Those of you who thought Relic’s acquisition by SEGA would have affected Company of Heroes 2 in any negative way - prepare to be relieved. The studio has been working “without distraction” on the upcoming RTS, which focuses on the ‘Forgotten Theatre’ of World War II: the Eastern Front conflict between Russia and Germany.
As well as a campaign that seeks to bring a ‘darker’ tone to the series, the game will also be supported by DLC packs that aim to expand its offering to fans over time. Since the first Company of Heroes
is still being enjoyed by many gamers nearly seven years after its release, it makes sense that Relic is looking to keep things exciting for the long-term.
I spoke with game director Quinn Duffy on the new mode, and got some insight into the design ethos for the sequel. Read on...
SPOnG: The Theatre of War DLC takes a different tack from the game’s main campaign, focusing on other conflicts during World War II. What was the reason for doing that, rather than laser-focusing on something specific in the Eastern Front?
It gave us a chance to do both sides of the war, in an apolitical, non-narrative setting. It also helps us support our Comp Stomp/PvE players with content they’ve never been able to use before. We’ve never been able to give these players anything before, so we jumped on the opportunity to do that and serve a whole group of our player base.
Theatre of War
allows us to really go into more breadth and depth on any conflict that took place during that period. The first pack focuses on 1941, and some of the major battles from that. But 1942? We could either go with breadth and cover a large range of stuff... or we could really zone in one aspect and focus a bunch of maps on something like Stalingrad.
So we have the flexibility to build a lot of different content that really gets into the world of conflict in a way that we could never completely cover in the campaign mode alone.
SPOnG: So it’s like a prologue/epilogue that bookends what happens in the campaign?
Yeah, pretty much!
SPOnG: How does that affect gameplay, and some of the unique mechanics that are present in Company of Heroes 2 that specifically address the Eastern Front?
All the stuff in there is Eastern Front focused, but what we can do is micro-target to a degree. For example, we could see that players are loving a particular mode, or they can’t get enough of the map where they get to blow the bridges and just hold people off. We could focus on just those elements. Or, they could love the cold, or tell us that they don’t want the cold. They might want an open-flowing map or want to experience Kursk.
These are things we can actually use to pinpoint something, whether it’s mechanics in a challenge or something broader - something tonal - and get that across. I think it’s really exciting. This feels like a great addition to the game that we can build on for years to come.
SPOnG: By focusing on the Eastern Front, you’re taking something of a more dramatic approach. Especially in the campaign cutscenes, with the Russian soldier who gets disillusioned with the hard line of his superiors. What do you think about games that take a more serious approach to historical warfare, like Spec Ops: The Line? Was it important to take that more mature path?
I think that’s part of the ethos of the team. When we decided to make a sequel, we looked back and thought it best to reset the creative vision of the game. Not because the tone wasn’t suitable, but because we wanted to make sure that... for this game especially, we needed a darker tone.
The Western Front is often pictured as a glorious victory against evil, and heroism shines through in particular because we won that side, and that’s really what people hear about. But the bulk of the War took place in the East. It was darker - a war of survival and a war of just utter brutality. That needed to come across - we needed to make sure that, on as many levels as possible, we were driving towards that perspective.
When we looked at our creative vision, we wanted to let the player experience the ‘ruthless truth of war’. That comes from a quote from Russia, and it was something we wanted to build on. To make sure that there was choice in the game, but also consequences. In an arcade game, you shoot something, it blows up and everything’s awesome. In this game, you shoot something and somebody dies.
It’s a very different perspective. I think it was partly a -- war is a serious business, and personally it really bothers me when it’s treated with a kind of levity. It just doesn’t suit.
SPOnG: Company of Heroes came out in 2006, so it’s been a good number of years before you started work on a sequel. What pushed you to take that next step?
I think there were a number of things. It really takes a confluence of desire, team, technology and inspiration. There were a couple of things on all fronts that we might have mentioned in the past that we felt we were better off tackling in a sequel. But in terms of inspiration... one of our designers was killed in a car accident. He was a big part of the franchise and, looking back, that made us really want to do something with Company of Heroes
[to honour him].
So, even though it was a tragic event, sometimes these sorts of situations are the ones that can catalyse people and bring people together. Once we were inspired, we started looking at the tech, getting ideas together, deciding on the Eastern Front and what it means, and how to build it.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where Quinn talks SEGA and the games industry at large!