Duck and cover: The making of Brothers in Arms 3: Sons of War

The balance between movement and cover

Duck and cover: The making of Brothers in Arms 3: Sons of War

Gameloft is arguably the king of the touchscreen shooter.

From the earliest days of the iPhone, it's built a reputation on the success of its flagship Modern Combat franchise.

The WWII shooter series Brothers in Arms has been fighting on a very different battlefield, however. 

For one thing, the IP has been licensed from fellow French publisher Ubisoft, which ran the series on console and PC in the mid-2000s.

For another, after developing two mobile games in the series, and then showing some representative gameplay of the next iteration at E3 2013, nothing more has been heard of the third game in Gameloft's mobile shooter series, Brothers in Arms 3: Sons of War.

Until now...

We caught up with the game's development director, Arnaud Bonnard, to find out why the game's been missing in action, and what we should expect from its-soon expected D-Day - now announced as December 2014.

Pocket Gamer: What was your starting inspiration in terms of keeping the franchise relevant on mobile?

Arnaud Bonnard: We have indeed invested a lot of thought and effort in making Brothers in Arms 3 a compelling shooter experience suited for mobile devices, specifically for on-the-go gaming sessions.

We have deconstructed the franchise to its core building blocks and rebuilt it.
Arnaud Bonnard

For this purpose, we have deconstructed the franchise to its core building blocks and rebuilt it in such a way that it delivers bite sized tactical action sequences.

The campaign missions are shorter, more intense and draw from a very rich game universe which shares a lot of common traits with Brothers in Arms 2.

We have 12 unique brothers, a lot of marvellous WWII settings, a host of historical weapons and a surprise in the form of some very cool additional guns.

All of these elements are mixed amongst themselves in various gameplay situations so that people feel a difference with every mission they play.

What was the thinking about taking the game into the third person?

The cover system is one of the core traits of the Brothers in Arms franchise and we really felt that a 3rd person perspective would enable us to create a much more cohesive and fast gameplay.

The story is also very important to us so being able to see the whole character is essential for being able to form a bond with him.

Controls are always an issue for shooters, so did this have any impact on the decision?

Sure, the controls have also played a part in our decision to go for the third person perspective.

One of our main gameplay mechanics is the auto cover which makes a lot more sense when you’re seeing your character. The covers are also destructible so you really need to have a good overview of the surrounding environment because it makes a huge difference.

The gameplay we showed at E3 last year also used on-rail movement which we decided to change following the feedback we received in focus groups. At the moment, you can freely move in the environments, but that did not change the core experience.

You’re not focused only on moving fast but also on choosing strategic locations and appropriate moments to take cover and launch counter-offensives.

Do you think players are beginning to get bored with WWII-themed games?

On the contrary, the WWII theme has made a comeback both in gaming and in cinematography.

The freshest example I can think of is the movie Fury which has just launched to very good results.

How do you look to give Brothers in Arms its own identity, particularly in terms of differentiating it from the Modern Combat franchise?

Well, first of all, Brothers in Arms is our only WWII-inspired shooter and that makes it immediately stand out.

Then, its action cover-based gameplay makes for a particularly different experience because you’re not always concentrated on running and gunning, but you are also encouraged to make tactical decisions, like deciding when to take cover, when to shoot from behind it and when to advance.

We also have sniper and stealth missions that provide a nice variety of gameplay situations. Brothers in Arms 3 is a game that’s easier to pick up but at the same time offers a lot of depth. 

Each of the 12 brothers has a unique ability you can use in battle.
Arnaud Bonnard

We mustn’t forget the brothers, which are the cornerstone of the franchise. In Brothers in Arms 3 we gave each brother a distinct personality and background and a unique ability you can use in battle, such as: airstrike, Molotov cocktail and mines to name just a few. You can also upgrade their stats and build the ultimate ally that will certainly make the difference on the frontline.

Specifically for Brothers in Arms 3 we wanted to add something extra to make it even more distinct so there’s a little surprise there in the form of some very cool weapons.

What do you think is the core of the Brothers in Arms 3 experience?

Simply put, the essence stands on the action cover-based gameplay, the strategic choices you are able to make and the brothers.

Can you talk about how you're using IAPs?

The main things you can buy in the game are weapons, consumables and revives.

After buying a gun you need to upgrade it so you can face the newer and more powerful enemies we are throwing at you. That doesn’t mean the game is a simple merry-go-round of upgrades and shooting though. Once you're in the action phase you will need to make strategic decisions and know which enemies need to be taken out first.

Shooting at random targets with a fully upgraded weapon won’t get you very far.

The brothers can also be upgraded to increase their efficiency on the battlefield. The players can also use the consumables to take out tougher enemies faster and revive if they don’t manage to finish the mission. We also have a VIP state which grants several cool bonuses.

IAPs are entirely optional as you can advance in the game without paying.

What were the main challenges you encountered during development?

The main challenge was finding gameplay that players would respond to while maintaining franchise's traditions as well as ensuring it feels fresh.

Once we saw that fans wanted more freedom and strategic options from Brothers in Arms 3, we immediately set up to improve the existing gameplay experience.

This meant delaying the launch of the game, but it was all worth it.

What were the main development tools you used and how much technology do you share with other games such as Modern Combat?

We have used our in-house engine which is also responsible for the graphics of Modern Combat 5.

The editor and a lot more stuff are, however, different. It’s quite hard to put a number on how much code is different overall.

Graphical polish and triple-A console graphics are now a big deal for mobile games, so what are the key areas you're pushing in Brothers in Arms 3?

We have worked to find a sweet balance between offering an eye candy experience, but in a lighter install pack than our previous shooters.

Size is very important when you’re going free-to-play, but at the same time you also have to be able to turn heads.

The feedback we received so far is very encouraging. It figures because we’re using some top of the line effects like specular, dynamic shadows, depth of field, god rays and many more.

Have you been testing the game in soft launch? Have you learned anything from it?

We haven’t had a soft launch for the game, but we did test it in several focus groups around the world which actually provided us with very valuable information.

Size is very important when you’re going free-to-play, but at the same time you also have to be able to turn heads.
Arnaud Bonnard

These findings have actually prompted us to add the free movement. We are currently testing the game again to see if the changes we made have been for the better. The initial feedback has been great.

What are your expectations for the game in terms of success metrics?

We think we have a winning formula on our hands, one that will make shooter fans happy. With its compelling balance between accessibility and depth and its gorgeous WWII graphics, Brothers in Arms 3 should be a worthy successor to its successful predecessor.

What elements of the game are you most pleased with?

We have a lot of faith in the mix of fast free movement and cover gameplay, the brother-based mechanics and in the cool weapons I mentioned earlier. These features coupled with the fact that the game is visually gorgeous will make the game stand out from the crowd.

What plans do you have for the franchise going forward?

We have a lot of cool update ideas for Brothers in Arms 3 which will definitely keep the players coming back for more WWII action.

So, for the moment, we are totally focused on making this title the best possible experience.

Thanks to Arnaud for his time.

What do you call someone who has an unhealthy obsession with video games and Sean Bean? That'd be a 'Chris Kerr'. Chris is one of those deluded souls who actually believes that one day Sean Bean will survive a movie. Poor guy.