Empire Earth II: The Art of Supremacy Q&A - How to Expand An Already Epic-Size Game
Dr. Ian Davis, the CEO of Mad Doc and the creative director of Empire Earth II, talks about the soon-to-be-released expansion pack.
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Empire Earth II: The Art of Supremacy is the soon-to-be-released expansion pack to last year's epic real-time strategy game about history. In Empire Earth II, you could guide one of 15 historical civilizations from the depths of the Stone Age all the way to the modern era and beyond. That meant that you could go from club-wielding primitives to robotic war machines in a single game. The Art of Supremacy will add more stuff to play with, in the form of new civilizations, units, and features. To learn more, we caught up with Dr. Ian Davis, the CEO of developer Mad Doc Software and the creative director of the series.
GameSpot: What were Mad Doc's goals going into the development of the expansion? Was it to simply add a few new playable sides and campaigns, or did you get specific feedback from the community that you wanted to address?
Ian Davis: We had such a great response to Empire Earth II, we really couldn't have been happier with how the game was received. So we came to the table knowing we wanted to create an expansion worthy of its predecessor. We wanted to offer up new civilizations, new campaigns, new scenarios, lots of new content to expand the game. Yet when it came down to it, our core focus was this: We wanted to be sure to add something new to the gameplay experience for fans. I like adding in a few new twists and turns. I love keeping players on their toes, giving it a little kick. We wanted to take the game to the next level, and with new modes, new civilizations, custom civilizations, an entirely new African region, native tribes, the ability for units to persist across multiple scenarios, and new twists like tug-of-war and fealty mode, we've hit the mark quite nicely. There's enough here to make fans of the series very happy.
GS: There are four new civilizations in the expansion: The French, Russians, Zulu, and Maasai. Were there any nations that you wish you could have added but didn't for one reason or another? Speaking of which, how did you winnow down the candidates to the four that were selected?
ID: Truth is, it's always a tough choice, what to add, who to add, how to make it enrich the player's experience. I can always find something, someone, I'd like to add. This game is so deep, and we really do try to make it as representative of a diverse array of cultures, of experiences, of civilizations, as possible. There are no set criteria for how we decide. Rather, it's really a question of what we already have in the game, what we feel will add the most to the experience, what we can play off of, and what works well within the context of the game. We've added France and Russia, as well as an entirely new African region, to expand Empire Earth II's world of 15 civilizations.
We've also added native tribes (the Iroquois, Inuit, Navajo, and others). So, for instance, players can look forward to conquering or allying with these tribes to gain bonuses (higher population caps, extra units, faster healing abilities). With The Art of Supremacy, we really wanted the game to have more coverage of the Earth to round things out nicely. We want the Empire Earth series to be the series that spans all of history, so we chose nations that helped us achieve that goal.
GS: Could you briefly describe some of the gameplay improvements and interface enhancements in The Art of Supremacy?
ID: The Art of Supremacy's new features and upgrades allow a totally new level of customization and strategy. For example, players can create their own custom civilization and lead it to glory by choosing which region they want their civilization to belong to; selecting two civilization attributes from the dropdown lists; choosing unique units for each set of epochs; and by choosing technologies to have automatically researched for their civilization when they start a game beyond epoch 1. Players can also create a list of city and territory names to use for their civilization by typing names in the text box.
There are new groups of people who live in the game world that players can trade with, assimilate or ally with, and fight as they see fit. Both trading and assimilating with these native tribes have benefits. We've added new game types like tug-of-war (when one side beats the opposition on a map, the victorious player/team gets to bring leaders and heroes they earned with them to the next map). Each side gets to choose new starting troops from the reinforcements screen before continuing on to the next battle, all players' epoch and tech-tree progress is transferred to the next map, and the war resumes.
We've also had a little fun with territory hotspots (a number of territories on the map are considered vital). Unlike normal hotspots, all territory hotspots are revealed when the game starts. To win the game, a player or team must control a simple majority of all territory hotspots for a set time. These core elements all come together quite nicely in the game, they really enhance the Empire Earth II experience, and it's a lot of fun!
GS: There are a couple of "turning point" battles included with the expansion, such as the Battle of Kursk. Could you tell us why they were chosen out of all the possible "critical" moments in history?
ID: As I said, we were looking to round the game out, to expand on the game's coverage of the Earth. Battles were chosen within each new civilization's context and history, with the obvious goal of hitting the most dramatic gameplay experiences possible.
GS: This is a broader question, but over the course of making Empire Earth II and the expansion, what has Mad Doc Software learned about making strategy games and about strategy gamers in general?
ID: Well, we've got years and years of experience making strategy games, so we've got a good handle on things here; we know strategy games, and we understand our audience. I suppose, though, at the end of the day, the lessons, or perhaps the focus, is always the same: Keep your eye on the prize. And to us, the prize is delivering the best gaming experience possible for our fans. Specifically, though, we picked up a few new tricks. We learned, for example, an awful lot about balancing a game; since Empire Earth II has more combat units than any other game out there we had to develop new, automated techniques to aid the designers.
GS: Mad Doc has been making Empire Earth II and the expansion for the past 24 months or so, hasn't it? What's it like to get to the end of the road?
ID: It's always nice to get to the end of the road, to finish a game. There's a real sense of having done something to your best, and we've got a real sense of investment in the games we make. We care about the experience our fans get when they sit down with a Mad Doc game. We take our fans, and our games, very seriously. So for me, for us, getting to the end and delivering a great game experience is what it's all about. And it's nice to be able to take a week off at the end, too!
GS: And what's next for Mad Doc Software? Are there long vacations in the future? Or is there another, non-Star Trek project that needs shepherding?
ID: Alas, no rest for the weary, as there's always more work to be done. Making games is serious business; it really does require a great deal of dedication and smarts. I don't know if people realize just how much work goes into the making of every game. So, we may stop for a moment's rest, but just for a moment. The studio has grown tremendously over the last few years, and we now have well over a hundred employees working on multiple titles for PC and both next-generation consoles. Onward and upward!
GS: Thanks, Ian.