To give more insight into the game, Creative Director, Jamie Barber at The Bitmap Brothers takes to the frontline to answer various questions.
Who are The Bitmap Brothers, the people, the company, and the games... ?
The Bitmap Brothers are a team of 16 dedicated developers, most of whom have worked here for more than 5 years, and some have been here since the company was formed in 1987! Mike Montgomery is the sole remaining founder, and is Managing Director, with Ed Bartlett heading up the commercial direction of the company as Business Development Director, and Technical Director John Phillips overseeing the programming and technical aspects of the company and our games. We became famous for our early classic 16-Bit titles such as the Speedball, Chaos Engine and Xenon series of games, and then in 1996 we developed our first RTS title, the hugely successful 'Z'. There were a number of areas we wanted to refine, so we developed a sequel to Z known as Z; Steel Soldiers, which received unilaterally high critical acclaim. Then in late 2001 we decided to try applying some of what we had learnt about RTS development to a real-world scenario, and so World War II: Frontline Command was born.
Can you breakdown the game in a little detail and tell us what diverse and interesting events/tasks will be put to the player for some of the 25 single player and 10 multiplayer missions?
The game itself is a strategy game that follows the Allies' progress through the latter half of World War 2. Starting in the north of France and climaxing in the south of Germany, the player will be taken through many major battles of the war. The game is split into two campaigns. The first is a linear campaign of 12 levels and is quite arcadey in nature. The second, Veteran mode is a non-linear campaign of 25 levels where the levels, how they are played and what objectives are achieved influences the path and nature of the forthcoming missions. The two modes differ in that different units will appear in different levels, the units are balanced slightly differently and different systems come into play with each. For example in the Recruit mode Infantry units will recuperate health over time if they are placed within buildings where as in Veteran mode the player will have to use medical facilities or medical trucks. In veteran mode ammunition levels for tanks and artillery pieces come into play so the player has to use the available weaponry to his best advantage until resupply arrives. Critical hits can occur to tanks in veteran mode, they may still be functional but the turrets will cease to turn and you will have to repair them to bring them back up to scratch.
Whilst playing the game you can expect to see missions / objectives that will include some of the following: Destroying bridges, bunkers, radar stations, buildings etc; Appropriating enemy plans, assassinating enemy officers, clearing the way for and then initiating air strikes, ambushing convoys, securing area's, defending areas, deploying paratroops to secure objectives, destroying train guns and rescuing POWs.
The Multi player maps allow you to play as either side and are based around a points allocation system so you can buy in your units as you see fit. There are timed modes and the option to play an assassination game whereby you have to eliminate your opponent's commander. You can also play all of the single player maps in the multiplayer mode.
There' is no resource management within the game, units come fully equipped. How exactly will this affect the battles, especially in multiplayer?
The resources are now your men and artillery and their ammunition. This means that battles are much more about effective unit use and combinations rather than the tank rush of many RTS's. Being able to build a constant stream of units has always put a lower value on their heads, so here, we have tried to make every last unit essential enough to the player to want to protect making winning impossible the second a rifle squad loses one man.
Units, when in "veteran" mode, also have ammunition levels that can be re-supplied using a supply truck, whilst infantry can have their wounds healed by medical vehicles.
What can you tell us about the game engine you are using and what visual treats do you have in store for gamers? It certainly looks very impressive.
A reworking of the Z: SS engine has allowed us to take advantage of the latest hardware, whilst still creating a good-looking and performing game for lower end machines. We have everything from air strikes to missions taking place at various time of day, including real time light sourced lamps and searchlights for night missions, weather effects covering all four seasons, various explosion, rubble and flame effects for all situations, destructible buildings and units, revamped water effects, muzzle flashes and dirt impacts, power stations churning out pollution into the atmosphere and working water and windmills.
What can you tell us about the cam technology utilised in the game?
Basically, it's an evolution of the camera in Z: SS, based on feedback we received for the game, and it is a fast, customisable and efficient camera system designed to work on the mouse alone.
It also can be backup up by the keyboard in many ways such book marking specific locations or camera settings, to be accessed at the press of a key, or by using keys to scroll and rotate the camera while still using the mouse for other functions.
How does the morale system work and how will this affect troops under your command?
The morale is a modifier for a number of parameters that govern infantry behaviour on the battlefield. Morale is earned of lost by an individual by feats such as killing an enemy, or losing a fellow squad member during combat. Units with higher morale levels will out perform units with lower morale in combat, and will also perform "heroic actions" such as popping a grenade in a tank hatch. Should the morale be terribly low on a soldier, he may "hedgehog" - cowering in his arms and reacting slowly and sullenly orders.
Also, moral effects how quickly infantry will recuperate from damage when not in combat, so high moral units will be back to full strength, fighting fit long before low morale units will.
The game employs a 'hearing system' how does this work and how will it affect the game play?
An enemy marker represents enemy units that are within the vision range of your units, but are hidden behind objects whenever they make a sound. It is down the player to identify the sound and choose the best course of action to take though.
This has meant that close combat has to be tackled more stealthily, especially against very sneaky players who you might have heard if they had sent their tank around to your rear, but you didn't because they sent a bazooka infantryman crawling on his knees, instead.
What types of units can we expect to see in World War II: Frontline Command and will they behave like most of RTS titles or is your approach somewhat different?
There are a variety of infantry units available to both sides: SMG's squads, Rifle Squads (Both of which carry grenades) HMG's, Mortar crews, Snipers, Commanders, Flame Throwers, Recon guys (Who can call in air strikes and off map artillery) and Engineers who carry both bazookas (Or Panzershreks) and TNT charges. Armour wise, there is towable artillery, all of the tanks that were around at the time in the European theatre and various support vehicles including a variety of halftrack configurations, transports units (Both land and amphibious) and support units for supply and medical purposes.
Infantry can be set into ambush and defends modes to hold strategic positions. They can run, walk or crawl which will effect both their line of sight and also accuracy. Heroic actions can be performed when morale levels are high, infantry accuracy will vastly improve and grenades / mortars / RPGs can cause critical hits to buildings and armour. Enemy Infantry will endeavour to use cover to their best advantage as they will be both harder to hit and take less damage when under fire, they can also jump into buildings to gain line of sight and protection advantages. Enemy infantry will also use medical and supply facilities when or where available. Armoured units will chose whether to expend ammunition or to run troops over,> will try to evade in combat whilst bringing turrets / weapons to bear and also can cause critical hits when morale is high.
Do you in general feel that most WWII RTS games lack real power in looks, ideas and generally presentation? What do you feel distinguishes Bitmap products from the rest? - (Will there also be lots FMV in game sequences to add to the ethos of the war years?)
I think that many of the WW2 RTGS that have come about are let down by their presentation but there are also a few that are not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing, which is more than adequate for the style of game. If we were to have made the interface and front-end in the typical Bitmap style then we feel it would have been out of place. We've opted for a simple, stylistic system that is both logical, comprehensive but overtly simple and themed to the game. I think that many people don't take interfaces and especially in game systems as seriously as they should. The player should always feel at home and never frustrated with the game from this perspective. We spend a lot of time on the detail of our games and this makes a discernable difference.
We have included lots of footage from the Second World War, some in colour and some in B&W. This appears between the level blocks and has a spoken update to what was happening at that point during the fighting and acts as an introduction to the next phase that you're about to enter.
All of the voice acting has been professionally recorded, both for the movies and also for the games briefings / debriefings and in-game voices (Which will vary depending on unit morale).
How do you think the RTS genre has evolved over the years and are there other RTS titles that you enjoy and have possibly influenced you when developing WWII Frontline Command?
To be honest, I'm disappointed at the lack of evolution of the mainstream PC RTS genre over the past 7/8 years. Apart from Homeworld and Z, no one has really begun to think differently to the templates set by Dune2. 3D has failed to be truly embraced by many games, with the chance for freedom ignored. Even Warcraft 3 still using old 2D tricks of dense forests to force the player through a linear set of set pieces and battles. This has given us an advantage though, as creating such features as passable forests has created a much more open style of play, taking full advantage of features such as varying armour values over each unit, and the benefit of cover from forests themselves, which not even our 2D competitors can do.
On the other hand, console RTS's are taking steps with Dynasty Warriors on the PS2, and Battle Engine Aquila are starting to play about with the war formula and introducing action elements; whist the Total War series is refining the true strategy end of the genre (Rome looks fantastic). I'd also like to mention Advance Wars, which, although did not directly influence the game, is the best reason to own a GBA (until Z GBA that is J).
Finally, sum up some of the cool features players can expect to see.
We have the ability to make infantry run, walk or crawl, each with various advantages and disadvantages to sight and weapon accuracy, sight advantages in buildings, unit specific features such as binoculars or grenades, full working tanks that not only have their main gun, but anti infantry machine guns to take care of any pesky infantry nearby, deployable and tow able field guns, the ability to call in air strikes or shell strikes and did I mention that infantry leave footprints in the snow.
World War II: Frontline Command is a detailed, accurate and attractive 3D WWII RTS with an emphasis on layered complexity and user-friendly accessibility.