Interview with Mario Kroll, Associate Producer
Title: Codename PANZERS: Phase One
Publisher: CDV Software Entertainment
CDV Representative(s): Mario Kroll, Associate Producer
First off, thanks for taking the time for this Q&A. Can you tell us what your position entails at CDV, and how it is related to Codename: PANZERS?
You’re absolutely welcome. Thank you for helping us get the word out about our newest title.
I’m relatively new to CDV, having joined there only at the beginning of July, after nine years at the helm of and in a variety of roles at Wargamer.com. Because I was born and raised in Germany but lived my formative years in North America, I act as somewhat of a liaison between the activities of our German headquarters and our office here in North Carolina.
I wear two “official” and numerous unofficial hats here in the North American office for CDV. My roles are primarily to promote awareness about Codename: Panzers in the English speaking countries where the game has yet to be released, with lots of heavy lifting in the online area. As part of this role, I travel around the country and try to show the highlights of the game to any unsuspecting passers by, and, of course, any media professionals that want to look at the game over a pint, a cup of latte or, if I have to, while they are hog-tied. ;-)
Complimentary to that, I also am the “official” English language community manager, which means I am fairly hands-on involved in keeping our fans and CDV forum community members informed, as best as I am able, as to features, release dates, game play mechanics, modding, and really everything else they want to know (and it’s a pretty diverse set of questions).
The associate producer portion of my title really entails taking a look at the game from the U.S. gamers’ perspective (and other English speaking players as best as I am able) and offering input, suggestions, and constructive criticisms to improve the Panzers series. I basically do whatever is needed to help the team here and in Germany publish and sell Panzers successfully.
Recently, CDV published Blitzkrieg and the Burning Horizon stand-alone expansion for it. What differentiates PANZERS from Blitzkrieg? Also, what differentiates PANZERS from other recent titles within the strategy genre?
Blitzkrieg really is a very different game from Panzers. Primarily the focus difference between the two is that Panzers is aimed at a much more casual gaming audience. I like to think of Panzers as a traditional real time tactical (or strategy) game, if you will, that happens to be set against the backdrop of some of World War II’s most exciting or impacting battles. It’s meant to be accessible and to allow for a quick get-in, get-out gaming session. (Although some battles can be pretty engrossing, so getting out is a little harder at times. ;-)
The graphics engine in Panzers is ideal for highlighting the game’s eye-candy rich environment and truly detailed units. In fact, I think it does a better job than any other game in the same genre that I’ve played or seen on the market thus far. Panzers can be played from a semi-bird-eye perspective for improved situational awareness all the way to looking down the barrel of a firing tank, a level of zoom that is not possible in Blitzkrieg.
Compared to the genre, particularly within World War II titles, Panzers is also more story-driven. Panzers focuses on three distinct campaigns where, at the center of each, there resides a hero character. This hero is sort of the player’s alter ego (in the single player campaign). The hero must survive each mission, gains in experience and prestige, and guides the player through the plot. I think this makes the game much more personal. Players are encouraged not to take unreasonable risks, as the loss of the hero ends the campaign, and the loss of seasoned veteran units also severely hurts, or at least negatively impacts combat capabilities.
Will there be any resource gathering and unit/structure building features in the game?
There will be no resource gathering. Other than to meet certain victory conditions, unit/structure control only exists in the multiplayer Domination mode. We’ve included factories, barracks, and radar stations in that mode, to allow the creation and replenishment of vehicles, infantry, and support units if you control one or more of these structures. The winner of a Domination game is the team that can successfully eliminate all enemy units and stop the enemy from holding sources of unit replenishment.
Prestige collected throughout the game (by eliminating enemies) determines what kind of units the player can purchase between missions, so resource management, while largely tactical, still has strategic implications. If one builds a core army heavy in armor, for example, the tactical options will be very different from those building infantry-heavy, artillery-focused, or combined arms forces, so the addition and “sale” of each unit after the completion of each mission must be carefully considered. For example, do you “sell” your experienced infantry unit because it would allow you to add a new “raw recruit” heavy tank that’s likely to be needed in the next mission? The game is full of these types of choices.
What about multiple campaigns? Can you only play the major nations in multiplayer, or is it possible to play campaigns in single player as each nation, or do you have one extended campaign in which players will be switching sides as they play?
There are three campaigns in the game: German, Soviet, and Anglo-American or “Allied”. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, but the latter represents various battles in which either the Americans or British were involved, and the shift in unit types available, spoken accent of units controlled, and so forth, adjust accordingly. Generally, the British are more active and available in the early missions, while the Americans dominate the late war missions.
The three campaigns are distinct, each beginning and ending at the height of the nations’ involvement in the war. Heroes do not transfer between the campaigns when one starts and enters, nor do they switch sides, such as is the case with Call of Duty, for example.
For example, the German campaign begins at the onset of the war but ends after Stalingrad in late 1942, while the Soviets campaign starts in late 1941 and ends with the liberation of Berlin in April of 1945; the Western Allies don’t start until 1944 with the attempted capture of key bridges and then support the Utah Beach landings (the second demo we released), and end a few months after the Battle of the Bulge.
These complete campaigns are only available as a linked, ongoing experience in single-player mode. But, each of the missions from the single player mode is also available for multiplayer via the cooperative mode, which is my personal favorite. In cooperative mode, however, you have to manually select each mission and requisition units for each mission independently (i.e., experience and prestige doesn’t persist throughout the campaign). While this diminishes the immersive story flow that a true cooperative campaign might allow, as a tradeoff it allows you to skip those missions you didn’t particularly care for in the single-player campaigns and even to switch sides as your mood dictates.
Cooperative mode works as follows: The person setting up the map picks the nationality (German, Soviet, or Allied) and that determines which and how many missions are available. Both players must play the same side in cooperative mission mode. The missions are all those that are available in the single-player campaigns.
Both players requisition (or buy) a number of units and then control only those units that they individually purchased within the game to jointly achieve the objectives. It’s really a very nice and, I think, unusual way to play a fast-paced World War II RTS. Players can balance each other with complimentary unit choices (the most sensible and effective approach) or they can really experiment. One player, for example, could buy only infantry type units, while the other buys only armor. It really opens up replay value long after the single-player campaigns have been completed, yet still encourages cooperation among players, something often lacking in multiplayer games.
Speaking of online, how many players can play in an online game? Are there limitations to what nations can play against one another? For example, if players want to have a “Britain vs. America” game, is that possible?
Presently up to eight players can play in most maps, but some only support four. These can be human or computer opponents divided into two teams.
The "Allies" are one nation for game purposes and represent the Anglo-American side. Basically you get to pick from a combined pool of significant British and American units and, in the single-player campaign game, you may be operating British and/or American units.
As far as the multiplayer aspects go, it is theoretically possible to play any nation against any nation, including selecting “Allies” and then picking only British units, while the opponent only picks American units. An example of that is the recent limited multiplayer demo. It only allows the German units to be picked, so any match in the multiplayer demo (only) will be German on German units. If you were into that kind of thing, you could theoretically fight Americans vs. British, or even Americans vs. Americans.
Practically speaking, on the specific example regarding the British vs. American scenario, however, there’s one caveat. Because of the way the game is designed, the British units tend to be those available early in the war, while the American units are those available later in the war for the Allies (late and early are settings in the multiplayer modes that impact unit availability). This means that in the hypothetical scenario you describe, either the British or the American player would have very slim pickings and the match would probably play like a playground basketball league taking on the Harlem Globetrotters.
Playing generic German on Allied, Allied on Soviet, or Soviet on German multiplayer games seems like a less confusing and more enjoyable approach. Besides, it makes it so much easier to visually know whom to shoot, very much like real warfare: if they look different from you, kill them. ;-)
Can you tell us about the graphics engine? Is it from another game, or built fresh from the ground up? What sort of graphical touches should we expect to see?
The engine is a brand new creation called the Gepard (German for “cheetah”) engine. It is a beautiful creation by Hungarian developer Stormregion (S.W.I.N.E. fame) that really excels at highlighting the game’s amazing graphics, stunning detail, fully destructible environment, and weather and day-night cycles.
Some of my favorite aspects are the explosions, complete with particle effects and flying infantry units. There are so many great detailed touches in the games: buildings, trees and vegetation are all very nicely rendered, scarecrows, civilian vehicles, and armor tracks across the terrain. I personally also like the telephone poles, complete with wires that realistically snap when destroyed by an explosion or collision with a tank.
RTS games need a solid enemy AI to be enjoyable. What can you tell us about the AI for the various nations in the game? Do they each fight like their real-world counterparts, or are they all based on the same AI routines no matter what side you’re playing against? Also, assuming that each country has native unit advantages, does the AI take this into consideration when planning the strategy?
In my personal experience with the game, the AI largely employs similar tactics across the board. Generally speaking the AI puts together a fairly impressive and aggressive combined arms attack, to include utilizing air support, artillery, and rockets to pound the snot out of your forces. The Soviets, in particular, have a slightly different AI pattern in that in some of the missions, particularly early on, they can get demoralized and forced conscripts will actually run and flee from the battle, which lends a nice historical flavor.
While I don’t think the AI has been taken anywhere as far as it could go in a game of this magnitude, it’s a solid effort for the first iteration of Panzers and we plan to polish this even further in the stand-alone sequels that are planned. We’ve been very fortunate that our forum community has offered much feedback and some great ideas; we hope to implement at least some of those into the future versions.
While we’re talking about the various nations in the game, how detailed will each of their units be?
Very. While there are always abstractions of relative speed, armor strength and concentration, firepower, ammunition capabilities, etc., in any military game, the developers have really focused on including the who’s who of World War II units, and making those react as authentically as is possible within the confines of this particular game system.
That means, for starters, they look simply gorgeous, and stand up proudly to close-up inspection at the greatest zoom levels. The units also realistically sway and rock when firing and when hit, and move very much like the real historical units. Comparative strengths and weaknesses of the historical units have been preserved, and basic sound tactical employment generally yields positive results, even if we’ve taken liberties with historical accuracy when it conflicts with game play or fun.
What sort of gameplay should players expect to see in PANZERS? Will there be a mix of stealth and combat elements, or is it strictly combat-oriented? Can you walk us through a typical mission?
Summing it up, Panzers offers a highly varied, fast-paced, nearly perfect blend of exhilarating game play elements within a rich, immersive environment based on key historical battles.
You name it, it’s in there, particularly in the campaigns. Really! There are pure military offensive missions, defensive missions, those where speed is of the essence, those were resources have to be captured, destroyed, or protected. Any time you think you’ve perfected a tactic that worked in one mission and start to rest on your laurels, the game does a solid job of reminding you that tactics have to continually evolve and that there’s no one-size-fits-all tactical solution.
We’ll actually be publishing a series of walk-through articles written in the voice of each of the key heroes in the game that do this much greater justice than I can here, but one of my favorite missions involves the Soviets, called “Kursk”:
At the beginning of the mission you have to defend from within a Soviet village against a German attack, primarily from the South, but along at least two different axes. The fog of war is really nerve-wracking and you have no idea, but through limited use of scout planes, where the Germans will attack, nor what they will throw at you. This challenges the player to appropriately split his or her forces, or to risk a German breakthrough.
Once the initial onslaught has been deterred, you are called to retreat behind a just-completed protective mine field. If you are quick, you can get there just in time for main thrust of the German attack. While many of the German units do get stuck and disabled in the mines, it’s an engrossing fight with air support, tactical bombers, and artillery flying in all directions, while a heavy concentration of Soviet and German main battle tanks duke it out. What appeals to me is the fluidity of the battle and the requirement to first think defensively and preserve your forces. Then you have to turn 180 degrees and go on the offensive with a counter-attack. That’s really a perfect representation of the wide range of game play that customers should expect for Panzers.
What are the victory conditions of the game? Is it a scorched earth policy to win?
They are very diverse and really depend on the specific mission or game type that is played. Some require straight military defeats; others require that, for example, you find a key informer, spy, or prisoner; still others require the interdiction of enemy supplies or key vehicles, the destruction of buildings, or even the protection of friendly or allied resources or units.
I think there are missions in this game for everyone, and the collective campaigns require a wide range of skills, approaches, and tactics for success. That, to me, is one of the most attractive and appealing features of the game that really make it stand out from an otherwise occasionally “me too” genre.
Since part of the game’s name is “Phase One”, should we be expecting a sequel next year?
While I can’t talk about any dates yet, we can say that work on Phase Two has begun. Our current plans are to release at least three Panzers titles (Phase One, Two, and Three), and each is planned as stand-alone product. One of the most anticipated additions that the next sequel will introduce will be a mission editor, for example. We tried hard to include that in Phase One, but were regrettably unable to do so.
To wrap it up, it seems that CDV is directing a lot of energy towards building RTS titles. Do you see them expanding into other genres, or is strategy going to be their bread-and-butter for a long time?
While, at my pay grade, as they say in the Army, I can’t speak about the long-term strategic objectives of CDV, I can comment on a few points.
CDV has long been very successful in Europe and Germany in particular. Currently, for example, we have seven titles in the German top twenty charts by weekly software sales. We clearly want to achieve similar results in the United States and the English language market in general.
We’ve had significant success with a number of key titles that have become flagship brands for us: Blitzkrieg, the Combat Mission series, Sudden Strike, Cossacks, American Conquest, and now Codename: Panzers. While I am certain we are always open to exploring avenues of other games that make sense for us to publish, we have found a successful niche within the real time strategy and war game genres, have accumulated significant experience therein, and there’s really no reason not to continue along that path, as long as it makes business sense.
As a seasoned war and strategy gamer, I certainly hope that’s where CDV continues to focus the core of its energies.