WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
I'm Brian Wood, and I'm the lead designer for Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor.
WP: Tell us about Tales of Valor and how it dovetails from the previous two Company of Heroes games in terms of gameplay. What's the focus here?
BW: With Tales of Valor, we wanted to focus on basically deliver content that the community could really enjoy. Some of it is we're changing the gameplay a little bit for the single-player content in campaigns and delivering that before we move on to a sequel or anything more. We just want to figure out what do the guys really key off of, where's the PC market going in terms of developing games for personal computers as well as making sure that we're supporting it. We also want to make sure we're supporting the community. The community is still growing, and Company of Heroes is still being played quite a bit, and we just want to support and help out our current player base.
WP: Campaigns in Tales of Valor are going to be a little shorter and a little more focused than they were in earlier Company of Heroes games. Why the shift in presentation?
BW: One, to be honest, we have a smaller team working on Tales of Valor. One of the big pieces that's important to me is that people have content that they can play and get through. If we deliver a story and we have our nice cinematics and we have all these elements and aspects of the game, we want people to enjoy that and see and feel the full experience, as opposed to, I think a lot of players will play campaigns and get through maybe 60 percent of they content and say, "OK, I'm done with this." And how many books or movies do you read or watch that you don't actually finish? So one of our goals is to make the campaigns shorter, more attainable and more tactical and making sure that you can enjoy the gameplay and maybe play it more than once for some of the medal objectives and other aspects of the game.
WP: Medal objectives — is this something along the lines of Achievements on the 360 or Trophies on the PS3?
BW: We looked at Achievements and right now, we're not planning on doing anything because retroactively, it doesn't really help anybody. They'll just be playing content to get things they've already been doing. That's maybe something we'll look at in the future, but right now, we're not having Achievements.
WP: So what are the medal objectives if they're not Achievements?
BW: The medal objectives are just aspects of the game that give you a little bit something more to get out of the content, so if you enjoyed playing a mission but you want to challenge yourself a bit more, you can go back and play a Tales of Valor mission and say, "I'm going to try it on Expert and see if I can beat the mission in 10 minutes," and then you get that medal objective, the visual reward. It's more of a collector's item than anything else.
WP: When designing a game, especially a Company of Heroes title, which has both a single-player and multiplayer component, how do you balance your time? I know there are two very vocal camps out there. You've got players who think the single-player portion is all that matters, and you've got the players who think that the single-player part is just a training mode for the multiplayer component. When you're sitting down, dividing your time and your resources and how you have your team work, how do you make that judgment? That can't be easy.
BW: No, it's not, but the good thing is we hire a team that has both of those aspects. They have their side of the camp that they prefer to be on, so we looked at generally, single-player content after the fact takes more time to develop and takes more resources. You've got cinematics, you've got map creation, you've got all the story and the dialogue, and all that other stuff to develop. But we still know that the multiplayer community is very important in being vocal and keeping a game alive, so we definitely have to be very careful and making sure that we're delivering to both because if you cater to one, it may not sell to the current community and player base. But we also want to make sure we can give that experience to people who will say, "This is fun, maybe I'll try multiplayer." Some players move over between the two.
It's tough, but I think the most important thing is to not forget about each of those aspects of the game but to listen to the community and see what they're saying. They talk a lot about what they really want from the game, and they're easy to listen to. That's generally the multiplayer community, so it's sometimes easier to forget about the single-player community because those guys play and forget about it, so you always have to have proponents on the team for both sides of the game.
WP: Another question, going back to the overall design. Relic has already done a few standalone expansions. When you're sitting down to plan a new project, aside from maybe $10 to $15 in the retail price, what's the difference in saying that you're going to do a sequel or a standalone expansion to the existing game? Neither one requires the prior disc, so a new player can come in and buy it, but from a budget standpoint, a resource standpoint, or even a design mentality standpoint, how do you approach working on a standalone expansion versus Company of Heroes 2?
BW: For a sequel versus a standalone expansion, the biggest piece, we look at our current community and see what they want, what they're looking for. How can we make the game better and more enjoyable without changing it so much? So one of the bigger aspects of that with a standalone expansion, we're not changing the specs from Opposing Fronts, and that's because we want to let people who play the game from Opposing Fronts, still play the game and enjoy the game as much as they have before. We don't want to release the standalone and then not let people play the old game anymore. We require that everybody kind of have the same version so that you can play against people with the new content without having to purchase the content yourself. I think that's one of the bigger aspects, and it's also looking at the resources we have within the game. We're still focused on delivering content from Normandy because we spent a lot of time developing that village, that world, and if we were to move onto a completely different game and world, we'd want to deliver on a much bigger experience, move Company of Heroes to the next generation, really focus on where the PC market's going, so it would take a lot more time in development. I think we still want to maintain the group and community support that we have without waiting three years.
And delivering a game and maybe being wrong, this way we can say, "Here's something new that we want to try and see what the community thinks." They can respond and tell us, "We didn't like that," and that will help guide us for future development.
WP: Can you give us an overview of the single-player campaign? What are we looking at in terms of story lines, missions, etc.? Without spoiling it, what should a player expect to sit down and see?
BW: Right now, I'm only going to talk about the Tiger Ace campaign. The other campaigns will be focusing on additional armies. We're covering more than just the Germans and the Wehrmacht, so players should be able to enjoy Direct Fire for all the campaigns, they should expect a similar fun, entertaining battle-sized experience. The stories should be more intimate and involved; it's not quite so epic in scope, but definitely a lot more driven by soldiers' stories. There should be three to four missions for each campaign so that you can enjoy and get through it.
WP: How many gameplay hours would you expect the final product to have?
BW: Anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours per campaign.
WP: And there are what, three campaigns in the game?
WP: So the three single-player campaigns will probably take four to five hours of gameplay. Is it focused on small, intense, fun play? Is it encouraging replay value? What's the draw for the single-player component, with the shortened experience?
BW: The draw is really to be able to focus on the replay value and let players get their feet wet. It's also supposed to draw in more people to the Company of Heroes franchise. We don't want to alienate anyone who hasn't played the series before and then we throw a really difficult game at them that requires them to have played the last two games to enjoy. Also, the shorter stories let you tell a full arc about the characters involved and really get involved and see the outcome of the story overall.
WP: Will the campaigns all tie together, or are they three individual stories?
BW: They're three individual stories.
WP: Direct Fire is new to Tales of Valor. Can you tell us a little about that?
BW: Direct Fire is specifically where you control some infantry or vehicle. You select the unit, you activate Direct Fire, and basically with your mouse cursor, you can control the weapon on the new unit. It basically gives you the engagement with moment-to-moment gameplay where you're shooting and firing and moving, and you get to really feel like you're commanding the unit on the battlefield, and you can do things that you may not have been able to do before. So I can see a vehicle around the corner, and my tank normally wouldn't be able to see it, but I can turn my turret to face that vehicle as I go around the corner, and I'll be able to shoot him before he can respond to me. That lets the player feel cool and feel intelligent and feel smart.
WP: If you can talk about it, are we going to see any Direct Fire-enabled multiplayer, or is that still something that's for the future?
BW: I can't talk about that.
WP: Is there anything about the game or the franchise that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
BW: The franchise isn't just focused on single-player content. We're also looking at introducing new multiplayer vehicles into the game. You'll be able to take those vehicles and swap them out for an existing vehicle in your army, and we're introducing vehicles for all four armies in Company of Heroes and Opposing Fronts. So for example, a new vehicle is a staghound. You'll be able to swap that out for another vehicle in the British army, and it'll have different abilities and a different functionality, so it'll play a slightly different role than the existing vehicle, so you can basically customize the army to your type of game or play style.
We also have multiplayer modes that we're introducing, so those modes will let you play Company of Heroes in a different way. They're not the traditional capture the victory points or annihilate mode. One of the modes that we're working on is called Invasion, which is a working title, and that lets you play co-op with one to four players, and you'll basically siege or hold a town, and as you're being attacked by waves of armies, they get progressively harder and you get progressively different and better units. With your friends, you have to focus on defending this town and surviving as long as you can. There's a portion of our player base, about 25 percent of them, who like to go and play against the AI by themselves. They don't want to deal with the stress and difficulty of playing multiplayer online, where they get the smack talk and the rudeness. Whatever the aspects, sometimes they just want to play alone or don't have time to play with other people.
WP: Sounds a little like Gears of War 2's Horde mode.
BW: No comment. (laughs) I don't know anything about that, so I can't speak to it.
Internally developed by Relic Entertainment, the game is currently scheduled for release in spring 2009.
More articles about Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor