At the end of November, when I sat down with Company of Heroes 2 for a hands-on multiplayer demonstration, I also got to talk to the title’s director, Quinn Duffy. Going in, I had just played a single-player skirmish demo from an older build of the game and had yet to try my hand at actual multiplayer. My first experience with a Company of Heroes game, though, had left me with many questions, which Mr. Duffy was generous enough to answer.
Cheat Code Central: So, Quinn, can you tell me a little bit going in—obviously your focus is the Eastern front this time—how was representing that different than, obviously, doing the more popular Western front of World War II?
Quinn Duffy: I think it’s a challenge in terms of trying to capture some of the tone. The combat was extremely brutal on the Eastern front, the armies were much larger, the area they were covering was much broader. We like to say that in the original game we covered about four months of the six years of the war, and now the Eastern front was the bulk of World War II. So, the bulk of the combat and where the Germans lost the bulk of their army. So there are some challenges in capturing and delivering that tone.
We have a very tactical RTS, and so one of the things that we’re trying to do is also give the impression of the impact of weather, give the impression of the sizes of these armies, the brutal conditions under which they fought, and trying to deliver that to the player. It’s a new theater that many of them don’t have much experience with.
CCC: Obviously, to do that, you put some new technologies in place. I know you’re simulating snow and cold weather; has that significantly impacted the core gameplay in any way?
QD: No. I think what we tried to do when we put these systems in was work within what we loved about the original Company of Heroes, which was all of the tactical gameplay that we introduced in that game, that our fans love and that we love. When we started, the goal was to maintain a lineage—y’know, a feeling of lineage—between Company of Heroes and Company of Heroes 2, so that players could sit down and be really really familiar with it.
So things like the cold weather, we actually used it to enhance and to draw attention to systems like cover—your troops get protection from cold weather when they’re in cover—so it adds actually an element of reinforcement to existing systems. The TrueSight system we added in, again, sort of encourages tactical gameplay, it encourages flanking and ambushing and utilizing cover and sort of catting-and-mousing around the buildings.
So all of that is actually, I think, kind of like a value added to the tactical gameplay that we had in the game from the beginning.
CCC: So here we were just dropped into a skirmish, but for someone like me who, admittedly, has not played the first game, what kind of systems do you have in place to help ease new players into the game?
QD: Well we’ve got, obviously, a number of tutorials—we’re taking a little bit of a different approach to tutorials this time, but, y’know, introducing new players to core concepts and not so much what buttons to press, but how to actually play the game and how to be successful at playing the game. How to understand what it is they’re playing. Those are elements that we’re trying to deliver in tutorials.
Campaign brings the player in under a measured pace. We introduce them to gameplay elements bit by bit, mission by mission, so they can kind of grow their experience as the game plays. I think even playing against the A.I. as they factor up through Easy, Medium, and Hard levels of A.I., they can actually learn a bit from the A.I.
One of the goals of the A.I. was that players would see tactics the A.I. was doing and be able to emulate those things. So the A.I. flanks and vaults over walls and mixes its units and retreats and does all those things that help you be successful at playing the game.
CCC: This is almost more of a multiplayer-focused question, but, in the single-player campaign, you have a lot of control over what goes into any given combat scenario. But, in the multiplayer, we’re talking about two very different approaches to warfare between the Germans and the Russians. How do you balance those out from a gameplay perspective while still staying true to their historical capabilities?
QD: Right, the tone. Well, I mean, we love the idea of asymmetric multiplayer, and in the original we wanted to provide very different armies that really delivered on the cultural tone of the armies—Germans were professional, well-trained, well-led, generally well-equipped, sort of lots of technology.
The Soviets—Stalin had a quote, allegedly, “Quantity has a quality all its own,”—and so they worked a lot on standardization, on numbers, on mass attacks, but their tactics evolved and became very, very elaborate and very sort of professional as they learned both from fighting the Germans and just through experience. So, later in the war, you had a very professional sort of Soviet army.
One of the things we’ve done is really try and focus on the army essence, the things that differentiate these guys tonally and in character. Germans are durable and versatile, smaller squads—they can be very mobile, but they’re also great defensively, which is part of the German… Y’know, when we play in the multiplayer game, you’re kind of playing that German army mid-war, where they’re kind of starting to get put onto the back foot, but they’re fighting really, really hard for everything that they’ve gained.
The Russians, on the other hand, they’re not as versatile, a little more rigid, doctrinally, in terms of their tech tree, and so players have to play them a little bit differently. We think those characters come across in the multiplayer pretty evidently.
CCC: Do you feel that either is more intuitive for a newcomer?
QD: We sort of had a conscious decision to make the Soviet army the—some people refer to them as the “Vanilla Army”—this is sort of the core army of the experience, much like the American army was in the original. They’re the ones that form the basis of the campaign. And so we try and suit the army so that it will play well for campaign and for multiplayer. We think a lot of players, they’re going to play the campaign and then go into multiplayer knowing more about the Soviet army.
But the German army—again, I mention that sort of lineage between the first and the second game—there’s a familiarity there with the German army of the East as well.
CCC: As you have mentioned that lineage, I’m curious—obviously you’ve tried to pull a lot from Company of Heroes—what lessons do you feel you’ve learned on what not to do from the first game, going into this one?
QD: There was a lot of stuff, kind of in the back end, just in terms of how we built the game. The original game wasn’t very flexible and didn’t allow us a lot of opportunities for adding new content or for modding or doing those kinds of things. So a lot of stuff we’ve done in the second game with the new engine is just figure out ways to make it more modular, for ourselves and for the fans, eventually. That was a big thing.
Clarity is an important thing, and the game is really built a lot around experiences that players might have seen in movies like Saving Private Ryan and we’re trying to capture that tone. But in order to do some of that, to capture some of the feel, we had some gameplay rules that were little bit obfuscated and a little bit hard to discern and so we’re trying to make things a little cleaner, a little simpler in that regard. A lot of effort’s been put into the HUD, to make accessibility a lot better.
And the A.I. A lot of effort on the A.I. Because we have thousands of players every day playing against the A.I., and we wanted to give them a really great long-term experience with a new A.I. that was much more reactive and challenging and used more of the game.
CCC: And just jumping back a second, you mentioned moddability. Is there going to be an official set of mod tools?
QD: We’ve got a plan for long-term support for this game, which would include our content and community tools and that kind of thing to be able to distribute out. We were surprised at how much the original game ended up being modded by the community, and we’re going to see what we can provide for them in the future as well.
CCC: Real quick, is there anything else you wanted to get out while you’re on mic, or have we covered a lot of what you wanted to talk about?
QD: I think we’re excited about the next several weeks. We’ve got this multiplayer reveal, and hopefully you’ll get a chance to stick around and play that this afternoon. you’ll also see the pace of change, when you’re in this stage of development, between this build and what comes next in the multiplayer, just HUD improvements and all that kind of stuff.
CCC: And just what is the disparity in development time between those two builds?
QD: I’m going to say it’s four months.
CCC: [Whistles appreciatively.] That’s pretty significant.
QD: So there’s that, we’re getting excited about our upcoming beta, and we want to get people involved in the beta. And the gameplay trailer’s launching imminently, so that’ll give people actually a chance to see the game kind of in action.
CCC: Do we have a date for that beta?
QD: I don’t know if we do have a formal date yet. [PR representative confirms that they haven’t set a date]
CCC: Closed? Open?
QD: First one’s closed.
CCC: Is there going to be an open beta?
b>CCC: Excellent. Well, again, Quinn, thank you so much.
QD: Yeah, no problem.
Company of Heroes 2 is currently in closed alpha, with the dates for the beta still yet to be announced.
Date: January 4, 2013
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*