Now Blizzard behemoth StarCraft 2 has re-written the real-time strategy sales rule book it's hard to see how Ubisoft's R.U.S.E., due out next month, will compete.
Senior producer Mathieu Girard, however, has a plan. It involves the home consoles and motion controls, two technologies Blizzard has so far kept at arms length.
In this interview, Girard discusses how Ubisoft is using Sony's Move controller to make R.U.S.E. better on console and explains why Kinect's been left behind.
Eurogamer: How did PS Move integration come about?
Mathieu Girard: Ever since we started RU.S.E. we wanted it to play as a natural, easy to handle game, even though it could be very deep because of the complexity of the units and environment.
But still we wanted to have simple controls. So from the start we thought about playing with a pad, with a mouse and keyboard obviously, with multi-touch as well, as you may have seen in the early demos.
And then we heard about the Move. Internally we started the reflection: is it a good game to have the Move?
We started first the reflection ourselves. Then we built up a first prototype with the first set of interactions with the Move. Instead of raising the Move stick to zoom in and out, we had the controller going close to the screen. It wasn't that pleasant.
We had this first prototype. We showed it to Sony. Some of the guys in London were very enthusiastic about it. They have us some feedback on how to improve it.
We went back to work. We polished everything. We added lots of immersive controls, like opening the menu, like being able to navigate inside the menu with the Move, not with some kind of directional stick. Now we have something that is final.
I would say that the Move integration was very quick - a lot faster than what we expected compared to working with the Wii, for instance.
We have not worked on the Wii with R.U.S.E., but compared to other engineers at Ubisoft who've done it. It was pretty fast to integrate.
I was not sure if it was just going to be a gadget, but it turns out it's a very cool and natural controller. We're very excited with it. It's very responsive.
You have the optical solution, the sphere, which is detected by the camera. You have accelerometers and gyroscopes. You can combine all of these systems together to form something very precise and natural to work with.
Eurogamer: When did you first begin working with Move on R.U.S.E.?
Mathieu Girard: I would say four or five weeks ago.
Eurogamer: Only four or five weeks ago?
Mathieu Girard: Yes.
Eurogamer: And you went to Sony with a prototype before they approached you?
Mathieu Girard: Maybe we've talked about it. You know they come to our offices from time to time to discuss our next products, what's going on.
Maybe they mentioned it. But I think the decision came internally from Ubisoft.
Eurogamer: How does Move improve the experience R.U.S.E. offers?
Mathieu Girard: I think it's better than on PC with mouse and keyboard because you can play on a couch, really relaxed, and you don't have to get close to your screen, and you don't have to make large movements.
And it's better than the Sixaxis or other game pads because it's more accurate. You can finally select some stuff. You can move faster from point A to point B.
On the pad you can be gentle or quick on the controller to zoom in or zoom out faster. But with the Move stick it's faster to do quick gestures or have slow motion to really control the zoom finely.
I would say more precision, faster control, direct pointing on the screen, which you don't have with the pad – you still have to move around a bit. So yeah, I would say it's better.
Eurogamer: You mentioned you think Move is better than playing with the mouse and keyboard. PC RTS fans may argue with you.
Mathieu Girard: For the comfort.
Eurogamer: What about from a gameplay point of view?
Mathieu Girard: I could say it's the same, but I will say yes, it's still going to be a bit more efficient playing with a mouse and keyboard because you have shortcuts.
Maybe the mouse reacts more naturally to moving your hand, or we're more used to it.
But the thing is, at no time did we reduce the depth of the game, the possibilities, because of the controls.
For us strategy is a matter of making a plan, placing forces, but not using micro controls and doing hardcore micro-management stuff.
We did not reduce the quality of the experience of R.U.S.E. by playing with a Move stick or a game pad. It's about the same.
But yes, you will be a bit more efficient with the mouse and keyboard. But you will not have less fun.
Eurogamer: Some are concerned about lag. How responsive is Move?
Mathieu Girard: I would say it's very responsive. And also, the performance footprint is very light, which is very important because R.U.S.E. is a very demanding technology.
You have a billion polygons on screen, which are streamed dynamically. We're pushing the console to the limits for what it can do.
With the Move we face no risk of adding more memory or more performance. It's really very efficient in terms of performance and memory use. And still it's very reactive.
Eurogamer: So there's no impact on the performance when you use Move?
Mathieu Girard: We've been fighting for performance on console since the beginning of the project. The last thing we wanted was to have to find another 30 megabytes of memory somewhere, or some more optimisations to do because of the Move. This was not the case.
Eurogamer: R.U.S.E. will be Move compatible at launch?
Mathieu Girard: Yes.
Eurogamer: Any plans to bundle Move with R.U.S.E.?
Mathieu Girard: I don't know. Well... I know some stuff but I cannot tell it. It's not necessarily about the game.
Eurogamer: Are you thinking about it?
Mathieu Girard: Yeah we're thinking about it.
Sony likes the project, so I think they want to do something special. Well, they may want to do something special, but I cannot give you more info.
The fact is there are not so many gamer titles. I think there's SOCOM, I've heard. It's a good point to feel that strategy is possible because of this new controller, even though it works okay with a pad. But still I think it's a good point for Sony to show that the Move is not only for casual gaming. It's also for gamers.
Eurogamer: R.U.S.E. is coming out on the Xbox 360 as well as the PS3. Do you have any plans to implement Kinect functionality post-launch?
Mathieu Girard: We have no plans.
One of the factors is that Kinect, you have to play standing for a long time, while for R.U.S.E. we imagine that you play the single-player campaign for three or four hours in a row.
Asking someone to be standing for three or four hours... you know it feels natural for a fitness game or an action sports game. It makes sense. But for R.U.S.E., I'm not sure it's the perfect game for that.
Eurogamer: How do you feel Move and Kinect compare with regards to hardcore games?
Mathieu Girard: It's difficult to tell. Kinect is more adapted to more immersive controls where you want to mimic what's going on on the screen. So, if I want to jump, my character has to jump.
But for a strategy game such as R.U.S.E., where you're not actually a character on the screen, but you're more like managing armies and selecting productions, it would be more like reinventing fantasy gestures to simulate what it's like to be the master playing on the battlefield.
The Move was more like streamlining the controls you need to play a strategy game, so it made more sense in our case.
Kinect does more to immerse you, while Move... actually it can have both of them, but it's more of a traditional controller than Kinect, I would say.
Eurogamer: Core gamers don't fancy standing up playing games, do they, because they get tired.
Mathieu Girard: I was told we had a huge success with Just Dance in most countries except Germany because they're ashamed of dancing in front of other players.
More on R.U.S.E.
Eurogamer: Most people are embarrassed at first but once they get into it they're okay.
Mathieu Girard: Yeah. It was a blast in France, the UK and the US. But in Germany... someone's looking!
Eurogamer: Will you integrate 3D visuals into R.U.S.E.?
Mathieu Girard: No plans. We have some stuff on PC but it's very... secret right now.
The thing is, for 3D on console, you must have, I would say, at least 60 frames per second, because, basically, you draw two images to achieve 3D. Your game has to deliver twice as many frames to still remain fluid in 3D.
Eurogamer: So two frames at 30 frames per second each?
Mathieu Girard: Yeah. So right now with a game of the magnitude of R.U.S.E. it's a bit too complex either on Xbox 360 or Sony, to achieve that.
A game has to be thought for 3D at the beginning to make sure it has the performance necessary in the end.
Maybe that means that 3D games are going to look a bit less good than original games. But Shaun White is looking pretty good.
Eurogamer: Did you see Killzone 3 at E3 2010?
Mathieu Girard: No.
Eurogamer: They showed that running 3D.
Mathieu Girard: And it was amazing?
Eurogamer: Yeah. It looked pretty good.
Mathieu Girard: And the framerate was...?
Eurogamer: It looked okay, but it was a controlled demo, so who knows what the final product will end up like? You think 3D may impact performance then?
Mathieu Girard: Well, you must have twice as many frames, so either you're losing the 60 frames per second, or you are losing the quality of graphics.
I cannot imagine a game with all the polished graphical quality running at 120 hertz so that each image is 60 hertz. Something has to be reduced somewhere I suppose. It's tricky.
R.U.S.E. will be released for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on 10th September.