Jonathan Cooper: Hey Gary. Could you start off by introducting yourself and talking a little bit about End of Nations?
Gary Wagner: I’m the senior producer for Trion, overseeing development of End of Nations being developed by Petroglyph Games. Petroglyph is a bunch of veteran developers, they were the core team at Westwood Studios, so they were the originators of Command & Conquer, the original Command & Conquer, the Red Alert series. And then one of the founds of Petroglyph was Joe Bostic, and he’s actually considered to have started the whole RTS genre with his involvement in Dune 2, which was considered the very first RTS game. So, a really great, great bunch of developers and it has been great working with them.
Jonathan Cooper: Great, could we get some background on you, Gary?
Gary Wagner: I was the executive producer and producer for the Supreme Commander franchise before joining Trion.
Jonathan Cooper: Very cool, I’m a big fan of… well, all of the games you’ve just mentioned.
Gary Wagner: Ha-ha, oh, nice! So we have a tremendous amount of RTS experience building these strategy games.
Jonathan Cooper: Right. And I watched the trailer for End of Nations and it looks phenomenal. On top of the game looking great visually, it was a well put together trailer, really conveying what you’re trying to do.
Gary Wagner: Oh thanks! Yeah, we put a lot of effort into that. Just a little more history about the project. So, Nick Bolliath, whose our SVP of development here at Trion, he’s wanted to do a massively multiplayer RTS game for a while. Coincidentally, Joe Bostic, the creative director at Petroglyph, he’s wanted to do this, and then myself, while I was still working on Supreme Commander, wanted to take Supreme Commander in this direction as well. So it’s kind of a great meeting of the minds in terms of the future of RTS gaming. You know, persistent character and development. So, it’s pretty much a dream project for all of us.
Jonathan Cooper: Well, RTSs over time, it feels like while some have tried to go for large scale battles, a lot of them have been scaling it back. Deciding, for some reason, that fewer is better in terms of units on the field at once.
Gary Wagner: Absolutely. Company of Heroes, the Dawn of War series, they’ve moved in a smaller, very tactical way. Which is fine, right? At its core, End of Nations is very much an RTS experience. We did a lot of research in terms of “what are the styles of RTS gameplay that have evolved in the past five or six years.” We really made sure we incorporated these elements into End of Nations as well, and then widening it out from there, and adding the persistent and massively multiplayer elements.
Jonathan Cooper: Now, I saw in the trailer, the kind of “massive” elements, but it didn’t really touch on the “persistence” that much. Could you elaborate on that aspect?
Gary Wagner: Sure. So, there are several things that persist in the game. One is your commander class character. You have your choice of three different commander classes, and these are just placeholder names for now, but one is the Tank Commander Class, which is heavily armored. It can be in the front lines; take a lot of damage, give a lot of damage. You have the Artillery Commander Class, which the units are more fragile, and have less hitpoints, but can do a lot of damage over long distances. And then we have the Strike Commander Class, which is more stealthy, quick, they can get in, get out, Special Ops type of gameplay with those guys.
The idea is: each Commander Class is asymmetric, and, much like other MMOs, when you group together, then your skills and abilities complement eachother. So that’s one aspect of persistence. The other aspect is that each player has his own headquarters. This is an area that’s off the field of combat, so when you’re sleeping people can’t come and blow it up, and there are several things that you do that take place in your headquarters. One is research and development, so, you can research new weapons, new units, and research super weapons. It takes a long time to do that, but once you do, it allows you to build structures at your HQ, which gives you the ability to bring in special units to call in super weapon strikes.
We also have, what we call manufacturing, which is the MMO equivalent of crafting. As you defeat units on the battlefield you’ll loot them and take that stuff back to your base to do research, and then you can start crafting new weapons, armor, types of ammunition, and even new styles of units as well.
And then, finally, the main part of the part that goes on at your headquarters is the unit collection. So we have the Armory, and within the Armory is housed your unit collection, and you collect units over time as you progress through the game , and the idea is to entice the player to collect all the units within certain groups. If you complete a group it will give bonuses not only to yourself, but to the people you’re playing with as well.
Jonathan Cooper: So there’s a major focus on the persistence. It’s not just “leveling up.”
Gary Wagner: Absolutely. There’s also persistence in terms of a metagame aspect to the game world as well. You‘ll be given the opportunity to join one of two sides or factions, once you start playing the game. The metagame is these PVP combat instances that actually change the balance of power in the game world. The metagame will actually have certain victory conditions, so, after a month or two after those win conditions are met, we’ll restart the metagame, and at that point you can choose to change sides or factions, or remain with the faction you’re currently affiliated with.
Jonathan Cooper: How big are the differences when one side is winning versus the other side?
Gary Wagner: It’s all about controlling territory, and once you conquer certain areas of the globe and a certain percentage of territory, then your side, your faction, starts to get bonuses for that. So, think of Dark Age of Camelot, where you had Realm vs. Realm, where if you captured certain relics your side would actually get bonuses while you control that. It’s similar to that.
Jonathan Cooper: So, in terms of the MMO side, it seems like Dark Age of Camelot and a few others are the inspiration. When it comes to RTS, what inspired the gameplay for that side of the game?
Gary Wagner: Well, you know, since these guys were the originators of the Command & Conquer series, we feel like fans of those series will be really comfortable in the game, certainly in the UI and control elements. Any RTS gamer will be comfortable jumping in, in that regard. But we really studied a broad range of RTS games and thought about what game mechanics have developed that players really like, you know, for example: there’s an arc of fire in Company of Heroes and the Dawn of War series that players really like in terms of tactical gameplay, so we’re planning on having that in the game, as well.
So we studied a broader range, not just the C&C series. Like we said, we really want to appeal to the RTS fanbase, that is our core audience, and hopefully we give them a great RTS experience and then layer in all of the MMO elements on top of it.
Jonathan Cooper: Now, that first trailer ends with 51 players on screen at once.
Gary Wagner: Uh-huh.
Jonathan Cooper: And it said, “still counting.” Are you planning on raising that number up in terms of how many players are on the field at once?
Gary Wagner: So the way that the number came about is that Petroglyph literally ran out of people to jump into the game at the same time. What we found is that there isn’t a technical limit to the number of players on one single map, and it’s really down to the designers determining what’s really fun. Just because you can do 50 or 100 players on a map doesn’t mean it will be fun. So we’re still working on that, as well. And we have several different styles of gameplay. We might just have a couple of areas that are all out, head-to-head sort of deathmatch areas, which would be fun with as many players as you can cram in there.
Jonathan Cooper: Now have you found that having upwards of fifty or more players at once in a game changes the way that people play the game? In typical combat, or, at least, in movies, it’s common that one group of soldiers will need to hold out for another to come and reinforce them. In typical RTS games that’s really not an option due to the player limit. Have you found that players are playing much more team based in this?
Gary Wagner: Actually there are a couple of elements to that. One, which is unique to End of Nations, we have the ability for drop-in gameplay. That giant map you saw in the trailer is set up as a public area where players can jump in to a battle if they see that somebody needs help. They can observe the map, see if an ally or a friend needs help and jump right in. The other aspect of it is that there’s a big PVE co-op component to the game as well. We didn’t want to just make this for strictly hardcore RTS players, we wanted to actually have people be able to jump into a cooperative mode or missions and have a lot of fun playing with their friends. And then, of course, we’ll still have a robust PVP element as well.
But yes, to answer your question in a roundabout way, people will be playing, depending on the instance, differently, and very much team oriented.