Front Mission Evolved takes place after the events of Front Mission 5 where mankind use orbital elevators to explore space. One of these on the USN side is destroyed at the beginning of the game and Dylan Ramsey, an engineer who also proves to be a capable fighter, stumbles into the army.
Unlike other Front Mission titles, this isn’t a strategy RPG. Front Mission Evolved is a third person shooter following in the footsteps of Front Mission Online and Front Mission: Gun Hazard, a Super Famicom side-scroller from Culdcept Saga developer Omiya Soft. In this interview, David Verfaillie, Design Director at Double Helix, discusses transitioning the Front Mission series to Front Mission Evolved and how the studio collaborated with Square Enix.
What was the toughest part about changing Front Mission from a strategy RPG to a mecha action game?
David Verfaillie, Design Director at Double Helix: The most difficult part about transitioning Front Mission to a real time action game was maintaining the tactical feel of combat. We wanted combat to be about more than just mowing down enemies. To accomplish this we made enemy types with very diverse behavior sets. This forces the player to consider the composition and spacing of the enemies they are fighting. Combining those enemies, with a variety of weapons, backpacks, and battleskills that all have unique mechanics, further enhances the tactical nature of combat. They player has to develop a plan to best utilize his offensive and defensive capabilities based on the enemy composition.
I recall Hashimoto-san saying he wanted Double Helix to create a Front Mission game for the West, but aside from the story did Square Enix ever come to the table with ideas and gameplay suggestions?
Definitely. Square Enix was an integral part of the design and development process. They contributed a variety of ideas and provided feedback on all major decisions. For instance, the Fafnir boss was a concept originally conceived by Square Enix. We then worked together to develop the mechanics that would turn that character design into a fun, challenging boss fight. Square Enix also provided guidance on a variety of art issues relating to character and wanzer models.
Vice-versa. Did Double Helix assist with the story?
Yes, we also provided quite a bit of feedback to Square on the story. The original script for Front Mission Evolved was quite long, so we provided feedback on which sections we felt were less suited to an action shooter and how to stitch the story back together after removing those parts. We also provided some feedback on character arcs and motivations and how to keep the characters appealing to a Western audience.
While it’s a first for the West, this isn’t the first Front Mission 3D shooter. Front Mission Online was. Did you get a chance to check that title out and were any ideas from the Japan-only game implemented into Front Mission Evolved?
Unfortunately, we never got a chance to play Front Mission Online.
The strategy RPG Front Mission games have an expanded rocks-paper-scissors model at its core to balance weapons and parts. How did Double Helix go about balancing the weapon combinations in Front Mission Evolved to go along with player skill levels? Are there any backpack/arms/leg combinations you feel are better suited for beginners or experts?
The core balance of weapons is based on weight versus damage. So in general the heavier a weapon is the more damage it does. However, modifications were made to account for each weapon’s unique capabilities. For instance, since Shotguns have limited range, per unit of weight they do more damage than a machine gun. Likewise, since the Bazookas have a lot of splash damage, per unit of weight they do less damage than an average weapon.
There are definitely some weapons that are better suited to a beginner. Weapons with a lot of splash damage like Bazookas or weapons that home to targets like Missiles are good examples. Weapons that require constant, precise aiming like machine guns tend to be the most difficult to use.
How did Double Helix design the Wanzers? Did Square Enix give you art assets or did the team have to construct models based on concept art?
All returning wanzers from previous Front Mission games where designed by Square Enix. They utilized an outsourced concept artist, Skan, to develop their designs into concept art. Based on that concept art, Double Helix then created the in game assets.
For the new wanzers in Front Mission Evolved, like the Anakuma, Caballus, or Apollo’s Chariot, Double Helix created the initial design and concept art and then iterated with Square Enix until both parties where happy with the concept. Then the ingame assets were created by Double Helix based on the concept art. Below you can see two pieces of concept art for Marcus, the leader of Apollo’s Chariot, that show how the design evolved over time.
Final Grey-scale Concept
In this development blog, John Behrns, Lead Animator, mentioned different animations were made for each weapon. How many animations does each Wanzer have and how long did it take to make each one?
There are over 650 animations for the standard wanzer! Capturing the feel of piloting a wanzer is a key part of the Front Mission Evolved experience, so we put a lot of effort into developing the animations. There are animations for walking, jumping, hovering, skating, shooting, melee, and reactions. It takes on average about a day to make an animation. So the animation team was very busy, when you consider there are also many custom animations for bosses and the human gameplay.
Let’s talk about the design for the lead characters like Dylan, Adela, and Godwin. How did you come up with their designs? Did Square give you suggestions and were there any alternate designs?
The character designs were originated by Square Enix. After developing bios for each of the main characters, Square Enix worked with Imaginary Friends to develop concept art for each of the characters. Double Helix then created the models, materials and shaders to implement the characters in game. There were quite a few iterations on the characters until both parties where happy with their look in game.
We haven’t seen too much about the bosses. What can you tell us about them?
Yes, there are two large bosses in the game. Both of them are amazing, lengthy battles which I think players will really enjoy. The first is Fafnir, an enormous quadrupedal wanzer that you can catch a glimpse of in the release video for Front Mission Evolved. The second is the final boss, which is another large boss with multiple stages. Additionally there are multiple boss battles with Apollo’s Chariot, a group of four mercenary wanzers. Their wanzers are a bit larger than normal wanzers and have a variety of unique attacks and weapons. And lastly there are three battles with Cornelius, which get progressively more difficult over the course of the game.
Looking back at the game’s development was there anything cut or something you wish you could have added?
There was one feature which we experimented with early in development – the ability to get in and out of your wanzer at any time. We had to cut that feature once we began full development, because it made hard to script the levels and create art that would look good on such different scales.
There a lot of things I wish we could have added, but the scope of Front Mission Evolved is already so immense that we had to draw the line somewhere. Some things I wish we could have added are: more destructibility in the environments, online co-op for allies, and more multiplayer modes.