When players think about World War II strategy games, more than a few easy ones probably come to mind, such as Company of Heroes or Hearts of Iron, but a truly hardcore set of strategy fans will probably remember the days when Sudden Strike was setting the scene and innovating real-time strategy tactics gameplay in a way quite like few others. The series has garnered applause from the strategy community several times over, but for whatever reason, there hasn’t been a new one since Sudden Strike: The Last Stand in June of 2010.
Enter Kalypso Media and KITE Games. The veteran publisher and studio have stepped up the plate, securing the Sudden Strike license and made the moves to put the series back on the map with Sudden Strike 4. Players will battle across historic theaters from the German, Allied, and Soviet perspectives with calculating tactics and careful management of limited units winning the day at each turn. GameWatcher reached out to Kalypso Media to bring us all up to speed on what the groups are doing with the revival of this beloved strategy franchise. Producer Christian Schlütter took the time to share more than a little information with us about the classic flavors of Sudden Strike 4, the new mechanics, and how far KITE and Kalypso are going to bring this series back in a blaze of glory.
GameWatcher: It has been over seven years since the previous Sudden Strike game, Sudden Strike: Last Stand, was released and it was in different hands then. How did Sudden Strike find its way to Kalypso and KITE and what prompted interest in reviving this series after so long?
Christian Schlütter: Kalypso Media has gained a reputation for bringing back old IPs that nobody else is using for whatever reason. We’ve been pretty successful with Tropico for instance. The thing is that we’re strategy gamers by heart and we had always wanted to do a real-time strategy game set in World War II. Well, Sudden Strike is the go-to WWII RTS series. We talked for a long time with Fireglow, who originally held the license for the series, and eventually we finally convinced them to let us take on the license. We were happy about it and almost immediately made a pitching round for studios to work on a new game. There were about eight or nine different studios we spoke with, but KITE Games out of Budapest ended up being the best fit. They are talented folks that know what they’re doing and love strategy games as well. Formerly, they were part of StormRegion Studios, who worked on another great real-time strategy series with the Codename: Panzers series. There was also a time where many of them worked at Crytek Budapest on things like Crysis: Warhead, but now they’ve formed KITE and are ready to return to hardcore strategy. We couldn’t ask for a better partner.
GameWatcher: The Sudden Strike series is often known for pioneering various ages of the strategy genre. How did you go about setting Sudden Strike 4 apart from its predecessors while keeping the soul of the series intact?
Schlütter: There’s still a hardcore fan base out there that loves Sudden Strike and know every nook and cranny of the previous Sudden Strike games. Attempting to replicate the nostalgia players have for those games is difficult, but we sat down at the beginning of development and put together a document of design pillars we were going to stick to in order to create a new Sudden Strike. We wanted to take the core of what made Sudden Strike a great real-time strategy and tactics game and present it in a modern style. Furthermore we wanted to provide accessibility that would be appealing to new players. It’s necessary to have good tutorials to get players up to speed, get players into the game world, good atmosphere, impactful combat and explosive effects, and 4K graphics. These are the kind of things we’re adding to the Sudden Strike formula while keeping the core intact by supplying the hardcore tactics-based gameplay that made the series stand out in the first place. There’s no base-building, every unit matters, and you really have to think about how you use them and what tactics will work in each scenario. Reinforcements are very limited and every decision has weight. On top of that, we’ve created a new Doctrine System that will affect how players proceed through the game. For each faction there are three doctrines: Armor Doctrine, Support Doctrine, and Infantry Doctrine. In each mission you can decide which doctrine you follow and if you do well in a mission, it will unlock new skills and equipment for that Doctrine. For instance, you might unlock Smoke Grenades. We wanted to have the player think about how they would have done the mission with that new gear, so it adds both a branching style of combat and replayability to the missions where you can go back and try the mission again with your upgraded Doctrine. It’s things like that that add new wrinkles to the game while hardcore players will recognize all the tactical decisions that made them fall in love with this series in the first place.
GameWatcher: The Sudden Strike series is known for its focus on the events of World War II. Sudden Strike 4 will return to that theatre as well with three full campaigns focused around the British and American, German, and Russian forces. How does Sudden Strike 4 take on this theater in comparison to previous entries?
Schlütter: We’re going a similar route with a mixture of well-known battles like Operation Overlord, Stalingrad, Battle of the Hedgerows, Berlin, Moscow, and things like that, but we’re also covering lesser known battles or those that haven’t been covered heavily in games before like the Battle for Sedan and Leningrad. What we tried to put on top was an overarching theme of narrative. We don’t overdo it, but we wanted to instill in the player that there are people fighting these wars. To support that, every mission has a diary entry where the commander that represents the player puts down their thoughts on what they’ve witnessed. It’s a little dynamic in that it will actually change based on what doctrine the player chose and many in-game things, such as what happened in a mission, how well it went, what losses were suffered, and what’s coming next. If you let units die, your commander will feel those losses and if you do well, there will be pride in the victory. Obviously the diary is also drastically different between factions and these commanders have some stories of their own. For instance, the Soviet commander you play in the game is actually from Leningrad, which was sieged for a couple of years during the war. Leningrad shows up in early Soviet missions in which the commander must keep major roads safe and provide food into the city, but there’s that extra connection that it’s his home. The commander must eventually leave for other theaters of the war, but the plight of his home weighs on him throughout the campaign until Leningrad is finally liberated. It’s not an in-depth story, but it is something we do to help the player connect to the game more deeply.
GameWatcher: So the Doctrine System isn’t just a sort of loadout or skill system. It actually affects the story in a few ways?
Schlütter: Right. So it’s not a huge part of the story, but it’s another way to lend some extra credence to the player’s decisions. Moreover, each doctrine is styled after a real-life historical figure. So for example, in the Allied campaign, you can choose to follow the Infantry Doctrine of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. In this case, the diary will reflect briefly on what Montgomery was doing on that day inside the war. The player commander will take note of Montgomery’s actions and speak to their own actions based on it. It lends a little bit of interesting history to where these historical figures were and what they were doing on any given day during various parts of the war.
GameWatcher: There are literally over one hundred unique units in this game spread across land, sea, and air. How did you go into setting these units apart from one another? Was it merely historical research or is there a deeper understanding of these units and their capabilities that comes into play in the game?
Schlütter: We know that our target group is often very well read about the war, so we were very careful about which units were available at various locations and times. You can’t just start a missions with any units. For instance, you won’t have a Tiger Tank immediately in the early French Campaign because it wasn’t around yet. We set a framework of the timelines on which units were available and then we proceeded to expand that framework into what theaters of war that particular units were available in. From that pool, we allow players a few types of units that we want them to play around with and strategize around. What we wanted was for each mission to have a unique mechanic. A good example is the Battle of the Hedgerows in the Allied campaign. In that conflict, US and British forces were trying to find their way through the Belgian and French landscape, which was styled heavily with high hedgerows. It was kind of a maze to go through and very dangerous because German soldiers could hide anywhere. To overcome it, the Allies rigged the Sherman Tanks with hedgerow cutters and moved them to the front to cut through the vegetation and provide cover for the infantry. That variation was called the Sherman Rhino and it only appears within the context of that very specific mission, but it provides a great example of the unique mechanics of play we tried to provide players with in these missions.
GameWatcher: Is there some kind of progression for players to build up or farm their forces in the game?
Schlütter: In the main campaign, the units you have are often contextual to the battles. Additional units occasionally come in the form of reinforcements and those reinforcements are often part of the objectives, but there are very limited ways to resupply your units. For example, you might have a mission to capture an airfield. If you don’t do it quickly, the enemy will call in their own reinforcements to find your units and kill them. However, there are a few times you get your own scripted reinforcements throughout the campaign and that’s truly the only you end up getting more units in the main campaign.
GameWatcher: Can we talk about the missions, lands, and towns for this particular venture? How much of Sudden Strike 4 gets creative with World War II as opposed to attempting to remain accurate to the events of the war?
Schlütter: Earlier I mentioned a design document that we used to establish the core pillars of development. One of those pillars was very specifically to provide as much authenticity as possible within the confines that it must remain fun to play in this game. The moment we feel something isn’t fun to play, we start to alter it. However, that wasn’t a conflict that came up as often as we might have expected. For instance, I think of the Hürtgenwald map. In the Hürtgen Forest in Western Germany has a dam and reservoir. The Americans needed to push through the forest, but it was difficult because they couldn’t use armored vehicles to pass through. We could have just build a forest map with some water and called it a day, but instead we drove out to the Hürtgen Forest and took pictures of the landscape, old buildings, the dam structures, and more and used those as references to build the map. Not all of Hürtgen Forest is depicted in the game, but our map has very unique and distinct features based off the real place that people familiar with the area will recognize. Last year at Gamescom, we showed off a Stalingrad mission and a player that actually came from from Stalingrad recognized some buildings and landmarks that were there. It was very cool that she picked up on some recognizable buildings without me even saying anything. That’s the level of authenticity we went for with most of the missions.
GameWatcher: One of the biggest obstacles with strategy games is always the level of AI in the game. How does Sudden Strike 4 assist the player in getting their troops in formations and on the attack or defense and how well does the enemy respond and adapt?
Schlütter: AI is a very hard thing to do, but the fellows at KITE have about 15 to 20 years of experience with this type of thing. I’m quite confident in them. The basic necessities are all there for a game like this. You can order your troops into formations, to cease fire, lay down and take cover, move to waypoints, and all the things that players should expect in a modern strategy game. As for AI reaction and adaptation, we have a nice system called Group AI. You might not notice it as much in single player, but it’s huge in Skirmish mode. When you start a map, the AI populates the map with groups of AI units. Each group has a role and behavior. So there might be a scouting group, anti-tank group, anti-air group, and more. Each of these groups has a behavior. For instance, one group might be brave whereas another is somewhat cowardly. Take the scouting group. They’ll roam around the map and try to find your units. As soon as the AI encounters you, it will count what it sees and how strong your units are and calculate whether it can win the fight. If it calculates it can win, it will engage, and if it calculates it will lose, it will retreat and attempt to call reinforcements. Even further, if the AI notices you’re favoring a certain unit type, it will try to call a reinforcement group that will counter that, such as anti-tanks to counter your grouping of tanks. You have to take them down before their infantry sets off a flare that alerts their allies to your presence. Most importantly, their behaviors affect how they will fight you. A brave AI group might fight you even when the odds are against it, whereas a cowardly group might retreat even if it’s likely the group could win.
GameWatcher: Let’s talk a little bit about Skirmish and Multiplayer modes. What kind of capabilities is Sudden Strike 4 set to feature? How many human or AI players can take part in a match and how much can we expect in the way of maps and playgrounds to make use of these modes?
Schlütter: Sudden Strike 4 will provides multiplayer for up to eight players. PC will feature both local area network and online play while consoles will just have online play. The eight players can be comprised of either humans or AI in any mixture. You can play alone against seven AI players, you can play four humans versus four AI, or whatever you like. When you start a match, the Doctrine System comes into play. At the beginning, each player chooses Allied, German, or Soviet sides and then they choose what doctrine they’ll be using. That decision will determine a player’s composition of starting units and what skills they’ll have. It created a kind of class-based system similar to shooters. It gets really interesting when players choose different doctrines and work together, such as using an Infantry player to scout the map, a Tank player to be the forward assault team, and a Support player to provide artillery based on the Infantry scouting. Reinforcements are similar to the first Sudden Strike games, though we opted out of zeppelins as the control points for that action. Instead, we went with train stations and harbors. If you can control resource points and these stations and harbors, you can call in reinforcements for your side. Doctrines also affect what units you can call. Everyone can call in basic units, but only specific doctrines can call in their most specialized units.
GameWatcher: Of course, Steam Workshop support is also planned for Sudden Strike 4. Previous games have featured extensive map editors. What kind of modding tools will Sudden Strike 4 bring to the table for modders to work with?
Schlütter: From the get-go, we want Sudden Strike 4 to have mod support. Modding is a big part of what has kept this series alive for years. There are a lot of great mods out there with so much content and we’re absolutely set on providing that as well. From day one, players will be able to create their own maps and mods for Sudden Strike 4. Scripts, set-ups, maps, and scenarios, via linked maps. We might have more in mind, but we can’t promise anything further just yet.
Between the Doctrine System, the extensive research, and more Sudden Strike 4 appears to be on the path to being one of the most intense, engaging, and interesting real-time strategy tactics games out there. It’s clear to see how much love KITE and Kalypso have for this series, while also being unafraid to strike a balance between old school and modernization. It will be fantastic to see what comes of it when the game launches on August 11, 2017.
To learn more about Sudden Strike 4, head over to the game’s Steam page.
To get the latest news and updates about the game, be sure to follow Kalypso Media on Twitter and Facebook