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SOCOM Week: Interview with Slant Six

SOCOM: Tactical Strike is shaping up to be one of the most exciting games on the PSP. Developer Slant Six has created a unique game that looks and plays unlike anything else on the platform. We caught up with David Seymore from Slant Six to talk about Tactical Strike and developing for the PSP.

This is a drastic departure for the SOCOM franchise. Where did the notion for a more tactical SOCOM game come from?
Seth Luisi, Director of Development for the SOCOM Franchise, came to us with the idea of taking SOCOM in a new direction specifically for PSP. The natural path to fit a traditionally action-focused franchise to the PSP in a unique new way was to make a tactics game, increasing the focus on strategy and decreasing the focus on dexterity. The more that we dove into pre-production, the more it because clear that we could make a really compelling experience on the PSP.

If I remember correctly, this game has been in development for a long time. How long has it been since work began?
Tactical Strike first began pre-production in the fall of 2005. In a game that is very interface-heavy and has a deep command set, it is critical to take the time needed to make the software highly playable. We are very happy that Sony gave Tactical Strike the time needed to come together, and we think that gamers are going to be happy with the result.

Because the game so heavily departs from previous games, what plans are there to help gamers understand the unique gameplay in Tactical Strike?
The first mission of the game contains an optional tutorial that suggests tactical approaches to different combat scenarios, as well as having access to a step-by-step guide to the buttons required to execute those commands. Most players find that there is a learning curve that lasts a few minutes, and then they are very comfortable commanding their Fireteam and starting to explore the more interesting commands. The rest of the game's campaign missions introduce the need for more advanced tactical play at a pace that should be comfortable for most gamers.

The game has a lot of respect for the soldier -- players can't simply run and gun their way through the game. Did you work with SEALs and what did you learn from them?
We worked with SEAL consultants at multiple points during the project. They provided reference for our designers, animators and artists. They took the dev team out into the field for combat training, and we videotaped hours of reference tape of them handling weapons, breaching doors, demonstrating correct movement and so on. The consultants we worked with are all recently retired SEALs but are also passionate fans of the SOCOM games and they gave us a lot of feedback about the gameplay itself.

The presentation is ideal for PSP's somewhat limited controls. Was Tactical Strike always planned to be a PSP game?
Tactical Strike was conceived as an original concept for the PSP. The style of gameplay was intended from the outset of pre-production to marry with the PSP's interface and a portable gaming style.

This isn't the first time Slant Six has worked with the PSP. Can you describe some of your other experiences with the platform?
Slant's best known experience is our collaboration with the SCEA Bend Oregon studio to create portions of the graphics engine for Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror. In addition, key members of our design and engineering teams on Tactical Strike have been working on PSP titles since day one. For several developers on the team, this is the third or fourth PSP title that they have worked on, including PSP launch titles.

SOCOM: Tactical Strike delivers the best graphics we've seen on PSP to date. What are some of the strategies you've developed when tackling the PSP hardware?
All of the credit goes to our very talented engineers and artists, who set a target of PS2 quality graphics on the PSP. Our rendering engine was written from scratch for the PSP, and we are drawing on a deep pool of engineering experience on the platform.

What has the 333MHz speed increase allowed you to do that simply wasn't possible before?
Tactical Strike is actually a 222MHz-targeted game that was designed before the 333MHz option was made available. As such, there is more power in the platform that we hope to apply to future projects. However, the 333MHz mode certainly allows for much better framerate in the single player game and we take full advantage of this.

Will multiplayer's limited clock speed hinder the game in any way?
Both the campaign and multiplayer modes of Tactical Strike were optimized and targeted to the 222MHz spec. Campaign mode gets a nice frame rate boost from the recent clock increase, but both modes look great and play very nicely.

Finally, I remember you've been carrying around the redesigned PSP. What are your impressions of it?
We love the feel of the D-pad and the buttons, the new position of the WLAN switch and the thinner profile of the machine. It has been passed around the office continuously since we got it. I am going to donate my well-worn launch PSP to a deserving young gamer in the near future and pick up the new model in time for Christmas.

A big thanks to the team at Slant Six. Stay tuned all this week for continued coverage of Tactical Strike in our SOCOM Week.

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