Company of Heroes (preview)

PUBLISHER: THQ DEVELOPER: Relic Entertainment RELEASE DATE: Fall 2006

WE’VE SET OUT TO CREATE AN RTS THAT IS
first and foremost about visceral tactical battles
and less about micromanagement.” Coming from most developers,
this sounds like soulless PR spin, but from Josh Mosqueira, lead
designer for Relic Entertainment (the design house behind Warhammer
40,000: Dawn of War), it actually means something. Relic’s next RTS,
Company of Heroes, guns for the intense battles of World War II—a far
cry from Dawn of War’s postapocalyptic orks, but an equally engaging
conflict with game mechanics to match.
“Our goal,” says Mosqueira, “was to create a game where you’re
leading squads of real, live soldiers, not simpleminded RTS units.
Squads adapt to changes in their environment; for example, soldiers
can dive into craters to escape deadly machine gun fire, allowing
the player time to plot out his attacks.” Fully destructible environments
play a key part in the war-torn atmosphere as well. “Having
the power to interact with the terrain—either by raining artillery and
creating craters to use as cover or by having tanks crush through
walls—exposes a level of what we call environmental strategy,”
Mosqueira says. “How the player uses environmental strategy to
exploit tactical advantages opens up a whole level of emergent strategic
gameplay. Maps in COH are no longer a series of static choke
points, but living environments where every bush, crater, wall, and
structure can be used for strategic advantages.”
The bottom line: “[We want] to make players feel that they are commanding
real soldiers in real combat situations and not micromanaging
their units.” Same goes for resources—don’t look for any Private Pyles
picking berries down in the trenches. Mosqueira explains: “Company
of Heroes removes much of the inherent abstraction in RTS games
and focuses gameplay on making battlefield decisions, not on worrying
about farms or chopping wood. All too often, gathering resources
becomes the whole goal of RTS games, and combat—the exciting
part—takes a backseat. This is something we wanted to change.”
We need only look at Dawn of War to know Mosqueira’s not whistling
“Dixie,” and COH’s action-oriented resource mechanic takes a note
from the Warhammer world. “We wanted a resource system that fit
the setting and was contextualized,” Mosqueira tells us, “which is why
we went with a sector-based mechanic. As you capture key strategic
areas, you will earn resources. These represent additional reinforcements
and supplies being trucked into your area of operations to help
hold those sectors.”
That’s what we like to see: situation-specific mechanics that don’t
involve harvesting seven types of lithium ion crystals. It’s all in a
day’s work for Relic, says Mosqueira. “From Homeworld to Dawn
of War, we’ve [focused] on meeting the player’s expectations,” he
muses. “We believe that when players sit down to play an RTS, they
have images of the battles in Star Wars, Braveheart, Saving Private
Ryan, and Gladiator in mind. What we try to do—and COH is the
closest we’ve come
to this—is to give
players the most
intense, immersive,
and visceral RTS
experience we
can.”/Ryan Scott

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