An Interview With 2×2 Games

Unity Screen 5Later this year 2×2 Games, an indie games studio based in Croatia, are planning to release the game Unity of Command: Stalingrad Campaign.

Up until recently very little information about this game had been announced – all we really knew it that it’s a war game. Fortunately, as the flood gates opened, I was able to get an interview with Tomislav Uzelac and Nenad Jalšovec, who between them make up two thirds of 2×2 Games.

Before you tell me about the game itself, could you explain who 2×2 Games are and what you stand for as a company?

TU: Playing  the Panzer General series of games a lot, it’s that simple. I did that for a while, then I graduated to more serious war games like SSG’s “Korsun Pocket” and the “Totaler Krieg” board game. I spent a huge amount of time playing those. The idea to try and bridge the gap between these two worlds sort of came naturally.

When Nenad Jalšovec came aboard things really fired up and we spent something like two years working on and perfecting the graphics. It was at some point during this time that we felt that we were really onto something with this game.

So, 2×2 Games is a small indie studio that is all about this collaboration and trying to make a game that we’d personally like to play.

Onto the game now, what genre would you classify Unity of Command as?

TU: It’s a turn-based strategy game that tries to capture the essentials of war gaming without being excessively complex.

Can you give us a general idea of how game play works?

TU: If you’ve ever played a game of this type you will be instantly familiar with how it works. You move your units around – they represent actual division and corps-level formations – and try to fight your way through enemy defenses. The technical term for this kind of gameplay is IGOUGO: you move and attack with all of your units, then you press “End Turn” and the enemy gets to do the same.

Unity of Command Technical 1How does combat between units play out in your game?

TU: Units are modeled so that their properties match the strengths of their historical counterparts. On a basic level, you have different “attack” and “defense” values for various unit types. For instance, a German infantry division will have a higher attack value than a Hungarian or a Romanian one.

Things get slightly more complicated when you factor in various other influences: terrain, the weather, the amount of armor in a unit, experience, entrenchment… it gets a little involved obviously. The important thing for us was to lay out these various influences clearly on the game element called the combat sheet. So even though combat resolution involves a myriad  of different factors, you get a clear picture of what is going on and an instant estimate of the potential outcome.

Are you intending for there to be any kind of multiplayer, either through co-op or through players battling each other?

TU: There is a multiplayer mode where you play against your opponent over the net. When you’re done with making your moves, you can sit back and watch what your opponent is doing in real time. It’s a lot of fun.

Note that while the basics of multiplayer are solid, we’re still working on creating the really modern MP experience we want for the game. Things like in-game chat, or email notifications will be added as more beta testers tire from playing against the AI and start looking for new challenges. So far the take up has been limited as the AI we created is, by general agreement, pretty strong.

Unity Screen 1

Ambiguous Screenshot #1

Unity Screen 2

Ambiguous Screenshot #2

Unity Screen 3

Ambiguous Screenshot #3

You have published these rather ambiguous screenshots: Could you walk us through what you are showing us here?

TU: Screen #1 shows the campaign mode. When you win in a scenario (battle), you move on to the next one in some logical historical order, but it’s your actual performance that determines how far the campaign will go. Eventually, you can end up playing completely hypothetical, what-if scenarios that never actually happened historically. This is possible for both sides, Axis and Soviet alike.

Screens #2 and #3 show supply and objective views respectively. These are map overlays that are not visible at all times, rather you can turn them on when you’re interested in seeing these things in detail. There are other map views as well, for terrain, weather etc.

Again on your site, there are lots of hints about “supply lines” and the fact that they will be highly important to players who want to win. Are there any more clues you can reveal about them?

TU: Supply is a crucial element in these battles, and we think we did a particularly good job on that aspect of the game. When your units are cut off and surrounded, there’s a real element of anxiety that they will be destroyed because they lose their fighting strength rapidly when out of supply like that.

This we think simulates well the highly fluid battles of maneuver that took place on the Eastern Front. Using blitzkrieg tactics when playing the Germans for example, is absolutely necessary to win. If you don’t strike hard and form pockets of surrounded enemy troops you’re not going to get very far because the Red Army is fielding a superior number of troops almost from the start.

What seems to be especially interesting about Unity of Command is your focus on historical accuracy, how does this impact the gameplay and plot-line for Unity of Command?

Unity of Command Technical 2TU: We always wanted to have a good measure of historical accuracy in the game. Orders of battle (OOBs) attempt to represent the actual composition of forces at the time. More importantly, the scenarios are designed in such a way to convey the operational challenges correctly. So, different scenarios require vastly different approaches in
tackling them and following the historical playbook often helps.

The way the campaign unfolds is also constrained in such a way that you can never achieve things that were completely impossible in historical context. You cannot, for example, march your Red Army forces into Berlin in the spring of 1943 no matter how well you play (or even Kiev for that matter).

From the above screen shots, its appears that Unity of Command has a kind of “hand drawn” art style. What lead you this particular look?

NJ: From the beginning we knew we wanted to have an appealing “organic” look. Mostly to compensate for the graphical rigidity of the hex-grid It was a challenge to keep as away as possible from staccato tile map appearance so typical for the genre. Although it’s still a top-down 2D game, we devised a hybrid map system
that allowed for free-form isometric visuals.

Aesthetically the game draws a lot from the WW2 movie/game canon, of course, but we wanted it to have some differentiating flavor to it. It may not be obvious but most of what you see in the game is stylized with a subtle Art Deco influence. This, I think, added a breath of a fresh air to the overall look. At the same time it strongly evoked the historic era.

Special care was taken to strike a balance between atmospheric graphics and the accessibility of visual information. We designed the interface to be free of needless convoluted dialogs. Every chunk of information is laid before the player on a single screen. All possible interactions are performed there too. Because of this, a lot of stuff is packed tightly on the screen. Everything needed to be in visual accord with everything else. Although it was somewhat intensive to tune, we chose this approach to help the player freely immerse into their battlefield operations, not having to worry about interface nooks and crannies.

Unity Screen 4There’s a fair amount of animations in the game. Apart from their obvious eye-candy value they too function as a feedback device for the player, providing him valuable information in a fun and satisfying way.

As tests have already confirmed, all this makes for rather pleasant and flowy game sessions. Even a complete beginner can jump right into the combat minutes after starting the game for the first time.

Obviously the art style lends a certain atmosphere to the game. How well is this supported by the in game music?

TU: Hopefully well! The standard procedure most gamers follow for this type of game is to look for the mute button within the first couple of minutes. We understand this, but we still did our best to have music that adds to the atmosphere and we hope at least some players will find that it’s in fact enjoyable and well integrated overall.

The response we got from beta testers has been very positive so far, so much so that we are now discussing adding more tracks. In any case, it really isn’t the regular marching band stuff you might expect in war game and we encourage you to postpone reaching for the mute button at least for a little while.

One final question, what is the release date for Unity of Command: Stalingrad Campaign?

TU: We hope to release the game in October of this year, but it will all depend on how the test goes really. So far, things are looking good.

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