Creators of the venerable Men of War series Digitalmindsoft have a crowdfunding project under their sleeves, so they took a few minutes out from developing Call to Arms to chat to us.
We discussed how eSports doesn’t necessarily have to bring games into a slimmer “rock-paper-scissors” package, and how Call to Arms aims at being more accessible than their past games, but “difficult to master”. Kramer explains that Call to Arms, an RTS set today, follows the same basic principles of their old games, to which 1C Company owns the brand, and how even if Digitalmindsoft had the rights to use the Men of War name, Call to Arms might just be different enough to fall under a different name.
In this interview, we wanted to nail how Digitalmindsoft would balance world powers such as the US, and smaller Guerrilla type militias that might be seen in the Asian or Middle Eastern map environments. “Call to Arms will be loosely based on modern combatants, but with a twist that make them asymmetric in gameplay, yet fair to play with and against,” claims Kramer.
They even threw in a couple of exclusive screenshots! Check out the interview below:
1) For those who don’t know, what is the Men of War series, and its underlying philosophy? For instance, what do you think are the core principles behind Men of War, and your RTS games in general?
Men of War is a real-time tactics series well known for its unconventional mix of action oriented, yet realistic gameplay. It is a unique game within the genre and we believe the endless possibilities throughout the game create a level of depth not found elsewhere. We were first to revolutionize how units are controlled with our “direct control” feature which allows players to personally control a units effectiveness on the battlefield. If you have ever felt unsatisfied by the depth and choice offered in the genre, Men of War is likely what you have been seeking and our active players find their RTS perspective is changed forever.
2) How close will the Call to Arms experience be to Men of War: Assault Squad? Will it feature the same game modes? Assault Squad saw a series of historically contextual skirmishes for each nation, will Call to Arms follow a similar dynamic? Will there be a full campaign mode?
Call to Arms is built on the same concepts as Assault Squad, but the nature of modern warfare, gameplay, pace of combat, value of individual soldiers and weaponry has drastically changed. It simply reflects the evolution of combat from the WWII era to modern day conflicts. So while Men of War veterans will feel at home with the controls, it will be a very different beast to tame. The scale of the singleplayer component depends on the success of our crowdfunding, none the less we are listening carefully to what our players want and adapt our singleplayer concept accordingly.
3) Which nations will be playable in Call to Arms? Will you be risking the Medal of Honor controversy by allowing players to play as the modern enemies of today? If so, do you feel this is something we can do without unnecessarily over-blowing the implications. If not, why? Moral reasons – or is it down to game design?
We are a German company that has extensively worked within the timeframe of WWII, so naturally we are very sensitive when it comes to politically charged topics. We tend to leave politics out of our games and focus rather on creating compelling gaming experiences. It is unnecessary for us to get caught up in controversy and our factions in Call to Arms will be loosely based on modern combatants, but with a twist that make them asymmetric in gameplay, yet fair to play with and against. After all, our games are meant to be entertaining in first place and I truly believe Call to Arms will do a great job at it!
4) We’ve seen and loved the tech demos so far – things are looking great in Dx11! We noticed you’ve supported Assault Squad since its release – I even noticed you updated it to the new engine, or at least some of its new features. Does Call to Arms use an entirely new engine, or have you adapted it for this new game?
Call to Arms runs on a vastly improved engine and it will be better in every aspect from graphical performance to multiplayer support. We will even include integrated in-game video capture software, so players can share their battlefield experiences with friends or YouTube fans without a big drop on performance. Multiplayer runs via Steam with all the great features that come with it. The game is based on the same engine, but to do it justice we should actually give it a new name, after all it’s hard to believe the difference with all the improvements. This evolution helps us to increase the fidelity of our games without removing the elements that make our games so compelling.
5) eSports RTS games are showing up left, right, and center. They put balance before authenticity, theme, and excitement, and although for some this is enjoyable, others enjoy more freedom in their playstyle. Have you decided to lean towards a more ‘rock-paper-scissors’ dynamic this time, or are you truly doing your own thing? Do you enjoy eSports RTS, or are you attracted more to sandbox, real-life RTS environments.
Balance is certainly important in any competitive multiplayer RTS, but so is freedom of choice. It creates compelling strategic decisions and deepens gameplay, so we won’t stray from this concept. However, we understand that our games in the past have been difficult for new players to learn, so we are pushing very hard to make Call to Arms easier to control and understand. Therefore we will continue to create asymmetric factions stemming from authentic real world combatants, but make it easier for new players to jump in and enjoy.
In regards of eSports, I think it shows what developers can achieve with a lot of polish in their product. Balance is often achieved with lots of fine tuning, but this doesn’t have to exclude authenticity. We have a lot of tools at our disposal to create fair gameplay without reducing it to a “rock-paper-scissors” system. I personally want to see and play a game that combines the polish of eSports games with the asymmetry and depth of Men of War. In other words: Call to Arms.
6) It’s of course important to note for anyone interested in your games that you only developed Men of War up to Assault Squad – Vietnam and Condemned Heroes were not your games. This maybe a fairly contentious question, but how do you feel about those titles? Many, including myself, were upset over the lack of skirmish modes and multiplayer gameplay, and we noted a serious lack of post-release support, especially regarding Condemned Heroes. How did the transition between Digitalmindsoft and 1C’s in house developer happen, and how did you guys feel about that?
We are not the owners of the Men of War IP, so our influence over other products within the line is limited. Even if we were in a position to criticize 1C over their products, I still think it would be the wrong path to go. Instead we can and will critique our own products and strive to craft more compelling games. I honestly believe 1C has a lot of respect for our work and we are very glad to continue to work on their franchise, especially since Assault Squad was remarkably successful and very well received.
7) If you had the rights to use Men of War, would Call to Arms include the iconic name in the title, or is this an entirely new experience divorced from the Men of War series?
It’s a tough call. We are very proud of our work on Men of War, but I also believe that Call to Arms will continue to develop in a different direction and therefore a new name might be appropriate. However, this doesn’t mean Call to Arms is the end of the Men of War series… not at all.
8) There’s a criticism that Men of War got easier as the games went on – is Call to Arms back to its roots as a hardcore strategy game, or will it be accessible to new players?
Depends on the kind of difficulty you are referring to… for me, difficulty caused by overwhelming micro-management or interface commands is simply bad game design. It should be easy for new players to understand, but hard for everyone to master. The more complex a game is the harder it is to make it accessible, so as our slogan says: “invent, refine, surpass”.
We will certainly create challenging missions and AI, but it will be easier for everyone to pick up and play.
9) How are you finding balancing modern nation forces, whose technology is often very varied in power and effectiveness. For instance, an RPG doesn’t do much against a modern M1A1, regardless of where you hit it. Are you managing realism okay without making certain nations completely over powered? Please use this space to discuss any notable balancing issues, or anything of interest with regards to that.
Technology regarding weapons has certainly changed dramatically, but within the scope of smaller engagements, we have found combat to be rather balanced. Such battlefields often focus on fewer vehicles and more infantry actions. That isn’t to say Abrams and T-80s won’t be fielded in Call to Arms, but the gameplay will focus on the common infantryman. For instance, GRM might field a larger squad of soldiers, but with less training, whereas the US would field a smaller squad of highly trained soldiers. Thanks to advanced technology the US will have an easier engagement against the GRM at long distance, while the GRM are good at close combat with their fully automatic weapons. We love the authenticity of factions, but we can balance them through a ton of different factors. After all, our series have always been about the power of a single infantryman and we are eager to put a lot of empathy into creating a new level of depth in infantry and vehicle combat.
10) We enjoyed the DLC maps for Assault Squad, but we feel as though it could have shipped with more. How many maps will Call to Arms feature, and could we possible see a free DLC map pack as a funding milestone reward?
We’ll start off with a small pack of well-designed and balanced maps, but gradually expand the map pool after launch. In competitive multiplayer, we have found maps are just as important as unit balance, so we want to make sure each map is perfectly crafted. But yes, more maps, factions, units and everything players could ask for are stretch goals.
11) Unfortunately, since you guys aren’t in the US, and don’t have a US office, you can’t crowd source on Kickstarter. Of course this isn’t the only way, but what plans do you have to get the name Call to Arms out there. I assume you’ve a heavy forum following, but as we’ve seen with Larian Studios’ Original Sin, relatively small and obscure titles can get a huge press backing, even if they’re not in the US (although they had a US office to legitimize their Kickstarter). What are your plans to get Call to Arms on the tongues of gamers world wide?
We’ll be moving to Kickstarter once we feel the game is ready to be shown to a wide audience. We only have one try and a maximum of two months to collect the funding, so we really want to put our best foot forward. Currently, crowd source funding through our own website offers us the most flexibility and mainly addresses our core fans. We want to make sure that once we are on Kickstarter, our game looks and feels the way we are aiming for.
12) I’ve enjoyed the interface changes in Call to Arms so far, but will it retain the same multiplayer structure of sharing units if playing cooperatively? Although I enjoyed this in Assault Squad, it did put off some of my friends who would have otherwise loved the game. If there is cooperative play, will players be able to control their own armies independent from one and other?
We are working on a new cooperative system, so gameplay will vary a lot more from mission to mission. We hope this offers more freedom for each player and the play style they want to use.
13) Finally, since Assault Squad, what have you guys been up to? Did you immediately conceptualize Call to Arms after Assault Squad shipped? Did your relationship with 1C Company end, or is there a future between you?
We have a very strong relationship with 1C and we’ll keep building on it. The Men of War series offers a perfect backdrop for us to continue to craft WW2 themed games, but Call to Arms will allow us to widen our spectrum of potential settings and scenarios, as well as to reach out to new gamers. So while our work on Call to Arms began a while ago, we’ve way more in our pocket to be announced soon!
If you’re interested in Call to Arms, head to their own crowdfunding page to check out more.