E3 2002American Conquest impressions

CDV's RTS based on the Cossacks engine, American Conquest, is here at E3. Impressions and notes inside.

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CDV has a rough version of its upcoming real-time strategy game American Conquest on display in its booth at E3. The game is being built using the engine from the company's existing RTS series, Cossacks: European Wars. As such, players can expect features similar to that series, but with subject matter and units drawn from the colonies of the Americas.

Although American Conquest is being developed with existing technology, its engine is undergoing a significant overhaul. Instead of 10,000 onscreen units, armies in American Conquest can include more than 16,000 units. Instead of maps measuring 16 screens by 16 screens in size, maps will measure a whopping 20 screens by 30 screens in 1024x768 resolution. The visual perspective will remain isometric, like that of Cossacks, and the game's 2D sprite-based units will consist of traditional combatants dressed in period clothing. Certain features, however, such as large foliage and mountains, will be composed of 3D polygons instead of 2D paintings, giving them a more realistic look.

The subject matter of American Conquest spans the history of North American exploration. Its focus begins with the first Europeans landing in the New World in 1492, traverses into the colonial wars and conquering of Mexico in the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s, and ends with the formation of the United States, Canada, and Mexico in the late 1700s and early 1800s. As such, the majority of units are riders on horseback, musketeers, farmers, and tribal warriors--all the participants you'd expect from an era before tanks and airplanes.

In total, there will be 12 nations and groups represented in the game, including Britain, Spain, France, Aztec, Inca, Maya, Algonquin, Huron, Delaware, Pueblo, Iroquois Confederacy, and the colonies that eventually formed the United States. Like in Cossacks, each group has its own distinctive architecture and unit style. There's no mistaking the log cabins of the colonies for the teepees and adobe structures of the Pueblo faction--nor can you cease to be impressed by 5,000 Mayan warriors approaching a Spanish gunboat in full headdress regalia, only to be blasted by artillery from a gunnery group on the shore. The various nationalities will also speak in their native tongues, thanks to more than two hours of in-game voice clips.

The gameplay in American Conquest seems to have been given a tactical face-lift when compared with that of Cossacks. Although E3 is a poor location to learn about 100 percent of a product's features and changes, it is apparent just from formation structure and unit requirements that the game is loaded with realism. Combat formations play a large role in battles, with the commander providing eyesight to a cavalry unit that needs to watch his back and provide cover at all times. Artillery can bring up the rear to provide cover for the advance, or move ahead in order to bolster the attack, but both locations have their advantages and disadvantages. You can also capture buildings in order to boost the defenses of your army, and unlike CDV's other RTS series, Sudden Strike, you can attack from inside them as well.

Diplomacy plays a major role in tactics as well. "Compared with Cossacks, players of American Conquest will enjoy broader diplomatic possibilities," said Martin Loehlein, a producer for CDV. "For example, you can conclude alliances with neutral tribes, announce a reward for an enemy unit's head, or bribe an enemy to more easily find your way to victory."

Those familiar with Cossacks, or the majority of CDV's RTS games, won't be surprised to know that units in American Conquest gain experience in the heat of battle and can acquire additional skills. What is surprising, however, is that morale also plays a major role. If you send disheartened soldiers against a well-honed French platoon, they might run off. By contrast, if you send a small group of devoted troops against them, they could tear an opening wide enough to send the rest of your troops ahead.

One really nice feature of the armies in American Conquest is that weapon usage is realistic. You have to reload cannons, muskets, and artillery between each use. One thing that the E3 demo made perfectly clear is that if half of your support crew around a cannon is dead, then your cannon is just slow-loading window dressing. Furthermore, the game re-creates the traditional usage of muskets in the early 1500s, which often required two or three people to operate effectively--one to shoot, one to reload, and one to provide cover.

The final version of American Conquest will have numerous single- and multiplayer features. The single-player options include an authentic 50-mission campaign, single missions, historical battles, and a random map mode. Multiplayer features offer historical battles, random maps, and player-designed maps for up to eight participants. Like Cossacks, the automated championship system will be included to arrange Internet championships and offer a real-time ranking system.

American Conquest will release during the first half of 2003.

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