Real-time strategy has always focused on letting two sides build up two armies and then having those armies clash on a battlefield, but THQ and developer Relic Entertainment hope to take this formula to new levels with Company of Heroes. This cutting-edge World War II real-time strategy game promises beautiful graphics, destructible environments, a sophisticated physics engine, and smart artificial intelligence to make it feel like World War II is erupting on your desk.
Company of Heroes won't feature traditional real-time strategy resource gathering--the kind where you send workers to gather resources. After all, soldiers are too busy fighting to go out and chop wood. Instead, the designers at Relic turned to another one of the company's games for inspiration, and the result is a resource system that encourages players to take risks to seize key resource locations. To explain, we have senior designer Quinn Duffy. Company of Heroes will ship later this year.
A New Type of BattlefieldBy Quinn Duffy
Senior Designer, Relic Entertainment
When we started Company of Heroes about 40 months ago, Relic's other real-time strategy game at the time, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, was just underway. The Dawn of War team used a strategic-point system for the game's resource generation, and it turned out to be a very appealing addition to Dawn of War. The system encouraged players to venture out into the world to fight, and it brought a lot of focus to map control and design.
Because Company of Heroes was going to be our "next-generation" title, it was decided that we would use Dawn of War's strategic-point system for the economy of Company of Heroes, but we would extend it further. We thought about the elements that contributed to battlefield control in World War II. We wanted the concept of a front line and an area within which you could feel relatively safe. We wanted to create supply lines that would encourage mobile play. We wanted to make the economy a smaller focus of the game. And, finally, we wanted contextual resources, so we were trying to avoid any kind of harvesting that required any peons.
Of course, we were at odds as to how to do this, and the whole resource and territory concept went through possibly dozens of iterations. Initial designs focused on an organic system where your structures created blobs of territory. By stringing several structures in a row, the territory could be encouraged to grow and connect. Resource points were captured by enveloping them with territory. By removing one of these territory-generation structures, the enemy could cut the supply lines, so there was strategy around pushing out a broad front or creating long tendrils of territory to capture resource points.
There were a lot of fun elements about this system, especially regarding the weird and often phallic shapes that territory could assume. It was easy to pace; we could control the rate of territory growth, the maximum size of territory, the price of observation posts, and the build time on territory-granting structures. On the flip side, the system was very difficult for the artificial intelligence to comprehend, and it didn't add to the goal of creating meaning in the map itself. Plus, it looked goofy. The last iteration of the territory system introduced static territory elements, an idea promoted by one of our senior programmers. This system gave us everything we wanted in terms of providing context to the map, encouraging the cutting off of territory, and bringing players into combat. It was also easier to play, and it really improved the pace of the game and the understanding of the system.
On the resource side of the equation, the game went through just as many iterations, as we toyed with different resources and resource systems. Literally dozens of different combinations of gatherable, buildable, destructible, and capturable resource elements were tried. The current system feels like we've reached the best compromise in terms of map control, playability, and accessibility. By putting most of the primary resource (manpower) onto your headquarters building, and by charging only manpower for a wide variety of units, we always give you a chance to make a comeback because you can always generate the primary resource. This immediately improves accessibility, allowing players with a broad range of skills to play against each other and have a fun experience. By putting munitions (for special abilities) and fuel (for vehicles and tech-tree elements) into the world, we still have elements of map control.
Concepts like supply lines and front lines are very powerful in that they add a lot of contextual substance to a game set in World War II and they generate a lot of what we call emergent gameplay. New strategies arise continuously from the system. We're very pleased with the overall resource and territory system in Company of Heroes. It fits with the World War II theme; it provides lots of strategy and replayability; it evens out the economic advantages that good players can accumulate; it promotes good map tactics; and it makes the maps, and the elements on the map, feel unique.