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Universe at War: Earth Assault

Interview: Petroglyph's Adam Isgreen on the entirely alien experience

Universe at War: Earth Assault is a case of something old and something new, really. Alien invasion of Earth we've seen countless times before, but developer Petroglyph has a number of tricks for the RTS genre up its sleeve that we're hoping will be genuinely refereshing.

Watch out Supreme Commander, here comes creative director Adam Isgreen.

What was the impetus behind the creation/development of Universe at War?

Adam Isgreen: At the very start it was the desire to make a game all about an alien invasion of Earth. We have always been huge fans of X-Com and other classic invasion-centric games, and felt that it was about time to return to the invasion theme.

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Maybe it's from living in Nevada and being close to Area 51, but aliens are always on our minds and a fertile space to let your imagination go crazy and come up with some truly interesting units and play mechanics.

Since one of the core tenets of our game from the start was uniquely playing factions, featuring various alien forces in a battle over the fate of Earth sounded like a neat way to get aliens, humans, and familiar locations all into one neat package, yet also explore some more interesting play mechanics with the factions.

Depth and customisation are key features of Universe at War. Why do you feel these are so important to the game and to the RTS genre as a whole?

Isgreen: Strategy games are thinking games, and we felt it was time to get back to making you think - not just about what units to build, but about what strategy you were going to go for in any particular battle.

We believe that players are becoming more mature with RTS games in general and that there's a desire for more diversity in strategy, even on a unit-by-unit basis.

Generally, units in RTS games are designed to do one thing for the lifetime operation of that unit and that's it. We wanted to expand on that and give units new vectors (ones that don't destroy their core role) that could be explored via customization. Those new vectors in combination with other staple units or other potential customisations open up new tactics that the player can exploit.

In what ways do these features manifest themselves in gameplay terms?

Isgreen: Our goal was to make a deep and customisable game. We wanted to give the players ways to change tactics on the fly and also leverage different strategies when playing. That desire led to the creation of two different systems - the research system and the Tactical Dynamics choice.

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Research is the slower, longer-term solution to tactical planning. Although you can be a jack-of-all-trades by investing a bit into each of a faction's three tech trees, you're not going to get some of the very juicy high-end research suites that way.

Research is really a long-term plan that helps hone your strategy. If you know you're going for certain high-end tech, you'll build your early-game plan around that.

You can think of research like a road map. You choose your eventual goals and then plan and execute a strategy around those choices. And unlike other games, we let you "reboot," so to speak, and change your research selections so that you can alter your strategies.

Obviously, there is a cost in time and money, so it is still better to be prepared and not have to change research in the first place, but that extra flexibility gives players yet more tactical choices, and that was one of our primary goals.

Tactical Dynamics was the on-the-fly portion of this design. Since we were working with very different factions, we didn't want the dynamic to manifest itself in the same way from faction to faction, and fortunately we found ways to make each faction manifest Tactical Dynamics in a unique way that still fit that faction's play philosophy.

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