Halo Wars 2 is right around the corner, and we had the chance to chat with the game's creative director, Clay Jensen. Just how do you add more controller functionality to such a mechanically dense game? What was it like working with Creative Assembly? What were some of the studio's main design philosophies?
Find out below.
Can you give us a rundown on some of the big changes between Halo Wars 1 and 2?
I guess for me, one of the challenges has been improving everything between the two [laughs].
It’s kinda funny, but we were talking about this earlier that, one of the things I’m really happy about is we have improved across the board in just about every area you can think of. From units to game modes, the visual treatment of the game. As well as improvements to more mundane things like physics, and pathfinding – everything across the board is slicker and faster, and bigger and better.
But the thing for me that’s been very satisfying recently, is that in addition to all the new things that we’ve got, one thing that people said a lot is that it still has the essence of what the first game felt like.
And I think that’s something from a creative standpoint that was very conscious on our part. We wanted to put a lot of new, cool, interesting bells and whistles in the game this time. But we were very much going back all the time, and trying to say “is this still Halo Wars.”
We didn’t just want to create a great RTS game. We wanted to create a big version of Halo Wars.
But in terms of things that are really new, one thing across the board that’s a huge improvement is just the overall modes in the game. We’ve got traditional deathmatch which is still very exciting, and if you want a long-term experience that’s the place to do it.
Blitz mode is completely different than anything we had in the first title. It’s a much faster, much more action focused way to play the game, where you don’t have to worry about resources, and base building, and the deeper long-term strategies. You can kinda get in right away, really quickly, and get a really good game match in four-to-eight minutes.
The time-investment for something like an RTS match is very different than that of a first-person shooter – quite often you’ll be sitting down for 30 minutes, instead of 5. You said earlier though that Blitz is kind of a solution for that, tightening that loop. Has this been a big push for you, to make matches a lot quicker?
From the beginning, there’s certainly been a desire to try and expand the different ways that you can play the game. One of things that we were very conscious of – especially for new players, those who haven’t played an RTS before – it can really be quite intimidating. You know, you’re looking down the barrel of an advanced deathmatch, it can easily go past an hour.
That’s something we still have really embraced. That’s our core audience – deep strategy players really want that. So that’s still there. But it was very much a conscious choice, to provide some other ways to play that were faster.
So Blitz for example, you can play in four-to-eight minutes. Stronghold has a time-cap of fifteen minutes. It’s a bit like getting a taste of the things you’d get in deathmatch, but without managing your base; It’s fully upgraded, there more resources than you can possibly spend, and you’ve just got to keep going as fast as you can to capture stuff.
Domination matches are normally 15-to-25 minutes, and it’s basically deathmatch gameplay but you have strategic points which are going to determine victory. So you have to get our and capture them, and defend them around the map. Because of that, it speeds up the game significantly.
So can you give me a bit of a rundown on Blitz? It has deck building elements to it, right?
Yeah, it does! It’s a very interesting combination. We basically combined traditional RTS game mechanics and the rest of the game, on a focused map that has three different control zones. In a team game, your team needs to have units in those control areas to get that location and start earning points.
The game itself is actually a race to reach 200 points. You do that by being the only player that’s got units on one of those control pads. The way that cards come in is that instead of building bases and building up your resource economy, you’ve got a deck of cards, which you’re constantly pulling from.
You’re then spending energy to deploy cards and turning them into units. So wherever you are, instead of having to jump back to base, or go somewhere else, you’ve got a card hand in front of you – four cards, all the time. If you have the energy, you can instantly play that card, and instantly deploy that unit or leader power.
The card then cycles back into the deck, so you never throw them away. It’s a very tight loop, of cards that are coming through. Part of the deeper gameplay of Blitz is trying to remember what’s in your deck, and where it is. Burning through your other cards to get those other ones back.
You can also discard cards, and draw new ones. You’ll get an energy penalty when you do that, but knowing when to cycle through your more expensive cards to get your cheaper, early scouting cards, is part of the fun.
The other thing that I’m really looking forward to, is not only players developing deck strategies for themselves when playing 1v1, but as you get into 2v2 and 3v3 team games, there’s a lot of synergy between decks that people are building and learning how to build a good team deck.
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