Bulkhead Interactive's last game was first-person puzzler The Turing Test (opens in new tab), a philosophical game about artificial intelligence and human morality. So when they launched a Kickstarter for a multiplayer World War 2 shooter (opens in new tab), it seemed like it came a bit out of left-field. It was obviously a passion project for the team, however, and their pitch communicated that well—so well that they blew past their target and raised £317,281.
What they were pitching was a resurrection of a specific kind of FPS multiplayer, the kind Call of Duty 2 players fondly remember. It wasn't just about WW2 as a backdrop, but about a specific kind of speed and balance and movement, a bundle of gamefeel notions that more recent shooters, no matter what their settings, have moved on from. A game without unlockable skills or equipment, with strafe-jumping and speed but still with aim-down sights and guns like the beloved M1 Garand.
Bulkhead have just announced that Battalion 1944's going into Early Access on February 1 (opens in new tab). Studio lead Joe Brammer told us what to expect.
PC Gamer: What is it about WW2 that's such a draw, especially now?
Joe Brammer: For us the draw has never really been WW2, if you know what I mean? It was popular when we were growing up playing FPS games, so it felt fitting to choose WW2. A staple part of our original Kickstarter campaign was to create a fair and balanced FPS game, WW2 weapons are pitted nicely against each other anyway, so it made a lot of sense to keep true to the weapons that each faction used and let the all out war between each faction commence. We didn’t want to let over-design get in the way of simplicity, because that’s what classic shooters are about, going back to basics.
Were you surprised by the response to the Kickstarter?
It sounds a bit cocky maybe, but we weren’t. I didn’t suggest making this game because I thought it would fail. I knew there were FPS fans just like me that were tired of going home and playing the same shooters that I was. Before this we were making first-person puzzlers, and we were pretty good at it too! The Turing Test was looking like a great game and it sold really well, but it wasn’t our main passion. We wanted to make something that would shake up the industry a bit, so when we pitched Battalion, we weren’t that surprised that people were feeling the same way we were about FPS games.
How long has Battalion 1944 been in alpha now, and what's feedback been like?
Battalion ran its first alpha in May 2017. We got some great feedback and everyone was so excited that we spent the whole weekend putting out fires for that insanely early version of the game! Recently we’ve been running alpha testing sessions every weekend and the community know that it’s all about getting the game ready for Early Access. The feedback we receive from our alpha team is always focused on making the game better. We have to argue back and forth a lot with them on Discord or the forums, but I like to think instead of being a regular developer and replying "Thanks, we’ll take that on board" we reply with "No, we don’t like that idea for these reasons…" [so] our fans see us as honest and open? The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, which is great, but it’s also frustrating because trying to find what’s wrong when everyone is telling you "it’s great!" can be tricky.
Why do you want your game to be moddable, and what kind of mods do you hope players create?
I come from modding, when I was 11 I used to be a part of the Battlefield and Half-Life modding communities. I love that 14 years later *wince* I can be doing this all day every day. I want Battalion to be a platform for other people to be able to create some amazing mods. For me I’d like to see a mod that brings in a totally new faction that’s not been done before, maybe the Gurkas, or the German Resistance? Someone totally new that we can work with the mod team to make a part of the full game. Competitively of course, we’d love to see some great competitive maps that we can help fund if they look like they’re going in the right direction.
Battalion 1944 is quite different to The Turing Test but are there any lessons from making that game that have carried over?
I mean we’re always learning when we’re making games, especially when you’re young. I like to think The Turing Test taught us to believe in ourselves more. I know it's corny, but I genuinely believe my team are one of the best groups of game developers in the world. When given the right opportunities Bulkhead can really make something special. The Turing Test was obviously a learning curve, every game we do gets bigger and bigger, but I don’t think Turing Test prepared us for the mammoth that is Battalion 1944, but we’re here now, we’ve made it. Now begins the journey of Early Access.
Battalion 1944 has elements of authentic recreation (the weapons, bullet penetration, mo-capped movements), but at the same time it's a game about strafe-jumping and running along walls. What is it about the contrast between the grounded parts and the over-the-top elements that's so appealing?
We have to be careful when using the word ‘authentic’ because people often get the wrong idea about Battalion 1944. I think we felt that the realistic shooter market is being well catered to. Our friends at Squad and Insurgency are doing excellent work and continue to grow their games as part of the FPS revolution we’re seeing the last few years, where fans are taking control of the genre. So we didn’t feel the need to try and get involved in that subgenre. But we did feel that we should be true to the time period and era, the weapons are created from real sources with plenty of research put in.
We have a little too regularly traveled to Normandy, and if you think our game is a little too gray, you should visit Normandy! We try to bring color into these war-torn grey environments by using often sunrise/late afternoon lighting to keep a nice bright feel to our levels. In regard to the ‘Over the top elements’ I’d have to massively disagree with that comment, there’s nothing over the top about our movement, we’ve struck a nice balance between games like Enemy Territory, Call of Duty 2, and Quake and more modern competitive shooters like Counter Strike: Global Offensive. We felt that was a winning combination, we’ve had to ‘rewrite’ a lot of code that was once considered ‘buggy’ but now in Battalion is hailed as a massive technical achievement. The greatest moment for us was an anonymous email from an ex-COD2 developer saying "I don’t know how you rewrote the kar98 rifle code to work that way, but you did it!"
Why no ability unlocks?
Other games have this covered, it’s just not a part of our design ethos. We do have classes, but they’re limited in what they can do, it’s more competitive and balanced that way.
We toyed with 4v4 and 6v6 but 5 is a number that works really well, honestly, I couldn’t tell you why it is. But when we tried competitive games with different numbers, 5v5 just works the best by far!
What modes will be available at launch?
CTF, TDM, DOM, FFA, and ‘Wartide’ our new competitive game mode
What kind of cosmetics are available, and how will they be earned?
We have ‘Warchests’ containing tastefully relevant and designed weapon skins which can be purchased in the Battalion armoury in-game, don’t worry, you also get one every time you rank up, which is pretty regularly in Battalion! It’s also worth noting that whenever you buy a chest from Battalion 1944, it gets reinvested by us into making more content such as maps, weapons, factions, and it also goes into a tournament prize pool. So if you get involved with our ‘Warchests’ you know your money is helping make the game and your playing experience better.
Why do people love the M1 Garand so much?
Play Battalion, turn up your volume, and listen for that PINGGGGG!