In our first interview with Relic Entertainment’s creative manager, Simon Watts, we discussed some of the technical details of Company of Heroes 2. When we talked to producer Greg Wilson, we took a more behind-the-scenes approach, covering everything from the time between games, treating the Russian perspective with respect and learning from the community reaction to Dawn of War. Before we jumped into the interview, we chatted with Greg about how much he was looking forward to sinking some quality time into Diablo III…
Atomic: That’d be a great idea if you could get online, right?
Greg: Yeah, I’m really surprised, actually. Blizzard has made games like this so many times that I thought that, if anybody, they would be able to have a launch that was free of problems.
Atomic: Right? And someone recently pointed out that… I think it was the guys at Epic who had this massive global spreadsheet presentation of how they did a staggered global release for some of their Gears of War digital content purely based on this idea of day-one demand. It just seems illogical to me.
Greg: Yeah, it seems odd given how well it’s selling. But they’ll sort it out.
Atomic: Yeah. If they can afford to release a game once every five years, I think they’ll be fine. Speaking of people who release games once every few years, it’s been six years since the original Company of Heroes. What’s going on there? Why the long wait?
Greg: We were just trying to make sure that the sequel… we’ve been thinking about this for a really long time and, obviously, the fans have been asking for it since day one—since the last game came out—we just didn’t feel like we were able to bring an experience that would do the original game justice, so we just sort of sat on it until we could get the technology up to speed to do all of the things that we wanted with the sequel, and we started with that.
Atomic: That sounds a little bit like what George Lucas said in regards to having to wait 20 years for technology to catch up with Star Wars, and I hate to make that comparison because I love Company of Heroes, but is that what you’re saying? You had to wait the tech and the hardware to catch up before you could make the game that was matching up with the ideas that you had back then?
Greg: Yeah, we have more things listed on our internal Wiki that we never got around to doing. It was about technology, for sure, it was also about the narrative, which was a very challenging thing: selling Company of Heroes 2 to a Western mindset that was hard for us to sort of figure out how we wanted to deliver that. So it took time for us to pull that all together. And once you create a vision, you have to support that creative vision, so everything we’re doing is a back and forth to make a more immersive experience for players and give them more choices to make on the battlefield. We didn’t want to change the game greatly, we didn’t want to take it in a new direction, we were really proud of what we came up with in Company of Heroes, but we wanted to give players a bunch more tools to use.
Atomic: You mentioned narrative just before, which is something that I find fascinating, particularly going with the Soviets, which is sort of an untold story almost, at least in the West. How do you approach that as Westerners telling an Eastern story that has appeal to Westerners but is also true to those people who are from the East who are going to play the game and have that understanding of that Russian history of how the war went?
Greg: Yeah, there are two points to that. One is to make sure that we’re not diminishing the combination of the Western forces in winning the war, but also exposing players to some of the bigger battles. People do not understand at first glance how big the battle on the Eastern Front was. Obviously, we did a tonne of reading and flew people over to Berlin and Saint Petersburg, we actually got them to walk around, we spent a week walking around where the battles were, going to sites and talking with historians, and taking pictures, and really putting ourselves into the shoes or what it was like for those people. And then, from the narrative perspective, taking it seriously; y’know, they almost lost the war. It was an emotional rollercoaster for the Russians: the struggle to victory.
Atomic: Did you get to go on that Berlin/Saint Petersburg ‘excursion’?
Greg: I did, yeah. It was the most exciting and depressing trip.
Atomic: Can you tell me more about that?
Greg: It was neat to be there. We watched a lot of documentaries, but talking to people on both sides, the German;s as well, there were hardships that both sides had to go through. The Soviets had just been punished forever; people have been after their resources. Actually, being there was great research for a video game; it gave us a deeper understanding of the struggle. We were 30 miles outside of Berlin where one of the major battles happened before the push into Berlin, and the land, you can see how a couple of hundred feet of elevation makes a difference in war. In comparison to other elevations in the world, this wasn’t the biggest hill, but it was big enough to expose the Soviets to all sorts of artillery and air strikes, and stuff like that. It was just amazing to understand how these guys pushed ahead and beat back the German forces to win this war.