World in Conflict (WiC) isn't like other RTS games, as developer Massive Entertainment has been at great pains to stress throughout its development. Set in an alternate reality where the Cold War went critical, the game purports to be the antithesis of Supreme Commander's mega-complexity. With a plot penned by Clancy cohort Larry Bond, the single-player game pits the player against a Soviet force on American soil, theoretically focusing on layering ease-of-use and bite-size gameplay over deep, fast-paced military strategy and the allure of tactical nukes.
While the full package releases for PC on 21st September (an Xbox 360 version's following at an unspecified date next year), you can now sign up for the open multiplayer beta. Which you should. Because we sat through a 20-minute demo of the tit-for-tat online play in LA last week and from what we saw there's every reason to expect World in Conflict to emerge as one of the PC games of the year. Sporting carpet bombs and an innovative resource-point reclamation system for bringing destroyed units back to the battlefield, Massive's pick-up-and-play ethic potentially belies what could be a sea-change for the genre's tried and tested staples: namely, in that you don't have to invest 400 hours of your life to be able to play it properly.
We took the opportunity to catch up with Massive Entertainment CEO Martin Walfisz for a bit of multiplayer chat. Check out our beta impressions in the article they're already calling World in Conflict Multiplayer Beta impressions.
Eurogamer: One of our preview writers described WiC's multiplayer as "challenging", but you've constantly talked about ease of use throughout WiC's development. What's the most difficult aspect of online play to grasp?
Martin Walfisz: I think that maybe the thing that's going to be a little challenging for some people is the camera. It's not a traditional RTS camera. It takes a while for people that are completely used to traditional RTS cameras to get used to it. I think that people that are used to playing both first-person shooter and RTS games, the camera is easier to get to grips with a little quicker. It's the same difficulty in both multiplayer and single-player.
Eurogamer: From what you've seen, do players naturally find it easier to get into WiC's multiplayer than, say, a more traditional RTS like Supreme Commander?
Martin Walfisz: Yes, without a doubt. That's what we saw. We had a closed beta about a month ago and that's exactly what we saw. The basics of the game are just to call down your units and then right-click to move or right-click to attack something. That's the core base of the game: you don't really have to learn how to construct buildings or use a tech tree, or stuff like that. So, in that sense it's much, much easier. Also, if your units die then your requisition points go back very quickly and you can rebuild, so it's never the end of the world if your units die. So in that sense it's much easier to get into than Supreme Commander.
Eurogamer: Do you think RTS titles like Supreme Commander fit into the "genre endgame" concept? Do you think they're essentially outdated?
Martin Walfisz: I wouldn't go so far. I think there are tons of gamers that love those games, and rightfully so. They're really good games. But more and more people are realising that they don't have three hours to spend just to play one match, and especially the most important and difficult aspect is that when they start a match they don't know if it's going to be 30 minutes or three hours. That's one thing that we were very careful with when we were designing WiC: you always know the length of the match before you start, and by default we have it set to 20 minutes. It's our "20 minutes experience philosophy", that we want the gamer to experience the game in 20-minute chunks. So then you can either stop playing because you've had your fun in those 20 minutes, or you can continue on to another 20-minute chunk. It's always easy to stop any time you want.
Eurogamer: Does the "20 minutes experience philosophy" extend to single-player as well?
Martin Walfisz: Single-player is different in that you can play at your own pace. You don't have any other players depending on you who get a little annoyed if you leave. In that sense, single-player is much easier because you can save at any time and continue at your leisure. So yes, there's never one single objective that takes more than 20 minutes to accomplish, but if there were you'd just save in the middle and continue when you liked.
Eurogamer: There are some obvious features that you've brought over from FPS-style games, such as the camera and respawning. Are there any other similarities?
Martin Walfisz: I think one thing to mention is the drop in gameplay in multiplayer. You can join a match at any time. Again, you don't have to wait to see friends or other people online to play: you just see a server and if it has available slots you just jump in.
Eurogamer: Why should people play the beta? Shouldn't they just wait for the full game?
Martin Walfisz: The beta has two purposes. One is a pure technical development purpose. We want as many people to try the game as possible to stress-test our system, to make sure the game works and find any quirks our QA department hasn't been able to find. We have 10, 20, 30, 40 QA staff, whereas tens of thousands of gamers is obviously a much better testing ground.
Obviously, another part of the beta is just to let people try the game. When you read about the play mechanics it can be a little tough to really understand how they work. I think once they spend ten or 15 minutes with it and get used to the camera, then learn how easy it is to call down units and attack and move, I think that's when they realise that this is actually a whole new type of RTS game. It's action RTS, or action strategy, as I like to call it.
Eurogamer: How important is multiplayer to WiC? Why's it so important for you to bring people out of single-player and online?
Martin Walfisz: No other reason than to many, many people it's more fun to play against human opponents. Especially in the RTS genre, the rate of people that play online versus the amount of people that play in single-player is lower than in first-person shooters, and that's something that we hope to change with WiC. It is really a strategy game that is just as accessible to get into a match as Counter-Strike or Battlefield.
Eurogamer: Massive previously developed the Ground Control series. What lessons did you learn there, and how have you applied them to WiC's development?
Martin Walfisz: We learned a lot from the Ground Control games. One thing important is that we realised - and this is a sort of game design epiphany - that you don't have to develop a game that has every feature under the sun. It's better to stay a little more focused and make the features you do very good instead. That sort of realisation from the Ground Control experience was that Ground Control I and Ground Control II were a little bigger than they needed to be.
Eurogamer: So WiC is more focused?
Martin Walfisz: Exactly. I mean the ambition is much bigger. Compared to Ground Control II, I think, we're talking about four times as much resources on the game. But we've focused on a sort of smaller set of features and made those excellent, instead of a wider set of features in which some of them are good and some of them are so-so.
Eurogamer: Vivendi's putting a huge amount of resource behind WiC. Are you feeling the pressure at all?
Martin Walfisz: Of course we're feeling the pressure, but having developed games for 10 years I think the biggest pressure comes from ourselves. We've been doing games for so long. We've received critical acclaim and we're very happy with that, but with World in Conflict we feel that we finally have a game that is for hardcore gamers, gaming connoisseurs, but also fits people that are not hardcore gamers.
Eurogamer: Is Massive's future riding on WiC?
Martin Walfisz: In a way yes, because we're a company that develops one game at a time, so every game we release is defining the future of the company. We'll see what happens, but I have very high hopes that things will go very well with World in Conflict. I'm not worried.