Michael de Plater on EndWar
EndWar is a console real-time strategy game with a twist: voice control. More over, this feature is no mere gimmick, it actually works - as we found out across a series of multiplayer tussles during a play-test in London. It is fair to say this new Tom Clancy franchise from Ubisoft is fairly intriguing then - so we sat down with creative director Michael de Plater to delve deeper into this new series in the offing.
At UK RTS specialists Creative Assembly you cut your teeth making seminal strategy games for the PC. EndWar, however, is all about consoles. Is it a challenge shifting focus from the PC to the 360 and PS3?
The answer to this question, unfortunately, is actually really boring! It wasn't actually that big a transition, and the reason is that the PC RTS games that we worked on, they were basically 3D war games. Rome: Total War and stuff, games about having groups of soliders and you being the general, maneuvering them, etc. We already had the groups of soldiers, we already had the 3D; tactical games not focussed on resources or construction. They weren't your typical RTS games. So, the PC RTS - building, resource games - I think would be really hard to move to consoles. The tactical war game type-games, are actually really easy. They have so much in common with the tactical and strategic elements of shooters. We didn't have to do one thing in the control scheme that games like Battlefield, SOCOM, Ghost Recon or Rainbow Box hadn't done before. So it was much easier.
I think Halo Wars however must be really hard; building factories, managing resources, handling units, etc.
Do you consider Halo Wars to be your main competitor?
Well, we did before they decided not to ship this Christmas! We thought we had World in Conflict, we thought we had Halo Wars... C&C was coming to the 360 and PS3, but they've all kind of moved aside!
The voice control aspect is very interesting. Is this a nice extra, or is it at the heart of the EndWar experience?
Yes, that's a good question. I think the game is a really good game, with or without the voice command, but I think the voice command adds to it massively. It isn't as important as the guitar is to Guitar Hero, but its kind of... maybe half that. The main thing it does, I mean, there are three main features. The camera - being close to your units, being on the battlefield. Two is the persistence. Your units survive mission-to-mission and gain experience. You care about them more, etc. Third is the voice command... you speak like a General, your units react, and talk back. So all three things add up to a more immersive game - they give you more connection to your troops than a usual strategy game.
Playing the game, I notice that while the voice commands do you require a certain structure, it can be quite forgiving too...
Yeah. Actually, its meant to be stuff like "attack hostile one", but when playing it you can get away with things like "attack unit one". Its all about the context. The system looks at the whole tree, and picks out what you're trying to tell it.
Where do you see voice control going in the future?
Anywhere, where in the real world the activity you do uses your voice. That's a lot of places, not just what we're doing now. The next ones - the two ones that seem really obvious - are coach shouting stuff in sports games, tactics, players, etc. And of course spells, that seems like an obvious ones. You know, anything where you imagine that a real world character would use their voice. Systems should be able to match that really well.
Because this is a console release, is it fair to say that there's a fast-paced, arcade-feel to the gameplay?
We really put a lot of emphasis on making it accessible. We spent a lot of time, play-testing everything. How intuitive the combat chain is, what numbers we have. We play-tested the hell out of every assumption. We wanted to create a game that anyone who has played an FPS could play, and then find the depth later. Accessibility was critical. Most of the people playing the game probably haven't played a game like this before. So, that was really cool. We made sure it looked visually nice. Peoples expectations of graphics are really high from FPS games, so we had to really try.
What kind of a look are you going for on the aesthetic front? The world seems quite detailed...
Well, basically, pulling the camera down puts a lot of pressure on realism... and visually, we wanted to make the units the heroes - with infantry, the animation, the detail, really stands out in the environment and looks cool. Nice destruction, effects, familiar locations. Basically its like a disaster movie in look and feel. The thing we really looked at is the opening scene from The Day After Tomorrow, where you see Los Angeles being ripped up. We wanted that sense of destruction... that's also beautiful.
Where did the inspiration for the premise; the story, come from?
So, well basically, we wanted to have massive land battles. And we wanted it to be between equal super-powers. So, we didn't want it to be America stomping all over epic numbers of poorly trained, badly armed poor people. Everyone in this game is the elite, the best. So, the two things we had to do was to get rid of nuclear weapons, so, we've got rid of the threat of nuclear destruction enabling huge battles, and secondly we wanted to choose the super-powers that had the most elite forces. So, we had to come up with a scenario whereby Europe and the US could go to war; a non-nuclear war. So, its a contest around the weapon shield, the end of oil, so it throws the world back into a scenario where major powers are competing for dwindling resources.