Company of Heroes is back, people. The franchise that holds the highest Metacritic ranking for a strategy franchise ever has returned, and it means business. It’s always a dangerous thing to get excited about a game when we’re barely out of the announcement period, but still, this is good news. We tried to dig a little deeper as we spoke to the game’s lead director, Quinn Duffy:
Strategy Informer:Interesting that you put a lot of emphasis on the Eastern Front being the ‘lost’ front, as I’d argue there are other ones that are more ‘lost’ – from Dunkirk and Africa to even the Italy campaign. Did they not draw you as much as Russia’s struggle?
Quinn Duffy: I think part of it is the scale and the scope we were interested in. Africa kind of ends in 1942, so you don’t really get the full run of World War 2 and the technology changes (ED: Also of note, the Italian Campaign was solely in 1943). I mean I find all the history fascinating, but when we talk about the ‘forgotten’ front it’s mainly for a western or North American audience who don’t have the expose. They don’t take History like you guys do in school, so for them it is really a mystery, and all they know about WW2 is what they’ve seen in Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers for instance.
I mean our audience tends to be more engaged in the historical elements, and our fans are calling for the Eastern Front. It was the number one choice for expansion packs. We just couldn’t do it justice, we couldn’t get it to a point where we had the technology to do it right. We wanted to go big with the sequel… but we’ve got a brand new creative vision for the game that can encompass anywhere and anytime.
Strategy Informer:Why did you feel that more authenticity was so important? Maybe you have feedback we don’t, but if you asked what was the one thing that could have made Company of Heroes better, I’d be surprised if it was a more accurate sounding M42.
Quinn Duffy: Well the presentation is very very important to us, and the context of the history is also important. Capturing authenticity is properly playing homage to the subject matter, and being sensitive but unflinching in how we tell the story. All of these things individually… I mean a new gun sound, may not be that exciting, but when you start to layer that with our research and our approach to animation and the new rendering… all of these things build a much stronger image. And when we say ‘authenticity’ we’re not talking about the exact number of bolts on a tank, or the specific rate of fire of a weapon… it’s just about creating that tone.
Strategy Informer:In the years since CoH you guys have done Dawn of War, and then Dawn of War 2 which changed the style of gameplay dramatically, will Company of Heroes 2 be following suit? Is this goodbye to base-building and zones of control?
Quinn Duffy: No, when we said during the presentation that we weren’t going in a new direction we were very serious. It’s about maintaining all the things we love about Company of Heroes, and tweaking and elaborating and presenting them in a better way. There are some changes to parts of the game, and we’re going to talk about them later, but the overall affect is that the pace, the authenticity, everything you love about Company of Heroes is the same. I mean, we have this great metacritic, and that wasn’t about doing something drastically different.
Strategy Informer: Do you not think the strategy genre has moved on from static bases then? It doesn’t seem to fit with the fluidity that the Eastern Front implies.
Quinn Duffy: No I think players in strategy games still enjoy that element. I mean Dawn of War 2 was a great game but in the multiplayer we think that element (base-building) was missed by the players. Bases are an expression of their strategy, and their will to a degree… and they become an important part of the game because they’re scoutable, for example, you can see what your enemy is doing… especially with the introduction of TrueSight. Also, players just like a place where they can feel comfortable, like a Den and so not having base building was never an issue, and we will talk more about that in months to come, but the thing about Company of Heroes is that we tried to make everything very contextual, so base-building will be the same – as contextual as possible within the environment.
Strategy Informer:You mentioned how you wanted to show the ‘Grim ruthlessness of War’ and to demonstrate you showed a clip of order 227 (the order where if you take a step back you will be shot, basically) being put into effect. That was a cutscene though – will you be coding that into the gameplay itself?
Quinn Duffy: No that was a way to introduce the concept to the player in a way that’s immediately understood, so that particular scene will factor into the narrative and flow of one of the missions, so it presents the player with a warning, essentially, as to how they will have to change how they approach the next segment.
We’re still working on how we could incorporate that into the core gameplay – we don’t want this thing to be punitive, we want it to be applied appropriately and have appropriate trade-offs as part of the core experience.
Strategy Informer:You mention the narrative – the story campaign seems to be a bit one sided at the moment – the Germans also found themselves fighting for their lives, which would also fit into your desire to show the ‘Ruthless Truth of War’ – are you going to have a German campaign?
Quinn Duffy: We’re not doing a German side. That’s not to say that we won’t, but there is that conflict on the Soviet of being pushed right to the brink of annihilation, and then turning the tide and pushing back, which is a very important part of their story to tell. There are also a lot of things that happened where we can then start taking the emphasis of a simple military victory. I mean the Germans were dangerous right until the very end.
Strategy Informer:I suppose it’s too early to talk about Multiplayer?
Quinn Duffy: Yeah, I mean we’re going to have it; it’s an important part of the legacy of the studio and a vital part for the fans. So yeah, we’re going to have it and support it long-term… we’re not talking about specifics at this point, but we’re excited about it.
Strategy Informer: What about Company of Heroes Online? Your talk was conspicuously absent of any mention of that game. Did you take any lessons there?
Quinn Duffy: Yeah, I mean we were excited about it, but it was something we were trying that was new, it was a new way of presenting the game to a new audience, and there are lot of lessons we will be taking from that particular game. It was a vital learning experience for Relic and THQ.
Massive thanks to Quinn for taking the time to talk to us. Maybe you’re excited for this game, maybe not – the WW2 fatigue seems to be passing, and the fact that this doesn’t cover the same six-month period as most other games do is a bonus. Don’t forget to read our First Impressions preview.