A History In The Making

"Daily Radar Interview"

World War II Online
Interview with
Cornered Rat Software Executive Producer Mark Pribe

Jan. 25, 2001

By: Colin Campbell

Picture this: The thunder of tanks fills the air as you crawl on your belly up the beach toward an enemy gun emplacement. A rogue shell detonates nearby, sending a cascade of sand, body parts and blood showering through the air. The retina burn of the blast temporarily blinds you and the echo of the explosion will forever ring in your ears. Sound good? You should be looking into World War II Online then.

Currently in development by Cornered Rat and due to be released under the Strategy First banner, World War II Online promises to be one of the better online strategy games of 2001. The game depicts the war-torn times of 1940s Europe. Players will be able to choose between the Axis powers or the Allies as they do battle in every major theater of conflict unlucky enough to be involved in World War II. To learn more, we got in touch with Executive Producer Mark Pribe.

Daily Radar: WWII Online is a very ambitious project. How difficult has it been to get all the elements of the game to gel?
Mark Pribe: It's been pretty challenging. We're pushing the edge in a lot of areas, so there's quite a bit of R&D going on, and that can mean some backtracking when a particular approach doesn't work. Nearly everything is dependent in some way on a lot of other stuff, so every time you're forced to backtrack on one thing, you're affecting several other elements.

"There's room to be the guy who does that one crucial thing that breaks a stalemate and wins a battle."

One of the good things is that the game design is pretty robust. When we laid down an aspect of gameplay, we had pretty good ideas of what would be easier and what would be a bit harder to accomplish, technology-wise, and tried to account for more than one approach to getting any single feature done. This means we don't have to go back and redesign everything when we find this or that approach didn't quite work out. There's usually another angle we can take to get the game effect we're looking for. Being an online game, we can revisit later those things that we couldn't get down perfectly, improving the way things work.

DR: How will the player control the game in the early stages of a campaign? Only having control of a single character in a huge battle doesn't really give players much opportunity to shine.
MP: Yes, massively multiplayer does mean that your role in the world is diluted compared to a single-player game where you're the center of the universe. However, it also means that when you do something heroic, there are a lot of people to take notice and share that with. There is room to stand out. There's room to be the guy who does that one crucial thing that breaks a stalemate and wins a battle.

DR: What steps have you taken to ensure that the game remains balanced?
MP: First, we are counting on there being balanced numbers on both sides. If no one chooses to play on the Axis side, well then... we've got a problem. We kind of have to make some assumptions though, and those are based on our own participation in multiplayer games through the years. People have already expressed interest in playing both sides.
Many people tend to move to the understrength side in multiplayer games if things become too unbalanced, simply because it's not that much fun to win all the time with little effort. The first people to make that move are often the more skilled players, in fact.
The strategic system for the game is set up to make it more difficult to hold onto captured territory. If one side is winning a lot of battles and capturing a lot of ground, it becomes more challenging to keep it. The outnumbered side is not obligated to defend or attack where they're outnumbered.
Ultimately, if one side is simply doing better than the other and keeps doing so, whether because of numbers or any other factor, it's not unreasonable to expect them to win the war. This is not something that can happen quickly, but it can happen. When it does, we'll start the war over.


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DR: Can you explain more about the tactical planning of missions? How does a player accomplish a task like this, and how does the game handle player-devised missions?

MP: The command staff has a limited pool for setting priorities and values for targets, both friendly (for defense) and enemy (for attacks). These values are reflected in the rank points awarded for missions on that target. The mission planner, working for the command staff (or part of it, for that matter), chooses a target and the unit types to be used, writes any notes he wishes to add, and posts the mission on the mission selection list for a limited time. Other players pick it from the list and try to carry it out. Rank points are awarded to the planner and the participants based on the outcome of the mission.
Rank points increase your rank, which increases your access to more mission planning, command staff positions and functions and strategic/logistic functions in the game.

DR: Once players have signed up to play, how difficult will it be for them to change sides? Or create new characters?

"There are multiple roles you can play in the different branches of service where you start out small and work your way up."

MP: Each player has personas in each country. The countries are divided into two sides, Axis or Allied. You'll be able to change to any country persona up to the point that you reach a certain level of the command staff for one side or the other. At that point, accepting further promotions on that side will restrict you to using the personas of that side for the duration of the war.

DR: For someone who has never played a massively multiplayer online game before, how difficult will this be to get into?
MP: We're going to do everything we can to make the interfaces and basic mechanics of the game easy to understand and use. Some things will be more accessible to some people. If you've played single-player FPS games, for instance, you shouldn't have too much trouble being a trooper. There are multiple roles you can play in the different branches of service where you start out small and work your way up. New to tanking? Be the driver. As you get better, you move up to gunning, and from there to tank commander, then commanding formations of tanks. The game is designed to be tackled in steps.

DR: What does the game offer to the single player? Someone with no interest in gaining rank, but is just in it for the fighting?
MP: Just that. The fighting. The game does not force you to try for or accept higher ranks. If you want to go out and blast at things, the better commanders will find a way to harness that energy without you necessarily being on missions. For example: If I'm the guy planning an attack mission and I know you're heading down the west road towards my target, I might include notes in the mission briefing to use the east road, or to go down the west road behind you, using you as a scouting force.

DR: What's your opinion of the online games industry right now? Whose work do you admire?
MP: It's looking pretty darn healthy. There's a lot of stuff being learned by people, new things being tried, old things done better. It's exciting to remember where online multiplayer gaming was in the late '80s, and see where it is now and what's just beyond the horizon, let alone what it'll be like in 10 years.

DR: How close to completion is the game right now?
MP: We've got most of the big pieces in place, with a couple exceptions. We're still on track for mid-2001, but I am not ready to give solid dates just yet.


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