From the Frontline: An Interview with Steel Division Developer Eugen Systems10 May 2017 0
As L-Day gets closer, we've been playing plenty of Steel Division to form a more complete picture for the impending invasion review. We decided to take a quick time-out to talk to the developers themselves to try and get some insight into how and why they made the game the way it is.
The Wargamer: This will be the first time Eugen have gone to World War II since 2010's R.U.S.E. under Ubisoft. What made you want to go back to this time-period?
Alexis Le Dressay: We’ve always wanted to go back to World War II. As Europeans, we are connected to this period, we all have someone in our family that was involved in this conflict. Eugen System’s office is only a few hours drive from the beaches of Normandy!
From a historical aspect, World War 2 was the last industrial conflict, involving incredible amount of soldiers and equipment. No other modern conflict would allow us to represent mechanized warfare, and casualties, on this scale. The Normandy campaign offers a very interesting tactical setting, since it involved a great diversity of equipment and divisions, which had to deal on the one hand with the Cotentin’s “hedgerow hell” and on the other wide open areas, such as the Carpiquet airfield.
The Wargamer: Apart from Act of Aggression, a lot of your recent time has been sunk into the Wargame franchise – what lessons have you learned from making those games that you've applied to Steel Division?
Alexis Le Dressay: Steel Division has benefited a lot from Wargame. Based on that experience, we have tried from the start to address some of the latter’s issues: the three-phases system and the frontline being the most obvious improvements. The former is an answer to cheap units’ spam and usefulness (or lack of), all the while giving light vehicles a role and an importance of their own. The latter provides a much more dynamic and realistic platform for achieving victory.
The combat system has been redesigned to feel more visceral, more realistic. For example, we worked a lot on units’ behaviour, and one of the key feature of the game is the suppression system: every unit on the battlefield feels stress and stress can make it rout or pinned down (for infantry). Our units also have more natural reactions during the battle, reducing the micro-management, which helps to focus on combat tactics.
The Wargamer: One of the arguable drawbacks of the Wargame franchise is that it is a bit fragmented – different games excelled at different things and had different settings. When I interviewed you guys about this years ago one of the things you told me was that it was easier to make a new game for some of the newer features you wanted than to try and expand the existing game. Have you built Steel Divisions to be a bit more future proof? Or if you do decide to go to other fronts are you going to make new games? The 'Normandy '44' sub-title is highly specific and does suggest a business model that involves entire new theatres. But are we talking about DLCs or stand-alone games?
Alexis Le Dressay: We are always trying to make our game more future proof. With Steel Division, we are even trying our hand at (long requested) mod tools, to give the community the opportunity to contribute to the game, and we intend to provide the same follow-up we did with the Wargame series. It’s a bit early to talk about potential DLCs, as we are currently focusing on completing the development of the game.
The Wargamer: What mechanics and design changes have you made around infantry combat? In Wargame, Infantry could often be a side-show and was more of a defensive tool, but in WW2 Infantry were still a large part of fighting. How have you improved/expanded upon the infantry systems?
Alexis Le Dressay: Steel Division’s scale is different from Wargame, much smaller, and it reflects on units, especially infantry. Squads offer much more variety in their composition, weaponry, weapon distribution, roles, …
While in Wargame a whole squad was always armed the same, save for the MG, in SD soldiers from a same squad can have different weapons. Those are basically divided into three categories: long range (MG), medium range (rifles) and close combat (SMGs). Depending on the type of weapons, but also the number of each one they have, units may display poor performances at some range but excel at another, giving each one a specific role.
For example, assault troops, like Stosstruppen or Assault Pioneers are usually lacking an MG but are packing more SMG or TNT than regular riflemen, hence are dedicated close-combat troops.
The Wargamer: With regards to Mod tools, what generally are you going to allow people to mod, and more importantly, what DON'T you want them to mod?
Alexis Le Dressay: It’s more a question about tools development. For example, a map editor is incredibly hard to develop to make it both understandable and useable by modders. We prefer focusing on developing the game, at the moment. Our tools allow to modify, of course, UI, textures and models, but also gameplay, as they can edit units’ statistics, timing of each phase, etc.
The Wargamer: The Dynamic front-line system is an interesting change over the previous control zones system, although it does mean we get flatter maps as opposed to the large squares of Wargame. Where do you see yourselves taking this system? How would you iterate on it?
Alexis Le Dressay: We have excellent feedbacks on the dynamic frontline system. We feel that it perfectly fits with the combat’s scale and the “World War 2” feel we chose to create. It might evolve one day if we decide to go for a different scale or equipment.
The Wargamer: Where do you see the concept of Supply & Logistics fitting into Steel Divisions in the long-term? I see supply trucks are back but they seem to have less of a presence and can be more easily ignored. One of my favourite things in Wargame was to air-lift supplies in using a Chinook (or similar transport helicopter).
Alexis Le Dressay: Steel Division’s scale being smaller than Wargame, the fuel consumption didn’t fit well, nor did repairing & replacing losses on the battlefield.
Ammo consumption and stocks management is still an important part of the logistical chain. Besides, supply vehicles double as transport/tractor, which is now of much greater importance in Steel Division: Normandy 44 because of the many towed guns.
The Wargamer: What have you learned about the 'Phases' system so far? Progressing from A, to B to C? Phase A seems to be the most important phase from what we've played so far.
Alexis Le Dressay: The three-phases system actually brings a new dynamic to the game, with “lesser” divisions (in terms of high-end units, especially tanks) being given an opportunity to shine at one time or the other. Phase A is indeed important, but it is limited in time and one can remedy a bad start in later phases.
The Wargamer: You've talked about off-map abilities & support. R.U.S.E. was quite unique in terms of the non-combat assets you could apply to a match – have you considered bringing more elements like that to game? Especially if the factions are based on historical Divisions, which would have had their own specialities/character?
Alexis Le Dressay: We are basing each “faction” on historical divisions, and thus giving them their own character by balancing their income over the phases, distributing their units within each one, … Intelligence & counter-intelligence assets, the way they were featured in R.U.S.E, would be completely off the scale of Steel Division: Normandy 44.
It was important for us to focus on tactics and realism while developing Steel Division: Normandy 44, we wanted to create a real experience, to make the player feel in command of his division. The “ruse” system just didn’t feel right for Steel Division.
The Wargamer: Will support for the Wargame titles die down now? No more nation packs etc... ?
Alexis Le Dressay: For the moment, we’re focusing on completing the development of Steel Division. It’s a bit too early to start talking about what will come next.
The Wargamer: Steel Division seems to have several elements that appear streamlined compared to the Wargame series – what were your top priorities there? Are there further changes you want to make to reduce the level of micro-management?
Alexis Le Dressay: The only thing which can really be considered simplified is, as you pointed out, the logistical system. Aside from that, Steel Division is actually much more complex than Wargame, with more mechanics and features: encirclement, off-map assets, three-phases system, moral system, infantry gameplay, units’ special abilities, more weapons per unit, towed weapons, …
But we’ve made a lot of effort to make it more user-friendly, and the fact that you feel it’s been streamlined from Wargame might be evidence that we somehow succeeded …
Many thanks to Alexis and Eugen for taking the time to answer our questions. You can look forward to our full review of Steel Divisions on May 23rd!