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Posted on Dec 8, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Theatre of War Update – Interview

Armchair General

Armchair General gets the full scoop on when we can expect to see the first hints of Battlefront’s new title, Theatre of War, on store shelves. Can it make it out in time for the holiday shopping season…or will gamers have to make it their first purchase of the new year? Did we just give away the punch line? Skip to the last question if you simply can’t wait to learn the answer!

ACG: Can you give us an update of the progress of Theatre of War? Will there be a demo soon?

Battlefront: We have changed plans some while ago and instead of trying to put out a demo or preview version quickly, we decided to have the team fully focus on the plethora of changes we’re implementing right now over the original Russian release. The game has really changed in many aspects, so a demo based on the older version would simply not do it justice. We have around 60 (!) pages of tweaks based on tester feedback including little things like getting the unit names right (ahem… ;-)) to big things like completely changing the way spotting and engagement ranges work (creating a much more tactical game, much more like CM and much less like other RTS stuff out there) for example.

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So at the moment I cannot say when we’ll have a preview version. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the game is so friggin’ huge (nearly 2 GB), so it takes a lot of time to just put together a full build, upload and distribute it, that we want to avoid this delay and instead want to put together a release candidate first as quickly as possible. The original plan was to have the first such candidate by the middle of the month, and we’re a little behind schedule, but not much.

ACG: Knowing that no game will ever be perfect upon release; can you describe what are some of the key features which are being added in this final time period, as well features that may have been requested, but can’t be implemented in the short term?

Battlefront: The most important aspect we are seeking to change is how spotting and targeting work. There are a host of issues here, but most revolve around tweaking variables to be more accurate for each particular weapon. This is what the 1C development team has been working on for the last month or so. As for most requested but no time… that would be to have infantry enter buildings. We know from first hand experience that this is a lot tougher to programmers than gamers think, and so does 1C. This is something they would really like to fix but it isn’t practical for them to do so.

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ACG: You mention this game will separate itself from some of the other RTS games out on the market right now. Is your market going to be the people playing Company of Heroes today with a “light” RTS or is it going to be geared at those who are looking for something deeper and realistic a la Combat Mission? Is there going to be “resource gathering” or is this going to be scenario driven like CM?

Battlefront: We like to think of TOW as being right in the middle between something like Company of Heroes (realism "light") and Combat Mission (realism "heavy"). The scenarios are mission driven and require tactics that are based on real world concepts, not just how fast you can lasso and click on stuff. Having said that, the amount of "grognard" detail in TOW is purposefully kept to a moderate level. This means less minute control over unit behavior and a de-emphasis of features like Command and Control.

ACG: Can you shed some light on the current development process, such as how you are working with beta testers and how that information is fed back to the 1C team for implementation into the game?

Battlefront: We have our own team of beta testers, mostly made up of Combat Mission testers and fans. They’ve been involved in the testing process for several months now and were helpful in getting the Russian version ready for market. Feature requests that were not slated for the Russian version were kept separate and are now being implemented by 1C’s team. This has put us into a sort of second beta testing period.

ACG: Given the size of the game, can you share some of the suggested system specifications? There is some fear among wargamers, who traditionally have older computers, that TOW will be more than their system can handle.

Battlefront: Significantly older (2+ years) computers will likely be able to play TOW enjoyably, but definitely not to the fullest extent. Any system bought within the last year or so should be fine. As with any intensive outdoor 3D experience, the higher you crank up the video detail levels the better your system needs to be. Oh, and you also need a DVD player and not just a CD player.

ACG: Our readers enjoy hearing anecdotes about gameplay (especially from company presidents!). Can you illustrate some of the gameplay with the latest changes, and how these tweaks have made the game better?

Battlefront: The biggest change as mentioned by Steve is a complete rewrite of how spotting and engagement work. The previous publishers wanted a much more fast paced game with dense and fluid combat action (which sounds good in theory but quickly tends to degenerate into a shallow clickfest in many RTS games), but after the game has been offered to us at Battlefront we quickly realized what a waste of its potential it would be. TOW really has a very solid foundation with its physics engine, deep combat morale calculations and role-playing elements, and we decided early on – together with 1C – that we wanted to polish these aspects of the game because they will set it apart from the rest and create a much more Combat Mission- like gaming experience.

The differences are visible immediately when you play the new version. The previous betas tend to accelerate and… uh, looking for the right word here… densify the action. Even though the tactical maps are huge, units tended to close rather quickly looking for the decisive close combat action. And even though the game pace tended to adjust to the player through clever mission scripting most of the time, it took a lot of self-control on the part of the player to not fall into the usual click-click-click routine.

Not so now anymore. Gameplay is slower overall and much more tactical. Long-range duels (MUCH longer than you’ll see in the typical RTS game including some of the new releases, although perhaps not as long as was possible in the CM games) are much more frequent now. Couple this with some smaller details like the removal of heavy bombers in a close support role (which is totally unrealistic) or the addition of mortars, and you have an entirely different game experience.

This also explains why it’s taking so long. All of the missions need to be rewritten or at least re-tested, just to mention one big task on the team’s to-do list. Luckily for us and the fans out there, 1C is firmly committed to make TOW an outstanding game as shown by the partnership with Battlefront, so they agreed with us to take this game and add a lot of extra time and effort based on our suggestions and guidance. This shouldn’t mean that TOW was a bad game before we were involved. Far from it. The solid foundation put in by the developers and designers continues to shine through and we’ve only triggered some minor corrections and re-focused some of the core elements to ensure that the initial beauty isn’t lost.

We’re convinced that the end result will please people and will be worth the extra delay, even though some people probably think we’re crazy that we’re not trying to capture the holiday season sales.

ACG: Any idea on a timeframe for the full release of this game?

Battlefront: Initially we looked at a release… well, right about now to be honest… but it was decided back in September by us and 1C that we will take whatever time we need to polish this diamond in the rough… so at the moment we’re anticipating to have the first release candidate in a few days, and then release the game, depending on production times and the usual infrastructure issues, at the end of January. We will know the exact schedule a little better in just a few days when we get the next big milestone in and some testing done on it. If it goes well and we don’t hit any unforeseen obstacles, then we plan to open pre-orders before Christmas.

Armchair General would like to thank the gents at Battlefront for taking the time to answer these questions. For further discussion of Theatre of War, please join us on the ACG forums. You can also visit the Theatre of War website for more information and news.

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