Company of Heroes @ E3 2005
Relic Entertainment has three new titles in the works, including The Outfit for Xbox 360, the PC RTS game Company of Heroes and an expansion to the PC game Dawn of War titled Winter Assault. Their studio is about to uproot and move across downtown Vancouver into much more spacious digs.
Relic has never been busier. The bulk of their 120 plus employees seem to be devoted to their new PC-based Real Time Strategy game, which could be the most authentic and visceral World War Two title from any genre. The seventy plus employees devoted to Company of Heroes are not enough though. Relic is on a hiring rampage to fill their teams and get their production pipeline cranking out even more high quality product.
I traveled to E3 2005 to view Relic’s three new titles, and see what their busy studio had cranked out so far. Company of Heroes is the title that had piqued my interest the most (I grew up reading Time Life’s History of World War 2 series). Once on the E3 show floor, I headed directly to THQ’s booth. I managed to see the theatre demo of Company of Heroes, and a couple of days later, I got to see a behind closed doors run-through of the game.
The short summary: Company of Heroes is a Real Time Strategy game set in the beginning of the end of World War Two. This game’s 12 single player missions will take place in Normandy France. You will fight from the beaches to the Falaise Gap (and beyond?). The player will command a company of American infantry in their virtual battle to do their part in ridding Europe of the Nazi menace. Multiplayer will be included, and looks like it will support up to 8 players in Axis versus Allies action.
As for how Relic’s actually making the game. They may be taking some liberties with certain elements to make a more cinematic game, but they are keeping things on the authentic side. War gaming grognards will find issues to pick apart, but there will be no denying Relic’s done a great job no matter how accurate the game is historically.
Josh Mosqueira (Lead Designer) talked about Relic’s goals in making this title. One of the first things they wanted to do was make the environment a factor in RTS games. He spoke about how most RTS games right now are set piece battles that take place on never changing terrain. In marketing speak; they are adding more Environmental Strategy.
Relic is making the battlefield more of factor in the game by making the battlefield change by way of the player’s actions. Craters from explosions become useful. A strong point on the map can be reduced to rubble, denying your opponent its use. Basically, everything can be destroyed by the player. The days of the fixed chessboard are past; now the RTS gamer will be able to mold the chessboard to help them win the battle.
Another thing Relic wanted to put forward for the RTS genre is more realistic units or “Living Soldiers”. Real life infantrymen are trained to operate on the battlefield. Their commanders give them an objective, such as “Take out that machine gun!”, and off they go. Officers do not aim every soldier’s rifle, or reload every soldier’s weapon. In Company of Heroes we will see units that move, act and react as you would expect soldiers to. This should allow the game to be more about strategy and tactics, rather than button mashing.
The final element that Relic’s trying to advance in this genre is the Cinematic Experience. Similar to how Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers helped re-define movies set in that historical time in Normandy, Company of Heroes looks to be set to re-define how World War Two games, heck all real time strategy games, should look and play. I have played a lot of World War Two based games, and I have never seen a game look this intense before. That feeling of horrified respect you get watching the beach landing in Saving Private Ryan comes up when you watch the action in Company of Heroes.
Josh and Drew Dunlop (Lead Programmer) used the same scenario shown in the released gameplay movies and E3 2005 trailer in the behind close doors session to highlight the game’s high points. Some of the impressive features included engineers demolishing buildings with satchel charges to take out machine gun emplacements. Troops garrisoned buildings and automatically choose the side of the building closest the enemy to fire out of. There were soldiers automatically changing to different cover if the cover they are behind is destroyed, or if new cover such as a fresh crater (Piano, bathtub, box, dead cow, etc), becomes available. Finally, we saw what no World War 2 game should be complete without; tanks plowing through obstacles and structures that got in their way.
Speaking of tanks! They will be the dragons of Relic’s World War 2 battlefields. Infantry rifles and automatic weapons will not do much more than get a tank’s attention. You should be able to take out tanks with hand held anti-tank weapons, but what you will really want is another tank. It remains to be seen how effective Sherman tanks will be against German Tigers in this game.
One of the things I was impressed to see was that Relic is modeling wounded troops. Not every soldier will die at the enemies hands, you will see wounded soldiers writhing and crying out on the battlefield. Josh briefly mentioned that they would have medics available to treat the wounded. I am hoping they go that extra step and model the soldiers to not shoot at medics.
Relic was not ready to reveal the nature of the resourcing and unit building system in the game. Their last title, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, had a resourcing system which pushed the battle out to the front lines. The response to that resourcing system was overall positive from most players. It was said that if Dawn of War’s resourcing model was version 1.0 of Relic’s system, then Company of Heroes would be version 3.0.
We did not get into how much modding support the game would receive from Relic. One thing that was discussed was the inclusion of a mod tool that would allow machinimation (movies created by using a game engine). In the end, Relic’s mod support has evolved since Homeworld days. Company of Heroes should benefit from Relic’s experience in that area.
I was a bit skeptical about the game when it was first announced, but as more information has trickled out, my doubts are falling away. I left E3 extremely excited about this title. I may possibly be Relic’s biggest fan, but judging by the overall reaction to Company of Heroes, my opinion is not in the minority. The game at this early stage looks very promising. After E3 I have to say “Company of Heroes looks better than any World War 2 title yet released.” I cannot wait for 2006!
Please check out our supplementary interview with John Johnson, the producer of Relic’s Impossible Creatures, and now leading Relic into battle in Company of Heroes.
Written by UberJumper