Even if you haven't realised, there's a next-gen war going on and we're all part of it. In terms of actual video game war, though, there are few games as ambitious and in-depth as Eidos' Battlestations: Midway. With the sequel Battlestations: Pacific due for release soon, we caught up with senior designer Janos Gaspar to find out how the new game improves on the original.
VideoGamer.com: How pleased were you with the original Battlestations? Did it meet quality and sales expectations?
Janos Gaspar: Battlestations: Midway went through many adversities. The team changed a lot during the development; the engine, the target platforms and the publisher changed as well. Finally Eidos decided to establish a studio in Hungary, and the last year of the development went well. The reviews and the sales were quite solid despite these challenges, so yes; we are pleased with the original Battlestations.
VideoGamer.com: A lot of gamers, especially 360 owners, found the first game quite daunting. Have any efforts been made to make the game easier to get into?
JG:When we finished Midway we already had dozens of ideas to make it better. When we started Pacific we browsed the community forums as well. Most of the issues were about the learning curve, accessibility and picking up the pace of the game. While we didn't want to cut from the game we knew we should address these points, and make the game much more accessible and more forgiving in certain situations. Battlestations is not a mainstream brand, but we have tried to navigate our vessel as close to it as possible without scrapping our core values. Complexity hasn't really changed in Pacific, but it's now easier to learn, and it's obvious what's happening on the battlefield. Some aspects have been made easier to access without losing the depth. For example in Midway you had a separate screen for ship repairs, and you had to manage a repair division of three members, nevertheless you ended up putting all the people to the same spot to deal with fire or water most efficiently. In Pacific you don't need to manage 3 people, and you don't even have to go to a separate screen. You can do all the repair tasks while navigating the ship: the depth of the gameplay remains the same, but you access it more easily and can adapt to situations faster.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think the game can appeal to your average Call of Duty fan and someone who agonises over every tactical decision? Does it have to in order to be successful?
JG: Our game is a real hybrid, not just an action game with tactical possibilities or an RTS game with some limited direct control. You have total control over the entire battlefield. You decide where to intervene, what to control, how to play. In most of the situations you can win by either just controlling the action, or just commanding the strategy. It's your decision. On the other side there are cases where you will need to use both to achieve victory.
For multiplayer we wanted to give the same possibilities for action and strategy players. There are multiplayer modes where you just control a single unit, and they are really action-packed. You don't need to switch to the map; you can beat your opponents without it.
Island capture, the most complex multiplayer mode also gives you the chance to be in action most of the times, but it requires at least some basic tactical orders to be successful. So basically the game suits action players and strategy players as well, you decide how you play it.
VideoGamer.com: On the same note, the tactical map caused a few headaches for us novices while more adept gamers found it a little too limited (one command at a time for each unit). Have you been able to find a solution for both?
JG: We were aware of the flaws in our tactical map, so we've fixed the issues. You can give multiple orders to you units. The controls have been refined, so it's easier to move around the map, easier to command your units, the overview of the battlefield is better, there are a lot of filters to help the beginner and the seasoned players as well. Along with the dozens of the upgrades, the visuals have also been refined.
VideoGamer.com: How historically accurate are the missions you'll take part in?
JG: In the USA campaign we've tried to make the missions as historically accurate as possible, of course in some cases the mission is just the derivation or just a part of the original battle, but most of the events, the participating units, and the ratio of the opponents are accurate. On the other side, the Japanese campaign is not fully accurate. From the historical beginning it will start to evolve into a "what if" scenario, and in our game the players are granted the possibility to slowly turn the tide of the history with the Japanese navy, and eventually win the war. However, even the Japanese missions can be considered historical or semi-historical, as they are based on the plans of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
VideoGamer.com: You've got campaigns played as the USA and the Japanese, but where's our British campaign? Maybe Battlestations 3?
JG: The British Empire is present in Battlestations: Pacific, however only in some missions. As the two major opponents were the US and Japan in the Pacific, for this game we wanted to add Japan as a playable side.
VideoGamer.com: Although a solid looking game, the original Battlestations didn't wow with its graphics. What can gamers expect this time?
JG: Battlestations: Midway was planned for PS2 and Xbox. Later in the development we switched to X360. That's why Midway wasn't outstanding in graphics quality. We started developing Pacific right from the beginning as an X360 game, so improving the visuals has been a major goal for us. We have always wanted a diverse environment, so we have made it. You can get into night missions and storms for example: the dark ocean is lit only by gunfire and lightning, the waves are rougher when there is a strong wind, while the rain pouring really gives the feeling of a stormy, night battle.
We have overhauled our ocean as well. It looks really nice now: shells deform it and the ripples look incredible. And the water is really transparent, you can see the seabed containing wrecks in the shallow water, you can see the ocean-flora and you can even spot submarines if they are on periscope depth. Generally speaking the ocean and the underwater no longer feel like separated layers.
It's not just the underwater landscape that has been upgraded, but the terrain over sea level, too. You will see beautiful vistas, many trees around, big landmasses, lots of interesting details. Military bases, airfields, big ports, cities, bridges, trains, and a lot more things are out there to be discovered.
And there is a lot more life in these details! The sun will blind you when you look into it, and the clouds now really feel thick and have volume. You can fly through them, have dogfights in them and they can even hide the enemy. Not only does it enhance the multiplayer plane versus plane experience, but also visually we are getting a higher realism level. View distance has also been increased. Generally, you will see almost photo-realistic environments in Battlestations: Pacific.
VideoGamer.com: Being very crude and over simplifying what the game is, you could say Battlestations is like Battlefield but without on-foot combat. Were you tempted to mix the boats and planes with infantry? Would it even be possible?
JG: You are right, Battlestations resembles Battlefield, but our focus is on a higher level. Battlefield is an action game where you are even able to control vehicles. Battlestations is an action-strategy game; it's not the same genre. Our focus is on fleet vs. fleet battles. And we have infantry. You will use landing forces to capture islands, and you will use paratroopers, too. You will see them fighting on the beach. This is the way of including infantry in a Battlestations way. If later we would use controllable infantry, we would add them in battalions or company. A single bomb-packed plane can turn the tide of a battle, but in a battle of thousands the heroism of a single infantryman wouldn't change anything.
VideoGamer.com: It seems that multiplayer, especially in war games where camaraderie is part of the experience, is a vital part of every next-gen game. What's new in Pacific?
JG: Our multiplayer is not just an upgraded version of the multiplayer in Midway. We have really tried to put much more emphasis on multiplayer. We have had a lot of great ideas to evolve the original multiplayer experience. We wanted to give hours of amusement for different types of players, so we selected our top five evolutionary ideas, and have developed them, and this is how Competitive, Duel, Escort and Siege modes were born. Our ultimate multiplayer mode is the Island Capture mode. It has also been evolved from the original Midway multiplayer, but now it resembles traditional RTS games: you can get new units during the battle through the support manager; there are islands with bases, airports, defences to fight for and conquer. This is the mode where we could really show the depth of the island hopping battles of the Pacific.
VideoGamer.com: Do you see the multiplayer having the kind of legs as a title like CoD4? Are there rewards for long-term play?
JG: Even Midway has got a strong community, and there are many players still playing multiplayer battles on a daily basis. In Pacific multiplayer has been revised so we have over 100 different scenarios, which means a lot of replayability. We also have a rank system, and multiplayer achievements to give the players a lot of things to play for long time, if the sheer fun of playing with or against other people is not enough a reward for someone.
VideoGamer.com: Pacific is coming to PC and Xbox 360, as did the original. We have to ask: where's the PS3 version?
JG: Battlestations: Pacific has been developed for Xbox 360 and PC there are currently no plans for a PS3 version
VideoGamer.com: Finally, when is the game out and can we expect a demo?
JG: Release date news is coming soon and yes there are plans for a demo.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time Janos.
Battlestations: Pacific is due for release on PC and Xbox 360 in spring 2009.