Under the Radar

'Company of Heroes' Visits the Eastern Front



PC gamers who want a game that requires a bit of thought and strategy instead of just a twitchy trigger finger should check out Company of Heroes 2. The sequel to the 2006 original is out this week (either at your local retailer or downloadable via Steam) and the battles between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany take place on the Eastern Front during World War II.

We talked to principal designer Quinn Duffy at the SEGA booth during this month's E3 show in Los Angeles and he gave us the rundown on the new game.


Tell us about the research that went into game.

We did an extensive amount of visual and historical research: movies, documentaries, books. I have literally 50 books on my desk right now about military history. Not just World War II and the Eastern Front but broad-based interest in the subject matter. I think for the first time in our history at Relic we took a big research trip.

Four of us went to Russia and to Berlin, Germany to see the bookends of the war. At the start, we went to St. Petersburg in February (of course it was Leningrad at the time of the war) to experience the winter and the snow and we ended up in Germany. So that's sort of the bookends of the game, the beginning and end of the war on the Eastern Front.

So that was spectacular, to walk the ground, to see the machinery and the tools of war that these forces were using in various museums in both locations. To be on the battlefield and see Berlin in particular is covered in the marks of war. The buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes. You can see little stories that have happened. The Essband lines have formed almost natural walls. You can see windows where somebody turned it into a fighting position. They're all pockmarked and surrounded by bullet holes. It's just that kind of history is really, really compelling.

Did anyone learn to read Russian?

No one learned to read Russian but we have a couple of Russian speakers on the team. They helped out quite a bit where they could. We arranged some museum tours locally with some Russian weapon collectors in the Vancouver area where we're from. We went to handle all the small arms of both sides in the conflict, the Russian Nagants and the German K98s and MG42s and all this kind of stuff. We actually recorded all the audio from those weapons for the game. The authentic audio in the game really adds to the experience.

How accurate is the shooting experience?

Because we're a strategy game, a little bit of it is abstract but the guys actually go through a firing sequence, they reload. We have different terms for it. It's to balance out the amount of firepower and damage each squad will do. You know rifles are better at long range and assault rifles are kind of intermediate damage and accuracy. Submachine guns like the PPSh are right up close, devastating short-range weapons. We're trying to capture all the qualities of those weapons. We also model suppression as a tool in the game.

So being able to shoot at an enemy squad and force them to ground, you can kind of pin them in place and use your mortars and grenades and those kinds of things. So we're trying to utilize the tactics of small squad combat and put control in the player's hands.


Does a first-time player choose between playing as a German or a Russian?

We have a few different modes in the game. The campaign is told from the Russian perspective so you play through the narrative arc of the war on the Eastern Front and experience all the brutality and callousness, the scale of the war, which was massive.

In multiplayer, you can play as Germans or Soviets. We also have a Theater of War mode, which allows you to explore history a little more and take you to specific battles. You can play against the computer or co-op with your friends against the computer in specific scenarios that are historically based. So there's a good amount of gameplay in there.

My brother was in the Canadian army. A lot of guys he served with played the original game. There's a strong history and regimental tradition going back to World War II so these guys want to experience a little bit of what their grandfathers and great uncles went through. Part of our goal in the game is to try and deliver some of that authenticity, feel and intensity.

How much do you deviate from actual historical events to make the game work?

In some ways, it's how we tell the story. Russians lost badly for the first year-and-a-half or two years. That's a challenge to tell that story and have players experience that loss without getting disappointed or dejected. I think we found a good balance there. The scale is a little bit different. We're not fighting on battlefields that are hundreds of square kilometers. They're smaller but we try and keep that intensity.


You know you couldn't have worn that t-shirt most places in the U.S. as recently as twenty years ago.

We got some looks coming down here. We took the train. One guy asked me if we were communists. I said, "No. We're Canadians, we're socialists."

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