Article Title: GamersHell QandA Session
Game Title: Joint Task Force
Platforms: PC
Author: Stevie Smith

Real-Time Strategy titles are rife through the gaming industry, with everyone vying for their God-given right to a share of the consumer searchlight. But with the genre pumping out games that could almost be labeled as generic, it's refreshing to see a title attempting to raise itself from the clinging grip of the mediocre: Enter HD Interactive and Mithis with the visually scrumptious Joint Task Force. Want to know more? We had the questions and they had the answers. Read on.

1) Hi Vincent, before we start things off, can you first tell our readers who you are and outline your role in the Joint Task Force project?

My name is Vincent van Diemen, I am the producer for Joint Task Force.

2) The initial press release from HD Interactive states that Joint Task Force will "bring a new dimension to the (PC) RTS genre" Would you please elaborate on that for us?

I know it sounds ambitious, but definitely not more ambitious then it really is. We find that there is very little innovation in RTS games in general. We'd like to bring something new to the 'typical RTS players' without scaring them away with too many bells and whistles that would make them feel like strangers to their own gaming genre. So innovation will have to come through subtle changes, changes that will alter the players' experience, force them to think differently, while still offering the typical RTS style of gameplay.

Let me name a few instances that are unique to Joint Task Force. First of all we are using contemporary settings, like Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Somalia. We stick to realism in regards to weaponry, but also in regards to setting, resource system, etc. Gameplay comes first, but realism is a good second in our design. We use real physics in the game (including rag doll effects and buildings that can be deconstructed), we have embedded media in some of the missions, we have cooperative multiplayer in Campaign mode, and we have an expanding map system that introduces new parts of the map to the player while they're playing. There is so much more I could go on for ever. :)

3) This is another HD Interactive collaboration with developers Mithis following the critically acclaimed Nexus - The Jupiter Incident. Has that prior partnership with Mithis carried over into Joint Task Force and made for an even better developmental experience?

We at HD Interactive feel very strongly that the typical developer-publisher relationship is not helping anyone. We work together with our developers on a level of equivalence based on mutual respect. If developer and publisher work well together it's like 1+1=3; maximize all available potential in every field.

We believe it worked quite well with Nexus, a product that already went through some rough times in its development before we picked it up. The development of Joint Task Force is done by a different team within Mithis, but I think it is safe to say that Mithis offered the product to us first because of our relationship. I have full reason to believe that our approach is working with the JTF team, as it did with the Nexus team.

4) Can you outline the game's basic structural features, mission objectives and interface development for our readers? And also how these attributes will successfully differentiate Joint Task Force from the current sway of RTS games?

One very important element of the missions in JTF is the expanding maps, often referred to as the 'Dynamic Mission system'. When you start playing a mission in JTF you will only start with part of the map. This map will expand when certain events are triggered, which are usually connected to mission objectives. After these objectives have been achieved a new part of the map will be revealed and made accessible to the player. He or she will never know how big the new part will be, where it will appear, or what it will contain (it may be new primary or secondary objectives, but who knows?).

Mission objectives will vary from the usual combat approach, to reconnaissance, elimination, rescue, escort, etc. In some of the missions there will be media present in which case you will have to make sure they live to report your heroic actions. Another element here is your standing with the nations that fund the JTF. Since the game has realistic physics and settings the player may be tempted to blow up every (civilian) building in the way and not care about civilian casualties, but that is a dead end. If your reputation is hurt by your use of excessive force, your funding will be cut and eventually it will get you in trouble. On the other hand you can participate in more humanitarian tasks (often secondary-and thus optional-objectives) in which case your reputation will improve and your funds will grow.

Your funds will allow you to call in reinforcements, mod your units and request air strikes or artillery fire.

5) The action takes place across several diverse areas of the world, including the Middle East. Was it a contentious decision to include this particular global hotspot due to the current topical nature attached to the region?

This game is about war and war is a delicate matter. War is not exactly a game, but real wars are often an inspiration for games. We can't change that and, more importantly, we know why that is. It doesn't make sense for us to choose a contemporary setting in a modern day setting and then leave out Iraq. The conflict in the Middle East is part of our world today, so we include it. Of course, we've had a lot of discussions to make sure we know where we are 'ethically speaking'.

6) The game's sheer level of visual detail is astounding, especially considering most of it will be lost to the eye through viewing the action from a semi-distant 3D isometric viewpoint. Is this focused and lavish attention a conscious effort to push the graphical envelope for the genre? (Note: the camera can be zoomed to enjoy the full splendor of the game).

I remember that John Carmack once said that he didn't want to make single-player games anymore, as it took one person a few weeks to design and build a decent map and it would take the player only ten minutes to go through it while playing. I do not agree with the necessity of this balance. If you consider that a million people play the game, it is still being enjoyed for 10 million minutes. Detail is a very important matter. You may think that a lot of the detail is lost because of the zoom level and the perspective, but I am very confident that it will contribute to the quality of the game. Also it gives us more freedom to play with the zoom levels. Joint Task Force will have 'quality' written all over it and I am sure it will pay off.

7) How did HD Interactive and Mithis approach the subject of AI in Joint Task Force so as to avoid the 'accumulate and attack' solution so readily adopted by, dare we say it, the tactically challenged? And are players duly awarded for carefully planned and faultlessly executed strategies?

A decent strategy will surely pay off in Joint Task Force. To ensure this we have several elements in place. First of all the resource system is dynamic, but your resources are limited. Depending on your difficulty setting (and the previously mentioned 'standing'), you only have so much money to spend. You do not send your sniper out to cut trees or have your infantry mine gold. That's a different game. Furthermore the dynamic mission system with the expanding maps will make it much harder to predict what will happen next during a mission. Besides that we have an advanced squad system that will overcome a lot of the typical RTS problems, but it is too early to say how much of these ideas will make it into the final game.

Taking good care of your troops is essential in JTF. All your troops will be transferred to the next mission and there's a hero system that allows you to take troops to the next campaign as well. Troops will gather experience during play and this increases their abilities and performance. Also, most troops can be modified, which basically means that you can enhance them by giving them secondary equipment or weaponry.

8) For the sake of added authenticity, will players gain access to enemy vehicles and weaponry as well as their own, and is gameplay in any way affected in comparison to the use of standard issue equipment?

Players will be able to acquire enemy equipment. Sometimes soldiers will drop equipment or weapons when they are killed in combat. The player will be able to take control over enemy vehicles when they are captured. Repairs to enemy equipment are far more limited as opposed to the JTF's own stuff. Also the player will receive a penalty in effectiveness for the use of enemy weaponry. If you are trained to use an Abrams tank, will you be able to jump into a T55 and instantly use it to its utmost potential?

9) Is it fair to say that Joint Task Force attempts to mutate across genres via the attainment of specific 'hero' units, which exist as central elements of strategic and offensive progression? It smacks a little of players building relationships with nurtured and evolved units whereby they come to value the life of the 'hero'-much like the closeness one felt when playing the classic Cannon Fodder. Or are we way off base with this one?

You are definitely supposed to build a relationship with your troops in the game. On the lower difficulty levels it is fun, on the higher difficulty levels it is called survival. The game has a bunch of heroes that are introduced to you along the way. They all play a role in the story of the game. Some heroes you may lose, other must stay with you, so their survival is essential to your success. Furthermore you are offered the option to promote certain units that have reached the highest possible rank to hero-status. This will cost resources, so you will have to choose carefully. After promoting a unit to hero-status, he will be added to your hero-pool, which means you can use him/her in the following campaign(s) as well. Heck, you probably even get to give them a name!

10) Over the course of the game's evolution from concept to product, has there been a single defining moment when you felt you were on to a winner and that the game would rise above the other offerings in a rather crowded marketplace?

It's already quite difficult to be modest about what we are preparing for you guys out there, but now you are really pushing it ;)

Seriously, both HD and Mithis have always been aware of the possible competition (there were no contemporary RTS games announced when we started-you never know from the start what competition you will face), but we are very confident about what we are doing. The team has done two RTS games before (S.W.I.N.E. and Codename Panzers: Phase One) and together with our innovative attitude and knowledge of the market we know we are able to create a winner. Of course we keep a close eye on our competition and there are certainly some interesting products out there. But nothing that keeps me from sleeping at night.

11) The game isn't scheduled for release until Q2 2006, but you did showcase a build at this year's E3 expo. How was it generally received by the industry types?

The build that we showed at E3 was the first playable we've made. The team did a fabulous job in creating this from all the assets that were built in the past year. We showed it only to invited press and to our distribution partners. In general all feedback was very positive. Our business partners are very eager to work with us on this great game and the press gave us some coverage, which we love as well. On several occasions we were compared to other RTS games that have up to ten times our budget-which is nothing less than promising. We are very serious about making sure we feed you some new stuff regularly so that you can keep track of what we are doing and to show that we will deliver.

12) It's shameless plug time: In fifty words or less, offer compelling reasons why GamersHell readers should opt for Joint Task Force once it hits the stores.

If you are a fan of RTS games, hungry for a new look at the genre that stays true to its characteristic gameplay, and you enjoy the proper use of new technology and are ready for a new challenge, then YOU must be the GamersHell reader that the guy asking the question is referring to!

Hmm that's 55 words actually. Well, take some out if you like. :)

(Along with the extra comment it's 66, but we forgive you.)

Our thanks to Vincent van Diemen for taking the time to face GamersHell's questions regarding Joint Task Force, and we will certainly be keeping our PC ears to the ground for the joyous rumble of approaching Abrams tanks.

Keep it with GamersHell for a thorough preview and eventual review of this most promising RTS title.