AusGamers Company of Heroes 2 Developer Interview with Quinn Duffy
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 06:41pm 19/06/12 | Comments
AusGamers was given a chance to catch up with Company of Heroes 2 game director, Quinn Duffy. Read on for what he had to say...
AusGamers: So one of the first things I want to get to is the focus of this giant battle for Company of Heroes 2, this conflict is renowned as one of the most brutal confrontations in war history - why go there? And what do you think that particular battle can offer in the videogame space?
Quinn Duffy: Well it’s just one of the battles that we’re showcasing in the game and we chose it for the demo in particular because everyone sort of knows the name of Stalingrad, they know Leningrad, they know Moscow... some of them might know Kiev or some of these other major battles, but Rzhev is less well-known and because [of] being such a large battle with such large casualties. It really highlights our general lack of awareness and understanding of the scale and scope of the Eastern Front, you know, the Russian casualties, killed and wounded, this isn’t just dead, [was] somewhere between half a million to a million... maybe more. It’s bigger than any other battle fought in the West and it’s probably not even in the top five of the biggest battles on the Eastern Front, and that’s just going by memory, so it really just highlights that epic scale of it, and that’s the reason we’ve been demoing that particular piece of conflict.
AusGamers: So in terms of your units, and with weight behind a historic battle like Rzhev, will you be taking actual characters with you, or are we playing with generic units capable of just dying with no real attachment to the player - pawns, so to speak?
Quinn: Yeah, when we looked at how we were going to develop the campaign... you know Company of Heroes follows Able Company and Baker Company and those guys, they’re sort of identified as characters throughout the game, and you could sort of do that in Normandy, because the whole battle was only about three months. The battle of Normandy went from June until late August, early September. But the Eastern Front spanned four years, and in our research it was rare that you could find a group or a squad or a commander who managed to survive the breadth of the war, and so we chose in this case, as one of our characters, to focus on a Soviet war correspondent.
They had guys who worked for the Red Army Star and KAS and these kinds of Russian agencies and there were a number of war correspondents at the front who did see the full breadth of the war and they get to experience the soldiers; the heroism of the soldiers right from the ground level up to the command of the most senior generals. So that gives us an ability to touch on different layers of the story, and sort of do it from a perspective we haven’t done before... RTSs, you’re never really playing characters, even in Company of Heroes, your characters were never in the world and in any danger; they’re part of cut-scenes. So with this it allows us to tell stories and create some really interesting insights into the breadth of the war, from a very different perspective.
AG: Speaking of perspective, we’ve seen playing on the side of Russia - will the campaign take players into the boots of any other factions?
Quinn: No, you’re gonna play the Russians... obviously there are a lot of different ethnicities in the Soviet Army, you know, they’re sort of monolithically called “Russians” but there were Ukrainians and Kasaks and a whole bunch of them, so we’re going to try and portray some of that breadth but you’re playing the Russians through the campaign.
AG: So we have a handful of questions from our community, and one of the first ones here is will there be a co-op component to the campaign, and will you employ any sort of “always-on” DRM-type system ala Diablo III?
Quinn: Well we’re actually going to be talking more about what we’re doing online down the track, but we are a Steam title and everything that that entails with the kinds of connectivity that Steam offers is what we’re using.
As for the campaign it is single-player only, but there are a number of opportunities for co-op play in other parts of the game, so...
Again, we’ll talk more about that stuff later.
AG: Will there be any RPG elements to the single-player campaign in terms of just levelling up or the like?
Quinn: You know there’s some stuff that we’re looking at... it’s not Dawn of War 2, there are no Hero characters, it’s much closer to the roots of Company of Heroes and the kind of gameplay we delivered there. It’s not about doing different, we wanted to build on the experience we loved in Company of Heroes and in this case I think it’s making the game even a little more tactical, despite the setting, so that’s really the focus for what we’re doing.
AG: In the presentation you talked a lot about the technology you’re using and just how much you’ve changed the engine, can you elaborate a bit more on that and at what point do you guys find, given that it is an RTS and you’re not really as up front and close and personal with the characters and environments, that you need to reign in the graphical boosts and largely superfluous changes to just focus more on gameplay than visuals?
Quinn: Yeah well we’ve got the new engine: Essence Engine 3, and when we talked about it in the presentation, one of the primary reasons for building the new technology was so that we could actually deliver on the vision for the Eastern Front. We could create the snow; the actual gamplaying impact on these features, it’s not just textures -- it’s not just visual -- you know, when we committed to things like adding snow, we wanted to go the whole hog, I mean it’s got depth, it’s got tracks, it can be destroyed, it can be accumulated on objects, I mean there’s a lot of tech to drive that [and] without that level of tech you don’t get the level of immersion that I think we all wanted to provide, and that’s the major driving force to creating new technology and that’s one of the reasons why we’re six years on for the sequel. We talked after Company of Heroes about doing an Eastern Front expansion and we just knew that we weren’t going to be able to do it justice in the way that we really wanted to, so until you get a new engine that has the capabilities that Essence Engine 3 has, and that is written to support the vision of the game... we just didn’t feel like it was ready.
So the engine itself has some really cool new rendering technology, with screen-space ambient occlusion. We’ve got the deferred renderers so it’s going to run better on multiple machines. It’s about providing more of that fidelity - it looks better, it sounds better, you know, it’s going to react better, the simulation is more streamlined and faster and so that gets us on to more platforms and more machines... so the tech was a big, important part of the process.
You asked about whether we rethink how much effort we put into the visuals and whether we have to pull back and I think that’s one of the things about Relic: our engines and our gameplay are really inextricably linked. To me there’s a lot about the simulation about the visuals of the engine that are needed to support gameplay. So something like snow depth, we don’t have a min-spec DX9 version that doesn’t have snow, because the snow actually has gameplay implications, and so that stuff really ties together. And so the visuals of the units and the visuals of the world and the effects -- the flames and the burning buildings -- for us, it’s critical to the storytelling of the game, it’s critical to the immersion of the missions, it’s critical to the kind of experience that we offer our fans who are... I think a lot of them are hardcore gamers, and a lot of them are enamoured with the presentation and of the beauty of the game, you know, the soundscape and all these things that I think Company of Heroes does really, really well.
So I don’t know if that helps (laughs), or if that answers your question for you...
AG: No that’s fine (laughs).
So this might seem like an odd question, but you guys are essentially the last pure team continuing to work in WWII. And if you look back at the gaming landscape a few years ago, you know, everyone was making WWII games. Now it’s all about modern conflict or what have you - did you guys consider at any given point stepping out of WWII and going to a different theatre of war or creating your own version of the modern conflict stuff?
Quinn: Yeah we had. I mean we looked at a number of settings and one of the things that we did was we went back to the gameplay vision, and we wanted to make the gameplay vision essentially setting agnostic. So what I mean is define what Company of Heroes means as a game and as a presentation and take it out of the setting completely. So the original vision of the game was very much centred in Normandy - it was about delivering the Saving Private Ryan kind of experience and we needed to create a modern vision for the game; a new sort of... I hate to use the term generic vision, but something that defined Company of Heroes, regardless of what we did with the setting.
So if we wanted to we could set the game on Mars in the year 2250 and it would still feel like Company of Heroes. So it’s not cemented in WWII, we just love the history WWII; we love the narrative of it, we love the story; we love the scale and scope and you know there’s something inherently satisfying about a setting that provides RTS balance. If you think about it that way, these were epic armies that fought for years and years in, you know, terrible conditions and were, in many ways... had that typical RTS balance. You know you think about could you do Vietnam and there’s something so asymmetrical about those conflicts that it becomes more of a challenge for us, you know.
AG: What took you guys so long to get a sequel off the ground?
Quinn: Well a number of things. I talked about the technology, I talked about the game vision, we just... you need a certain number of ducks in a row before you commit to something as big as a new Company of Heroes game. You know, you need a team that’s interested and motivated, you need management that’s interested and feels that they’re ready to support, you need, you know, in terms of publisher and THQ they’ve really been behind this. You need technology, you need key people in certain positions and... so you just start to get these things falling into place.
You know I think in our case too, we had a moment of tragedy a couple of years ago when one of our designers died in a car accident (Brian R. Wood) - I’m sure you read about that. And that was one of those galvanising moments where we sort of took a look at what’s next and we thought “you know what, it’s time to do it”, and that was one of the things... it was a moment that was kind of a big deal for a lot of us who knew Brian on Company of Heroes, so... you know, that’s sometimes how it goes.
AG: Obviously the RTS genre is very cemented in PC history and community, but do you guys ever think about bringing the series to console at all, which is a bit of a trend at the moment and makes some sense from a financial perspective, and as a sort of lead on from that, as far as post-release content goes, will you be looking at expansions or DLC, the latter being a bit of a dirty word (or acronym) in the PC space these days?
Quinn: Yeah, there’s a number of things that I think all of the big publishers are struggling with in terms of what’s next. You know nobody knows what the next few years are going to look like from the standpoint of a business model and I’m focused on the creative, so I know as a tool, the console, until it can capture the purity of the experience and can deliver the same enjoyment that we can get on the PC I don’t see the Company of Heroes franchise moving onto the console. But we don’t know what’s fully next in the next-generation, you know, they might have... we have inklings of what’s next from Microsoft and they certainly have the power to run these engines and stuff, but it’s that purity of control and the fidelity of control we need in our games that... you know I’m really excited for what PCs look like in four or five years, you know, tablets and touch and constant connectivity... those are things that could reinvigorate PC gaming and strategy gaming in a way that we don’t quite know, a way that we don’t understand yet.
And the companies that focus on that and drive towards that, I think that’s an attitude we’re seeing at THQ. They’ll find us some success, we just don’t really know what that means yet. I’ve been in the industry 17 years now and I’ve never seen the future be so... murky. It’s really hard to define [but] it’s definitely going to be an interesting next couple of years.
As for expansions and DLC, we talked about being aggressive in supporting long-term content. You know, we put up multiple patches for Company of Heroes and recently we set concurrent online play for Company of Heroes, and so long-term support is vital for us and that includes free content, but in terms of how we structure things like DLC, we just don’t really know yet.
AG: Okay Quinn, I’ll let you go, but before I do, I have one last question and it is the most burning question among our fans...
Quinn: Homeworld 3?
AG: Yeah, Homeworld 3...
Quinn: (Laughs) yeah I can’t talk about Homeworld 3... but that’s the game I started on at Relic, and it’s one of my all-time most stunning gaming memories is coming into Relic for the first time and seeing an early build of Homeworld moving and it’s a part of our legacy and I’d love to say something about it, but we’re not talking about it.
AG: (Laughs) okay well we’ll leave it at that then Quinn, thanks so much for your time though.
Quinn: No worries, take care.