Studying the history of the ancient world can provide powerful insight into the human race, both about its origins and about its continuous development over time. And apparently, it can also help you make great real-time strategy games--these are games that let you harvest resources, build up bases and cities, commission armies of soldiers, and use them to pummel your enemies into submission. One of the most ambitious of these titles to date has been the 2001 game Empire Earth, which spanned more than 2,000 years of human history, from the Stone Age to the Space Age and beyond. Empire Earth was a truly epic game--perhaps a bit too epic for some players, who found that they preferred to play only in specific time periods (or "epochs"), rather than through the game's many, many centuries.
Fortunately, developer Stainless Steel has decided to take a more-focused approach to its next game, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. The new game will instead cover only 1,000 years of human history. According to lead designer Rick Goodman, this is still a formidable task, especially since the game's seven playable factions will all have completely unique armies and technologies--no two nations will have any soldiers in common. In fact, the game offers so many options that the studio has decided to effectively split the game into two parts: empire building, which focuses more on research and building bases, and tactical combat, which plays more like a traditional real-time strategy game and emphasizes fast-paced battles between battalions of soldiers with unique units. And fortunately, the game's main single-player campaign will be restricted to three major time periods: medieval Europe, 15th-century Korea, and World War II. We recently had an opportunity to watch both the French and Russian nations in action during the World War II period.
According to Goodman, creating a real-time strategy game with many different playable sides that all have completely unique armies is a real challenge, which is why each playable side has a specific theme or quality that helps characterize it. This theme will be reflected in the faction's armies, economic development paths, and special nation powers--large-scale effects that can be used to turn the tide of battle. For instance, the French will embody "cleverness," both on and off the battlefield, rather than brute force. As such, this playable side has a number of powerful bonuses and military units that emphasize the nation's cunning nature.
The French weren't known for their military power in World War II, but they do have powerful defensive capabilities, such as the potent "embargo" national power, which temporarily prevents opposing nations from creating any kind of military units at all. The French can also supplement their nation's population of worker citizens without having to build extra housing to accommodate them--essentially, they don't suffer the constraints on their population limit that other nations do. In addition, all French buildings will be automatically garrisoned by citizens the moment they're built, so the French can repair damage more quickly than other factions. Also, when French buildings or vehicles are destroyed, their occupants will come pouring out, unscathed and ready to fight. The French will even have a "militia" national power to turn their peaceful worker units immediately into infantry soldiers armed with rifles, which is a surprisingly effective strategy, especially since France doesn't need to constantly produce housing to support a growing population.
How to Win a War in Less Than 1,000 Years
Of course, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World will let you take all nations, including France, into battle. The French have a number of useful military units to supplement their armies, including the stationary surveillance post, a small tower that is disguised as a tree and equipped with a powerful transmitter that grants nearby line of sight. As you'd expect from the cunning French, this tower is completely invisible unless it's approached very, very closely. In fact, forestry represents an impassable barrier to all nations other than the French, so placing a surveillance tower on the edge of a forest effectively guarantees that it will remain hidden. The French can also recruit swift saboteur units that can plant devastating explosives on enemy artillery and buildings. And on the battlefield, they can join the battle with speedy motorcycles with mounted machine guns, flamethrower infantry, the compact B-1 battle tank, and special artillery units that can blow smoke around an enemy, causing the player controlling it to immediately lose line of sight in his or her surroundings. The French even have stationary armored pillboxes that can be used to garrison infantry troops on the front.
As for the Russians, we were able to take a look at their World War II campaign to free Stalingrad. According to Goodman, the Russians will be characterized by "brutality"--specifically, their strength in numbers and their unflinching willingness to make the most of their armies' sizable ranks. Many of the Russians' units will focus specifically on combat, characterized by massive numbers of infantry and a few extremely powerful vehicles. The foundation of the Russian army will be the conscript, an extremely cheap foot soldier who has very little training and is armed only with the rifle he picked up from the dead conscript who came before him.
Conscripts will be best used when paired with Russian commissar units--ruthless officers who are armed with pistols, Molotov cocktails, and a special ability known as "motivation," which is a euphemism for killing a friendly conscript outright by shooting him in the back. This ability tends to "motivate" any other nearby conscripts and gives them immediate attack bonuses in battle. But even with motivation, individual conscripts will be poor frontline units, especially against enemy vehicles. However, even if you do suffer heavy casualties with them, you'll at least be able to reissue their equipment. To simulate the relentless (and somewhat technologically impaired) WWII Russian army's practice of prying rifles out of dead soldiers' hands and using them immediately in battle, anytime one of your conscript units dies, you'll get a bit of money back in your resource stockpile. And fortunately, conscripts won't be the only infantry in Russia--the nation will also be able to commission eagle-eyed snipers. Though they have an extremely poor rate of fire--their sniper rifles take an extremely long time to reload--these valuable soldiers can instantly kill any opposing infantry trooper with a single direct hit.
Snipers, conscripts, commissars, and other Russian infantry will also receive considerable advantages from the faction's nation powers, including "for the motherland," an ability that instantly heals all damaged units to full power, and "mobilization," a national power that will instantly build any and all units that are currently queued for production. And if these impressive abilities aren't enough, the Russian nation will be able to turn to its top-tier vehicles, such as the formidable T-34 tank (which will be second in sheer power only to the German King Tiger tank in Empires) and the pride and joy of the Russian military, the Katyusha rocket-launcher trucks, which can blanket a target area with a continuous salvo of fire and essentially raze an entire town. These powerful units are balanced out by their exceptionally long reload times, though the Russian faction will actually have a nation power called "communist propaganda" that will let all Russian military units instantly replenish their ammunition and make them ready to fire again.
It's clear that Stainless Steel Studios is attempting to compensate for the smaller scale of Empires: Dawn of the Modern World (that is, covering 1,000 years of history, rather than the more than 2,000 years covered in Empire Earth) by packing considerable strategic depth into each and every epoch and playable nation. This ambitious strategy game is scheduled for release later this year. For more information, watch our exclusive video interview with Stainless Steel's Rick Goodman.