In this interview World In Conflict lead Magnus Jansen talked to us about how Soviet Assault is more like a relaunch or “director’s cut” of the original game than a traditional expansion. He discusses how online RTS games need “silent communication” and announces that all WiC players will receive an big content update to bring everyone in line with the new materials from Soviet Assault. Read on for a tip of the hat to Ground Control, and the inside perspective on Soviet Assault.
RPS: Hi Magnus, thanks for speaking to us. Can you tell the readers a bit about yourself?
Jansen: Yes, I’m Magnus Jansen of Massive Entertainment. I have this nickname which is “soundboy” as I used to be a sound designer back before this. It’s a bit nineties, but whatever. Now I am lead designer on Soviet Assault and on World on Conflict before that.
RPS: And did you work on Ground Control before that?
Jansen: No, the lead on the Ground Control games was the esteemed Henrik Sebring, who is now a project manager here on another team. But World In Conflict is very much standing on the shoulders of the giant that was Ground Control, there’s a clear heritage there, and a clear pedigree. It’s the third part in the series in many ways.
RPS: Ground Control did seem ahead of its time with the lack of base-building and the free camera. Do you think it influenced the future direction of RTS games?
Jansen: It made a big impact, for sure. It was one of the first games to go in that sort of direction. I don’t know how much it inspired, however, most of the big series are still soldiering on in the way they had done since the Nineties. Other series though are moving away from base-building, so maybe. In terms of awareness at least, if I speak to a developer at a conference or whatever, they really remember Ground Control. It made a big splash, and it arrived in an era where PC games were at the height – the end of the glorious Nineties.
RPS: So let’s move on to World In Conflict and then Soviet Assault – can you explain your ongoing approach with that?
Jansen: It follows on from Ground Control – it’s 3D, and there’s no base building. Around Ground Control 2, the inevitable sequel, there was some turbulence. There was the dotcom crash, and Massive was bought by Vivendi/Sierra, and survived thanks to that. Ground Control 2 followed the original direction, with an even greater emphasis on story, and character in single player. After the release of this, however, the team was quite keen on doing something other than sci-fi. A couple of strong personalities within the core team really wanted to modern military – hardware buffs, strategy fans. There was a clear direction to push for. But there was also the feeling that “by God we can’t have another shoot-the-muslims-in-the-desert game”, it just wasn’t right. We wanted it to be more magical. We wanted the RTS to be about big battles, with two “equal” factions. That led us back to the 1980s and the Cold War. So in some ways we stuck our heads in the sand and looked to fantasy, but that’s what we wanted from the game. That led us to the contra-factual game world of World In Conflict.
As for the core gameplay, Ground Control 2 had a number of different types of armour, and a number of different kinds of damage, which is an RTS game standard. In World In Conflict there was a clear movement in lots of areas to trim away that complexity and focus on just damage, armour, your credits to buy units, and the time penalty until you get the resources back. That’s it for managing your resources. The rock, paper, scissors thing is the management of different people: team play. That’s where we put the complexity, in co-ordinating the team. The complexity is in working with a number of people, or learning the tactics. Not in micromanagement. This can be a problem when you are online and you don’t find a good team – so we focus a lot on communication, and what we call “silent communication”. We want players to know what the other team members are doing just by looking. So you can click on the map and see movement lines, immediately you can see where your team is going, without speaking. You can co-ordinate silently. We put a lot of these kinds of information in the game. Even though we have a cool VOIP technology, not everyone wants to use that with people who are not their friends. Even typing is “reaching out” and can be too slow. So: silent communication.
RPS: How has Soviet Assault built on World On Conflict?
Jansen: It has a very peculiar history. After we released World In Conflict work began on the console versions, we thought that we should put some extra content in there. Microsoft and Sony wanted more, so we needed something extra. At the same time there was this big push from our fans, and from critics online, saying that it sucked that we didn’t have a Soviet point of view. The fact that they were a kind of faceless enemy was not good. We got a substantial amount of flak for having just one US. I think it’s unfair to say that the campaign was too flag waving and so on for the US, because there were a lot of bastards and failures on their side, but anyway – there really was a desire to show and have a Soviet perspective. So we began work on the extra missions and characters, to add a Soviet plot to it. We decided to not make it into a full separate campaign – it’s not enough for a classical add-on. There are some new missions from the Soviet perspective, but it is somewhere between downloadable content and a mini-expansion. Because of that the new missions are totally integrated into the original campaign. You go back and forth between perspectives on the campaign, like you do in Call of Duty 4. The new Soviet parts are woven into the US campaign.
Of course this means that the best thing we could do is have a Men In Black mind zapper, zap people who played the original game, and have them play this again. This game is the way that it was intended. It’s the deluxe director’s cut.
RPS: So this is the “enhanced edition” so to speak?
Jansen: Yes, it’s the /complete/ edition. It’s the old game plus the new stuff in one. It’s like a relaunch as the Ultimate Edition of World In Conflict. That’s really the big thing for me. You can purchase just the new single player stuff, and you can play that piecemeal, but you need to play it as part of the full campaign. Owners of the original game will be able to buy this online, and install it on top of their existing World In Conflict. Everything will upgrade – there’s even a new extra-hard difficulty mode. We’ve polished every original map, we did a full pass on everything from the original game.
RPS: How does this work for multiplayer?
Jansen: There’s not a lot of Soviet Assault specific changes to multiplayer, but one of the things I’ve fought for is that we will release a big update for existing owners to give them the new multiplayer maps and fixes, so that people who have the old game can play with the people who bought the new complete game. We are not going to divide the community. Owners of the original will get a hell of an update – new features, two new maps.
I just want to make a point about the scope of Soviet Assault – this is about relaunching the game under new owners, and providing an ultimate edition of the game. There have been some disappointed comments from people expecting a full scale expansion, but that was never the scope of what we were trying to do. I hope people realise that, because what we have done for this version of the game is awesome.
RPS: Thanks, Magnus.
Soviet Assault is out in Europe and the US later this week.