On top of that, Conquest will also have objectives, again mimicking the old Assault blueprint. As you push forward and take control of certain bunkers, missions will pop up both for your team and your opponents. "They're sort of mirrored," says Morris, "so it might be 'defend this bridge' for one team and 'attack it' for the other. The missions will focus the battle on these hot-spots, though if you just want to try and capture bunkers and push your front line, you can do that too."
Another part of the strategy involves the introduction of deployable items, such as spy robots and automated turrets. The idea is to give you a greater range of roles to play, like spy, commando and engineer, without going as far as creating specific character classes.
"Another aspect is the commander role," continues Morris, "which any sort of RTS-meets-first-person-shooter game flirts with. It's not as elaborate as Savage, where you have to have a commander, a research tree and all that. We want a sort of mid-level commander role, who has some overview of the battle and who's able to facilitate collaboration."
Interestingly, the aim is not to pull the commander out of the world and give him a top-down view as in BF2, but to keep him very much within the game. It would be a role you could step into and out of as easily as, say, picking up a scoped rifle and deciding to be a sniper.
"We're still figuring out exactly how we'll do it," admits Steve Polge, "but maybe there's some bunkers that are command bunkers, where there are screens displaying various information about the battle. Being a commander just means you choose to go there and monitor these screens, then convey the information to your team."
Like the other game modes, Conquest will take advantage of the power of UE3 to produce some unprecedented effects. Not only will the battlefield be vast, with streaming levels and no loading times, but the appearance of the terrain will alter as the battle rages back and forth. For example, as territory moves from human control into the hands of the evil Necris (alien baddie replacements for the Skaarj), the ground will blacken, grass will wither and trees will corrupt out of shape. "Hopefully it will be a stunning transformation," says Morris, "but it also means you'll be able to eyeball the map to see who controls what. It's an elegant and visually interesting way of doing that."
At this point we're very much ready to see the game in action, so without further chat, lead level designer Jim Brown fires up one of the new maps. Sitting back, I grip the sides of my chair and prepare to be blown away. Unfortunately, there's not a lot to see. The level is uniformly grey and boxlike, with no textures, minimal detail and not an enemy in sight.
"Remember, the programming is significantly ahead of the art," laughs producer Jeff Morris. "It's not pretty right now - we do this first to get the gameplay right. We've always had a rule with UT - it has to be playable every day, and when it's just basic cubes and basic shapes like this, it's really easy to change on-the-fly and then test again."
"This map is a good example," adds Brown. "This is Deck16, a map that's appeared in every iteration of UT. It's a very familiar space and it helps us gauge how the game actually feels."
This dedication to playtesting is clearly a sound policy, and one that pays huge dividends in the final product; but I'm nonetheless relieved when Brown loads up a slightly more advanced map. Still a work in progress, it does at least display some of the detail and intricacy we expect from a new UT. "Once we're happy with the gameplay, we start building up detail in a map and working with the art team to create a theme. Just as an example of how things are going, this hallway has... Well... Considerably more polygons than an entire map used to. I'd venture to say two to three times more than an entire map in UT2004."