Report In! - Interview with Jay Crowe, Creative Lead

Next up in our new 'Report In!' series, a discussion with one of Bohemia Interactive's Senior Designers, and some exclusive 'behind the scenes' images have been declassified and are ready for immediate analysis!

Report In! :: Jay's workstationNext up in our new 'Report In!' series, a discussion with one of Bohemia Interactive's Senior Designers, and some exclusive 'behind the scenes' images have been declassified and are ready for immediate analysis!

We're often asked to let some of our people talk about what it's like to develop a game at BI. So, stepping aside from our usual PR activities for a moment, 'Report In!' gives you a more personal perspective on our team, and a more detailed look at the way we go about our work.

The next head on the royal chopping block is Jay Crowe, Creative Lead on 'Private Military Company' (PMC), a new addon to Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead (A2OA). Jay answers questions about the upcoming content, talks about the motivation behind the project, and discusses the concept of Downloadable Content more generally.


Tell the people a little about yourself... What's your role? How long have you been with Bohemia Interactive? Which games have you contributed on and which is your favourite BI game or mission?

Jay: My favourite BIS game remains Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis (CWC) . That game utterly destroyed me; I still haven't been able to play another military-themed game without feeling blinkered or forced down a corridor. You've always got to be wary of rose-tinted spectacles and, sure, cinematically, there is some absolutely amazing stuff out there, with unbelievable commercial and critical success; yet, for the sheer scale of the gameplay - for a long time, CWC set the bar far out of the reach of anything and everything else.

Joining midway through the development of A2OA, I'm a relative new-comer to a company with a rich history. I've had a chance to work across a lot of different departments, working with the fantastic people at BI; particularly, colleagues such as Marek Španel, Ivan Buchta, Jan Pražák and Miro Horváth have been of huge influence. Before PMC, I was involved in A2: British Armed Forces (BAF), and a couple of other projects in various roles and to degrees of responsibility

And can you give us a random fact about yourself?

Jay: On the last two occasions I've been to St. James' Park, we scored six goals each time. I've been hoping NUFC will fly me across from Prague for every home game, but - as yet - I've not heard back.

PMC Questions

Report In! :: Being a PMC... Why focus upon a campaign, rather than, for example, the single missions provided by A2: British Armed Forces (BAF) ?

Jay: We get a lot of community feedback asking for longer campaigns - something with a bit more depth. Hopefully, the PMC campaign - 'Operation Black Gauntlet' - will go some way to satisfying that desire. Clearly, we're not talking about a combined arms operation on the scale of CWC, but, like it, we're looking to bring the story back down to the level of the individual.

I think the single missions in BAF are some of the strongest available across the whole of A2's playable content - they really offer something for anyone. So, it's about trying to take some of these enjoyable and varied gameplay experiences, and work them appropriately into a structured narrative.

A recent interview appeared, where you discussed the upcoming addon, PMC. Following this, there was some debate regarding the presentation of PMCs, and the legitimacy of their role, can you clarify this a little?

Jay: There was certainly an interesting and varied response from the community. I think it's an important discussion to have; it's a contentious subject - a context that is very much still in flux. Clearly, as developers, we've got to be careful as conflicts involving PMCs exist right now - contractors dying in their jobs is a reality of which we are very much aware.

Currently, PMCs are a very real part of modern conflicts - a legitimate aspect to draw into the Armaversum. We've tried to clarify our point a little, tried to make clear that the faction is presented in-game as 'independent'; but, ultimately, we're building a game, not making a political statement.

Does your work involve any research about Private Military Contractors, or does the faction simply serve a purpose for the game and narrative?

Jay: Sure, within the scope of the project, it's appropriate to do some balanced research. Some focuses upon destabilising and - frankly - worrying aspects; however, perhaps it's worth repeating that much of the information reveals the logistical importance of these private contractors.

Hopefully, a recent video update went some way towards expressing our intention as far as approaching the subject goes; yet, as we've pointed out before, you're not exactly going to be cleaning latrines or delivering plastic utensils to U.S. bases. The campaign seeks to provide some experiences building up and out from the PMC role; however, this is also a campaign about interesting individuals, about the Armaversum, and about co-op gameplay experiences.

DLC Questions

Entering the DLC arena is a relatively new move for Bohemia Interactive. How do you feel that's worked out?

Jay: DLC is a thorny subject, with different games companies taking often radically different approaches to downloadable content. I'm not sure that either consumers nor developers/publishers have settled upon an 'ideal' strategy. Rather, different DLC offers different types of content to different kinds of consumer.

I think here at BI, we've struck a great balance. We're able to offer a variety of new content and strengthen both offline and online experiences - missions, campaigns and models. We know we can always do more, and DLC enables us to keep the game supported and relevant; yet, we also endeavour to do this in a way that doesn't cause problems for the community: ensuring that multiplayer compatibility is as simple as possible.

Report In! :: ...requires an SUV!

What do you say to those who believe that BI should focus upon stabilisations and optimisations, rather than content?

Jay: Well, sure, in a sense, that sounds great; honestly, though, I think it's a rather blinkered view to take. Some parts of the dev team - our designers, our artists - aren't going to be working on engine optimisations, nor should they! Rather, what they are doing is developing interesting gameplay features or supporting the game with fantastic new content.

In some respects, the DLC model is ideal because, in parallel with additional content, our technical maestros can conjure up a number of improvements, provide additional optimisations and, moreover, offer additional engine features - like the artillery upgrade we saw bundled along with BAF in a free patch.

A lot of debate surrounds the 'value' of DLC, with many feeling that companies try to 'milk' their players with content that should rightfully be included in the game. Is that a valid concern? Does BI fall into that category?

Jay: Well, it's certainly valid concern: you don't buy a new car only to find out that it doesn't come with brakes as standard. But, at the same time, there's perhaps a touch of hysteria surrounding the whole concept. Here at BI, there's no dark motivation to remove content from a game, only to package it up and ship it out right after release. It's natural to come up with some great ideas or features mid-development, which there simply isn't enough time to implement. Certainly, though, DLC is not an excuse to have poor project planning, or lazy goals - there's no 'fix in in a DLC' attitude.

Each product released is atomic and well executed: A2OA was an expansion pack on a larger scale than some 'full' games; BAF was an addon that offered more content than some expansion packs. At the end of the day, BI is a company: its staff need to be paid, and its gamers need to be happy; DLC is a relatively new - but entirely legitimate - business model and, ultimately, we treat our community with respect.

Other questions

To many, gaming seems like an attractive industry. What attracted you to gaming, and what kind of skills do you need to work in this sector?

Report In! :: Broadening the scope of the ArmaversumJay: Being passionate about gaming is still crucial, but the video game industry offers opportunities demanding business, creative, and technical excellence, so it requires a diverse range of motivated people to succeed. Sure, you need a mathematical genius here, or a business expert there, but, really, everyone needs to be on form to create a great game.I was attracted to the games industry due to the wide range of experiences and challenges that interactive media offers. From conceptually simple - yet addictive - gameplay, to more complex fusions of gaming and narrative, games offer a wide range of fantastic opportunities, from both a creative and business perspective.

You're originally from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. How does that compare to living in Prague?

Jay: Prague is a great city, comparable in certain respects to Newcastle or Glasgow (where I lived for 6 years) - if only because of the number of Geordie or Glaswegian stag parties there are here, and, of course, the Czechs do love their beer too! But seriously, it's great to get to know the non-tourist side of Prague. From a vibrant underground/popular music/art scene to the enormous range of restaurants, its pretty diverse in some aspects, and this is increasing all the time.

The Queen has died - in the midst of a power vacuum, the great people of Britain desperately search for a new monarch. Which computer game would you install as your rightful and divine ruler?

Jay: My new Queen would need to be a dignified and wise ruler - a lady with a touch of class. Square’s Final Fantasy VII was definitely blue-blooded. C&C: Red Alert would be likely to stage a coup d'état. Deus Ex would probably have too many conspiracy theorists to last too long as monarch. Ultimately though, it's got to be Sid Meier's Civilization IV: the world-dominating, genre-defining, community-oriented epic timesink to which I would happily pledge allegiance at the drop of a crown.

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