Q&A: Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

The test version of id's free stand-alone update to Return to Castle Wolfenstein is out. We talk to Splash Damage's Paul Wedgewood about the new multiplayer gameplay.

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Late yesterday, id Software released the one-map test version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. While you're downloading the 104MB file linked below, read on to find out more about what's in store in the full version of Enemy Territory, which will not, as previously planned, be an free expansion for Return to Castle Wolfenstein that requires the original game, but will instead be freely available to anyone. We recently spoke with Paul "Locki" Wedgwood, lead game designer at Splash Damage, to get the full story on the Enemy Territory release plans, the new multiplayer gameplay it will introduce, and how the developers plan to combat cheating in the free product.

GameSpot: We've heard that Enemy Territory is getting close to release. When will it be available?

Paul Wedgewood: When it's finished. One of the benefits of working with id Software as our executive producer is that they've instilled their game development philosophy upon us--don't release a game until it's done. Of course, we have rough goals for feature completion, but the full version won't be released until it's fully balanced and polished.

GS: Tell us about your plans for the Enemy Territory test. Are you looking forward to getting feedback from the general public on the game?

PW: Yes, definitely. In fact, at this stage, the feedback from the Enemy Territory test release will probably be the biggest factor affecting the final release date of Enemy Territory. We want the test release to contain all of Enemy Territory's features so the feedback we get from players will help with the final balancing and polishing.

The test map we're including is called Fuel Dump. It's set in a snowy mountain pass in Northern Europe. The Allies are attacking an Axis fuel depot and must escort their Churchill AVRE demolition tank to blast through Axis defenses. The Axis can disable and delay the tank with Panzerfausts, grenades, mines, or explosives.

GS: Has Enemy Territory's multiplayer changed much since we last had a chance to see it in November?

PW: We have certainly remained true to our original design goal--that of producing a large-scale, fast-paced, multiplayer first-person World War II game with skills and rewards and a focus on team play--but there are many new features since it was last shown to the press in the US in late 2002.

Probably the biggest of these is the campaign game mode and the persistent attributes for players. In playing Enemy Territory online, two teams battle each other through a series of three missions that make up a single campaign. There will be two campaigns in Enemy Territory: North Africa and Northern Europe.

It's worth giving some background on this to provide a context for the skills system. Within a mission there are objectives that must be completed by each team. These are as varied as escorting tanks, building bridges, stealing gold, or blowing up fuel dumps. Each player picks a character class, such as engineer, soldier, field ops, or covert ops, and then makes use of that class's special abilities, class-specific weapons, and inventory items.

During combat, your use of seven different skills is recorded and you are awarded experience points. Whenever one of these skills reaches a new level, you are given a reward relevant to the skill. For example, for achieving level four in "battle sense," you are awarded "trap awareness" as a new ability--this allows you to locate nearby enemy land mines.

These skills are persistent across missions until the end of the campaign. During each mission, the player with the highest experience points in each skill is also awarded a medal. As well as the seven best-at-skill medals, constant increases in skill level will also gain you promotions in rank, from private right through to major. All the other players can see your rank, so these really determine your status on a server.

At the end of the campaign, one team is declared the victor, and then stats on the entire game are presented. This includes additional awards for the best players on the server and a full breakdown per mission of everyone's kills, accuracy, weapon statistics, ranks, skills, medals--everything.

You can even save the full campaign debriefing as HTML to share with friends and monitor your ongoing progress. Thanks to some new interface features, you now have far greater control over replay playback too, so recording matches while you play is even more useful.

GS: What do you think Return to Castle Wolfenstein fans will appreciate most about the new multiplayer gameplay?

PW: Excluding the campaign system, skills, stats, ranks, and rewards mentioned above, the biggest additions to Enemy Territory that fans of Return to Castle Wolfenstein will notice are probably the additional covert ops class, the augmentation of the engineer class, the command map, the new weapons, and the overhauled interface.

The covert ops class is completely new to Enemy Territory and is best suited to gathering intelligence and launching silent attacks on the enemy. He's able to steal uniforms from dead enemy players and use these to infiltrate the enemy base, passing through team doors normally reserved for the opposition. Once inside, he can make use of his satchel charge (which has a remote detonator) to carry out sabotage missions, such as the destruction of an enemy command post, which, while constructed, provides bonuses to the enemy. He also has a selection of silenced weapons to choose from and special inventory items, such as his binoculars, which allow him to report the location of enemy defenses to his teammates.

The engineer is similar to that of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, except that he's now more central to the completion of mission objectives, often being required to construct a bridge, deploy a command post, or repair a tank. He is also able to establish base defenses by placing land mines and can use rifle grenades to launch long-range attacks on the enemy.

GS: Tell us about the new interface and the game modes.

PW: There are new features available on the escape menu, such as a fully featured voting and referee system that provides players with much greater functionality than in previous games for setting up and running games. The new limbo menu also feels very different from the one in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and we believe we've achieved our goal of displaying everything in one place without lots of nested options. The limbo menu displays your team, class, selected weapons, skills, rank, stats, and medals, but central to everything is the command map.

All classes make use of the command map, and this is the focus of players who successfully complete objectives. The command map also relates the location of teammates to you and identifies the status of construction and destruction objectives across the map. Enemy Territory's maps are generally four times the size of Return to Castle Wolfenstein's, so the command map provides a useful way to avoid getting lost. The command map can also be used in special ways by certain classes. For example, a field ops player is able to call in an artillery strike, and this location is also reported via the command map to any soldiers on his team equipped with the mortar. They can then add their mortar's firepower to the artillery barrage by aiming at the target that's been painted.

Also new in Enemy Territory is a game mode called last man standing. Last man standing is played on one map at a time, with two teams of players fighting to overcome the enemy through sheer force alone. Each team spawns in a different area of the map and then must use the spread of weapons and abilities that are available to them to kill everyone on the opposing team. The last team standing is declared victorious. Last man standing is played in rounds, with the overall winner determined by the number of rounds won. It has very tense and focused gameplay, with both team play and individual skill having a significant bearing on the outcome

A player can also now form or join a fire team and invite other team members to join. Once he joins a fire team, he can see other fire team members' location on the command map and grid reference. In addition, the quick chat system has been extended, allowing you to send very specific role-based orders to members of your fire team. This allows for more-complex tactics for people who want to use it and allows friends and clanmates to play together within a much more focused team on a server

GS: The word is that Enemy Territory will be released as a free stand-alone multiplayer game, rather than as a download that requires Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Why did you decide to make it completely free?

PW: It was a really tough decision, and nobody likes to cancel a game, but in my personal opinion, this decision was made in the interests of players for once and not driven purely by financial considerations. The result is an unprecedented decision by id Software and Activision to release a game that is completely free and stand-alone.

GS: Would you say that the possibility of including the new multiplayer content in the Xbox version factored into the decision to keep producing Enemy Territory's multiplayer while canceling the retail expansion?

PW: No, definitely not. We do get a lot of help and support from the guys at Nerve Software, but the two games--Enemy Territory and Tides of War--are being developed entirely independently with no shared content, barring perhaps the occasional texture they have lent us.

GS: Will not having CD keys in the freely downloadable version hamper efforts to track cheaters and keep the game free from hacks?

PW: It certainly posed a difficult problem, but we believe we've overcome it with the help of Even Balance, who has added support to Enemy Territory for Punk Buster. With Enemy Territory, players electing to enable Punk Buster will receive a unique ID that does not rely on them completing any registration forms or entering long-winded number sequences.

GS: Anything else you'd like to say about Enemy Territory?

PW: You need to play Enemy Territory to get a feeling of how deep the game really is, and since it's free, there's no reason not to play it. There are so many nuances in the strategies of playing each of the character classes, and the level at which a team or portions of a team can communicate and work together is amazing. Combine that with the persistent skill and rank progression (which are essentially role-playing elements) for each of the characters, and you have something incredibly new and unique for first-person online action games.

GS: Thanks for your time, Paul.

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