Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 - its tale is an interesting one. Once (and still) a scintillating Eastern Front WWII UT mod in which guns can kill instantly and bullets, shells and armour all have realistic physical properties, the game's development has now come full circle. For its resounding efforts in mod-play, Tripwire Interactive won Epic and nVidia's 'Make Something Unreal contest'. The prize? Well, only a free license for both the Unreal Engine 2.5 and Unreal Engine 3, worth a cool $350,000. Which isn't bad, considering.
Red Orchestra has since become a standalone Russian warfare sim on Steam, and has recently confirmed a date with high street shelves through publisher pals Destineer. Falling somewhere between Battlefield 1942, Day Of Defeat and a well-thumbed library book about military engineering in terms of style, it's a remarkably addictive game.
But how did the Red Orchestra Steam release come about? We tracked down Alan Wilson of Tripwire and fired accurately modelled questions at him until his armoured steel defences were realistically broken down...
So how did Ostfront come to be released on Steam? Did you approach Valve yourselves?
Alan Wilson: We approached Steam. We'd been in all sorts of discussions with various 'standard' publishers, which can all get very frustrating when you refuse to fit their standard model. John Gibson, our president, had heard news about Valve looking for third-party properties and simply picked up the phone. Valve was immediately interested and listened actively - and the rest is pretty much history.
What does a service like Steam offer a developer that usual publishing routes don't?
Alan Wilson: It was key for us that we retain control of our own property. Valve has no interest in grabbing at the properties it's distributing. You could, of course, wonder if the reasons for that includes its own brushes with publishers and distributors. That ownership and control is really important to a start-up like ourselves, and was always a sticking point with the other publishers - until Destineer came along later, of course. At the end of the day, it means that we'll be able to decide our own destiny.
Does digital distribution give extra creative freedom to a game's development?
Alan Wilson: Well, the Steam deal leaves us with control. Valve has made no attempts (formal or otherwise) to shunt the game into other directions. It's offered some good comments, but that's as far as it has gone. So has Destineer as an aside - proving that it isn't just digital distribution channels that will listen to the developer and make serious efforts to help. Once a large publisher thinks it has control (even in the early negotiations), you find them trying to direct you and push the game to places it wants.
I'm on record for my views on some of this: throwing money at 'cool cinematics' and other big production values doesn't guarantee a successful game. Trying to shoe-horn a game into a niche it wasn't intended for is unlikely to succeed. Just because a publishing house feels the need for its own WWII franchise doesn't mean you can make every property fit that mould.
At the end of the day, we had complete control of the budget - it was completely up to us where and how to spend our cash. If we decided that the game-playing public would
rather have a couple more vehicles than some Hollywood star's voice-over, then that's what the game got. We're old-fashioned like that - we believe that people would rather pay a reasonable price for a game that plays really well, rather than a lot of money for a lot of hype.