Axis & Allies E3 2004 Preshow Impressions

The creators of Kohan take a crack at reinventing the beloved board game into an innovative real-time strategy game.

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TimeGate Studios made a name for itself a few years ago with Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns, an innovative fantasy-based real-time strategy game. However, Kohan never really became a huge hit. So for its next project, the company wanted to make a game based on a major property. As a result, it hooked up with Atari to develop a real-time strategy game based on the popular Axis & Allies board game.

While there was an earlier computerized version of Axis & Allies that was a straight translation of the board game to virtual form, this new Axis & Allies will feature a turn-based campaign mode that is dynamically linked to a real-time battle mode. And, of course, you'll still be able to play from the perspective of either the Axis or the Allies.

The turn-based campaign ties in elements of Risk, the Axis and Allies board game, and the Total War strategy games. From the game's map, you'll be able to both move your units around the world and plan your strategy. And though you can play the entire game strictly from the campaign map and you can autogenerate battle results, the campaign is closely tied to battles. For example, if you dispatch two major units to invade a territory, both units will appear in battle. Or if you invade the territory from different provinces--say from the east and the west--then your units will start from both sides of the map.

TimeGate's Ian Klimon told us that the real-time battle system has a robust random-map generator that will ensure each battle takes place on a unique battlefield, but it also takes into account the geographical features of an area. So Greek battlefields will look, well, Greek, and Normandy battlefields will feature the famed hedgerows of the province. The developers are using a highly modified version of a licensed 3D engine, so the game looks beautiful. There are lots of detail on all the units and buildings, and the engine can also render large numbers of units on the screen at once, an important element necessary for capturing the scale of World War II battles.

All the units in the game are historically accurate, and you'll have a wide range of ships, tanks, infantry, planes, and artillery to choose from. There will also be resource gathering in the game, and the three main resources are currency, ammunition, and oil. The developers are planning to include missions that will involve you having to capture and hold onto critical ammunition and oil depots to stay alive.

Units will also exhibit advanced artificial intelligence. The tactical-AI system will allow soldiers to use proper tactics. Consequently, soldiers will crawl, crouch, and use grenades at the optimum moments. The AI will also adapt and learn to adjust to the tactics that you adopt. And to capture the personalities of the various famous generals of WWII, such as George Patton's aggressiveness, certain command units will behave like their real-life counterparts and will adopt tactics that those figures were famous for.

One of the important details in the game is the fact that virtually all headquarter units are mobile. Klimon expects that this will capture the ebb and flow of battles quite well, since you can literally pack up and move your HQ when in danger. This way, the front lines will realistically shift back and forth as you gain and lose momentum. The developers also want to keep the game accessible to beginners, especially considering that the Axis and Allies name has broad appeal. The controls are designed to be very simple, and the idea is that you can pick up and play the game easily.

The game will have multiplayer support, though specific details weren't made available other than that there will be support for up to eight players. E3 is the first opportunity for the gaming press and public to see the game, so we expect to learn more about it as development progresses. As always, we'll keep you up-to-date with developments. Axis & Allies should ship for the PC later this year.

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