Company of Heroes Designer Diary #5 - Building a Better Real-Time Strategy Battlefield

Designer Quinn Duffy explains how Relic is designing the resource and territory systems in Company of Heroes to create better battlefields.

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 Battlefield

By 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.

Company of Heroes has a fully destructible environment, so have fun with it.

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.

The resource system will force you to venture out of your base and into the battlefield.

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.

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Discussion

40 comments
angroth
angroth

@ humorguy_basic did you play the game? sounds like you did not. well, i did; both open beta and unofficial pcgamer demo. the game IS incredibly immersive. actually, i just held it as "just another wwII game" before i actually played the demo cause i had nothing else to do. but hell, the game took me by storm. now i cant wait for it to come out. all you said in your comment is right, and most of all: it totally matches company of heroes in any single aspect.

acidic_snake
acidic_snake

can't wait for the game....relic's games are the best! ^_^

rodders1991
rodders1991

looks like a good game cant wait for the demo

protossdragoon
protossdragoon

superb. finally a new srategy game for me to have fun with. i hope...

Skuijs
Skuijs

This game will rock too but think it will be overshadowed by Warhammer 40:000 Dark crusade in my case.

FutonForensic
FutonForensic

Hm. Considering what I learned from the Beta and the review from PC Gamer (96%, Editor's Choice), methinks this little gem is going to earn itself some Game of the Year's.

themax08
themax08

WOW this will be the game of the year. =)

wargod53
wargod53

1) "JUST LIKE BATTLE FOR MIDDLE EARTH 2!!!" How dare you tar this wonderful, majestic work of RTS genius with that horrible, filthy brush? BLASPHEMER!!!!!!!! 2) OF COURSE there are going to be glitches like men getting stuck in walls/buildings - IT IS A BETA! That is what it is for - to find bugs, not to just allow people to play the game early! This will be the Best RTS Ever

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

Strategic point systems only work when you really have to think about defense once taken. Most AI, whatever the hype before a game is released, just doesn't give a good enough account of itself with this type of system. On the multiplayer side, for obvious reasons, it's not so much a problem, but if this game is selling itself as a single player game first and foremost, it will be the AI that will decide the quality of this game. In fact, graphics and sound has been perfected for a couple of years now in gaming, even 'crappy' games look and sound good nowadays! So Nothing in those departments will really wow me any more. Quality AI, believable worlds, immersion, storytelling, characterization. They are the future elements of quality games in my book. Whether we have a games industry capable of dealing with these issues is another matter.

123I321
123I321

this sounds great. i hope after relic is finished with this game, they make homeworld 3

Credfield81
Credfield81

Been playin the closed beta and open beta and i must say this is one of the greatest WWII RTS ive seen so far i mean to be able to zoom in and have the qualities of a FPS it looks as if i was actually playin a FPS lol. My only prob which i know they must have it fixed before its released is the net code problems cus damn ive had some sync errors lol

GetafixOz
GetafixOz

Demo was cool... its on my pre-order list fo sho

shadowcwal
shadowcwal

Best...... Rts game....... Ever.....

techniik
techniik

really is an ace game, WANT IT TO COME OUT NOWWW

Ocram_Zepol
Ocram_Zepol

Wow this game sounds awesome... too bad it's for PC. I got a crappy PC and I don't really want to waste money on upgrading everything, so i'm patiently waiting for the PS3 to come out.

Liliroots
Liliroots

JUST LIKE BATTLE FOR MIDDLE EARTH 2!!!

creiij
creiij

I'm so looking forward to this game. One of the first I'm going to play on my new comp, hopes it looks great. =)

Hiroytuza
Hiroytuza

i downloaded the demo, but i had a lot of problems trying to connecting relic waiting for the retail version

aragorn2353
aragorn2353

I like the idea of not having to make farmeres,peons,or builders to mine gold, lumber and having to build structures. Im not such a building fan... im a destroying fan.

raven98030
raven98030

I have too upgrade my computer I would love too play this game

foxyduffay
foxyduffay

this game is super .. :D realy funn .. cant wait until it gets out

Lord_Calgar
Lord_Calgar

fun game, enjoyed the beta until they changed the high resources - not enough man power and the other two were too low to do anything, might as well get rid of the option if they are sticking with it

PyroSean30
PyroSean30

it seems very similar to Dawn Of War.... but in a good way : )

htks
htks

Download the demos for play, Later come discuss it.

Syzgygy
Syzgygy

Some say that theres too little freedom and space to build and properly set up your base? Do you guys here think that's true or is it ok?

SneakyDan
SneakyDan

Downloaded the beta off fileplanet a few weeks back. The games is brilliant, quite possibly my favourite so far. The multiplayer is kickass. The destructible terrain also creates cover for troops, making everything pretty much interactive with them. It's a great game. I'm preordering it tonight. Well worth the download of the beta btw.

thesethcohen
thesethcohen

yeah i dont like rts games and i want this one looks so fun

mrmarshmellow
mrmarshmellow

I got the demo and it definatly has some individual points abount it ...oh and if the howitzers do get in place then the other player would either have enough time to stop it or enough to get their own so this is fair to other wise it would be a real slog of a match if you both got into deadlock and couldnt take advantage of any weaknesess. Overall it should be agood game though apparently there are quite a few queries about men getting stuck in buildings or in walls? That doesnt sound good LOL. When it does come out i'll get it though!! :-]

goatmeal
goatmeal

Ya I am a huge fan of Relic. This game so far has rocked, although I tend to garrison a lot of my units, then lose them on the map. Definately will be buying this game.

i_hate_pants
i_hate_pants

COH is the first RTS game that im actually addicted too. The beta is a blast with 6 players. People actually work together!!!!! Losing, winning, it's all good! This game is pure fun!

Rattlesnake_8
Rattlesnake_8

I've been watching this game for a while.. looks like it's going to be great, can't wait to try a demo.

Travesty2002
Travesty2002

Yeah, I've been playing the beta. It rocks! I usually like to play RTS games, but I suck at managing the economy and battle at the same time. I also find that players seem to easily gain an enourmous and insane advantage in other games, especially Blizzard games like Warcraft 3 and Starcraft. This game is very paced, so you are often thinking more about the strategic positioning of troops and vehicles more than telling your 20 peons to harvest more resources than your enemy.

blackIceJoe
blackIceJoe

This game will be a great RTS game. After reading this it just makes it that much easier to buy this game. I have played other Army RTS games and some are fun and other's are just bad. So if this turns out great I know I will easily spend lots of hours playing this.

Zilor
Zilor

It does work well, very well. The game is without a flaw, some people complain about imbalances but it's more a fact of not knowing or being willing to do what it takes to over come some obstacles. I played a ton of basic matches and across them all I didn't run into one situation where I felt something was terribley unfair. The only thing that I saw that could be considered lame is the Howitzers for the allies, they may have changed that since before, I haven't had a chance to play in a bit now, but if someone left you alone long enough to get 2 or 3 howitzers you could win the match without ever seeing their base.

zub1
zub1

Great idea. I've always had trouble managing my builder units and my army at the same time.

kid_kansas_Tex
kid_kansas_Tex

I am playing the demo of Company of Heroes from PC Gamer, the resource system works nice. It is one of the most engrossing RTS game I have played in a long time. The game will rule. War has never looked or felt so good.

stix83
stix83

The whole concept of supply lines and a front line is great and i am sure it will work well.