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Hammer and Joypad - Weekly Interview: "Island War: Free Roam"
by Chris Hawke
Every week, Gamer's Guide To Life will be hunting down and interviewing modders on their works - mainstream, unknown, up-and-coming and interesting mods are put on display as the author(s) answer questions regarding the mod, their line or work and providing deep philosophical insights into the universe, life, metaphysics... In the end, you get to download and play an awesome mod, every week. Plus, you learn something. And learning is fun.

This week, we're taking a trip to Skira Island, the setting for Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. James Dickinson, aka TemplarGFX, has managed to unlock the whole of the island for you to play with in Island War: Free Roam. The mod tweaks AI and other elements like pistol rate of fire, but also includes adjustable time of day, every vehicle and weapon in the game, spawn-your-own squads and randomized objectives to keep things exciting. The mod is in it's release candidate form, with full release due soon.

GGTL: Where did you get the idea for the mod?
James Dickinson: When the game first came out, one of the biggest gripes many players had was that the main campaign only used a small fraction of the map, and that you could not wander out past your mission area and find enemies there. The Skirmish DLC and its 'Island Tour' missions showed that it is indeed possible to use the entire island in one single mission, and so I thought I would see exactly what could be done, and it just built from there.

GGTL: What was the hardest thing to mod?
JD: Definitely the dynamic spawning system. When I first started out making Island War, I ran into many problems caused by the limitations of the engine; there was a time when it was looking like it was impossible to have the mission cover the entire Island. Eventually though I found a work around using recon points as spawn points. I planned from the get-go to have enemy units and vehicles spawn in realistic locations, rather than being totally random, by the time I had setup all the spawn points, there were over 3000 of them! This brought with it another issue, when it came to choosing an appropriate spawn point for an enemy fireteam or vehicle to spawn at, the game would slow down, or freeze entirely for a fraction of a second while the game figured out which one to use. To overcome this, I split the Island into 4 sections, and wrote a small piece of code that constantly loops through all the spawn points in the section the player occupies, at 15 spawn points at a time storing which of those 15 points is "ok" for spawning.

GGTL: What do you most love/hate about Operation Flashpoint?
JD: The thing I love most about Operation Flashpoint would have to be the immersion you get when you are in a big firefight - bullets whizzing past left and right, guys shouting out their displeasure at having said bullets whizz past, while you try and safely move to a better firing position. No other games gets it quite as close as Dragon Rising! What I hate most, well, I would have to say the lack of documentation. The documentation we got was incorrect or unfinished in areas, and there are commands, limits and restrictions that have been left out completely. finding these things out for yourself is extremely frustrating considering there is no built in debugger!

GGTL: Are you pleased with the community that have generated around the mod?
JD: Very pleased indeed! The people that play my mission are constantly giving me feedback and suggestions, showing me areas that need improving and what is working just right. With a mission that covers 220 square kilometers of land, its obviously nearly impossible to test everything out myself. The entire Dragon Rising community, as a whole, is a very close-knit and friendly community who jump at the chance to support anyone (not just myself) trying to make more out this game.

GGTL: Any chance of the mod coming to consoles?
JD: Ever since the first beta version of Island War, Codemasters have been interested in the idea of putting it into an official download. This of course would mean that console users would get it too. I have been talking with Codemasters about this for well over a month now, and have sent them many versions of the mission for them to test on there development console. As the popularity of this is so high, I have also started building a simpler version that still contains many of the most liked features of Island War, as a backup in case it comes to the point where the PC version is just too much for the more restricted console platforms. I am sure that one way or another, "Island War" will become available on consoles.

GGTL: What other mods have you played/do you like?
JD: When I want something a little less serious, and to vent my frustrations, I play the Zombie Mod by cesk. Otherwise when in a more serious mood I like to pick one of the missions listed in PaLL3's "community maps" list and give them a run through. There are many very talented people who are extremely good at making smaller more focused Fire Team Engagements.

GGTL: What's the plan for the future?
JD: Island War: Free Roam is almost complete; there is a bug in the game that is causing issues, but that should be fixed by patch 2. Once the final release of Island War: Free Roam is out, I will be digging my head deep into a new campaign, which will be more true to the expectations many people had before the game came out. You will be but a small part of a much larger force, where your actions alone will not decide the outcome of the war on Skira. I don't want to go into too much detail as currently everything is on paper only. The campaign will follow the basic story of the original, and have you completing objectives along side allies; or completing one objective, while allies complete others.

GGTL: What would you like to see in Dragon Rising 2?
JD: More than anything else, I would like to see a campaign which is one big mission like Island War, where the player is not alone and completing objectives, while others are completed by AI controlled squads. The Linearity of the campaign in Dragon Rising is what really kills the replayability. Although the AI are good at adapting, because they always start in the same place, holding the same area and patrolling the same path, it really confines the amount of adaptation they can do. Hopefully Codemasters will be able to get that working next time around.

GGTL: Codemasters just announced that they are cutting support for Dragon Rising. How do you feel about this?
JD: Disappointed, of course, but honestly it was not unexpected. What's most disappointing for me is that looking at the two patches there were, as the only patches, they really fixed nothing the community was clambering for, but CM finished their support without addressing them. But, at the end of the day (on PC at least) we have the mission editor, and a stable, very playable game that has a lot of potential as it stands right now. I have many ideas I still want to explore, and this news is not going to stop me.

If you'd like to download the release candidate of the mod, click here. Stay tuned for another interview next week. Have fun!

If you'd like to contact Chris, stick this in your inbox.


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- Chris Hawke
via source

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