Acronym alert! Heroes & Generals developer explains how to blend FPS, RTS, WW2 and F2P

Andy Hartup

Billy, don't be a Hero. Be a General instead...
Choice is a wonderful thing. Coke or Pepsi, Ant or Dec, terrorist or counter-terrorist (er, in Counter-Strike, obviously). So we're chuffed to see Square Enix's latest free-to-play shooter offering the choice to fight WW2 as either a Hero, or – and this may surprise you - a General. It's in closed Beta for now, but we're giving away 1000 keys to give you a taste before the public Beta arrives. What's the game all about? Well, the hero part is pretty self-explanatory. You're on the ground as either an allied or axis soldier, fighting battles for the pen-pushers back in Berlin / London / Washington. As a General, you are the pen-pusher; managing troops and vehicles in a bloody RTS war for Europe.

The two play styles interlink, a little like EVE Online's relationship with Dust 514 . As a General, you're creating the battle parameters for troops on the ground, including stuff like reinforcements and how many tanks either side has. It's actually pretty clever, which is why we caught up with Peter Fleckenstein, co-founder and Managing Director of developer Reto-Moto to talk stamping out cheats, balancing strategy, and Nazis on bicycles.

You're attempting to blend strategy and action. How do you intend to compete with best-in-genre games on two fronts?

Our very first idea was to create an action shooter where you were part of something bigger. Where the battles you fought were crucial for the overall outcome. We all wanted something more than just a character shooting up another character in an endless map cycle, we wanted each player to feel ownership for the battles they were fighting in – and for every battle to be unique and have a unique position on the campaign map. So we knew we wanted to promote interaction between the campaign map and the individual battles - and so we created the Campaign layer. The Campaign layer is where the Generals manoeuvre their Assault Teams around the campaign map in order to capture battlefields. As soon as two or more opposing Assault Teams meet on the campaign map, a first-person mission is created [for the Heroes part of the game]. The type and size of the Assault Teams sets the framing for the battle - sometimes you might be a foot soldier fighting against mechanized infantry and tanks and the next time it might be you sitting in that tank.

During a battle the Generals can send in reinforcements; launch air strikes or drop paratroopers into the on-going battle. A new aspect we've introduced to blend strategy and action in Heroes & Generals is something we call 'social F2P', where you can upgrade your Assault Team with larger weapons or vehicles. In doing this, you are giving the players joining your Assault Team a better chance to succeed - and thereby you also have better chance of success yourself as a General.

Many games are going modern / future warfare. Why did you decide to go back to World War 2?

We decided to go for WW2 for a number of reasons. First of all it's a classic, conventional war with many parties involved and many territories to explore, plus there was also a lot of war technology evolving during the war. To us, the interest in World War 2 never ends. We don't go historical in terms of battles and precise locations since it's a game, not a Discovery Channel programme, so we balance all gameplay in terms of the 'fun-factor'.

Now, serious question: are you the only game to offer Nazis on bicycles?

We are proud to announce that we are the first and only WW2 game that supports bicycles with luggage rack passengers! Besides bicycles we have motorcycles, jeeps, half-tracks, fighter planes and tanks. Right now we have three types of tanks on both sides - light, medium and heavy tanks. Over time you can upgrade your Armour Assault Team, as mentioned before, so the Generals give benefits to the players that join his Assault Team. We are also trying to get some less 'game famous' vehicles into play, which make it a fun and new experience. We are making a game with different layers and depth, so we can get the core players involved. For instance the armour thickness and armour models combined with different types of ammo are well discussed topics on the forum of our beloved community.

This is the Heroes bit...

How do you balance the interaction between strategy and on-the-ground action?

Our ambition is that players will have a fun experience regardless of what and how they choose to play. We believe that allowing the Generals to create their own strategies will create 'living games' and the most dynamic experience. The Generals choose which types of Assault Teams are attacking where and when, and as one of the Heroes players you will have a lot of variety, so two battles will never be the same. The battlefields hold up to five access-points, all leading into the objectives. Each route has different challenges and the attackers can choose to attack from multiple access-points (if they succeed in conquering the adjacent battlefields in their advance). If you want to play with only your own friends you can get your own Assault Team and join only those battles you start yourself.

How challenging was it to implement the cross-platform support between PC and iPad?

Our first goal for cross-platform functionality is to release our Mobile Command app, where all the players at anytime and anywhere can log in to see how the campaign map and war is evolving, and chat with other players. The first version of Mobile Command is currently being wrapped up and will soon be ready for our community on iOS and Android. The plan is to expand this app with many more features and we have a lot of ideas for more interaction with the game.

Many games handle the Free-to-Play model differently – what existing titles have been the biggest influences on H&G?

We were ten guys who started Reto-Moto a little over four years ago - when the world almost didn't know anything about F2P. Our business case was built on a classic subscription based model, but we all came from a company with AAA boxed titles, so we didn't have any experience with online multiplayer games - and no clues whatsoever about subscription based games. At first we looked at EVE Online - fascinated by both their solid and steady growth in users - and of course their business model. But when World of Tanks entered the global scene in 2011 everything changed. We could really see the benefits from having a F2P model, both in terms of a business model and as a way of growing a large numbers of players. In many different ways a F2P model is ideal for our game; it suits our massive campaign game to have a huge population, and the monetization model works for both the core players and the players with less playing time available.

Do you think free-to-play will eventually replace the traditional $50 / £40 upfront game? Or live alongside it?

That's a tricky one as there are so many gamers out there, and they all want to access their chosen games in their preferred ways. I think there are enough consumers to sustain multiple business models, I don't think it will necessarily be a case of one size fits all.

And this is the Generals bit...

How important is community to your game? How are you planning to stamp out the cheats, and keep your players engaged?

The community is essential for our success; it's as simple as that. As a small company with a small developing team we are trying to involve them as much and as often as we can. We listen to their thoughts and complaints, and our most dedicated community members help us test new builds and mechanics before we release them. A while ago we made a live-action trailer with a bunch of community-members, and occasionally we have visits from community-members at the studio. Our QA Lead and Community Manager are in dialogue with them on a daily basis - they're cool.

Would you consider bringing Heroes & Generals to console?

Yes, why not? Connectivity is the keyword and if we somehow could manage hand-held devices, PC, Mac and consoles and use them together in a new and different way with the advantage of each media, I wouldn't say no. But it's not planned.

Finally, would you rather be remembered by history as a hero or a general?

An everyday hero is what our civilization was built upon. I do find both types of involvement in Heroes & Generals fun - but I always end up being in the front line with an SMG!

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