A recent trailer for upcoming changes to multiplayer shooter Battalion 1944 promised something dramatic. The sunrise fanfare from 'Thus Spake Zarathustra', a.k.a. the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, played as a soldier walked slowly through the street, turning a corner to see—a ladder. And then they climbed that ladder, and ostentatiously emptied their gun into the sky.
It's deliberately over-the-top, playing up one of the smaller aspects of what is actually a major update coming to the WWII fps in June, full of changes suggested by the Battalion 1944 community. Its Wartide mode (the Counter-Strike style bomb-defusing one) is being revised significantly enough to be called 'Wartide 2.0', and a seasonal progression system called BattleRank will be added, with free rewards unlocked through play. A new map called Savoia is coming, as are a laundry list of alterations and rebalancings, with a variety of aims including a reduction in what Bulkhead's studio lead Joe Brammer calls "the bunnyhop meta". I certainly died a lot of times to someone coming sideways around a corner in midair and would be happy to see less of that. Further down the line there's a tournament called the Blitzkrieg Major coming in September, with a $50,000 prize.
Brammer, and the rest of Bulkhead Interactive, are keen to show that their game is still alive and give people a reason to come back to 1944 one more time. He walked me through some of the changes.
PC GAMER: I saw the video debuting ladders, which is pretty funny. What made you wait till now to add them?
JOE BRAMMER: To be totally honest, we made a game that should take three years in two years! We just didn't have the time. I suppose players (even myself to some extent) think of ladders as "just a ladder". But in reality there are so many networking and technical challenges with ladders that it just took time to safely develop them. Even CS:GO only fixed its hitbox issues with ladders last year. I suppose the final straw that made us go "fuck it, we're doing it" was the feedback from the community. Often players said our levels lacked height and wanted things to be a bit less linear. So we decided that if we made ladders it would literally add a whole new level to our maps. Ladders make Battalion more dynamic and give our environments more verticality. It's been great for our game because it's simply made it more fun and as a player given you more freedom.
Tell me about the Savoia map. What makes it special?
It's in Italy! I think after over two years of looking at grey anonymous French farmland the art team were just about ready to quit! Release was brutal on our team, emotionally and physically with a lot of long work days. So when finally we'd fixed the core issues with matchmaking, I think I saw it as an opportunity to give the artists a new challenge. Almost like a "go away and make us something beautiful" challenge. And man, have they. I couldn't be prouder of our art team. With Savoia the color pallete of the world changes from gray and green to orange and yellow. I think that drastic shift from war-torn France to a bittersweet Sicilian warzone/town is a bit of a visual reminder that it was a WORLD war that stretched to vastly different parts of the globe. It's something we want to take advantage of in our art team, now we've got the support of the community and with our publisher backing and believing us more than ever, I think we're looking to make these big statements in Battalion 1944's art.
We've just switched over to a shiny new renderer to bring our game into 2018. Previously we'd used an outdated graphics renderer because it was better for performance and made the game look and feel more like an old school shooter. But we realized we can still do both and deliver a 2018 experience. Savoia could be our best map yet, but its still got to get into the community's hands for vigorous testing yet!
What kind of skins are being added, and how do players unlock them?
Players can grind each level and unlock a War Chest, in that War Chest they have the chance to win currently a skin from 'The Original War Chest'. However, this War Chest will soon be retired forever! In its place we'll be adding the 'Aces High' War Chest. We're also adding 'BattleRank' where players can earn a unique skin each season. Starting with our Beta season with Major Update 2 in July. With each tier Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc. players can unlock a skin unique to that rank, with the higher ranking skins being naturally rarer and certainly... cooler.
How is 2.0 changing the Wartide mode?
Honestly, it's a whole new game really. We launched the first iteration of Wartide eagerly awaiting feedback. The community were keen to tell us what they didn't like about it, much of which came down to a lack of control of an individual's game. We've come more in-line with other competitive shooters now and tried to build upon the core part of what we had, that being the currency is physical in the world still, but now you can buy weapons with tokens, give tokens to other players in the buy menu, and finally and arguably most importantly we have a comeback mechanic.
We wanted to give teams that were losing an opportunity to get back into the game, so now with loss bonuses we're able to do just that. From our experience playing so far, Battalion has a much stronger emphasis on economy sharing and game movement than other competitive shooters such as CS:GO. Wartide 2 is the new face of Battalion and with our open tournament we're excited to see an awesome level of competition going after that $50,000.
Are these changes part of getting Battalion 1944 ready for the Blitzkrieg Major? And what can you tell me about the tournament?
I wouldn't say it's for the Major specifically. It's for all players really. But seeing as Blitzkrieg is an open tournament as Battalion's pro scene is only just starting out, I'd really like to see everyone just go for it! The new changes benefit everyone and like I said, the pro scene in Battalion is so fresh that we're seeing a lot of young and raw talent emerge. It's an exciting opportunity, I think. CS:GO is incredibly hard to break into with its years of expertise, Fortnite has a great focus on streamers, and Overwatch is its own beast. But Battalion is something new and exciting and I think that's what players are really getting behind when they come to Battalion 1944.
The tournament itself is open to everyone, you can sign up at www.blitzkriegmasters.com for your regions qualifiers. Currently we are holding five online qualifiers in Europe where 10 can qualify and two in North America where two teams can qualify. However, we as Bulkhead Interactive also have two wildcard slots that we can choose to give to teams we think have played exceptionally well but fallen short or a team who have shown they deserve to be in the Major in another way. You can also qualify offline at the 'Fragadelphia' LAN event in North America and at The 'Gallantry Budapest' tournament in July this summer. Once all 16 slots have been filled, we'll be looking forward to seeing all teams compete at the Esports Game Arena in Amsterdam from September 27th to September 30th!
What are some of the other improvements and changes happening as part of this update?
We've been regularly posting development blogs on the Battalion 1944 Steam news page. We're basically overhauling the game, now we have the time. That means new characters, new weapons, maps, better performance, new game mode, new sound engine, new graphics engine, visual overhaul and of course WORKING MATCHMAKING! But overall I'd say it's just everything the community has been asking for. One of the biggest things being we're massively reducing the 'bunny hop' meta where players jump around corners. It's still a viable strategy, but it's not always the optimal one. Often holding angles and guarding your position is the best way.
Is the plan still for final release in February, and what are some of the other things you hope to add by then?
Yep! Of course this time round, if we aren't happy with what we have at that time we'll simply not release it. Full release is all about releasing a videogame that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the Call of Duties and the Battlefields. Come February 2019 we have a lot of stuff we simply can't discuss yet, but we are adding the Russians! As well as in our next big update we'll be adding 'Arcade 2' which is our complete overhaul of our casual game modes. All in all, it'll be a great month for Battalion. Hopefully we'll speak in the coming months about what we have to announce because it's something that no other competitive game is doing right now.