Author and former SAS operative Andy McNab has joined forced with Battlefield developers DICE, and we had a chat with him to see just what he's been up to.
Do you remember the end of Heat? The incredible intense shoot out where Pacino and De Niro sweated it out in their respective roles? It wasn't just the guns and fireworks that made it an instant classic, the believable dialogue and actions also had something to do with it. And Andy McNab, best-selling author and decorated soldier had everything to do with that.
McNab used to be a SAS officer, who saw combat in the first Gulf War and who also operated in Northern Ireland. In 1993 he wrote about his experiences behind enemy lines in Iraque in Bravo Two Zero, a book that has sold 1.7 million copies to date. More books followed and McNab also got a taste for Hollywood. Now he embarks on yet another chapter of his lives as he acts as a consultant on Battlefield 3, where he has helped with things such as the motion capture and dialogue. He also co-authors Battlefield 3: The Russian, a novel based on the game.
Prior to my fifteen minutes with Andy McNab at the DICE offices in Stockholm I learn that photographies are strictly forbidden. There are or have been terrorist groups who have targeted him and if you do a google search for him you are likely to come up with a disguised photo or a simple silhouette. Recently a more revealing photo appeared in the tabloids, but when asked about it by The Guardian, McNab's agent simply asked "ah, but how do you know it's him?"
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Best to be sure, it's really McNab I'm sitting in front of.
How do I know you are who you claim to be?
"Good question. Perhaps you don't. Perhaps I'm going to London tomorrow and turn up for interviews pretending to be Terry Pratchett." (laughs)
You've gone from writing novels, to helping with movies, to audio novels with real sound effects, and seem very interested in different mediums. What do you like about games?
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"It's a fantastic medium, I play with my God sons and get beaten every time. But when I was asked to come on board for Battlefield 3 last year, I was fascinated by how these things are created. It's a similar process to making a film, but everything in films are expensive: towers, cameras, all the employees and so on. But in the process of making a game you can change it all, stop and think about it."
"In video games everyone is part of the creative process, unlike in the motion picture industry. There are people there to hammer in nails or sort the electricity. There is a natural enthusiasm among the people working here at DICE, you can tell it's guys who enjoy computers and play a lot in their spare time."
What have you and DICE learned from eachother during the project?
"I have learned an awful lot about the technology that goes into creating a game, especially from the sound guys. It's crazy, the have 60 or 70 different sounds from the one and same M4 fired - in rain from a distance at 4 in the morning, indoors around s7 at night and so on. The level of details is just simply fantastic. They do their geek things, and it's great. The amount of work that goes into one fired round is enormous."
We have called the sound team the best in the business.
- Definitely, I hardly understand what they are talking about half of the time. I simply smile and nod my head. (laughs)
Having experienced war first hand, have you been able to teach them something about sound as well?
- Yes, one example of what we have discussed is something called "crack and thump", where you can tell the distance to something who fires off an artillery piece. First you hear a "crack", when it's fired, and then the "thump" when it hits the ground. With this information you can measure a rough distance to the enemy. Even if distances aren't great in the games DICE have been able to work with that information.
You experience the real thing and then used your experience for both works of fiction and non-fiction. Now you're lending a hand in creating a game lots of young people are going to play. Do you feel any sense of responsibility, is there a message gamers should get out of it?
"Not a message, but a responsibility. Games are often treated quite poorly in the media. But the people here are very responsible and think things over - should we do it this way or that way. There are limits to how explicit you can be. There is a mutual agreement between those who produce games and those who buy it. You don't let you 9 year-old drink alcohol, so why do you let someone who is under 18 play a war game? Meanwhile in the news, in the middle of the day far worse things are aired. You can see children die."
When you try Battlefield 3 or other shooters, does that bring up any good or bad memories from your own experiences?
"Not bad memories, just... memories actually. What I have done is seen scenes from the game, and tried to put them into a context. Like the tanks, for instance. They are the homes of soldiers, and become very personal with time. The men have barbecues in the rear, some have set up air conditioners as you live weeks in them. You hook up your mp3 player to it so you get music, and so on. You will see little details like these in the game."
Any other little things or details you have helped out with?
"The script was more or less done when I came in, but I have worked a lot on what we call motivation - why people jump from one storyline to another. Dialogue was another thing I worked on, how soldiers talk. For instance you never use any negative phrases in the military. Words like "possibly", "try to" or "will attempt" aren't used. In the field you don't say "today we shall try and reach our goal at three", but "we shall reach it at three". Things like this are also reflected in facial expressions that DICE have been working on.
You also have a Battlefield 3 novel coming, what can we expect from it and how was it writing it?
"I hope it gets done in time. (laughs) It's supposed to come out at the same time as the game and it's been a challenge. I have always written in first person, but this one is written in third person. I thought it would be easier to write in third person as you can jump between different scenes. I was cocky, and thought it would be much easier."