Recently Martin Walfisz, CEO of Massive Entertainment, visited Sydney to present Massive Entertainments latest creation, Ground Control II. Currently scheduled to ship in July, Ground Control II returns players to the RTS genre but as Martin explained during his presentation there is quite a few differences between Ground Control II and other RTS games presently on the market.
The storyline of the game puts you in the shoes of Northern Star Alliance (NSA)commander, Jacob Angelus, as their home planet comes under attack from the Terran Empire with the action taking place three hundred years after the original game. There will be connections between the two storylines but Martin commented that playing the original game is not a prerequisite to understanding the games storyline.
At some point during the game the Viron faction will come into play, but Martin would not reveal how or why this occurs and gave every indication that it will be a surprise not revealed until the final game ships for players to discover. There is every indication that the storyline will be an enthralling epic tale with Massive hiring the author of Lonewolf books to help with the storyline.
The single player campaign will be made up of twenty four missions, twelve from the Northern Star Alliance and twelve from the Viron forces. In the campaign some missions will be the traditional defeat the enemy, but using the games storyline well, some of the missions will be very plot oriented and feature more objectives. None of which Martin went into. One of the pre-mission cinematics was displayed and was played out completely in the games engine. It showed a soldier running through dense vegetation to scout an enemy location with dialogue between him and his commander.
One thing that Massive Entertainment is very quick to point out is that the focus is very much on action. Rather then having to collect trees and build bases ala games such as Warcraft, players will be thrown into the action straight away. Before each battle you choose the units that you wish to begin with and to acquire more you must obtain acquisition points. To do this you must capture strategic points around the map so the onus is on the player to begin battles right away to capture these points rather then build a massive force and then rushing the enemy. A strategy which Massive Entertainment have limited somewhat with other game mechanics to feature in the final game.
One of the more interesting aspects of Ground Control II will be the Viron forces who can morph two units together to create a hybrid unit. This as Martin said means that the Viron play very differently to the NSA forces. The Virons feature sixteen different unit types. At the time of the presentation Martin commented that they were working on the idea of being able to split the two units, but this has not been confirmed for the final game. Only the Virons and NSA forces are playable, with the Terran Empire only featuring as a non-playable enemy.
From what we could see it couldn't be easier to morph two units. Move one into the other after clicking the morph icon and bingo, you have a new, more powerful unit to play with. As you gain more reinforcements when playing with the Virons your maintenance level changes. The more units you have on the battlefield, the higher your maintenance level which in turn affects how quickly acquisition points are gained, so unit management in terms of morphing units and maintaining a steady number will be the key to victory with these forces.
You also will have a great deal of control over the way units move, and the environment will affect the combat in different ways. As you move the units, you will be able to hold down the mouse button and choose the direction you want it to face, giving you a higher level of control and not leaving the unit vulnerable at any time. Also Massive have implemented a line of sight system, without fog of war. You can see the entire map, but unless you have a unit in the vicinity, you can't see enemy units. However higher ground will give your units the ability to see further and also give an advantage during combat.
Ground Control II will feature a variety of different units for both land and air, during the presentation no sea units were shown so we aren't sure at this point whether naval style combat will feature in the final game. One new ability over the original game is the chance to control the dropship which brings in the reinforcements. Each drop ship has six attributes; armor, weapons, sensors, cargo and fuel. These attributes affect the effectiveness of the dropship should you take it into battle. Each of these attributes can be upgraded via acquisition points.
Units such as a radar can be deployed to detect enemy units traveling through the covered area. Martin called this new feature off map support and the other example he displayed was an artillery strike which was basically an air strike against a particular area of the battlefield. Some of the units will also feature a secondary fire function. One example given was a missile vehicle, which usually just fires missiles. Its secondary ability is an anti-missile system which will help defend a friendly base, but also renders the unit unmovable.
For multiplayer, the developers have built a free service called MASSGATE which is not unlike Blizzard's Battle.net. Players will create accounts and login free to find games with other players. MASSGATE will feature online leagues which are monitored and official games will be hosted on the servers to ensure there is no cheating involved. In terms of multiplayer game modes, one of the most unique aspects of the franchise comes to the fore. Massive have built a game mode which allows you to drop in and out of games at will. The server will run a map cycle and players can drop in and drop out at anytime without affecting the server setup. Other game modes include the typical RTS style where players setup the game battle and then it completes, plus also co-operative missions from the single player campaign for up to three players.
Massive are also planning to release their mission editor and a number of other tools so gamers can create their own maps and modifications. Martin explained that they are trying to make sure the game is as friendly to modifications as possible and that he feels that it is the best sign that people like their game if people try and modify it.
The game is already looking like one of the more prettier PC RTS games and with a completely configurable camera the detail of units can be seen up close or from a far distance. Small animations such as a tank lowering its top before moving display the attention to detail the developers have put into the game. Battles will be raged on different environments; urban, snow, desert, swamp and something they like to call islands. Weather will also play a factor in the game with one of the maps displayed showing torrential down pour which may affect the line of sight system. Martin confirmed that the final minimum specifications will be a Pentium III 800mhz, 128MB RAM and a Transform and Lighting video card with at least 32MB of RAM on board.
There's only a few months until the release of Ground Control II which is looking like it will become yet another game for RTS fans to love. The unique mechanics of the original return with some changes that players will no doubt be thankful for and some interesting new options like the ability to morph Viron units. Look for Ground Control II early July 2004.