The Cold War--the arms race that began after World War II and endured for decades--is a rich setting for strategy games. And developer Massive Entertainment, the creator of the Ground Control series, is now working on World in Conflict, a strategy game that suggests what might have happened if the Cold War had gotten hot. The game will let you control the forces of the Soviet Union or the United States in a fictional war for global supremacy during the 1980s. You'll control appropriate weapons and vehicles from that time period on the realistic battlefields in fast-paced, competitive matches by commanding forces with a "specialization" in a specific combat role, such as infantry, armor, or aircraft. In fact, this class-based gameplay will carry over to World in Conflict's online multiplayer modes, which will let you approach the game in much the same way as you would a class-based multiplayer shooter like Battlefield 2. The game doesn't come out until next year, so for the latest details, we checked in with Martin Walfisz, founder and president of developer Massive Entertainment.
GameSpot: Give us an update on the game's development. What aspects of the game is the team working on now?
Martin Walfisz: The game has been in production for about 18 months now. We still have some way to go, but everything is shaping up very nicely.
From the start, we focused on getting multiplayer right, and it is now very fun and very intense, just the way we want it. There is obviously still some work being done on this side of the game. New features, more game modes, and so on, but presently our focus is on making the single-player experience just as rewarding. A majority of the team is now fine-tuning the story, implementing the campaign flow, and creating all the single-player missions. The single-player campaign is all about taking the player through a range of emotions and experiences. When we see our game testers getting goose bumps and shivers of excitement, we know that we're on the right track. War is truly coming home, and it's a very chilling experience.
GS: Given that the game lets players choose to play with different "specializations," such as airpower, infantry, or armor, how would you say they match up to different personalities of strategy game players? For instance, is choosing the air specialization, which can quickly fan out and cover the entire map, ideal for players who prefer early-game "rushing"? Does the support role seem better suited for defensive players who prefer to "turtle" by hanging back from the action?
MW: The different roles will definitely attract different kinds of players. As you say, air specialization is more attack focused, whereas the support role is in some ways more defensive. However, I don't believe that we can yet typecast players into a specific role. A system like this has never been done in a real-time strategy game before, and I think that, for example, we will see players who tend to play more defensively in traditional real-time strategy games suddenly find themselves craving the action rush of the more fast-paced roles, and vice versa.
GS: For that matter, tell us about who World in Conflict will specifically appeal to, and how. We understand that real-time strategy veterans and multiplayer fanatics will be drawn to the game's intensely competitive gameplay, for example, but how, if at all, will it appeal to beginners or to fans of single-player games?
MW: Well, single-player fans should know that we have a truly fascinating single-player experience in store. We will keep it under wraps for a little while longer, but it will be worth the wait.
As for real-time strategy beginners, I think that World in Conflict is the kind of strategy game that is easy to learn but hard to master. In our play-test sessions with people outside of the company, such players get the basics of the game within minutes. And then, after some more play time, they suddenly start to realize the tactical depth and the team-play aspects. Seeing a four-man team of new players first working individually, and then after a couple of 20-minute matches realizing that the key is to fight collaboratively, is very rewarding.
GS: We were told earlier this year that the details of the single-player game were being kept under wraps. What can you tell us about it at this point? Any new insights into the story behind the conflict or the theaters of war in which the game will take place that we can talk about at this time?
MW: Unfortunately, we're still not revealing much about single-player. A large part of the missions take place on American soil with Russians fighting US troops. But other parts of the game will be played in other locations. The story is written in collaboration with Cold War specialist and author Larry Bond, so we've gone to great lengths to ensure that all story and political events are plausible.
GS: We understand that the idea behind the game is to get players to jump in and get playing as soon as possible, even midmatch. How has the team been building the game to provide as little barrier to entry as possible? Streamlined interfaces? Special network code?
MW: The multiplayer experience is definitely built to support both short and long gaming sessions. Sometimes you only have 20 minutes to play during lunch, so a very important part of Massgate (our proprietary online matchmaking and community system) has been to simplify and speed up the time from launching the game to actually playing on a map. I timed it a while ago, and it took 37 seconds to start the game, log in to Massgate, find a suitable server (through our automatch system), and then start playing, including map loading times. It will take a little while longer if you want to browse through the server list, but with the help of our extensive "friends functionality" (where you can join the same server your friend is playing on), it should never take more than a minute or two to get playing on the server you want.
GS: Any plans to implement any specific options to make multiplayer games easier to coordinate, such as some kind of voice-over-IP chat support?
MW: You bet! One of the keystones of World in Conflict is to encourage and fully support team play, so we have devised a multitude of features to assist teams and clans to fight well together. Without revealing too much detail, I can say that we have four main tools to support this. First, in-game chat, but it also works during load screens! Second, built-in VoIP support that can be fully configured from within the game. Third, intention-based communication tools--for instance, you will be able to understand what your teammates are intending to do without them saying or writing it. And then there's a request system so that you can rapidly ask your teammates for help or give strategic advice. In short, we're doing everything we can to make it easier for teams to coordinate their battles.
GS: How is the gameplay itself shaping up? Give us a rundown of a typical World in Conflict match. Does it always begin with recon and slow buildup of tactical points to commission the highest-level tactical aids, or can players actually succeed by continuously burning through their points to keep the pressure on (or go out in a blaze of glory)? How long does a typical multiplayer match take?
MW: There is never a slow moment in World in Conflict, and the tactics vary as much as gamers do. Some use a very aggressive style, spending all their tactical points early to bring down painful attacks on their opponents, all over the map. This can put them solidly in control of the map. Others play defensively and retreat slowly, seemingly losing ground while they may in fact be saving up for a massive comeback, spearheaded by the tactical nuke. Once it is deployed (with skill and timing), it can initiate a chain of events that turns a whole match around, even very late in the game.
Players can set the match time themselves, so the length of a typical match is up to individual taste. We mostly play 20-minute matches, because by then, everything on the map is typically blown to pieces and the world is on fire.
GS: Given recent developments internationally, especially recent reports of nuclear testing in the world, does the team have any ongoing or new concerns about the game's content, such as the ability to drop tactical nukes on your opponents? Any plans to present this aspect of the game differently, or at least, more carefully?
MW: World in Conflict presents a plausible late-1980s "what if?" scenario based on the tension between the US and the USSR. Most people don't realize or remember it today, but during the Cold War, the world was very close to a full-scale war on several occasions. Although recent world events have increased the focus on nuclear weapons, we don't feel that it should affect how we present the history as it was back then. World in Conflict is designed with a lot of care--we work hard not to portray either side as specifically "evil" or "heroic"--but the fact is that the superpowers in the 1980s had nuclear weapons and would have used them if the circumstances dictated that it was necessary. We are not saying that it would have been a good idea.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about World in Conflict?
MW: Well, we're having so much fun playing World in Conflict in the office, and I can't wait to hear what everyone else says when they get a chance to try it. We will be showing it at various events later this year, so everyone is invited to come and have a play. Hope to see you there!
GS: Thank you, Martin.