Supreme Commander 2 Interview
With Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor
Supreme Commander was an underrated strategy game released in 2007 with massive action and interesting strategies and tactics you could put together. The reception it got was marred due to high system requirements and seemingly identical races (at least, they seemed that way at first), but it's maintained a community ever since the release. Now, Square Enix is publishing the sequel, made by the original team at Gas Powered Games. I got the chance to ask GPG mastermind Chris Taylor about Supreme Commander 2 and see what it's all about.
AtomicGamer: One of the complaints from many gamers about Supreme Commander was that the races didn't seem very different from each other. Those of us who played longer were able to see significant differences, and Forged Alliance helped as well, but that was of little consolation to new players early on. Are you planning on showing a wider difference right from the start this time?
Chris Taylor: If ever GPG created a game with asymmetry, Supreme Commander 2 would be it. We still provide a foundation so that players can skip around from faction to faction, but they will have a learning curve, especially when they go to navigate the tech tree, which is one of our big new additions. The Experimental Units are another area where there is quite a big difference in the factions. I think it’s safe to say, that those looking for factional diversity will be pleasantly surprised by how far we’ve taken it this time around.
AG: While the racial balance has changed a few times since Supreme Commander was released, we've seen that races have generally kept an advantage in one area - Cybrans on the water, Aeon in the air, and the like. Do you plan on keeping this up in Supreme Commander 2?
CT: Yes, but things have shifted around a bit. For example, the UEF are really big on firepower, artillery, and the brute force approach. The Illuminate doesn’t have a navy this time around because they can pretty much hover across the water. They’re also really big on teleportation. The Cybran are into the crazy stuff, as now all the naval units, including the aircraft carrier, can sprout legs and crawl up on land… a ridiculous, and awesome sight!
AG: We've heard about the new arena-style maps that worked so well in Demigod and the outside-the-arena spots that some units will sit at or be built from. How has this new map style changed your design, and do you feel that it will add to a more open-style RTS game like Supreme Commander 2?
CT: What we did on Demigod totally opened up the map design in ways that we could never have imagined. For years the norm was a big square map, with perhaps some water and rolling hills. Now we have the most incredible maps that just blow the old designs out of the water. We have stuff that is so visually spectacular; we can never go back to the boring old maps. But this doesn’t mean we can’t have big, open area maps or huge maps with big battlefields. The possibilities are endless now.
AG: One of the biggest issues gamers had with the first game was the system requirements, especially when the unit limit was pushed to 1000 or eight players got into a game. Now that everyone's got dual- and quad-core CPUs, that's got to be a help for you guys, but what else are you doing to make sure that performance is not a problem for most gamers?
CT: A big goal of ours, right from the start was to improve the performance of the engine, and not in a small way, but in a big, big way! And while creating an engine that would run faster on older hardware, we didn’t want to sacrifice visual quality… in fact, we wanted to improve it. The result is that we have one of the most graphically ambitious games, and more people than ever can play it.
AG: Over the years we've seen a reduction in the sizes of armies in traditional strategy games and the addition of RPG-type elements to make up for it. Some series, like Supreme Commander and the Total War games, have gone against this trend by including huge battles - do you plan on keeping that as a major factor with Supreme Commander 2?
CT: Yes, absolutely. There is something very appealing about commanding large armies, but it’s also cool to have powerful, mega units, which the player works hard to create just one or two… like our huge Experimental Units. It’s really the combination between these large, super units and the smaller units that make Supreme Commander 2 a unique experience.
AG: What lessons do you feel the GPG team has learned about making strategy games since the release of Forged Alliance?
CT: We’ve learned so much since then, and we also learned a lot from the development of Demigod. We’ve worked hard to make a game that is playable by players with a wider range of play styles, while at the same time keeping it deep and engaging, with lots of subtly complex strategies. Our tech tree is a great example of this design. There are so many ways to play and so many strategies to try… we know there will be long and heated arguments about what the ultimate winning strategy is… it will be an interesting year ahead!
AG: My favorite feature from Supreme Commander, by far, is the strategic zoom. By eliminating the need for a minimap and showing all units with simple-to-understand icons, for me it revolutionized the way I was able to see and play strategy games - to the point that any game without it simply feels dated. Do you guys feel the same way after all these years, and will strategic zoom be a big part of Supreme Commander 2?
CT: I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s very hard to play an RTS game without it. Supreme Commander 2 not only keeps the Strategic Zoom alive and well, we’ve expanded on it by adding something we call Unit Clumping. This happens in the instant that a player gives an order to a group of units. It makes selecting a group of units so easy, and it also makes it super handy to keep track of army strength. You can still select the units the old way, but simply selecting the clump is way easier than even using a group hot key. We know there is a lot more innovations we can keep exploring as Strategic Zoom becomes more and more entrenched in the genre.
AG: The Xbox 360 port of Supreme Commander was a valiant effort, but it just didn't work on a console the way other attempts at strategy games, like Halo Wars, did. What did you take away from that experience, and what plans do you have for the forthcoming 360 port of Supreme Commander 2?
CT: I agree, it was a valiant effort, and the Hellbent team worked very hard on it with the time and resources they had. Ultimately we learned that we needed to really think about the 360 version right from the start of development and build a new rendering engine specifically designed to take advantage of it. We also created a brand new interface, and we took all the lessons learned from the first game, like the cool radial interface, which was absolutely the right way to approach unit construction. I would go so far as to say that it’s not a port, but a ground-up implementation of the game with very specific design that truly makes a huge game like Supreme Commander 2 work beautifully on the platform. Spend an hour playing, you will be blown away by how easy it is to play!
AG: Clearly, THQ didn't give you the best post-release support for Supreme Commander, eventually refusing to do any kind of QA or official release on the final Forged Alliance patch (which was only released as an unofficial beta). Square Enix has this new commitment to PC gaming - for Supreme Commander 2, do you intend on capitalizing on this for better post-release support?
CT: We’re very excited about Square Enix and our new partnership. We will definitely work closely with them to make sure the game is well supported… for as long as we can!
AG: Will GPGNet be making a return as a separate application? What enhancements or fixes do you have in store for it?
CT: This time around we are using Steam for the game, and though I can’t elaborate at this time about GPGnet, we feel that Steam is a great platform and gives us a lot of options down the road.
AG: The GPGNet Replay Vault was a great resource for those of us who couldn't stop watching replays, but I also would have loved to have the ability to see the in-game chat or even rewind a replay to see an important moment again. Do you have any new features in store for us chronic replay watchers?
CT: Supreme Commander 2 still supports the replay feature but we haven’t made a final decision yet on the vaulting solution. I would love to see us tie that into the Steam back-end and make this super transparent to the player. We’ll see how that goes as we roll the game out!
Thanks to Chris Taylor for answering our questions and to Maverick PR for setting up the interview. Supreme Commander 2 is set for release on PC on March 2nd and on Xbox 360 on March 16th.