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Why Medal of Honor: Warfighter isn't just an ode to realism

'We're not out to replicate reality note for note' Danger Close


Preacher stars in Medal of Honor: Warfighter demo

"We're not out to replicate reality note for note."

This may sound like a strange thing to say from the man whose job it is to check for military authenticity, but it's an example of the line that gets tread when a studio marries modern history with a video game franchise.

Former Special Operative Tyler was hired on to work as an in-house military advisor to Danger Close, the studio behind 2010's Medal of Honor. This is a man who in 2007 was wounded and retired after 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. EA even decline to release his surname saying they don't want to reveal his identity. Now he's paid to relay his intimate knowledge of the truisms of war and help place them in their upcoming Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

He's been integral to bringing legitimacy to their war.

When the developers want to know how to beat down a door they ask him to demonstrate and then recreate it. Tyler even has anecdotes about how to sleep upright in a truck between combat encounters. The fingerprint of his experience in the field is ever-present in the game – he's been integral to bringing legitimacy to the war that Danger Close wants to develop. And this is exactly why he's the last person you would expect to minimize the significance of making the game as real as possible.

He is one of a small team of veterans who act to validate the technical decisions being made, coupled with a duo known only as Kevin and Nate who are the true story behind Warfighter. In fact the game was first conceived out of a war manifesto hand-written in a spiral notebook detailing their first-hand experiences with military operations through the 2000s and their frustrations of war and out-of-touch bureaucrats State-side.

During the time between combat, Kevin and Nate – we're told – developed the narrative memoir while finishing off a bottle of vodka. By 2006 their "vent book" as it's called was handed directly to executive producer Greg Goodrich, then behind-the-scenes further EA machinations took it from dog-eared notebook to Medal of Honor fiction.

They developed the narrative memoir while finishing off a bottle of vodka.

The result of that now is the story of the newly formed unit Task Force Mako made up of the series' regulars Mother, Preacher, and Voodoo. The mission we're shown is a raid of a capital building in the Philippines where Mako has been dispatched to locate aid workers who were kidnapped by a militant group in the midst of a tropical storm.

The game is powered by the same engine as Battlefield 3, the Frostbite 2 engine – "this is great for generating ocean water", we're told – and we're reminded of this in the demo. The residual leftovers of the Philippines typhoon splash around Preacher as he works toward a higher floor. A wooden chandelier swings and splinters in the middle of gunfire while a nearby stack of paper explodes into the air then flutter down gently into the water as part of the backdrop of wreckage, demonstrating how Danger Close is honing in-game destruction on a micro-level.

One of the newly introduced features is the door breaching mechanic, one that Tyler himself helped the developers create first-hand, leading by example through demonstrations. Now additional maneuvers are included for breaking into rooms with flashbangs, C4 and tough door-kick options available. So we watch as Preacher enters inside, kicking through the doorway in an aggressive surprise attack that's followed in tow by a slow-motion cut as Abu Sayyaf militants are taken down one by one, a cinematic blur of smoke and bullets.

This is a "possible history."

It's a stylistic bend to realistic tactics and with the two design philosophies regularly colliding, the solution, Tyler said, was to create a game about a "possible history" instead of a real one.

The fiction that's added is built within a plausible present, which he considers the heart of this "possible history."

Tyler references another modern-history shooter, Six Days in Fallujah, to explain the approach. That ultimately cancelled game was widely criticized for taking an event from real-world history and putting it into a playable context.

But even Danger Close isn't a stranger to this kind of criticism, and Medal of Honor's 2010 reboot is still a recent memory. Loosely based on the 2002 Battle of Takur Ghar that saw a number of U.S. casualties, those who were close to the deaths took offence to the idea of giving users the ability to play as the Taliban in online sessions, leading to references to the organisation being removed.

Tyler emphasises that Warfighter is a completely fictional story that's been written into a factual present-day world. In fact this is the first in the franchise not to play off of an identifiable real-world event. While each location carries a subtle reference to a moment of real history, Danger Close has left things in a fictitious bubble.

The question of whether realism in a game can also be honourable is its own battle in game development. But Warfighter's work around, we're told, is to opt instead for plain authenticity. This slightly more general buzzword highlights credibility over simulation, and Danger Close appears to be working to specialise in this.

A scar runs deep down Tyler's right bicep. It's a reminder of the actual realities of war, and what you're left with even when you've gotten out. Perhaps he's right, replicating reality note for note isn't something to strive for.