After releasing Empire Earth II earlier this year, the folks at Mad Doc Software are hard at work on an expansion pack to their epic real-time strategy game that stretches from the dawn of time to the future. The Art of Supremacy will introduce several new civilizations to play with, as well as a host of new features and improvements. For the first details on the expansion, which is due next year, we caught up with Matt Stokes, associate producer for the game.
GameSpot: Empire Earth II shipped way back in April, so we imagine that you've probably spent all your time since then working on the expansion. Could you briefly sum up what The Art of Supremacy is, and tell us what the overall theme or goal for the project is?
Matt Stokes: We were all very happy with Empire Earth II, but there were things that we really wanted to get in there that just didn't make it in time for the final ship of the game. Our expansion pack rounds out the main game to give you the complete Empire Earth II experience. Most expansions just give you a few new maps and a handful of new units, whereas ours updates and adds to every section of Empire Earth II, as well as gives you three new story-driven campaigns.
GS: We know there are already 14 civilizations in the core game of Empire Earth II. So what are some of the new civilizations in the expansion? How many are there? Are any of these new playable factions being added at the strenuous request of fans, who may have felt one or more factions were a major omission? Or were these civilizations previously cut from the original due to time constraints? Or are they being included in the expansion pack to add to it in specific ways, such as using new strategies or options that are unique to the expansion?
MS: With the expansion, we add four new civilizations to the mix. We've added the French and the Russians for two reasons: We wanted fans in those countries to be able to play as their native civilizations. And both countries have an extremely rich history that is great for the title. Both France and Russia play a large role in one of the expansion's new campaigns.
We're also excited about our other new civilizations: the Maasai and Zulu of the all-new African region. Both the noble Maasai and the fearsome Zulu add completely different powers and tactics to the landscape of Empire Earth II. We're happy to get them in to completely round out the region's civilizations.
GS: We understand that there are 10 new combat units in the expansion, such as the Zulu warriors, Russian howitzers, and the Rafale stealth fighter. What other units can you discuss? And what are some of their obvious advantages if you're using them, as well as challenges if you're battling against them?
MS: All of the new units belong to one of the four new civilizations we've added. The Rafale, for example, is a French stealth fighter that is decently strong. But its main advantage comes from how early the French gain access to it. While your enemy is still scraping by with old B-52 bombers, you've got stealth planes already bombing his civilization back to the Dark Ages.
The laibon is a special priest that the Maasai get access to in the midgame. While able to convert units like a normal priest, these guys can also heal friendly units. Since this is long before any civ gains access to medics, the laibon is the only unit that can heal midgame. An army backed by these guys becomes extremely difficult to stop.
In addition to new units, the Zulu and Maasai have all-new powers that players have not faced before in Empire Earth II. Both of these civilizations build very quickly and are great for rushing. The Zulu, especially, have unique unit formations and powers that let their melee fighters just shred through other players on the battlefield. The only counter to these guys is a strong defense (and lots of guns).
GS: Can you name some issues that fans have brought up that you're going to address with the expansion? Did some feel that certain civilizations were unbalanced? And were there any other gameplay features that they requested in particular?
MS: The new civs are a big one. Players from those areas were disappointed that they were not included in the original release, so we wanted to make sure they were taken care of. We also wanted to add the new African region to give players access to new powers and strategies to vary the gameplay.
A big complaint for any RTS is the fact that after spending all the time it takes to build up units and bases in a battle, you lose all of them when you move on to the next map. With our new tug-of-war multiplayer mode, I think we've offered a unique solution to that.
Finally, players wished that units getting hit by cannon fire and artillery shells reacted differently and did not just take damage as if being hit by gunfire. We're proud to say that with the expansion, firing a cannonball into a pack of infantry will send soldiers flying. The new effect works on infantry, cavalry, and a bunch of other things, and watching little soldiers fly through the air screaming is great--and it's what we think the fans were looking for.
Tug-of-WarGS: Could you discuss the role of the new "native tribes" in the expansion? Who are they, and how will they affect the game? We know that you can conquer, assimilate, or ally with them. But will they have their own unique units and technologies?
MS: Native tribes are just that: indigenous peoples that live on the maps where battles take place in Empire Earth II. They start off as neutral players and simply go about the business of building their own civilizations. While not that difficult to wipe out, the true strategy lies in making peace with them and bringing them in to your civilization. These native tribes hold the secrets to the lands they live on, and any player wily enough to make peace and ally with them will receive extremely powerful bonuses. Your entire army can hit for much more damage, or you can research technology twice as fast! These bonuses are permanent as well--as long as the player keeps the native tribe alive. Such an advantage can easily turn the tide against any enemy, and it adds a whole new layer of strategy--past the standard "destroy anything that moves" type of thinking.
GS: We're curious to learn about the new fealty mode. As we understand it, you can become a permanent ally, or vassal, to someone else in exchange for not being wiped out. How will this work in the end? If you swear allegiance to someone, will you still "win" if your side wins, or will the top player get most of the glory and credit? Is this mode intended to address a specific concern or request from the fan community?
MS: Fealty is our favorite way to play around the office here. Imagine your standard multiplayer game of, let's say, six players. Early on, you start attacking me and have broken my base to the point that I'm about to get beaten and kicked out of the game. Instead of losing and having to stop playing, I have the option of swearing fealty to you to become a permanent ally (vassal). I get to stay in the game, but you get a portion of all the resources I collect, and you get control of any military units I create. If a vassal starts to misbehave in any way, or tries to backstab the player he's sworn to, the ruling player has the option to "execute" the vassal to instantly destroy him. Players will only use this as a last resort, though, because vassals add such benefits to a player that the last thing you want to do is blast them out of the game. When a player wins, that win counts for any vassals he has, too. But the lord does take most of the glory.
GS: Could you explain the new "tug-of-war" mode? We understand that it will let you play against other people on multiple maps. And if you win, you get drawn farther into the enemy's territory. Will you get certain advantages if you're fighting in your own territory? Will it become harder for you to win if you're fighting in the enemy's territory?
MS: Think of tug-of-war as a chain of normal maps hooked together. Each player has a base at one end of the chain, and players begin the first battle in the middle map. Once you win the map, you move one map closer to your eventual goal: the enemy base map. As you progress down the chain, enemy resistance will grow stronger as you close in on his capital. Just as if you start losing, the enemy will begin to run in to your fortifications as he nears your capital. Winning players will get to bring an army with them on to the next map, including all of the heroes they earned in the previous battle (heroes are another new feature in the expansion). Losing players will be able to call for reinforcements on the next map, allowing them to bolster their defenses and brace for the next attack.
Should the chain make it back to a map that was previously played on, any building that was left standing when the players left that map will still be there. This really adds a cool persistence to the game, and it allows players to keep all of the great bases and cities that they build (unless someone else blows them up, that is).
GS: Finally, can we expect any graphical enhancements in the expansion, even minor ones?
MS: The new thrown-unit physics is one of our main ones: shooting units with mortars, cannonballs, and tanks will send squishy little infantry guys flying in every direction. In addition to this, we've also added a completely new dynamic lighting system to the game. Those same blasts that will send your infantry flying now give off lighting that is reflected on all of the buildings and the environment. A tank exploding will reflect off of the buildings near it with a flash and a fiery glow, and a nuke will light up an entire city now. While the explosions in the last game looked great, the new dynamic lighting they have bounces and reflects off the rest of the world and adds this great new level to the game. Buildings make use of it as well. So as they catch fire from damage, you'll see flickering firelight from the flames all over the building. I think the fans of Empire Earth II will really get a kick out of it, and we can't wait to get it out so you can all play it.
GS: Thank you.