Blitzkrieg 2 Q&A
By: Stevie Smith
Real-Time Strategy titles are piling up all over the place in 2005. Is there a gaming year in history that offered more? But does more coverage mean less diversity? Well, CDV and Nival Interactive don't think so. They hope to assault the senses and bombard the strategic gray matter with their upcoming Blitzkrieg 2. Have they deployed their development forces with enough potent accuracy to obliterate the opposition? We fired a few query shells at their feverish studio trenches and awaited a response, here's what we got from CDV's Mario Kroll, their Director of Marketing and Public Relations for North America:
1) At ease, Mario, before loading up your answering volleys, would you first bark your name and rank at our readers and outline your specific mission profile during the planning of Blitzkrieg 2?
My name is Mario Kroll. I'm the official spokesperson for CDV Software Entertainment's North American offices. I also assist as Associate Producer by providing design and feature input and doing what I can to represent the views and wants of North American audiences, to ensure the developers are aware of what we're looking for in strategy games on this side of the big pond. My primary role is to ensure that U.S. and Canadian journalists and gamers hear about our games, such as Blitzkrieg 2, and get deservedly excited about it.
2) Okay, enough of the shoehorned military jargon. Please outline Blitzkrieg 2 for those not familiar with the PC series, and also elaborate a little on the game's core driving narrative.
Blitzkrieg 2 is a real-time strategy title focusing on key events throughout World War II. Gamers can play as the Germans, Americans or Russians, and fight most if not all of the battles that their historical counterparts participated in.
Nival, the game's developer, has painstakingly researched each and every unit, structure and location that's included in the game to make it as true-to-life as possible. We expect Blitzkrieg 2 to continue being our most hardcore World War II RTS, a perfect fit for those that enjoy a truly playable but also very realistic gaming experience, where real-world tactics are rewarded with real-world results.
For example, you'll never see a machine gunner take down a tank, no matter how much ammo he expends upon the task - this is very unlike other RTS titles where any unit can eventually beat any other units by throwing greater numbers at the problem, accomplishing eventual death-by-attrition.
3) Blitzkrieg 2 is yet another coupling of talents between CDV and Nival Interactive, how has the developmental learning curve gathered throughout the Blitzkrieg anthology manifested itself while working on the direct sequel?
We have a huge amount of respect for Nival, and they are great partners. We certainly look forward to continuing to work on titles with them in the future and have even begun taking our partnership into some non-traditional areas such as the upcoming "Hammer & Sickle".
As far as the Blitzkrieg Anthology goes - a title currently available in retail stores offering the original and all the key expansions and some additional previously unpublished campaigns - we view that as complementing the original game with fresh content, whereas Blitzkrieg 2 is a complete overhaul. While sharing the same name, genre and timeline as the original, Blitzkrieg 2 is a full sequel, with a brand new game engine, new strategic play, dynamic campaign maps, directly controllable aircraft and many other wonderful features that we are confident will repel the "more of the same" labeling.
4) What new elements can players expect to experience within the sequel, and did returning features receive an overhaul during the process?
The game's graphics engine is probably the first thing players will notice as now it's fully 3D. The camera allows for tilt, pan and zoom, and the units are even more detailed than before, as they are full 3D models. Nighttime and weather effects are gorgeous, and we've introduced some truly massive battles that will dwarf the scope of many of the engagements in the original.
Gameplay-wise, the campaign system is modified so as to allow for more open play. Each campaign is split into chapters, each of which is subdivided into missions (usually four basic missions and one chapter-ending mission per chapter). The player can choose in which order to play those missions. So if one mission is giving you a lot of grief, you can skip it, earn some new unit types, experience and reinforcements or upgrades by fighting some easier battles, then come back and hand that mission its head on a platter.
To get to the next chapter, you need to finish at least two missions per chapter, and then complete the final end-of-chapter challenge, which is typically much more challenging than the smaller missions. The game will recommend what missions you should play and in which order--by maximizing your reinforcements and unit upgrade availability--but you don't have to follow that recommendation.
We've also added a new experience system. The player's alter ego will gain experience and rise in military rank throughout each campaign. As the player gets promoted, he or she gains promotion points. For each promotion points, the player may assign a battlefield commander (think lieutenant or captain) to one of the seventeen or so categories of units. Once assigned, all units of the category that has a commander assigned to it will begin accruing battlefield experience as well, ultimately earning that unit type new skills that give it an edge in combat. For example, a regular infantry commander may earn his units the ability to entrench, meaning that his units no longer will require engineering units nearby in order to dig trenches or basic fortifications on its behalf.
5) Do you worry that the RTS marketplace is becoming overly crowded? If so, what do you hope to implement through Blitzkrieg 2 in order to shine that much brighter than your competitors?
No matter what the genre, there's always room for a great game, and that's exactly what Blitzkrieg 2 is--a great WWII RTS title. Blitzkrieg 2 stands out due to its historical accuracy and open gameplay and a simply kick-ass multiplayer experience.
Our game is all about employing realistic tactics in a realistically modeled version of World War II. We think the more serious gamers--but not necessarily grognards--especially those who used to (and probably still do) play tabletop warfare games, will appreciate the work we've put into Blitzkrieg 2. At the same time, the game is attractive and very intuitive, so more casual gamers or fans of other RTS titles not necessarily set in World War II will also find something to truly enjoy.
The open gameplay, which I've already mentioned, will let gamers choose their path through the game. While other titles might force you to play their missions in a more linear fashion, we're giving you the option of skipping missions or playing as out-of-order as you like. Combined with a feature-rich editor and an exciting multiplayer aspect, there's just a whole heck of a lot of gameplay value in Blitzkrieg 2.
6) Can you outline the game's basic historic and geographical structural features, mission objectives, and player interface development for our readers?
Nival and CDV have worked hard to keep the game as historically accurate as possible, while maintaining a very high level of playability.
As I mentioned earlier, all our campaigns and chapters are mission based, and each of these is based on either actual historical events or inspired by such. We, of course, all know how World War II ended and merely re-creating a simulation with foregone results isn't a lot of fun to play, so there's always a bit of balancing one must do to keep things interesting.
The interface received a complete redesign for Blitzkrieg 2, and while players of the original will need a little while to get used to it, I think they will like the improved ways in which we've now handle reinforcements, air and naval units, and many other nuances of gameplay.
7) Outside of the single-player campaigns, the game also features a multiplayer mode, would you care to expand on that for us?
Blitzkrieg 2 will ship with at least ten multiplayer maps. We'll be able to accommodate up to eight players on a game at once, although some maps are designed for fewer, and all can substitute AI-controlled opponents in the place of other humans (but what fun is that?).
There are some intricacies in multiplayer gaming that very much change the tactics and strategies one would employ when compared to the campaign, and we think that will keep things fresh and challenging. While experience fighting the campaigns will provide players with an awareness of different units - strengths and weaknesses, the two modes of play are different and require similar but alternate skill sets for success.
Recently at Penny Arcade's Expo (www.pennyarcadeexpo.com) we played some wonderful two-on-three multiplayer battles over LAN and both Elmar Grunenberg, the game's producer, and I, got our butts handed to us a few times by Blitzkrieg 2 newbies that managed to gang up on us quite effectively. So it won't be one of those titles that you can't compete in online if you miss getting your experience during game launch week. Nival is also managing its own opponent matchmaking and ladder system, so fans will be able to play over the Internet or via their own LAN.
8) The action takes place across several historically accurate theatres of WWII, was it especially challenging to realize an elevated level of authenticity across a central subject that's seen as perhaps overused within the industry?
For many developers, maintaining accuracy across several theaters of warfare might be a huge issue, but given this follows an already fairly realistic World War II title in Blitzkrieg, it was more of a matter of determining what aspects of real World War II warfare we could implement while delivering a manageable, fun-to-play experience for gamers.
9) How will players interface with forces management and accumulation as they progress through the game's storyline?
I already touched on some of this in talking about the new features and the new commander's experience and skill system. As far as force management, each mission starts by giving the player a pre-determined number of units appropriate for the battle situation.
A limited number of reinforcements are available for each mission and for each chapter as a whole. The player can pick how he or she would like to spend the reinforcements--by selecting the unit type--and place each on the battle map with a mouse click, one at a time. After a few moments the selected reinforcement will appear at the nearest friendly base, and make its way as quickly as practical to the selected location. Then, the player will have to wait a predetermined amount of time before more reinforcements can be requested, up to the mission or chapter limit (whichever is smaller).
Reinforcements are also balanced so that, for example, a heavy tank reinforcement request will yield only one or two heavy tanks, while regular infantry reinforcement may bring a company of infantry. Further, the different nationalities have unique characteristics. A Russian commander might obtain more infantry troops per reinforcement request than a similar request by a German commander; but the individual Russian infantry will be slightly less effective in combat than their more heavily equipped and better-trained German counterpart.
10) Visually, Blitzkrieg 2 looks fabulous, are you hoping to lengthen the yardstick of quality you've already established throughout the series' history.
The game's graphics engine was completely redesigned, making it fully 3D, and I'd agree with you--it looks fabulous. As far as raising the bar for quality, we always strive to push the envelope when it comes to our games, although we place more value on top-notch gameplay than perhaps any other single quality in making a great game.
11) The game's engrossing demos are often frenetically paced, with masses of on-screen animation being processed simultaneously. How did you cope with dreaded slowdown during development, and what frame rate does the game now run at?
Nival's been doing RTS titles for a long time now, and they are masters at tweaking game engines to support big battles. They make use of current technology, but also do a good job of making their games playable on fairly typical RTS-sized PCs.
I couldn't tell you the current frame rate, since it all depends on the PC and graphics card you're using, but it plays smoothly on even a machine that meets the minimum requirements, but, of course, plays best on systems that meet or exceed the recommended setting.
12) The individual subordinate commanders that players can progressively nurture are an interesting addition to the genre--though also utilized in other emergent RTS titles. How will their implementation affect gameplay?
Subordinate commanders are important to gameplay, as they bring with them additional tactical skills and bonuses. For example, a subordinate commander who is specialized as a medium tank commander may provide all your medium tanks with the ability to rapid-fire, increasing suppressive value; anti-tank gun commanders may introduce the skill to disable enemy tanks by targeting their tracks; and ground support aircraft commanders could help your sorties achieve much greater pinpoint accuracy.
The trick will be to decide how a player plans to pursue the war, and then requisition commanders to the type of units planned for use. It does little good to have elite light tank units, as an example, if the player never plans to use those past the first couple of missions.
13) Was there a defining moment for you during the development process when you first thought that Blitzkrieg 2 was going to be something out of the ordinary?
Well, with any game CDV publishes--we hope it will be extraordinary :) or we wouldn't be interested in it. After all, we want to offer gamers the best experience possible, and we pride ourselves on being an emerging brand known for its thoroughly engrossing strategy games.
14) Time to freely shoot one across the bows of your opposition. Why should RTS consumers draft Blitzkrieg 2 from the swollen ranks of genre fodder?
Gamers of all abilities will be able to apply realistic, intuitive tactics and expect real-world results in a game that packs beautiful graphics, a fast-paced multiplayer experience, and three massive single-player campaigns; it truly is World War II in a box.
Many thanks to Mario Kroll for returning from the front and sitting before this gaming tribunal. The gathered testimony has proven most helpful in amassing a clearer view over a previously shrouded target. We look forward to witnessing, first hand, the results of his upcoming mission. The review file pertaining to said mission will be available for public consumption in late September 2005.