Company of Heroes 2 interview with game director Quinn Duffy

12 Jul 2013  by   David Reid
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Company of Heroes 2 has been released, and if you’ve been wanting to know more about what goes on behind the oh-so-pretty front of the game, you’re in luck! We’ve asked Relic Entertainment some questions about exactly that. Also, be sure to check out Peter’s review of Company of Heroes 2 if you’re curious about our thoughts on the game. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

Company of Heroes 2 - E3 2013 - 2

Tanks for answering our questions, Relic.

Q: Why did you choose to go with a Soviet and Nazi setting rather than the traditional D-day approach most games try to include? Was it partly for the cold elements of the gameplay? Have I just answered my own question?

A: The cold and snow was really a byproduct of the choice of location. We’d always wanted to do the Eastern Front in a Company of Heroes game and had looked at it as an expansion to the original several years ago. Ultimately, we didn’t think we could do another set of armies for the first game, nor could we deliver the technology we wanted to deliver the conditions. You can’t fully understand WWII without knowing the story of the Eastern Front, and we couldn’t tell the story of the Eastern front without a new engine and new game.

Q: If you had to choose a faction, which side would you pick and why?

A: I really do like the Soviets. I think they have a lot of character, they have some really interesting units (love the SU-76s) and I like the intensity required to play them. I think they’re challenging to play, like the Allies from the original Company of Heroes, but they’re really rewarding. I use the conscripts as a versatile base and make sure I have a few of them for the whole game to tackle just about anything – as long as I get the Molotovs and Antitank grenades from the HQ. I tailor my play with call-ins from the Commanders or by choosing which of the production buildings I build. I’ll choose Guards if I encounter early vehicles, Shock troops if I want to push early or if I run into German MGs where the smoke grenades on the shock troops will really come in handy.

Company of Heroes 2 - E3 2013 - 4

Seriously: you guys are real troopers.

Q: Any favourite tactics and units you’d use?

A: I’d say lots of smoke and line of sight play – using buildings to protect my troops, using buildings for ambushes, smoke rounds on mortars, smoke grenades – anything to help break contact with the enemy and maneuver somewhere else. Mines are also really useful.

Q: What did you learn from fans who played the previous series, and initial feedback from fans in Australia (as they got the game first)?

A: We learned quickly how many people were playing all night! Several of us came in at 5:30 a.m. on the West Coast to watch the game go live in Australia and we could see the activity around the game and how it started in Australia and just kept going. We had been running betas for weeks before the launch of the game and we had incorporated a lot of feedback from existing and new players to the game. By the time the game went live, we were pretty confident it was going to be pretty stable. We were able to fix a few issues that first day and we’ve been patching in fixes and balancing changes regularly to keep the game stable.

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It certainly wasn’t a tooth-and-nail battle to get them answered, after all.

Q: Any chance of Annihilation game types and community features making a comeback from the previous series, such as lobbies?

A: Yep. Ongoing support and improvements is a commitment we made to our community. We have a road-map of features that we’ll be rolling out over the next several months and we’ll try to add features in order of priority based on feedback from the community and our own research.

Q: Were there any concepts that didn’t make it into Company of Heroes 2 that you really wanted due to time constraints, budget, etc.?

A: There are always concepts that don’t make the final game – some are experiments, some were ridiculous ideas in the first place. I’ll keep some of the things we looked at to myself because they might make a re-appearance in the game at some point! One thing that comes to mind; we looked a lot at officers in the game and were never quite happy with how they were working and how much effort they were going to require, but there are ideas that come from those kinds of failures that can gain some traction in the game somewhere else.

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Alright, that’s enough terrible screenshot-related puns. Instead: explosions!

Q: Any details on engine improvements compared to the previous series you could tell us about such as net code, hardware scaling, etc.?

A: I’m not a real technical guy, but the Essence Engine 3 has a number of engine improvements – multi-threading, DX11, optimizations to the simulation, matchmaking, AI, new audio and speech engines. Even though we do a lot of compatibility testing, the PC world is still crazy with the number of combinations of settings, cards, drivers and whatever it is the user has done to their system, so we’re getting lots of good information and our rendering programmers are working with Nvidia and AMD to get driver updates out.

Q: How did you go about developing the atmosphere of the game to create that immersive feeling of real war – for example, the troops’ shouts, the weather, and the sounds of the guns and vehicles?

A: It starts with research and trying to deliver little bits of the creative vision in every feature. We did live recordings of weapons in the game and that adds incredible fidelity. It’s really about trying to layer bits of detail together to create a cohesive atmosphere – or as much as possible. None of us have experienced war, so we also rely on the experiences of others and their stories. I still go back to books because I think they deliver a more emotional connection to the subject matter – reading someone like Vasily Grossman can really bring you the frontline. When he describes “the usual smell of the front line — a cross between that of a morgue and that of a blacksmith” you really get what he means.

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We’ll just roll on past the puns from now on, honest.

Q: Balance is important not only for building but also units and team play. How do you go about tackling this massive mountain?

A: Phew. It’s huge. Everything impacts everything else in RTS games. We did a few things on COH2 that I personally feel has helped this be the best balanced Relic game out of the box; we took a much more scientific approach to the balance, creating systems to help make balance more consistent; we ran betas and got a lot of feedback and worked that information back in; and we have a metrics analyst in house now to help us analyze the data we get from our telemetry. Once the game goes live we rely on feedback from the community, our internal metrics, and our own interactions while playing the game. We’ll also get a balance test server up and running to keep a constant live test environment for balance changes and testing new maps. RTS games are living ecosystems under constant evolution and it’s really important to make sure the game evolves in a way that is consistent with the vision instead of mutating into something very different.

Q: Wishing to listen in on the radio, so to speak, could you share any info about any upcoming developments, such as DLC, expansions, any new units?

A: There are a number of things on the go. We have a DLC pack coming soon, we’re working on new skins and maps and there are some surprises in store including some new units. We also ran a community event here the week leading up to the launch and we created a new commander tree. I’d like to build that and get it out for people to play with too. Relic has a history of creating expansion packs for our core franchises and I think that’s something we’ll pursue again.

Company of Heroes 2

I mean, if I try to put any more in, I might get fired.

Q: Looking to the future of the series, where do you see “Company of Heroes 3” in X years time?

A: I think we’ll focus on Company of Heroes 2 for the foreseeable future! But one step we took when starting COH2 was to make the creative vision for the game setting agnostic. Company of Heroes is set in WWII, but it’s not necessarily a WWII game, so future versions of the franchise could be set almost anywhere and in any era.

Q: For fans of other developments from your company, we’ve seen demand and requests for other titles due to success of your studio and team. Any chance of Dawn of War 3, for example? What steps would be needed to get a green light for that project – Kickstarter?

A: Who knows! Relic will be focusing on strategy and we’ll see if that means we look at franchises we love or something new.

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And if I were to lose my job… well, I’d really be sunk.

Q: In closing, anything you’d like to say to your fans?

A: Thank you for supporting us with your energy, your feedback and hours of your time. It means a lot to all of us at Relic to see our games played and loved and we want to continue supporting Company of Heroes 2 for years to come.

I hope you’ve all gained an insight into the highly-rated Company of Heroes 2 series and its future. You can head on over to the official site to check out more info on the game.

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