Both critics and gamers like nothing more than to put down any attempts to create a traditional RTS game on a console. We all tend to blame the poor little pad. This harsh treatment had lead a few studios to attempt the impossible by building an RTS from the ground up specifically for a console's user interface rather than porting over something that already exists on PC.
Ensemble Studios' attempt at the Halo strategy game would be a fine example of this approach. But going one step further and almost doing away with the pad altogether is Tom Clancy's: EndWar. Why press buttons when you can just shout into a headset? Who cares if your neighbours think you've gone barking mad? Fielding ours questions is all-round strategy man and creative director on the title, Michael de Plater.
We last spoke at the Ubidays event where you unveiled EndWar. How has it advanced since then?
Michael de Plater: A few months ago we had lots of pieces of a great game, now we just have a great game. Of course it's a hugely ambitious project and we still have a hell of a lot of work to do, but these days when someone watches you play they want to grab the controller. When they get their hands on the game and try it they want to play again. Although we're not releasing until next year we have a solid, stable, fun game right now so we're going to be able to spend our time where it counts, on polishing and improving every feature.
Tell us about what you're showcasing at Leipzig?
de Plater: We're going to show one work in progress level of the game, a battle between the JSF and Spetsnaz army on the plains of La Mancha in Spain. We are really focusing on showing the UI, controls, camera and the basic gameplay.
How has the voice recognition aspect of the game progressed since Ubidays? Can you go into more detail about how this is used?
de Plater: Sure, it's really easy. You hit the right trigger and you say the order. You can read all the currently available orders on the screen while the trigger is held down just like if you were using a two way radio. So all you need to know how to do is to press one button and read. And once you know the commands you don't even have to read them any more.
The challenging part of the voice command isn't the interface or the voice recognition. It's having AI units who are smart enough to follow your orders like real soldiers. When you say "Red Team attack Alpha" it's not a bunch of mindless drones marching to Alpha. These guys will use cover, combined arms tactics and terrain. You are the general; you don't need to micromanage every footstep of the most elite soldiers on the planet.
How do you think voice recognition has worked in previous games? Why has it never taken off?
de Plater: Personally I've only tried voice command in three games, SOCOM, Nintendogs and Brain Age. Just from that limited sample there were two simple points that limited the voice command. Firstly the quality of recognition on handhelds and older systems can be frustrating. It was incredibly annoying to shout "Blue, Blue, Blue, BLUE" into Brain Age and then be told I have a mental age of 75.
Secondly the voice command was incidental to the main game, kind of tacked on. Voice command is a really cool feature in SOCOM but at the end of the day it's still peripheral to the core first person shooter gameplay. On the other hand in a strategy game giving orders is the game. I don't necessarily think that voice command is the future of UI for all genres, but it's as good for a strategy game as a steering wheel is for a driving game.