At the beginning of March, Paradox Interactive and Eugen Systems announced that they would be releasing Steel Division: Normandy 44. This new, tactical real-time strategy game will focus on providing a historically accurate experience of the Battle of Normandy for players, concentrating on Divisions rather than an entire army. With over four hundred units to choose from, a detailed single-player campaign and a number of multiplayer modes, we were eager to hear more about it.
We were lucky enough to talk to Pierre-Yves Navetat, Communication and Marketing Manager at Eugen Systems. In our interview, we had the opportunity to talk about how Steel Division differs from other RTSes, why historical accuracy is so important and how the community have reacted to the game so far.
GameWatcher: Could we get you to introduce yourself, please?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: I’m Pierre-Yves Navetat – you can’t get a more French name! I’m the Communication and Marketing Manager at Eugen Systems and it always scares people when I say that but in the studio, I still get to help with parts of the game, even though I’m in Communication. I’ve worked on some aspects of Steel Division.
GameWatcher: What is Steel Division: Normandy 44 and what makes it stand out from other WWII RTS’?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: Steel Division is a tactical RTS set in World War II, during the invasion of Normandy. It’s our latest game and it uses the latest version of the IRISZOOM Engine. It’s a tactical game so you don’t build a base, you fight the battles. Everything in the game is historically accurate from the maps to the units.
The game also proposes three-phase gameplay: every game is divided into three phases and each phase unlocks new units and has its own deployment force for the duration of the phase. We also have a dynamic front line that will evolve during the battle and this is a great strategic tool that can help you to see what’s going on with your enemy and to see whether you’re dominating the battlefield, or not. Every unit in the game feels stress as we have a suppression system. So, when a unit is really stressed, it gets pinned down or will fall back and it becomes unusable. What we aim to do with this is make the game feel more realistic and also create a game where you don’t have to kill everyone to win a battle. Instead, you can just stress them and make their units completely unusable and that’s why we developed that system.
GameWatcher: In Steel Division, you’re choosing to focus on belonging to a Division that would have been at the battle of Normandy. How does focusing on a Division, rather than an entire army change players’ experiences?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: We are able to do a lot of things by choosing Divisions. Firstly, we are able to make the game historically accurate. The Divisions that we have in the game were actually fighting in Normandy. Focusing on Divisions also helps us to have a tactical level. You’re not battling with an entire army; this would be a more strategic view where you’re not just moving your soldiers but you’re moving entire battlegroups at once. In Steel Division, you are part of a single battlegroup.
Every Division also has its own specifics or flavour, as I like to say. For example, one of my favourites is the Panzer Lehr, which is really strong in Phase B and C. They are very strong at the end of the combat but they still need to hold on in that first phase, they still need to survive. So, you need to be really smart, or play with someone that is stronger in Phase A.
As I said before, we are also history nerds. We have a co-worker that has a History PhD so we were able to look at how the Divisions were composed, including the exact Divisions that were there at the time and each of the units has its own experience. For example, you may have a Rookie unit or an Elite unit. Some Divisions were composed mainly of young, recently trained yet not experienced military and you can actually feel that in the game - these Divisions don’t have very experienced units. In the Panzer Lehr, you have a lot of Elite and experienced soldiers because it has seen more combat. Basically, it’s about flavour and how it allows us to have this kind of view on the battlefield.
GameWatcher: Why do you think historical accuracy is important in a game like this?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: To be honest, I think it’s important for us because the people at Eugen Systems are really into history, especially the Co-Founders, Alexis and Cedric Le Dressay. We’re always talking about history. Historical accuracy is important for us because it’s what we like. When you’re working on a project, it has to be ‘you’. We also wanted an experience. You’re talking about historical accuracy but when you see the stress mechanic that we have (the suppression system), that is historical accurate in that it’s something that can happen on the battlefield at any time, but we added it to have an experience.
We wanted to feel the combat so having the historically accurate units helps a lot and makes a difference to our community. In Wargame: Red Dragon, we showed a tank which was only a wireframe (3D model with lines) to tease a new tank that we wanted to bring out. Then someone in the community contacted us and said, “hey guys, this tank doesn’t have the right suspension”, so we then changed it.
GameWatcher: While we’re on the subject of community, your fan base seems torn on whether they want the game to feel realistic or arcade-y. Do you find it difficult to strike a balance between having your game be fun, yet realistic at the same time?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: This is surely difficult and balancing is a hard thing to do because there is not a specific spot when you can say that a game is arcade-y or realistic. For example, when we showed the first screenshot of the game, some people saw that the frontline is red and blue and they thought that the game looked arcade-y. However, from an art direction, we needed something that popped out a bit. I’m not sure whether you noticed but the frontline disappears when you zoom in; we didn’t want it to be there all the time. The thin line between realistic and arcade-y is incredibly difficult to achieve. We did a closed beta recently and we had a lot of really good feedback on this so maybe we’ve found what we needed for this game.
GameWatcher: So, you’ve found that sweet spot?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: I hope so!
GameWatcher: Speaking of realism, the developer blogs on Steel Division are fascinating. Have you come across any historical figures that you haven’t been able to include in the game for whatever reason?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: Yes, actually. The Division commanders are the exact Commanders that would have been there during the invasion of Normandy. If you sign up for a Paradox account, you have what we call ‘Ace’ whose real name was Pierre Clostermann, he was a famous pilot. You can have the skin of his plane in the game. We’re able to put these figures in but we weren’t able to have someone like Churchill because he was in a higher level of command. When you play Hearts of Iron, which is another game from Paradox, you’re playing on a bigger level that’s more strategic. Here, we are on the Division level so, to answer the question, yes.
GameWatcher: What has been the most challenging part of development?
Pierre-Yves Navetat: It depends on who you ask… Honestly, it’s really hard to answer because when you add new systems to a game it’s always hard because you need to feel whether it works or not. However, I would be unable to say whether the graphics were harder to do than the gameplay, or to say that modelling this tank was harder than the sound. It’s a really hard question to answer, but what I know is that we’re having fun making the game and developing a game is hard. Everything is hard but we’re having a great amount of pleasure developing it.
We only got to spend a short period of time with Steel Division: Normandy 44 at EGX Rezzed, but from what we’ve seen so far, the game looks awesome. Pairing Eugen Systems (creators of R.U.S.E and the Wargame series) with Paradox Interactive (Hearts of Iron) together makes for a strong combo and we’re looking forward to seeing their approach with this new tactical game.