The Derby dev reverse-engineering CoD 2 to make the definitive WW2 shooter

Plus your first look at Battalion 1944 gameplay.

Joe Brammer knows his first person shooters. And the one thing he knows, first and foremost, is that he absolutely loves them.

"I started playing when I was nine - the original America's Army, then Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 2, the first Call of Duty," Brammer says as we both politely overlook the fact that was a fairly tender age to be shooting people in the face. "All these great first-person shooter games were popping up at the time."

By the age of 11, Brammer was making his own mods for Battlefield and now, at the still relatively tender age of 24, he's helping make a first-person shooter in the image of the classics he cut his teeth on.

"I've been doing this a long time. Just badly. Really badly! But I consider myself an FPS expert. Just because I love them, not because I'm smart or anything. I've got four GCSEs, but I know every FPS game! It comes down to that - I just really, really, really like them!"

That passion, care and pure love for a lost era of multiplayer games shines through Battalion 1944, the WW2 shooter that's in development at Derby-based studio Bulkhead Interactive. You might be familiar with the developer from its last game, the well-received if slightly overlooked The Turing Test ("it was a first-person puzzler, and you're always going to be compared to Portal," says Brammer, "- and you'll never win"), or from the successful Kickstarter campaign for Battalion 1944 that saw it fully funded within three days. Either way, you'll certainly be familiar with how it feels.

"What we realised was that the gap wasn't for a WW2 game," says Brammer of a game whose genesis came in lunchtime bouts of Call of Duty 2 at Bulkhead Interactive as the team prepared The Turing Test. "Our original message was that we want to go back to classic shooters. WW2 is just a platform for that."

That's what distinguishes Battalion 1944 from other shooters set in a period that's rapidly gone from unloved in recent years to oversubscribed, with Battlefield 1 turning the clock back to WW1 while Call of Duty is set to stake out more similar territory as it returns to WW2 later this year. "That's fine, for us it's really about the feel. We've spent months trying to define what an old school shooter is, and for us it's about the little imperfections in the game."

The dedication to the source material is unerring, and Bulkhead Interactive has been working to break down Unreal Engine 4 so it can replicate the feel of the modified version of id Tech 3 that Infinity Ward used for Call of Duty 2.

"We came to the conclusion that it's things like strafe jumping, which is a bug in the engine, and the way they handle recoil on some of the guns in the older Call of Duties. That moment when you jump out of a building and have that sticking moment? We think the original reason they did that was to stop the bunny hopping bug you'd get in the Quake engine - that became the feel of FPS games. It's the little imperfections that make that old school feel, and we get to pick and choose what we include."

Judging from a handful of games of Team Deathmatch in the one map to be revealed so far, the verity to the likes of Call of Duty 2 is impeccable. It's a fast and frantic shooter, the Manor house map we play on a perfectly realised throwback complete with some of its own mod cons. All of which is as you'd expect, really, given the lengths that Bulkhead Interactive has gone to in order to mirror the feel of those classic shooters.

"I don't want to say we've gone illegal deep, but...We went pretty deep," says Brammer. Part of the feel of Call of Duty 2, it turns out, is a single digit that's used as a multiplier for various values within the game - and it's become a holy grail for the team at Bulkhead. "If something has a value of 0.1, it's multiplied by this number - and we can't find this multiplier! We thought the meaning of life is 42, so maybe it's that. It's not.

"Ultimately it comes down to the Kar98. That gun defined Call of Duty 2. Just the feel of it. A third of our time on design has been on that one gun." Early indicators suggest they've got it right. "We had a guy from PlayStation who worked on World at War, and he emailed to ask what we did. He'd emailed the original dev about it and he said they couldn't tell us because the programmer who originally done it, he was drunk.

1
The community of first-person shooter developers has been supportive of Battalion 1944 - Splash Damage is lending a hand with back-end features, while those who were responsible for some of the games that inspired Battalion 1944 are excited to see the style return.

"I think the biggest factor was, you'd think that if this is your rifle you want it to be nice and snappy. But as soon as you aim - because the sight is a loop at the end of the gun - but there's a frame where it's not. We broke the animation down and did the exact same thing. We know what they've done and we've done it. In terms of going deep into engines, I've loved it - I come from a modding background, so I was in my element."

So there's one big question that remains over Battalion 1944. Why would someone play this and not something like Call of Duty 2 itself?

"Frankly I'd play Call of Duty 2 - I think it's an excellent game," Brammer says. "Ultimately it comes back to the back-end stuff, the stuff that players don't see. The thing that Call of Duty needs is that CS: Go level of matchmaking.

"We wanted a team ranking system. If I'm playing as a healer, you're more valuable - so what we said as a team is we should care about our team rank. You have your individual rank which goes up and down, and you have effectively levels that are the same thing but it's like the way that FIFA does it, so you start in division ten etc. So you can create three teams with a roster of seven people, and on these teams you have a rank."

Battalion 1944 will also be built around a new game mode that, while still under wraps, is being pitched as the bastard child of Overwatch, Call of Duty 4 and Hearthstone. "It's a really big mix of things - every round has a lot of clutch moments, so every round will be cool, but you need this overarching attrition. So maybe there's a way we can manage the amount of weapons you have at the start - in the first round you can have five snipers, but at the end of the game you've run out of sniper rifles. The whole attrition of the game is going to be really interesting to see. That's what we're going for."

That's all still to come, though, and there's a while until Battalion 1944 is ready to show its full hand, with a release not slated until next year and a closed alpha due this May. Before then, though, Battalion 1944 is making its public playable debut at EGX Rezzed where the single map that we played will be available. If you've a love for first-person shooters of a certain vintage, I'd suggest you go and give it a play. At the very least you'll be surrounded by a team that shares that passion.

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About the author

Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson

Features and Reviews Editor

Martin is Eurogamer's features and reviews editor. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.

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