WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
I'm Byron Chow, and I'm the lead multiplayer designer.
WP: This is the first look at the Dawn of War II multiplayer. How do you attack the multiplayer design as different from the single-player? Was the single-player completed first? Did you have a chance to see what the team was doing before you jumped into multiplayer? Or did you develop multiplayer side by side with it and not really know where they were going with the single-player aspect?
BC: Both sides of the game were in development at the same time. Single-player was started first, but not too long afterwards, we started multiplayer. We did look at each other's design, and we borrowed a lot from each other, but we were kind of trying to achieve two different things in some ways with the campaign and the multiplayer. With the campaign, we were trying to achieve a really intimate, closed-in experience with four characters that you're really trying to be attached to. With multiplayer, we knew that players really wanted to keep that epic feel, so you have the really intimate story-based gameplay that's really appropriate for a campaign, but we kept it a little bit more traditional with multiplayer.
WP: The single-player campaign focuses entirely on the Space Marines, but the multiplayer also allows you to play as Orks, Eldar and Tyranid. How did you set it up so that new players, especially from after the campaign, can get familiar with or learn the other three races?
BC: That's a good question. In the campaign, you play only as the Space Marines. The rules of combat are the same, and the general rules are about the same, so you get a good idea of how you would play as the Space Marines. Although the rules of combat and cover-based combat and melee are still there, in order to help you learn the new races the first few times you play the game, there are little pop-up tips that appear. They explain to you how to play the race and hold your hand a little bit. For example, "This is a strategic point. You need to capture the strategic point to get resources. This is a victory point. You need to capture the victory point …." All of these little tips help you play the game on all the little parts that are different from the campaign.
WP: What about special abilities and power-ups? How do you break out the progression tree in the multiplayer versus the single-player? In the single-player campaign, you can manually find items, add them on, add the accessories to your hero, whereas in multiplayer, you don't have that treasure-hunting aspect.
BC: Right. In the campaign, you have the treasure-hunting aspect where you have persistent characters that you add war gear to. We couldn't do that for multiplayer because there were too many balance concerns, so what we did was we kept the war gear system with Heroes. We changed it a little bit for what's appropriate so it's a little on the fly, and then in order to keep the learning curve a little easier so you can jump in and understand it, instead of having all these global researches and such that you had to research at your HQ, they're on the units themselves. So it's not really required for you to understand the first time that you play that, "Oh, I really have to get this research from the HQ or else I'm screwed." It's on the unit, so it's more like, nested layers of depth that you can kind of explore each time. And we also have help tips, again, that pop up in the game and explain how you can operate your squads and your Heroes.
WP: What about the balancing side of things? Obviously single-player is balanced for the Space Marines. When you start in multiplayer, were the Space Marines overpowered? Did you find that one of the other three races was overpowered? How did that go back and forth before you got it to a place where the multiplayer was actually playable?
BC: We did first start with the Space Marines, and with Space Marines, we really tried to achieve the strength and super-powered character they have in the fiction, as opposed to the original Dawn of War, they kind of felt like everyone else. The balance is one of the primary reasons you'll notice some differences between campaign and multiplayer. Certain units won't behave exactly the same; they'll have weaknesses whereas they didn't have them before in campaign. As we added each new race, due to certain dynamics, we had to explore a lot of different ways to balance them, so each race kind of went up and down, being overpowered and underpowered. It took just a lot of iteration and a lot of changing of the mechanics and the racial dynamics until we could get it to this level, where you can just play with each race and have a good time.
WP: Talk a bit about the multiplayer game modes. I saw that there are two: Victory Point mode and Annihilation mode. Were there any other gameplay modes planned for the final product, or is that going to be it?
BC: Right now for the final product, there will only be Victory Point and Annihilate or Annihilate Only. In the normal, standard mode, it's a lot like Company of Heroes. You have the option of destroying your opponent's base or capturing and holding the victory points. Then there's also, for the people who really just love Annihilate Only, they can just play Annihilate Only. (laughs)
WP: In terms of maps, how many maps is multiplayer planned to ship with, and do you have any idea if there's going to be a level editor so players will be able to create their own maps?
BC: I don't know if there will be a level editor, but we are shipping with five maps to begin with, and for DLC, we are planning to release a lot more, like free maps and things like that.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
BC: I think the main thing that I would like to stress is that with Dawn of War II's multiplayer, we've tried to achieve a nice meld with the campaign things we learned, like the intimate unit experience. We've tried to emphasize cooperative play but without forcing it, as well as class-based play, so we have different class Heroes, who are great for different play styles. We have offensive, we have defensive, and we have support Heroes.
We have a lot of abilities that are very cooperative, such as group teleport and healing. We have levitation, which is an ability where the Farseer can levitate an entire swarm of enemies around her while your allies shoot them. We really played with the cooperative mechanics with Hero revival; if your Hero goes down on the field, an ally can come up to him and revive him. It's a lot different from our previous RTS games, where the only cooperative elements were that you're fighting alongside each other and whatever naturally falls from there. We didn't really have anything that played off of each other. So this is what we're really trying to achieve here with the Heroes and the different abilities on each unit.
WP: So basically you're saying that there's much more of a focus on the team-based play versus individual players going out and having a free-for-all.
BC: Yes, we did put a lot of effort into making the 3 versus 3 game mode feel really cooperative and really different from our previous RTS games, but that's not to say that we ignored 1 versus 1. We still have the 1 versus 1 game mode, and all of the abilities that I mentioned about being cooperative are still useful on your own in a 1-versus-1 scenario. We're not ignoring that part of our fan base that love to play head-to-head.
WP: Can you do a four-player free-for-all, every man for himself?
BC: Right now, we do not have free-for-all, but that might be possible in the future.
The beta will be hosted via Steam and offered exclusively to Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Soulstorm owners on Jan. 21, 2009, followed by a worldwide public release on Jan. 28, 20008. The beta will feature all four playable races, five multiplayer maps, and Microsoft's Games for Windows Live TrueSkill Matchmaking.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, developed by Relic Entertainment, is scheduled to bring the 41st Millennium's savage warfare to life like never before on Feb. 23, 2009.
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