At the end of last year we were pleased and then surprised to find that DigitalMindSoft were making a "spiritual successor" to the Men Of War games set in the modern world. Call To Arms, as it is called, baffled us a little by kicking off with a crowd-funding appeal, which seems to have gained little traction. Concerned to learn more - because Men Of War is a favourite game series of mine - I thought it might be good to talk to the developers and ask about their plans: would they go to Kickstarter? And would the GEM engine be updated? I talked to Chris Kramer.
RPS: Can you tell us about why you are doing Call To Arms? Why make this particular game?
Kramer: Because we are excited to introduce our type of level of detail and unique gameplay to a brand new setting. It’s fair to say that I don’t think there are many games that have used modern combat as a backdrop for an in-depth RTS game and our generation's squad based warfare fits very nicely into our competitive, micro-intense game world. We aren't going to entirely drop WW2, but Call to Arms will be a refreshing new start for both our company and our fans.
RPS: So can you describe your plans for the game in some detail? What should players expect from it?
Kramer: We've published a feature list on our website, but it really only represents the foundation we are building for launch. We will begin with two basic factions, i.e. the United States and the Global Revolutionary Movement, but we built the game to continuously add more units, varying factions and deeper scenarios. As with all ours games, we’ll fully support Call to Arms in both content and quality improvements. However, we think players should expect the same great gameplay and level of depth they have experienced in our prior products, but with polish and refinement. We will continue to strike a balance between realism and playability, offer improvements to our direct control feature and focus on intense combat engagements not found elsewhere. It really is an exciting project with a huge opportunity for us.
RPS: Is it still using the GEM engine? Isn't that engine getting a bit old now? How much can you actually improve on it?
Kramer: Great question and we do have a team of programmers working on a series of significant improvements to the engine. For example, we finally are adding proper multi-core support, improved netcode, competitive matchmaking, advanced shaders and greater physics support. These engine optimizations will also allow us to pump up the graphic fidelity without a drop on performance, so objects will have sixteen times the level of detail and the game world will be much more realistic. The current engine allows us to offer the unique features found in our series, but these improvements will help us match today's visual standards.
RPS: Why crowd funding? And why not take it to Kickstarter where you might get more profile?
Kramer: Crowd funding offers us flexibility and independence. In essence, we all sit in the same boat; our players want great games and we want to make them. We feel that with their support we might be able to achieve more than going down the tradition route. And yes, we are planning to head to Kickstarter in the future, but we believe the game needs to progress further before we show it to gamers unfamiliar with our previous titles. Right now, we wanted to reach out to our biggest fans and we are grateful for their support so early in development.
RPS: The crowd funding on your site seems hampered by a lack of illustrative and explanatory material - will we get more images and videos soon?
Kramer: The game has progressed really well, but at this point we are just not ready to show a lot to the public. We certainly will continue to update the website with new content and continue to post images on our Facebook page and forums. We know everyone wants to see more and we can't wait to show it off. But we want to make sure that what we show is representative of the quality players can expect in the final game. So it’s a fine line between being open about our progress and showing quality footage.
RPS: Is Call To Arms going to be mod-friendly?
Kramer: Absolutely. The game will come with a map/mission editor for users to build their own content, but we also want to add publishing functionality, so modders can distribute their creations to the larger community. We have seen tons of great fan-created content in Men of War and we are eager to continue to give them the right tools to get their work out there.
RPS: What did you learn from Assault Squad that you have applied to Call To Arms?
Kramer: We knew Men of War was a great game, but we also knew it lacked consistency, ease of entry and overall polish. Assault Squad was about cleaning up these gameplay mechanics and making it easier for new players to get in and understand the combat. In some ways we succeeded, but this will continue to be our focus throughout the development of Call to Arms.
I think one of the more controversial changes we have made is the removal of redundant and user unfriendly units from Assault Squad. We understood that huge unit roster pools were fun, but they were very difficult for new players to understand and for us to competitively balance. As we keep our games steeped in reality, we can’t magically make some units a good choice, when they were failures in actuality. We won't be facing these issues in Call to Arms, since we chose units and weapons by their realistic value right from the start. We retain depth through tons of variations, but new players only need to understand the very basics to play and enjoy the game. This allows us to keep the large unit rosters which people love, but make it easier for new players to understand each unit.
The steep learning curve of the Men of War series is what puts most people off, but on the flip side the game becomes most entertaining once you learned all the possibilities. We are striving for a game that guides new players through their options, but keeps it entertaining for everyone.
RPS: Are you surprised by the lack of competition in the RTS space? The Men Of War games have really had little competition, have they? Why do you think that is?
Kramer: I think publishers are aiming for more casual markets, so many RTS games lack the depth and innovation needed to stand out from the crowd. The Men of War series has remained simply because the gameplay is so unique. The importance of our genre within the industry is likely shrinking, but never-the-less its player base is still growing. We still adore creating deep, engrossing strategy games and we believe there are tons of passionate gamers out there waiting to play.
RPS: Thanks for your time.