An Interview with Men of War Developer DigitalMindSoft14 Nov 2016 1
Following on from its feature in our Impedimenta special on logistics and supply systems, we decided to reach out to 1C and DigitalMindSoft directly to talk more about Men of War, and what the latest happenings are for this 10 year old franchise.
Chris Kramer, Managing Director of DMS, was kind enough to answer our questions.
Wargamer: While not the original creators, DMS has had 'custody' of the Men of War franchise for quite a while now – do you see it as your own game now or does it still feel like someone else's work?
Chris Kramer: We started by co-developing the original Men of War title, so we have always felt at home when it comes to the series. You are right that we pushed the franchise ahead on our own at some point. However, we considered it a great opportunity to put the experience that we gained along the route into remaking the first title.
Wargamer: Wargamer recently did a feature on supply/logistic systems in wargames, which featured Men of War. Last year you made a change to how re-supplying worked. What made you want to make that change after all this time?
Chris Kramer: Men of War has a large amount of micromanagement involved, which is also the result of continuous work on the game and engine across many years, carried out by different teams. We think, players should be able to focus on the micro-managing aspects that are fun to them, not force micromanagement upon them in every aspect. Handling the re-supplying of dozens of soldiers manually isn’t long term fun. It was a huge and complex task, as we didn’t want to break the RPG elements of Men of War and we also wanted to keep the manual option for veterans of the series. To be honest, I grew tired of manually re-supplying soldiers myself.
Wargamer: What's the current direction for Men of War? Where do you want to take the series and the GEM engine?
Chris Kramer: [1C Publishing] have plans to continue development of the series, and are considering various tech options for the sequel, because even though GEM engine served very well, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep upgrading it in order to meet industry standards.
Wargamer: Having played since the original 'Men of War', I've always felt that the series was at its weakest when it made the player use a lot of the micro-management tools. Stealthing, infiltration, small-unit missions... these were often the hardest because of the fiddly interface (including the re-supply/inventory system at the time). What are your thoughts on this?
Chris Kramer: There are actually enough components in Men of War for several separate games. Which is the reason why a lot of people love it so much, but from a developer perspective it’s a nightmare, as we must maintain a lot of different features and game elements that need to work well together. However, the amount of options you have in the game is one of its biggest strengths, causing us to tip-toe around it so we don't take options away.
Wargamer: Do you think a stream-lining of certain features, like re-supply, is the future of Men of War? I love the scale and the options available for a typical match e.g, calling in a truck with a bunch of battlefield fortifications in it. But given the real-time nature of a battle, the interface can sometimes be too slow/fiddly to make use of any of that.
Chris Kramer: For some it is for some it isn’t. Whenever we are changing or streamlining something, we’ll have players pulling out the pitchforks and torches. The community is very protective when it comes to features the game has. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle and we have come to understand that the game can be played in many ways and perhaps that’s what Men of War is about: giving player choices. If we want to get rid of all these little things that put off many people from the game, then we’ll have to do this with a new game on a new engine. Even if we succeed at that, some will still stick to the original AS2, because they love it the way it is.
Back to the original question, we think the future is in streamlining instead of having tons of things to fiddle with. We'd rather have fully fleshed out features that give players plenty of possibilities that actually work well, than a ton that don’t. We just can’t do this with the current MoW games.
Wargamer: Have you planned anymore direct support for Assault Squad 2 over the next year, or can we look forward to another game?
Chris Kramer: After almost 30 patches for AS2, I think we have reached a point at which we will need to move ahead. We’ll most likely provide a patch or two that fix issues here and there, but for the most part we will focus on promoting community driven events and content until a new game is up on the horizon.
Wargamer: There's a sense of emerging narratives during a MoW match. More in MP/Skirmish than the lightly-scripted SP offerings, but it's fascinating to watch a serene slice of European countryside get torn up and littered with debris. Frontlines are formed, rear areas come together... would like to try and develop this aspect more?
Chris Kramer: Actually, this is still fascinating to us as well. When we introduced bots to multiplayer, we spent a lot of time, just watching the behaviour of the AI. This is definitely one thing we like the most about the franchise and we will surely try to develop this even further.
Wargamer: The GEM engine and the MoW franchise is over 10 years old at this point. Having played most of the games, it's easy to see how things changed but at the same time stayed the same. From a design perspective what are your top 'bug bears', the things that persist game to game that you want to fix but can't (for whatever reason). At the same time, what's the best change/addition you think you've made to the franchise/engine?
Chris Kramer: Clearly the issues with the physics and interaction we have are the most frustrating as they affect so many areas in the game that we hardly can improve them without breaking anything else.
I think the best game design is, if you create depth but no additional complexity to the game. That’s probably my opinion because our game is overly complex. We succeeded quite well in this regard with some features, for instance the unit veterancy. It adds a lot of value to the game without making it any more difficult to learn or play. However, I think the biggest accomplishment has been the multiplayer bots. This feature was terribly lacking in the series for almost a decade and we are very happy they are finally in-game, given the complexity of the game.
Wargamer: To finish off, DMS released 'Call to Arms' into early access – how is that fairing? You seem to be experimenting with the business model as well as the mechanics, to mixed results according to Steam reviews.
Chris Kramer: We learned a lot from this experience and how difficult it is to meet customer expectations during Early Access, even more so if you have an already relevant community. For us it was very difficult to make a new game and try a different route, while a part of our playerbase just wanted us to make yet another Men of War. At times, it was quite hard to determine which player feedback was valid and which feedback just tried to drag us back to Men of War. Obviously, we were releasing the game too early and confronted the community with work in progress changes too often. That made it hard to swallow for people who were totally used to the MoW mechanics and made it hard for us to sell fans on the vision of the game.
Another major issue is, and this one happens to us every game release, that we can’t meet the high expectations of our player-base, because we support our previous games far too long. This sounds odd, but by constantly improving our still active games, we create a way too smooth transition to our new titles. For many this creates the impression that we weren’t doing a lot of new things in our games. We did, we just gave a way much of the tech for free before, to keep our community healthy and active. Since we consider games a service, the classic games business model probably just doesn’t fit our philosophy well. Therefore, Call to Arms will turn into a mix of premium and free2play game. This way, we are convinced that we can keep our games going for a much longer time and make players happier than before!
We'd like to thank Chris for his time and for answering our questions. Some light editing was done to improve syntax and sentance structure. Do you play Men of War? What would you like to see from a new game? Let us know below!