Interview | 4/20/2010 at 8:55 AM

Blacklight: Tango Down Co-Op Interview with Producer Andy Kipling

Blacklight: Tango Down is a recently announced downloadable title developed by Zombie Studios and powered by the Unreal Engine 3.  The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC game follows two competing factions; The Order and Blacklight in a world that is not that different from our own, but it's just different enough to be slightly "unsettling."  

The game has a strong focus on customization and character progression.  Players will be able to upgrade their character through experience earned, as well as customize weapons via unlocks.

While Blacklight: Tango Down was initially announced to offer a full suite of multiplayer versus modes for up to sixteen players, it was recently announced to include a mode called Black Ops, which is cooperative.  We sat down with the game's producer, Andy Kipling, to get the details on just what to expect.


Co-Optimus: Can you tell us a bit about the co-op mode in Blacklight: Tango Down?

Andy Kipling: First let me say that the inclusion of co-op in Blacklight: Tango Down is something that I am pretty proud of. Already we had signed up to do an extremely ambitious game with a relatively small team and in a relatively short time period. In that, we have created some awesome environments, great levels, lots of varied game modes, innovated the shooter genre with new game systems and in general, delivered what I believe to be a kick-ass product at an amazing price point. And add to that the development of coop gameplay systems, AI, and objective based levels is really saying a lot of what the team has accomplished. The biggest credit for all this goes to the team which really threw their heart into the project and worked some late nights. Additionally we have been extremely pleased with the Unreal Engine 3 and all of the benefits it has provided; from quick iteration to amazing artist driven shaders and content. The fact that we are delivering all of this as a DLC-only product is pretty awesome.

As for co-op, we call it “Black Ops,” and in it players will join together in groups of up-to-four to play as a team from the Blacklight faction (there are two factions in the game, the other being The Order). Yes, you can play by yourself as well, but it is that much more fun with friends. The co-op missions are objective-based and players team up to take on enemies from The Order. The gameplay is really fun, fast-paced and allows players to earn all kinds of extra stuff, like additional experience, while they try to best their previous times and scores and make a name for themselves.

Co-Optimus: With so many developers simply putting in a survival mode as their co-op mode, why did you choose a deeper objective based mode?

Andy: The setting and back story of Blacklight: Tango Down really lends itself to doing a little more than just a simple survival mode. There is a deep and engaging universe that is Blacklight and we wanted to communicate as much of it as we could through a primarily multiplayer title. Now, in multiplayer, there generally is little to no story. What was the story in Battlefield 2, for example? A great game, no doubt, but there was no story. So here we have a multiplayer game with a great story, but few mechanisms with which to tell it. So we have to rely on other systems, and Black Ops is one of those. Yes, it is not a single player, so the story that is told through Black Ops is no single player campaign story, but that is where we have a lot of other alternative media to help with that. Black Ops does, however, provide a much better context for communicating more of the story and the universe to the player. Add to that things like the comic book that we are developing and releasing and the back story of the game will really begin to shine. Our hope is that players will be asking for more and that is something we would be happy to oblige them with.

So yeah, an objective based co-op system is better suited to tell the story of Blacklight than a horde mode. Although, I must say, horde mode can be pretty fun and we do have some horde mode like moments in the Black Ops which prove to be pretty engaging and exciting.

Co-Optimus: How many co-op missions are there?

Andy: Currently there are 4 main co-operative missions. I know your next question and right now we can’t comment on the possibility of future DLC additions.

Co-Optimus: How many players are supported in co-op? Offline/Online/Split Screen?

Andy: Up-to-four players can join forces in Black Ops mode through their online connection, whether that’s Playstation Network, Xbox Live or on PC.


Co-Optimus: Is there anything players can do in co-op that you can't do in the other modes? For instance revive a fallen comrade?

Andy: We have felt that it is important to create a consistent player experience regardless of what mode or game type the player is playing in. We even wanted this to apply to the player’s opponents. That is, if an opponent could do XYZ in multiplayer then the AI need to be able to do XYZ in black ops and vice versa. And this same principle applied to what the player can and cannot do. This is because we did not want the player to learn one set of habits for co-op and then have to learn another set of habits for multiplayer. So, no, there is no functionality that is unique to Black Ops, except perhaps, the concept of the health pack – which makes sense to have in Black Ops but not in multiplayer.

Co-Optimus: Will players be able to specialize in the game? For instance someone taking up the role of a sniper and covering their team.

Andy: We are all about players specializing in game, which is one of the primary reasons for the weapon customization system. But, rather than assigning a specific role to specific characters or classes, we would rather enable players to play the way they want to play without being forced into anything. To that end, if a player wants to customize their weapon and create a sniper rifle, while their buddy loads out with a machine gun, then the type of tactics described above would work perfectly. And in the weapon customization, the one player could load out with gear to up his survivability, while the sniper can increase his lethality. So, yes, players can specialize in game, but it is not forced upon the player.


Co-Optimus: As a fully downloadable title there's seem to be quite a bit of content in Blacklight: Tango Down. How does the development process compare to that of a big budget title? There's a big price difference between $15 and $60, does making it download only cut a lot of costs?

Andy:We’re developing the game as we would any “full price” title. We want it to look great, play great and have enough variety, personality and challenge to keep gamers coming back for more, to climb the ranks, to grow their in-game characters and earn those weapon unlocks to set themselves apart from the pack.

You have to keep in mind, while delivering a game for $15 implies “less,” we actually realize a lot of savings by avoiding the traditional boxed product route. For one, the creation and manufacturing of packaging, along with the cost to ship product and the cut that retailers take of the sale. Not to mention the competition for prime shelf space and holding that shelf space while other titles continually come out. Delivering games through digital channels is a more efficient, more personal and a more effective way to create great games, and we’re really excited to be on the forefront of this emerging trend.

DLC has obviously been exploding recently and there have been some very successful titles, but most games have been somewhat limited in design and the amount of content they deliver. There’s nothing wrong with creating a somewhat “old school” styled DLC game, but with Blacklight: Tango Down, we want to push the boundaries of what gamers will expect from digitally delivered titles. We’re doing this by using top flight technology, delivering best-in-class FPS action, and including game modes and features that FPS fans are accustomed to paying big bucks for. Including Black Ops co-op mode is a key part of this, and the ability to go the extra mile is partially made possible by the fact that digital delivery provides us with so many advantages.


Thanks for your time Andy!  

Blacklight: Tango Down launches on the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC this summer for $15.