Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Company of Heroes 2 Preview

Here's my coverage of the recent COH2 previews held by THQ. You can find this on RelicNews Forums if you so wish!
Out of the blue last week, I was invited to what has to be the most terrifying and awesome experience of my life. I was invited to preview the best of THQ’s upcoming games, and at the perfect time – I already had the time booked off!
I was treated to many things that day, not least of all a massive spray paint of Death, from Darksiders II – however, this is not what I am writing about. I was lead into a presentation shortly after my arrival, and Danny Bilson took to the stage to introduce a man you are likely familiar with.
Quinn Duffy – a 14 year vet at Relic, and the driving force behind COH2. Duffy was quick to remind us that he worked on COH1 as well, and we got to see perhaps the most professional and well-made power point I’ve ever seen.
Now, your likely thinking “oh, I don’t care about COH1, I played it”, but it’s important to understand Relic’s original vision and plan for COH1, and how they went about it – that will give you some idea of the level of work and love they are putting into COH2.
[LIST][*]The original was made in 2006
[*]They had three goals: It had to have the “gritty realism” of war scenes like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, it had to be about Real soldiers, real battles, etc. and had to be the highest rated RTS of all time. [/LIST]
 [i]Editor’s note: I believe they succeed on all counts. COH1 still holds the only true top spot for RTS on aggregated review sites.[/i]
[LIST] [*]It had to be a “tactical RTS” (flanking, etc)
[*]Recently hit a new high unique player count – in March, and again this month with the COH promotion in PC Gamer and Steam Sale (the servers died).
[*]While COH and WW2 in general focus on the whole western front and the Normandy battles and the push into France, the reality of it was that COH1 only covered 4 months out of 6 years of war.
[*]They went further – 13 of the 15th bloodiest battles happened on the eastern front.[/LIST]
The team looked back at their original vision for the first game – and wanted to capture that in the sequel. The eastern front was brutal, and Relic want to present “The ruthless truth of war” as they put it, but still remain sensitive.
They want players to experience the reality of war.
At this point, we were given a first class history lesson. An awful lot of clips were played, not all of them I can remember perfectly, but they conveyed the effort Relic had put into looking at the eastern front.
They are doing their homework, their research, and they are pulling out all the stops. The development team actually took a trip to Germany and Russia to look at historical exhibits and even the places where fighting took place. They went to some of the biggest battlefields.
During this, they decided they wanted to have more authenticity in the game – and started to record weapon sounds. They rode half-tracks.
This, leads up to one of the areas Relic hope to improve the most (on what was already a very impressive accomplishment) – sound. Relic went out and recorded an MG42. They experienced it first hand, and have done so with other weapons. We we’re treated to a recording of the original COH MG42, followed by a real MG42. It was terrifying, and amazing all at once. Relic placed microphones carefully to catch the reverb of the gunfire, and it paid off.
They also talked to the war experts and saw all the weapons they put in the game, and again their strategy was reiterated. They want to focus on the frontline, the soldiers, not the leaders and strategy of the war.
We were then given the deliciously juicy details: The reason for the delay to COH2 was to rewrite the essence engine to 3.0.
A massive undertaking, they built in:
[LIST][*]New rendering
[*]New animation
[*]New simulation
[*]New environmental gameplay
[*]The new engine allows for new features - snow being one of the most talked about. But it also allows tanks to slide on ice. SLIDE ON ICE.[/LIST]
Queue a shot of a Panzer 4 looking shiny and new in the rebuilt engine. It looked pretty spiffy. A video of T34 sliding around on ice followed - This new engine lets them make the game they want to – the game COH2 deserves to be.
The new engine allows for new features - snow being one of the most talked about. But it also allows tanks to slide on ice. SLIDE ON ICE.
The campaign is about freeing mother Russia, told from the perspective of a jaded war correspondent who is writing about the failings of communism.
A big thing however, is what relic plan to do – Soviets are about hammering their opponent with waves of men, and the line specifically used was “millions of hammers, hitting the germans”. The Germans by comparison, are technologically advanced and highly trained – this will be reflected by the design of each army.
Editor’s Note: I was expecting Relic to talk about Combat Doctrines here, but they confirm later by interview that they are saying nothing about those at the moment.
And the biggest news of all was revealed – brand new vehicle criticals. The one we were demonstrated was “abandoned”, where an SU-76 was left there to be picked up, similar to guns that currently drop on the ground. Specific examples were “What if you could loot a tiger or an IS-2? That would give you a new dynamic to fight around”.
The mission previewed has already been covered better than I could by most publications – but some interesting tidbits not well spoken about:
[LIST][*]The mission is Rzhev Meatgrinder
[*]6 man squads as basic, grenades and possibly light soviet machine guns
[*]4 man engineer squads with flamers and democharges.[/LIST]
[i]Editor’s note: The flamers are fantastic – they now explode out of the barrel with a big ball followed by a jet. Buildings have had their burning effects overhauled and the screenshots just don’t do the burning building justice. Hopefully you guys can see the effects and hear the sounds soon.[/i]
[LIST][*]Mortars have been made RIDICULOUS. The explosive effects and sounds we’re shocking to the system, and looked amazing.
[*]Vaulting was shown off – already well covered – you click on a bit of wall and the men jump over. Squad AI did seem a LITTLE touch and go here, but they seem to be able to jump over them pretty well.
[*]True sight was shown off with a bunch of trees.
[*]MG42 noise was shown off – still rocked my ears off.
[*]Soviet MG is on wheels, has a largish squad (4-5?).
[*]Pak’s also have a visual upgrade – I didn’t see the shell travel, but the explosive effect of it against the tank armour was impressive.
[*]They have redoubled all efforts on AI – they know that a majority of players play vs. the computer, and want to recognise that. They also want the campaign AI to be decent, for the best possible experience. We saw some AI german soldiers flank a soviet MG, and proceed to miss (narrowly) with a grenade. Still some work to do there, Relic!
[*]They wanted tanks to feel like “30 tonne diesel snorting monsters”. Best line of the presentation.
[*]The demo closed with a german plane blowing a T34 sky high.[/LIST]
Interview slot:
I got the chance to ask a few questions to a couple of the Relic folks – James, whom is studio and marketing as well as consumer interfacing (and worked with Thunder and Noun, and works a lot with Ruined); and Alex, whom is the new general manager of Relic, replacing Jonathan Dowdeswell. Both we’re really cool to talk to and it was a pleasure meeting them.
[LIST][*]Steamworks for DRM
[*]Campaign is purely Russian. Germans are obviously in for MP.
[*]There was talk of DLC – but they definitely aren’t confirming anything yet. It’s still very, very early days for them and they are still on approach to alpha – DLC is a long way off.
[*]A shorthand for why COH:O was killed was for COH2 to flourish. The team didn’t want to split efforts, and decided to focus on one product.
[*]DMO has caused a lot of restructuring for Relic. They are, naturally, pretty devastated, but are lucky that most of the COH team are intact and able to work on COH2.
[*]They are pretty relieved that COH2 is announced. They have been silent for 3 years – insert link to penny arcade strip with the blizzard guy having a bomb in his head if he talks.
[*]They are thrilled by the reaction to COH2. Nice to know they are wanted.
[*]Co-operative – I didn’t get a straight answer. The line was “they aren’t talking about that” and “they are looking at other products and aware people like to play with their friends”. I’d take that as a yes.
[*]Commander trees aren’t being talked about. They want to bring back “core mechanics”, and this is one of them. I suspect, given the hush hush, commander trees are going to see some changes, maybe big ones. The fact nothing was being said, and I was given the core mechanics line tells me they are working on it still.
[*]Base building is in. I was told “this isn’t going to be like DOW2, we want to recreate the experience of the original”. I’d say that bodes pretty well.[/LIST]