Renegade Ops made a strong
splash on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network last month with a speedy
vehicle-based action game that reminded many of EA's classic Strike series (Desert
Strike, Jungle Strike, etc.) – albeit with online and split-screen co-op, as
well as slick visuals provided by the Just Cause 2 engine. With Avalanche
Studios gearing up for the impending Steam release, which surprisingly features
Half-Life hero Gordon Freeman as a playable driver, we spoke with game director
Axel Lindberg about the genesis of the downloadable release, as well securing
Freeman's cameo and what's next for the series.
GamesRadar: How did the original idea for Renegade Ops come about?
Axel Lindberg: We were at the end of developing Just Cause 2, and
we were playing around with the game and the mechanics. We actually made a
top-down version of it with the same controls, but we put the camera from a
top-down perspective and tried playing the game like that. A bunch of people
started gathering around the computer, and we were all getting excited about
the notion of using the Avalanche Engine to do a game that was inspired by
old-school games. We were all standing there talking about some of our favorite
old games for the Amiga, NES, and Super NES, and that whole 80s, early 90s era
of gaming. A bunch of us sat down and talked about it, and we put together a
concept pitch and approached Sega about it – and they were interested. That's
kind of how it got started.
Coming off Just Cause 2, how did you adjust to making a much smaller
and more sharply focused downloadable game?
We knew from the start
that we would have to have a very different approach, in terms of design,
planning, and production, and because we had a much smaller team. The core team
consisted of eight people when we started out, so we also had the limitations
of those eight people. We were really lucky because all of the people on the
core team were senior colleagues that were excited about doing this type of
project and had a big passion for it – like old arcade game lovers. They were
all pushing to be on this project, and also having senior people like that
really helped a lot because we needed to have multitalented people. That was a
good thing for us, because we needed to cover a lot of areas together between
It was a completely
different scope. Just Cause 2 was huge – it was a game that was all centered
around the notion of endless possibilities and allowing players to do whatever
they want within the game. And in this game, we realized, "Wow, we can't
do that. We really need to find a good, core mechanics loop and really lean on
that." That's one really big difference from a design standpoint. From the
start, we went right to the core mechanics and were iterating and polishing
them quite a lot, putting a lot of energy into just driving around and shooting.
Can you tell us about some of the influences you were drawing from when
you started designing the game?
Sure. As I said we were
all reminiscing about our golden oldies favorites, and there were lots of games
just being thrown around, like Jackal, Cannon Fodder, and Desert and Jungle
Strike. Those three games were the ones that we landed on for the concept pitch
– we were trying to find the combination of which of these old-school games are
we going to draw most of our inspiration from. But there were tons of other
games that we were talking about.
One thing that really stands out is how amazingly fluid the visuals and
animations are, especially from such a zoomed-out perspective. How important
was it for you guys to deliver a really impressive visual experience on a
I'd say it was very
important. We have a design process called a "bull's eye," so we have
three areas of the game with the closest to the target's center being most
important, and requiring more focus and resources. At the center, we had
over-the-top vehicular action, while the next one out was multiplayer, probably
also because that was a big risk – we hadn't done that before. And the third
one was AAA production values. We really wanted to create a game that felt
expensive. [Laughs] We were thinking
that it'd be really neat if it was like a really cheap watch that still feels
like a Rolex.
What do you think is the strongest part of the experience?
I think we really did a
great job on delivering a top-down, Hollywood blockbuster, over-the-top, and cheesy
– but hopefully in a good way – action experience. Once again, we were talking
about that really early, and we wanted burning, flipping cars rolling through
buildings, and we really wanted it to feel like a Michael Bay movie, but cute,
top-down, and bite-sized.
Equally as strong are the
core mechanics. I'm really happy with how they turned out. I still get caught
up in the game myself, personally. I've played the first level like a million
times, and when I start up the first level now, I'm like, "Oh my god, not
again." But when I get about halfway through, I really kind of lose myself
and realize that I'm just driving around for fun. It's a cheap trick but I
still really enjoy it – and it's fun just watching stuff blow up.
Given the chance for a do-over, is there anything you'd tweak or
question, I like that one. [Laughs]
I think we could have
worked more with pacing and boss fights. It's very intense and high-action, and
that's definitely the goal we had, but I feel like we could have savored it a
bit more sometimes. And from the beginning we really wanted to go nuts with the
boss fights. The first boss is really hinting at that, because it's a pretty
epic experience to fly out there in a helicopter and fight against a carrier.
But I feel that if we had focused more on that, we could have brought that a
lot further. We had ideas that we had to drop regarding boss fights, but I
think we could have really nailed that.
Are you planning any downloadable content for the game?
That's a "no comment."
Some statement will be coming soon.
OK. Beyond that potential thing,
do you see this as a franchise? Do you expect to come back to Renegade Ops at
From a creative
standpoint, definitely. I'm really happy with the intellectual property – it's
a fun IP, between the characters, the world, and the tone. It's very
Avalanche-y, and it definitely has the same kind of humorous, over-the-top
action vibe as Just Cause, but it's very much standing on its own legs. We
built strong characters, and I think that there's lots of ways you could evolve
the IP and do different types of things with that. There's definitely potential
for it further down the line.
How were you able to secure Gordon Freeman from Half-Life for the PC
Actually, we were very
surprised by that as well. We just asked Valve and the guys at Steam,
"Hey, we'd like to do this." [Laughs]
We weren't really expecting them to go along with it, but they were like,
"Yeah, this is awesome. We love Just Cause 2, and this is great." We
were really surprised and it's a blast. It's one of my favorite characters from
the gaming industry, and it's awesome to be able to put that into a game that
we're working on.
Now that you're all buddy-buddy with Valve, is there any chance you'll
be developing Half-Life 2: Episode 3?
[Laughs] No comment.
Do you feel like there's a need to placate PC gamers with bonus content
when they feel slighted by a late release or what they see as a compromised
Yes, when that is the
case. But in this case, in regards to Gordon, it wasn't intended to smooth the
feeling of being slighted. That wasn't the intention at all. Putting Gordon in
was purely something that we thought would be a good idea, and it happened. I
hope that people feel that they're getting something more from the PC version.
I wish it was out at the same time; we couldn't make it happen, but Gordon is
definitely in there because we wanted him in there, and it's not purely a
business decision or a "sweetening the deal" kind of thing. It's
definitely something that we're standing behind, and we love it.
Do you think we can expect more downloadable games in Avalanche's
Yeah, I think so.
Definitely. We've had awesome fun doing this game and it's been very refreshing
coming out of a huge project like Just Cause 2. It's a really different
challenge working on a small project with a much shorter timeframe, but it's
also fun because it's very different, and we're like a little family on this
team. We've gotten so much tighter just sitting in the same room. It's like
we're kids sitting in a cellar somewhere making games together – a lot more
than when we're in a big production. I love big productions as well; it's just
very different styles of development with different strengths and weaknesses.
But I think there's a high possibility of more.