Silence falls over the table of a rather posh waterfront restaurant in Vancouver, where I'm sat surrounded by various members of the team from Relic Entertainment. "It's a moose." "What? Are you kidding me? Look at its nose! That's no moose. It's a caribou!"
Canadians, eh? Pretty much since we sat down, they've been comedically bickering, and I've just inadvertently triggered the next argument by innocently asking which animal features on the back of a Canadian quarter. Over the following hours, not only does my knowledge of horned ungulates increase tenfold, but I'm witness to debates on the value of local-language voiceovers and whether the representation of Canadians in South Park is accurate, and I learn that the producer of Relic said he "wanted to crap his pants" when he heard the V1 rocket in Company Of Heroes.
By the time we reach the end of the meal, I'm left with no doubt in my mind that the new breed of World War II RTS creators are no longer your stereotypical Polish bespectacled bedroom coders. Rather, they're hugely passionate, loud, funny and authoritative on the differences between elk, moose and caribou.
And that passion's proved a major asset, because Company Of Heroes is head and shoulders above its various competitors in that most populated of genres to exist on PC - the WWII RTS.
While Relic's experience from previously successful titles such as Homeworld 2 and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War has undoubtedly helped, they're still competing in a pretty crowded field. It's something that the developers are keenly aware of. "On Company Of Heroes, we really wanted to reinvigorate the RTS genre," says lead designer Josh Mosqueira. "There were three key areas that we concentrated on: real soldiers, real battlefields and a compelling cinematic experience. Now we think we've achieved that, we're looking to the future. Company Of Heroes was always a starting point. We want to create a living franchise."
Mosqueira continues: "Four years ago, almost to the day, we sat down and said, 'OK, we're working on Company Of Heroes. What do we want to do with this? What are our big goals?' For us, our goal is to become the definitive World War II strategy platform and eventually to become the definitive strategy platform, period."
To most, that would sound like a pretty ambitious aim. But COH clearly demonstrated to the world that Relic are more than capable of achieving their lofty ambitions. Garnering critical acclaim across the globe, it picked up awards left, right and centre, scoring an impressive 93% in ZONE, and put Relic firmly on the map as one of the premier RTS developers around.
But while you might be scratching your head wondering just what these guys could do to improve upon the highly acclaimed COH, they're very far from mystified. "We're perfectionists, we pick apart our games and we're actually pretty brutal," says Mosqueira. "So there's a whole ton of things that we want to improve and enhance to really create the best RTS that we can. Obviously one of the things that we learned from feedback was that people wanted more armies."
And so in stalks Opposing Fronts. A standalone expansion to Company Of Heroes, it will feature two brand new armies, the British and the Panzer Elite, and two full campaigns, the Battle for Caen and Operation Market Garden. But don't be fooled into thinking that Relic are just going to add a bunch of cheap content. As Mosqueira points out: "There's actually more content in OF than in the first COH, but we're making sure it has the same quality bar, or even higher."