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Universe at War: Earth Assault

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

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As it's an aliens-invade-Earth scenario, we're expecting something epic. What kind of scale are you aiming for with battles?

Isgreen: Massive enough to cause city-wide destruction, but not massive enough that you ever feel like you're controlling completely disposable forces. It was important to us to make the Hierarchy walkers feel like the massive battle stations they are, but also to ensure that you could see and visually understand anything that happened in the game.

We have many units that have special abilities, and since they can be very powerful when used correctly, we wanted to always maintain a view where the player could understand what was going on.

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So if you're looking for a Supreme Commander-like zoom out mode, no, we're not the game that does that. Our battles are more intimate so you can always tell what's going on.

How are you breaking down the single-player campaign?

Isgreen: It's a linear experience, broken into four chapters: a tutorial chapter featuring the military forces of Earth, then a campaign game of six to nine missions for our three main factions - Novus, The Hierarchy, and The Masari. By the end of it all, it's a total of 22-25 missions.

Each faction has its own issues and dilemmas, and none of them emerge from the conflict unscathed. We also purposely kept the mission count down, since we wanted to create unique play experiences from what you'd get in multiplayer or skirmish. After 20 or so missions, it's pretty challenging to not make another "go here, destroy that" type of mission!

When approaching story, we took a lesson from some of the more recent inspiring television shows like Battlestar Galactica. Universe at War is a drama that you're taking part in, rather than just a random set of missions that follow a vague path (if there's one at all) that you're not in control of.

It's certainly a guided experience, but you make the choices in mission that set the next mission in motion, so the player is very connected to the story and the characters they control.

Does deformable terrain actually have a tactical effect on the battlefield? Will AI take advantage of ruins and use such as cover, for example?

Isgreen: To be honest, we don't have deformable terrain in the sense of massively changing the battlefield via destruction. It was a component of the game early on, but as we developed the game, it didn't fit the play mechanics we were going for.

However, our resource model encompasses just about everything on the maps (there are no resource 'piles' in Universe at War), allowing players to exploit tactics that they couldn't in the past, such as stripping an area of structures in order to prevent an enemy from harvesting it.

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In that way, you can deform the battlefield and change a player's resource gathering via a "scorched earth" tactic. However, in the classic sense of cutting through mountains or flooding an area with water... that's something for Universe at War games down the road.

You spoke briefly about the Tactical Dynamics feature - could you elaborate on that feature, and how have you designed the interface to handle what sounds like a pretty tricky feature to operate for the player?

Isgreen: We here at Petroglyph play a lot of games, and one thing that we see a lot in competitive RTS games is the trend of losing before the game is anywhere near over. It's very hard for new players to grasp that in the first five minutes they've already lost a game that will last 30 more minutes before resolution.

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