Eurogamer: Hello Sean. Tell us first more about you and your involvement with the development of Wing Commander Arena.
Sean Penney: My name is Sean Penney and I'm a producer with Electronic Arts Canada. I've worked with the company for eight years. On Wing Commander Arena I am both the producer and designer.
Eurogamer: After the announcement numerous complaints circulated regarding the (very high) camera perspective in the first screenshots online. Why was this chosen instead of a cockpit? That would be more familiar from the predecessors.
Sean Penney: If you look at Wing Commander, you will see a story which focuses itself on the role of the player in an enormous universe. Arena is only a part of this experience. Like a strong liquor, it distills the series' most exciting point: close dogfights.
Wing Commander Arena is an arcade game. It involves a rapid and frantic multiplayer environment in which you must pursue targets and engage other opponents with your crosshairs. A cockpit perspective was not always suitable for such situations. The player needs to be able to see more. Additionally, constantly looking at the radar was one of the things which disturbed me personally in similar titles. It was only interrupted by short moments in which you looked at the actual battle, in order to fire a few shots.
In Arena's point of view one instead looks at the entire screen and only occasionally to the radar. There are alltogether four different perspectives: two show your own ship from some distance at an upper point of view. Another one is the rear lookout and then there is a camera position wich comes closest to the classic design. This one sees what is happening directly over the fighter's shoulder. This is a lot of fun, but a change to the higher camera is necessary to get a good overview of the battleground.
Eurogamer: Arena offers not only multiplayer battles, but also a single player portion. Can you tell us more about it? Are you challenged there or does it simply serve to prepare for the fight against other players?
Sean Penney: The single player aspect of Wing Commander Arena contains four play modes. As in a classic arcade game, it offers infinite levels. The high scores are conveyed via Xbox Live to a rank list. The four different variants are Melee, Meteor Storm, Gauntlet and Proving Grounds.
"Melee" is a free-for-all against a large number of AI ships. They fight each other and the player. The level is a very cool space station map. The engagements have a time limit and at the end the rank list is transferred. Although you play against the AI you are nevertheless in competition with other players.
"Meteor Storm" is a fun small game in which one must defend up to three satellites against emerging, burning meteors and plundering pirates again and again. The play ends as soon as the satellites are destroyed. An online rank list is likewise included.
In "Gauntlet" your own space fighter is stationed on a Midway-class carrier, which has had some interesting change over time. The task is to defend the carrier against attacking enemies who want to destroy it. With each new wave of enemies you can expect a larger number of attackers, better ships or more intelligent pilots. Some really spectacular firefights emerge later in the level. Gauntlet also offers a rank list at the end for comparison with other players.
In "Proving Grounds" the player is taken to an extensive area with a lot of open space with pickups, obstacles and numerous targets to shoot at. In addition, some of them fire back. As the name suggests, this is a training mode. Regard it as a playground in which you can try all the ships, weapons or maneuvers however you want. Proving Grounds contains no time limit, does not count your firing and does not have a rank list.
Eurogamer: That might keep the players busy for quite a while. How does it look online? What variants can we expect?
Sean Penney: The multiplayer mode offers free-for-all for 16 players, team engagements with two crews with eight members each and duels between two individual pilots. The team portions take place between the Kilrathi and the Confederation.
"Capital Ship" is the meeting of the Titans. The goal is to destroy the opposing battlecruiser and to protect your own at the same time. The capital ships consist in each case of three sections. One must destroy them successively, particularly their cannons, radar systems, generators, rockets and the bridge. If the player blows up all the goals on a level, the battlecruiser sinks one level deeper and offers new objects for pulverizing. The bridge comes at the end. Without a control center the ship breaks apart and you win.
With "Satellites" it plays as a variant of Capture the Flag on an interlocked map. You must dock with a satellite in order to conquer it for your team. If you leave it unguarded, it can be taken by the opposite side. You must mix ships, tactics as well as team play in order to be successful here.
"Boneyard" offers a beautiful environment with shipwrecks, astonishing crystal formations, dangerous terrain and a single planetoid where you can find hidden treasures. It can be played in both free-for-all and in team modes.
"Space Station" again puts the player - as the name implies - into an enormous space station. There you can lure enemies into dead ends, attack them from the corners or fly to open space. All the ships in an area can be damaged by destroying fuel tanks. The space station can also be played in either variant, free for all or team.
In "Bearpit" 16 players participate in duels. It involves a special map with an arena in the center. All participants first enter a queue. This concerns a duel pit, which supplies the necessary points for the rank list. If you win a fight, you remain in the arena. The loser must re-enter the queue, while the next pilot may start his challenge. The beauty to it is that the queue covers the entire area outside the stage. There you can fly fun duels, complete mini-games and resupply yourself. If you want, there is even the possibility to dock with the arena and take a few shots at the two fighters.
"Duel" is a head to head fight between two players for the best three out of five possible battles. Whoever wins the first three victories also wins the match - like in tennis. Combat takes place in a smoking crater in which one finds hiding places and other surprises like pickups too.
Eurogamer: There is something for everyone. How do the ships look? Did you use old designs or create new ones? How many different variants are there and do they differ in individual abilities like speed or maneuverability?
Sean Penney: Wing Commander Arena has 18 playable ships to offer - nine for each of the two sides. The Kilrathi ship classes are Darket, Dralthi and Paktahn, while the Confederation uses the Arrow, Rapier and Broadsword. For every space fighter there are three variants, which results in the total number 18. One must unlock the ships, however, but the ability to do that can be achieved in practically every game mode. Each variant shows large differences in things like speed, weapons, armoring and maneuverability.
Eurogamer: Can the rules be adjusted individually for the different modes? For example "no pickups", "only light fighters" or "friendly fire on/off"?
Sean Penney: The player sets the type of play (Ranked or Player), the number of participants (up to 16) and private slots for inviting friends.
Eurogamer: A popular feature of the Xbox 360 are achievements. What kind of achievements have been created for Wing Commander Arena?
Sean Penney: Most achievements involve fighting, since that is the main point of the game. However there are also points for exploring certain play sections. A majority of achievements involve the history of Wing Commander.
Eurogamer: Is there anything in conclusion that you would like to say to the fans outside? Particularly those who have mixed feelings regarding Wing Commander Arena?
Sean Penney: I would like to tell them that I am also a fan and played all the Wing Commander games when they were published. I loved it both due to its great presentation of history and because of the engagement. Arena exclusively focuses itself on the combat experience. I would like to remind them again of the fact that it is an arcade game and plays in that way.
The 18 ships, based on favorites from the series, look and feel like the originals. Naturally things have changed over the course of 20 years and ships have received some special upgrades. Other old favorites make an appearance and will introduce a few new friends. Wing Commander fans have demanded a multiplayer experience for a long time. Arena offers classic Wing Commander dogfights with up to 16 participants. For those which remember Armada: a fight in Arena resembles those in Armada.
Beyond that, we maintain continuity with the old games and fans even took part in the development process. We bring back classical ships and weapons from the first game up to the film. Arena was always meant as a homage to Wing Commander and we want things to be right.
Wing Commander always pushed the envelope. Each game set new standards concerning technology and design as well as changed how the games were played. Arena does the same to Xbox Live Arcade - from 16 participants online to the number and depth of our modes to the beauty of our scenes. Arena is by far more impressive than anything else available on Xbox Live Arcade so far.
Eurogamer: Thank you for the discussion.