically target any enemy in sight....enemy after enemy. Its benefits go without saying.
  • Hawk -- her special ability is probably well known- she turns invisible (seen by the player as almost completely transparent), letting her act as a scout. She can also use the extremely powerful blade while in this mode (I think she can't use it while not invisible) which slices up enemies like butter. And I mean it....I tried it a couple times and there's a lot of blood involved. Very cool.
Special item?
There's this guy, a many-times-cloned terrorist supporter who has a special something that could be very useful, and you might want to get your hands on it before you finish the game. What is it? Me no tell. Supposedly it's worth it, though.

Saving System
Saving-- according to the leader of the team, if you think of Brute Force's save-point system as Halo's, you won't be too far off the mark.

In-mission Character Warping
You can have all four of your characters pretty spread about, but to avoid waiting for some characters to traverse the distance of a large chunk of a map, once you cross into another 'zone', all team members not near you will warp to your location. I'm pretty sure entering a new zone means you've finished an objective and (probably) have a new one, so it appears as though this won't cause for any problems.

Level Linearity
The level we saw the lead designer play and the level we ourselves got to play (both from the same world) were fairly linear and straight forward, but we did get to watch somebody play the giant-tree forest level (this one), and it seemed a lot more open for exploration. And from the description of the other worlds it sounded like some places will have more of an open feel and exploration than the level we played.
The forest levels are graphically tour-de-force by the way.....looking up through the canopies is simply beautiful.

E3 Demo
The demo at E3, which got a lot of bad press, was crap, and the developers that spoke about it admitted that. It was just a demo level not from the actual game, and not representative of what the game plays like now. According to the other people there who played it at E3, the current build plays much better with a MUCH better framerate.

Without going into impressions, that's all I can think of to say. A lot of this is from hearing dev team members talk about the game in their really cool meeting room (which has an awesome projector and 5.1 sound.....now that's my kind of meeting room).


I'm kind of reluctant to post some things because some of what stood out were bugs and quirks that obviously will be fixed before the game ships. That's how it is with any game 3-5 months before it ships.

But looking past all the glitches and so forth, it's obvious this won't be "the next Halo". Halo 2 will be the next Halo; Brute Force is just too different. This isn't a game where you just run into the heat of a battle and blow the crap out of stuff while occasionally taking cover. Having up to four different characters at a time (you can choose any number you like for any mission) each with significantly different characteristics and abilities adds a whole other element to the game. Certain situations call for different tactics, and whether you're running into a group of enemies gung-ho as Tex with Brutus followed behind and Flint sniping from a high location, or scouting ahead as Hawk in invisible mode, taking out threatening enemies with her Blade and clearing away for the rest of the team, makes a big difference in the outcome of a mission. And while we only got to play one level, from what I saw it's obvious that different missions and situations will require different tactics.

While playing the level (which didn't have the super-sniper Flint), I was glad to find that it was really difficult to just run through to the end while shooting up everything in your path, meaning the team-based aspect of the game is much more than a gimmick. At many points, it's integral. In a sense, it's kind of like a mix of Hidden&Dangerous and Commandos (without the logic-based puzzles) For example, in the demo I played there was a small canyon you run through for about 20 yards until it opens up to a bigger canyon that leads off to the left. Up over the other side of the larger canyon was another large location you had to get to, and inbetween these two areas up on the hills were enemies, with guns. Actually there were enemies on top of all the canyons, and quite a few down at the bottom that you're sure to run into.

Well, running through the canyon Hard Boiled style with Tex just got me all shot up from every angle. So instead I took Hawk invisible down the path to scout the area and take out a few baddies, brought her back to the beginning and positioned her to snipe the enemies on top of the hills which got the attention of almost everybody else. I then positioned Tex at the opening of the smaller canyon into the larger one to take out everybody else while I controlled Brutus in his 'special' mode (which, again, gives you what's basically a thermal vision, as well as the ability to charge into enemies), and made short work of the surrounding aliens. Unfortunately Tex was killed, but I was able to continue through the canyon to the large, almost Aztek-like ruins and take most of them out using Brutus, along with the help of Hawk's useful invisibility to scout the area.

The experience wasn't as fun as it could have been due to the lack of a not yet implemented analog-stick sensitivity adjuster (which will be in the game), making aiming kind of sluggish, along with some quirks that required a few tweaks, such as sniping sensitivity not yet being high enough. But those are issues we discussed with the developers, and they will be worked on and fixed before the game is finished (as well as some things already being fixed, but not in the demo we played). I could imagine how enjoyable it would have been to play through that level with the game's finished controls.

And of course, the major aspect of this game is squad control, so controlling your squad is of major importance. Thankfully the interface the developers have in place is pretty intuitive and easy to use, although it will take a little getting used to in order to manage your team in the heat of combat. I could have used another hour or two to get used to it. Although I must keep in mind that the level we played was not near the beginning of the actual game, so the game will most likely go a lot easier on at first because of this.

I went into detail on this in the game info section of the section up above, but basically you select which team members you want to give orders to with the d-pad (putting the game in a paused state, thankfully), and give one of four orders using the four colored buttons. Maybe it could have been done in a more intuitive and fluid way, but I can't think of one. With a little more time I could have gotten pretty good at assigning orders when needed. I think it's a system that is easy enough that it will become naturally second-hand over time.

Another area I was worried about was squad intelligence (basically, AI). Thankfully, when not being controlled by a player, Brutus, Tex, Hawk and (I suppose) Flint are no idiots. They don't stand around doing nothing when they shouldn't be, they aren't easily killed, they're pretty good at following you although it needs to be tweaked so that they follow more closely, and most importantly, they as team members do not shoot you up Daikatana style. Some tweaking is of course still needed, but the AI-controlled team members take care of themselves pretty well, and even in a sense, you. Digital Anvil has done a pretty good job at coding the squad intelligence.

Overall, I was pretty impressed. Analog sensitivity adjustment wasn't present in the demo we played and the DA team needs to tighten the controls up a bit before it's released, so aiming and moving was a little sluggish. But it wasn't too bad, and with sensitivity adjustment in place, they shouldn't be too far away from tweaking the controls to near perfection. That was my only gripe. The framerate also held up well, and with a few months of tweaking should be perfectly fine.
The squad-based aspect really puts an interesting twist on the genre, and mission/level design seemed pretty interesting and well handled, making good use of the squad-based gameplay the game is built around. It should be great to see how it turns out after the game is fixed and tweaked for its release. I just wish I got to play some co-op, which I didn't even think of trying while playing the game.


As for my day, I and about ten other people got a tour of the Digital Anvil studio and ended the trip with about a 45 minute play session and then a feedback session. Overall it lasted about seven hours.

I figured we were just going to get there in the morning, meet a few of the devs and take a half hour tour, and spend the rest of the day playing the game. What in fact was in store for us was a really extensive tour of the studio, meeting and chatting with a lot (but not all) of key members of the group and having them show us really cool stuff, seeing bits and pieces of various aspects of the game (everything from cinematics to musical scores to cool concept art and model render pictures), to.....yes.....almost all ten of us recording sound bytes for enemies and minor characters in the game! Yes, just like in Halo, enemies will chatter, and one of those mutant enemies will be me, and my name will be in the credits to prove it. That is, if the sound guy really did think my phrases were awesome and wasn't just humoring me...

...speaking of which, the DA sound guru was a really cool and friendly guy, and obviously knew is shmit. He also had what looked like hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sound equipment to work with, and the sound room was one of the coolest stops on the tour. We got to hear some really bitchin orchestral sound tracks he recorded and mixed along with their respective cinematic scenes in glorious, expensive 5.1. It was beautiful.
The audio room was a good example of the obvious benefits of being owned by M$FT. I'm nothing of an 'audiophile' or 'sound guru' (although I do appreciate high-quality audio), but if you are one, that place would be heaven.

In the A/V room....also a tech-head's heaven, apparantly where cinematics are made and/or tested out at the very least....we also saw the ending cinematic (or I guess what might be the ending) to the game with some really cheesy place-holder voices. It was definitely the comedic highpoint of the trip.

We stopped by many nice people willing to share their time with us, and one of them was something like a level/mission designer (I think) who showed us a nifty little feature called a 'real-time editor'. It's pretty much his computer hooked up to the Xbox debug kit through its ethernet port, and allows him to control and edit the level in his editor, moving around the map and placing things like light sources, and see the results all in real time on the Xbox system a few feet away. Pretty damn sweet... looks pretty handy as well.

The studio would also make one hell of a place to hang out, too. Three nice lounge areas throughout the place outside the offices each with comfy seating and one with a really big TV, a super nice cafeteria with recreational entertainment and two fridges of nothing but drinks, and at the end of one of the hallways a bar/food-stand/whatever that alone looks like it cost a couple hundred grand. Fancy, fancy stuff.
Did I mention the entire place looked really expensive?
Hell, they could hire me for free and I'd still pay good rent just to live there.

Must be good to work for Microsoft.

I really could go on and on about how the entire place is a gamer's/techie's dream, with its perfectly fitting stylish, hi-tech look and lighting throughout its long hallways and ~25-35 rooms and lounge areas, office upon office filled with xbox debug kits, several TVs, cool computer equipment, nice furniture, guitars and anime posters, and all the cool, hard-working people that fill this magical dreamland of gaming heaven (or whatever).

Highlights of the day (besides the obvious of seeing/playing the game):
  • Meeting some cool people who I've known or known about online, such as 'Shockwave' from TeamXbox, whom I sat next to on the plane, the whole time not realizing who he was
  • Stepping off the fourth floor elevator, making a right, seeing the lobby and realizing how extravagently fancy (in a very cool way) this place was......only to notice a life-sized figure of Brutus standing next to the reception desk, holding a giant super-soaker because his real gun was stolen at E3
  • Playing ping pong and foosball in the Digital Anvil cafeteria after our free meal
  • Spewing all sorts of crazy lines and strange noises into a microphone in the recording booth for the game, then realizing about seven people were listening in the audio room >_<
  • Watching as the Product Manager gathered up the entire team of some 30-40 people from their busy work just so we could take pictures of them
  • Leaving (sucked)

Last edited by tha_dvd_man; 07-30-02 at 03:49 AM.
Old 07-30-02, 02:51 AM
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I didn't see anything about multiplayer? Did they talk about that?
Old 07-30-02, 02:55 AM
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Originally posted by khai
I didn't see anything about multiplayer? Did they talk about that?
I mentioned a little about multiplayer in there.

Brute Force will support up to 4-player split-screen.
There are four squad members in the game, and each can be controlled by anyone who sticks in a controller....before a game, or right in the middle of a mission. And if they want to stop, they just pull out the controller (or perhaps just exit through a menu) and the AI kicks right back in, controlling that character.

The game will have deathmatch, and probably other modes like CTF and King of the Hill, although they're still deciding on that. There will also be a mode.....at this point just 2-player, they're considering 3 and 4-player.....where each player controls an entire squad of their own. Sounds pretty damn cool, although we didn't get to see it.

And no, it won't support Xbox Live or system-link. The lack of Live support isn't really a big issue since BF is primarily a single-player/co-op tactical shooter game, with missions designed around that type of gameplay. If you're looking for 16 player deathmatching, get Unreal Championship.

Last edited by tha_dvd_man; 07-30-02 at 03:01 AM.
Old 07-30-02, 03:00 AM
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looking forward to the release
Old 07-30-02, 03:32 AM
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oops, looks like I did forget to mention multiplayer after all. Oh well. To add to that, though, during deathmatch you can play as any character/enemy/creature from the game.
Old 07-30-02, 09:49 AM
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Wow, another game that just screams for system link play, but no dice. I was really looking forward to playing this game LAN style. It's too bad more developers aren't following Bungie's lead in including link play.

There's no real challenge when all you have to do is glance over to your buddies part of the screen to see where he is.

Oh, well. I'm holding out hope that Unreal Championship will include link play(the most underutilized Xbox feature IMO).
Old 07-30-02, 01:15 PM
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Oh man, I can't wait for this game...
Old 07-30-02, 01:42 PM
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Excellent write up!
Thanks for the info, this is shaping up to be another must have for me
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Old 07-30-02, 06:15 PM
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Anyone think that this will be one of the must have games for the system, or a systme seller like HALO?

Or do you think its another overhyped game that will go the way of so many other over-hyped games when it comes out..


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