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Interview With Tripwire Interactive’s Alan Wilson

Tripwire Entertainment are the people who’ve brought PC Gamers such titles as Red Orchestra, Killing Floor, The Ball, Zeno Clash and Dwarfs.  Player Affinity’s Charles Battersby had the chance to speak with Tripwire’s Vice President Alan Wilson about their past projects, and the upcoming Red Orchestra 2.

Player Affinity:  Your company was created after you won the "Make Something Unreal" competition in 2005, and received an Unreal license for your mod Red Orchestra.  How would you explain the difference between a mod and a licensed game to our readers?

Alan Wilson:  Pretty simple, really. When you buy a PC game, you are buying a licensed game, handing over your hard-earned cash in return for a license to play that game. A mod, on the other hand, is completely free. It is software built on top of a licensed game. Many games come with mod tools (i.e. an SDK) that are specifically designed to allow people to mod (modify) the base game so that it becomes something different. The mod can be freely downloaded, but you have to own a copy of the base game in order to play it.

Player Affinity:  How many people were in your company before you won the competition, and did you need to add people to turn the mod into the full game that was released on Steam?  

Alan Wilson:  None. The company didn't exist until after we won MSU. Ok, that is being a little facetious. Mod teams, partly because they are made up of unpaid volunteers, can change size and shape quite unpredictably. We had something like an average of 20 people working on the mod at any given time, with maybe 50-60 people rotating through at some time or another. We actually probably got smaller as we transitioned to being a "real" company, as we had to pay people - and there wasn't much money to go around! We actually had all the skills we needed in the mod team, otherwise we wouldn't have won the contest. Well, we did add an attorney, thinking about it - and accountants. The company started out with about 5 employees and a bunch of contractors.

Player Affinity:  How large is the company now?  What sort of people did you need to add?

Alan Wilson:  Now we are about 25 people full-time, plus various contractors, sub-contractors and so on. We've added an Office Manager, just to handle the admin and day-to-day running. More artists, more level designers, more coders. We go to outside specialists for specific skills - such as motion capture, soundtrack and sound recording.

Player Affinity:  What makes Red Orchestra different from all the other WWII shooters out there?

Alan Wilson:  We've pretty much out-lasted all the others! Apart from that, we'd probably cite attention to detail, authenticity and realism. Then we'd talk about the gameplay in Red Orchestra. It isn't any single brilliant feature - it comes down to the way all the pieces play together, to give the player a really solid feeling of taking part in combat. We've used the analogy that a lot of other shooters make you feel like you could survive a war movie - we like to make you feel you could survive a real war. We could talk about individual systems such as the weapon handling and ballistics, the new first-person cover system, movement system, our vehicles with fully-operational (and visible) crew members, suppression and so on - or our map design. But it is the combination of all of those things that dictates how the game plays out.

The level designers really understand the systems, so they can build maps that actually use them properly, use the full range, and always, give the player choices and decisions - there is no "single" way to do things, to get round a tricky MG nest or whatever. We want people to play it the way that suits them, with the weapons that suit them. Rush it with grenades and an SMG blazing, or pop smoke and flank carefully. Always choices!

Player Affinity:  Once Red Orchestra hit Steam, you started releasing mods for it through Steam.  Tell me about Mare Nostrum and Darkest Hour; how was Tripwire involved in them?

Alan Wilson:  We weren't directly involved. Probably helped them out from time to time, gave them some pointers, told them it couldn't be done - so they could prove us wrong! But once we looked at releasing them through Steam, we insisted on a QA pass through. They had to get to near-professional quality levels first, which was pretty hard work, given that they were both part-time, unpaid, volunteer teams. And they both did a great job.

Read the second part of this interview in which we discuss the Zombie shooter Killing Floor, The Ball and more HERE.


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