Few years ago Men of War community was surprised by mysterious screenshots showing modern Russian military equipment with unknown logotype. Their quality was similar to Men of War one or based on same game engine like other games in this series. There were a lot of speculations about this game or modification or whatever those screenshots showed. Later on no more information were found. Everything were changed few days ago because same screenshots were posted on ModDB page in section about games based on GEM 2 engine. Few hours later there were more screenshots posted, which showed completely new game – War Today: Five-Day War about war in Georgia in 2008. This game is developed by AARRE Games Ltd company, and it’s not connected with creators of Men of War game series, but it still shows great quality or even higher quality then Best Way products. I’d like to invite You to read an interview with Eduard „Akella” Moskalenko the Team Leader of AARRE Games Ltd and Aleksander „Alex” Djokic about game War Today: Five-Day War.
Official website about project: War Today: Five-Day War
MoW-Center.pl: Men of War series is known from some very interesting and deep gameplay. It also features some very interesting mods but most of this stuff was made in WW2 design. All games in this series were made by known companies like Best Way and Digitalmindsoft. And now You are showing your project, a little bit out of nowhere. Most of players are interested I guess in getting some sort of information about Your team. Who are you, why did you take this project and so on?
Eduard „Akella” Moskalenko: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. In 2008, to be precise, we had just finished working on “Talvisota: Icy Hell” devoted to the Winter War, and started a new project. The Five-Day War seemed to us as an extremely delicate topic. The war had many victims on both sides, and we were not keen to announce an entertaining (to some extent) product while their sorrow was still so deep. Furthermore, we decided to wait until the initial wave of propaganda would fade – and I am speaking not only of Russian or Georgian vision of that conflict; most Western media produced just as biased information, hence however balanced and neutral our representation of the war had been, we would have still been accused of delivering yet another propaganda product. As time passed, what began as a small project developed into a complex game, perhaps even too complex for a small company such as ours.
Aleksander „Alex” Djokic: We have walking encyclopedia of weapons and other military hardware. Plus some of us have military experience which is quite good when recreating combat engagements and other military operations. Most of us have worked on other strategy games like Talvisota, Panzerkrieg, Kosovo Sunrise etc. We love strategy games and GEM 2 engine surely provided us with more immense gameplay and above all: possibilities.
MoW-Center.pl: Together with previous question I’d like to ask, why did You choose this specific topic? War in Georgia is not too popular in pop culture. There was one game I guess made by some Russians few years ago, but it was really propagandistic I would say. Also there was one movie about group of journalists in Georgia in 2008, but that’s it. However, because of that, this topic is not well known. What made You to choose this way?
Ed: I have to agree; the conflict is of relatively little interest to most people outside Russia and Georgia themselves. Nevertheless, it was a natural choice for us. From the previous project we inherited strong desire to work on a “documentary game”, i.e. a game where the real events would be reproduced in full (simulated, if you wish). If you think of a typical RTS devoted to WW2, you are certain to get a D-Day mission and perhaps the Battle of Kursk, where the mission header and (hopefully) unit lists are the only linkages to the real world. On the contrary, we have to allow for some inexactitudes for the sake of playability and reconstruct thoroughly everything else: terrain, unique objects needed for the map, units and action of the AI. As a result, the level of ‘realism’, is you wish, is unprecedented: the player oftentimes has exactly as many vehicles and man as there were on the ground; same holds for AI.
We also wanted certain military parity to be present in the game; in most other contemporary conflicts – except, perhaps, Yugoslavian wars and some conflicts in Africa, the latter being just too exotic to be considered – one side dominated over the other one. The US and their allies had complete technological superiority over Iraqis; in Afghanistan, heavy weapons were also a privilege of the NATO forces (and Soviets some 20 years earlier). Contrary to popular belief, Georgians had both numerical and technological superiority over Ossetians and Russians until the very last days of the conflict, however it proved to be indecisive. Allowing for a degree of simplification, we can claim that Five-day war was a battle fought by two modern and equally well equipped armies (of course, by that we mean the Russian units that took part in combat, not the whole of the 1-million strong Russian army). In other words, it must be interesting to play!
MoW-Center.pl: Because of the fact, that Your game is based on GEM 2 engine, it’s impossible to not to compare it to Men of War. Because of it’s specific gameplay, what are Your plans for War Today: Five-Day War? Will You create it with full support for single and multi player? Are You going to make campaign for both Russians and Georgians?
Ed: Men of War has been criticized for being too difficult to play – oftentimes, micro-managing individual soldiers became the main part of gameplay. Personally, I did not find it to be that bad. However, it is true that once you abandon “Commandos” type of missions and switch towards company level fights, you no longer want to enjoy the beauty and pleasure of collecting ammunition from dead bodies, nor choosing the best rifle among those lying on the ground. All of these features can still be found in our game, aimed at veteran players; yet, we tried to make the game more suitable for an average RTS player. As an example, player can choose between allowing units to behave intelligently, and obeying commands directly as it was done in Men of War. In the former case, units might stop advancing and take cover if they encounter strong resistance; in the latter case, if ordered, units will run forward regardless of enemy fire (and often die). Unfortunately, the game has no telepathic abilities as of yet, hence the particular intentions of player remain unknown to it: even switching between the unit AI modes can be tiresome, while ‘wrong’ type of behavior may mean that a particular command is not executed in line with the player’s intentions. In other words, the game is still demanding and somewhat difficult tactics-wise, albeit we tried to relieve player of some of the routine operations. The bottom line here: the game has become even more challenging with regard to combat tactics but the controls were made easier wherever possible.
As for campaigns, we had to concentrate on the Russian one at first. For a simple reason that Russia is a bigger market and we do not possess enough resources to make both of them at the same time. This does not mean that we share the Russian vision of the war; had there been more people willing to play the Georgian campaign, we would have gone for it. As we are planning to support and develop the game after the initial release, this is not an issue really – it will be added once we can afford its production. A side note here: GEM2 engine we are using requires the most basic commands to be scripted. Most games that utilize the engine use the “human wave” tactics: a number of enemy units are spawned let’s say each 3 minutes and ordered to attack the player. Such mission type is easy to produce; the only drawback – you get hundreds of dead enemies at each mission’s end. It is for this sole reason that we had to go another way – trying to keep the real scale of casualties, we could not afford to kill so many units during each mission. It will not be an exaggeration if I say that in some missions, each of a nearly hundred (enemy) units has been scripted separately for the whole period of his life in the mission. This is also one of the reasons the game has been in production for so many years.
Alex: As Ed had mentioned, we are concentrated on Russian campaign at first. However, it doesn’t mean there will be no Georgian missions. Some missions in the Russian campaign would be interesting to play on Georgian side as well. It is quite interesting to see both sides of the story and every minute of combat engagement in any war is entire story for itself. Plus, I do like custom missions/chapters, to make and play, especially when you use specialized, smaller units. Multiplayer is currently our only chance to beat our team leader. Just kidding, of course: he has mastered artillery fire and tank warfare. Not to mention some of us specialize in spec-ops (VSS „Vintorez” snipers are deadly medium range silenced weapons). There is no doubt multi player is going to be included: we already have some maps, working on different modes of play. Custom missions are also planned, coop was tried out, all in all, we are trying to take on, if not all then most of the possibilities.
MoW-Center.pl: Continuing topic of game engine, I’d like to ask about some technical aspects. GEM 2 is an old engine. Newest game made on it – Men of War Assault Squad – had some improvements in graphics etc. Unfortunately it’s still not enough. Upcoming game Call to Arms which also will use this engine is known from having a lot of improvements, but it’s made by Digitalmindsoft, who has a lot of experience in long support for this series. Are You planning to add some changes to game mechanics, or will you focus on deep story gameplay and quality of new models and stuff?
Ed: We received the engine code early in 2009. Since then, we have been constantly working on its improvement. Naturally, we have gameplay changed a lot due to our focus on modern warfare; the maps have become bigger and more detailed, as did the models – and the engine was adapted to support those changes. Due to quite archaic engine architecture – as of 2013, by no means I want to say anything bad about the engine design back in its glory days – it is extremely hard to add anything without terrific consequences for the performance. To give you an example, we tried alternative render back in 2010 – and I think FPS dropped to 3-10 on our smallest map. Sometimes I did have a feeling that Men of War was the maximum this engine could accommodate, while we were planning to increase the load substantially. For that reason, more than a year was spent on re-optimizing the engine. It now runs faster and much more smoothly and incorporates a newer graphics render; and yet I am not sure how much more we can do to improve the visual impression. However, all the models, including the entourage ones, have been remade to a much higher standard; we are also re-working the textures we inherited from the original game. At the same time, there is little point to pretend the game will look visually better than any of the brand-new titles. We do find the Five-day war is more of a niche product given its relatively untypical gameplay, hence graphics per se is not our main concern at this stage.
MoW-Center.pl: One more question about models. How many new models do You have in plans to add to game? Mostly I mean new vehicles and buildings.
Ed: Unit models have been mostly finished so far. Thanks to extremely passionate and enthusiastic 3D artists, we managed to replicate most of the Soviet era land vehicles in great detail: for instance, T-72 main battle tank has a least 8 modifications available in the game, with T-72A and T-72B (B1, BM…) having completely different turrets. Same holds for most other vehicles; e.g. BTR-70 alone has 4 versions with different geometry. Not that it is vital for gameplay, however I hope it does show how careful we were reconstructing the real world Practically every post-WW2 vehicle which could still be in use in 2008 and could be placed on our map was modeled (that is, we did not model artillery systems with minimal firing distance exceeding our map’s size, when scaled down to reflect the game distances). As for the buildings, we are mostly avoiding placing Men of War ones on our maps – with some notable exceptions. Put differently, we have enough for the urban maps to look naturally. As a perfectionist, I would prefer to have even more of them, but we might have to wait with such a non-essential improvement
Alex: Changing the era of fight meant all vehicles were to be created from scratch. Except maybe motorbike, interestingly we have discovered photo of that bike still in use by the civilian population. What will be a nice change to MoW series are civilian vehicles – lots of them. Not to mention artillery units, BTR-s, BMD-s, BMP-s, tanks of all kinds, jeeps, trucks, MLRS etc. And of course, individual weapons. Did I mention Su-25?
MoW-Center.pl: In few screenshots available on Your ModDB page we can see planes in action. Will air support have major role in gameplay? Or it’ll be just an interesting add-on to campaign missions?
Ed: I am afraid you will be disappointed with my answer: not really. It was neither Iraq nor Afghanistan; both sides made quite limited use of their air forces. Additional problem lies in the map size: a jet would pass it within seconds, unless we make the planes ridiculous slow. So, while planes do have some role in gameplay, I find it conceptually hard to make them a core element in the warfare.
MoW-Center.pl: Question about founding. Newest game from MoW series – Call to Arms – is founded by crowdfounding, and it’s planned to move to Kickstarter. What is Your situation?
Ed: I think it is fair to say that relying on our own resources is overly ambitious, as the project had grown in size and complexity over the years in development. I will not disclose a particular funding mechanism in this interview, however I can say that we are hoping to make a base version of the game – let us call it Alpha – available for download at a minor fee, and offer various subscription packages, e.g. give funders access to a spin-off fictional campaign called Lossberd Island, extra units and so on. The extent to which all of our ideas will come true greatly depends on the support from the community, so we are expecting mutually beneficial cooperation here.
MoW-Center.pl:Many times I compared You to Men of War series developers. As far as I know, You are not a part of people who made Men of War games. What are Your relations with Best Way, 1C or Digitalmindsoft? Are there any?
Ed: I guess it is safe to say we have friendly relationship with Best Way However, we are not affiliated with either of the companies you mentioned.
MoW-Center.pl: For the end, I think the most important question. When? Can You tell us when Your game will be available? If You have any plans, are You going to release it also via Steam like other new games from this series?
Ed: Soon enough Alpha will be ready within a few months, the further timing is subject to support we receive from players.
You can view screenshots gallery from game at the end of this page: War Today: Five Day War Wywiad z twórcami