As with any game production, the original goals evolve over time. These typically involve some form of scope-reduction to help focus the project and elevate quality over quantity. Over the course of four years, SDIF went from 30 levels to 8. Here’s a quick synopsis…
The original campaign for SDIF involved 5 levels for each of the 6 Days — 30 levels total. The game world was based on the actual city, so each level was huge, at roughly 40,000 game units (most tactical shooters feature less than half of that).
Vehicles were the remedy for this scale. My impression was a game that rivaled GTA in scope and complexity.
Reality checked in and the campaign was reduced to 19 levels. With the exception of the 1st Day, each Day now featured 3 levels each. Vehicles were relegated to special cases or as backdrop. No freeform driving allowed.
The levels themselves were reduced in size as well, shrinking down to a manageable 12-20,000 game units (the size of an Uncharted Level if folded into a sandbox). This change allowed the team to have more control with moment-to-moment action. At the original scale, the only way to populate non-critical areas would’ve been procedurally, which risked being repetitive and uninspiring.
The third iteration occurred when the project moved to Raleigh. The total levels were only reduced by one, but the scale of each level was downsized to 10-12,000 game units (somewhere in the ballpark of a Gears of War level). The change was due to technical reasons. With all of the sheer destruction we were estimating, anything larger wouldn’t fit in memory.
When Konami entered the picture in early 2009, the project was now bound to a schedule. To ship in 2010, SDIF was reduced to 12 levels. Their physical size remained the same. Each Day had 1-3 levels.
Previously cutbacks hadn’t upset the highlights, events, or people met in the game. During this last change however, I had to start picking the best events and put aside less dynamic ones. Up to this point, the game featured two separate Fire Teams (mixed with real Marines) the player switched to depending on the location and event.
The final change before the layoffs reduced the game to a total of 8 levels, with only one Fire Team. The individual scenarios would be based on the real events, but the transitions between them would be an mixture of anecdotal moments from interviews and written accounts. The player would continue to meet real Marines throughout the game, but they wouldn’t be playing them.
When SDIF was first announced, modern warfare in mainstream games were still relatively new. Since 2009, it’s been full embraced (some would say exploited to sell more games). I hope the stories behind SDIF are presented in some meaningful way in the future. If production was restarted, technical concerns and controversial issues would be less of an issue now. SDIF was always about the real people and their stories, rather than flashy explosions and body count.