Company of Heroes 2 interview: Relic Entertainment game director, Quinn Duffy

PC World caught up with Relic Entertainment game director, Quinn Duffy, during THQ’s recent pre-E3 showcase to talk about Company of Heroes, the death of PC, and Homeworld.

After having spent over 14 years at Canadian game studio, Relic Entertainment, Quinn Duffy is unable to recall what life was like before he got started at the developer. He does, however, remember it was something games related. Casting his mind back to that time, as well as quickly glancing at his work resume, Duffy vaguely remembers being with a company in Calgary and working on an MMORPG set on a space station, which he describes as being “sort of World of WarCraft meets Babylon 5.” The parent company had a hardware based voice and data network hub, and Duffy explains that they thought a game would be a good way to showcase their technology. However, as it turned out, it was not, and Duffy saw coming to Relic Entertainment as an "incredible opportunity." Duffy adds that he had not even seen the developer’s breakout hit, Homeworld, when he applied for a position. Instead, Duffy “innately felt” the passion of the team and wanted in.

Relic has been doing a lot of games based on the WarHammer license, but the first Company of Heroes was an original IP for the studio. Do you feel it's tough for a studio to be juggling both licensed and original titles?

Relic Entertainment game director, Quinn Duffy (QD): Not especially, as multiple titles are hard regardless. What’s really tough is juggling a new IP and a new engine on one project. I’ve personally done that three times now with Homeworld, Impossible Creatures, and Company of Heroes. Building new technology is hard, defining a new IP and new fiction is hard, building new and innovative gameplay is hard. Putting it all together is nearly heartbreaking. So Homeworld took a long time, Impossible Creatures took way too long, and Company of Heroes took something like 44 months. Licensed IP removes some of that risk, but even adapting a known and loved license to new types of games is really tough. The look and feel of Space Marine, for instance, was very different from the first Dawn of War and its sequel. There are still lessons to learn every time you do a new game.

And what did you find was gamers' response to the original Company of Heroes?

QD: Shock maybe? Awe? [Laughs] Our first brush with consumers is actually from within the team, as we’re all game and entertainment consumers, so we can extrapolate a bit from our own experiences. When a game reaches a certain visual and functional critical mass, like when we complete a big demo, you can really assess a game like a gamer would because you’re looking at something close to a finished product. When I finally saw Company of Heroes in a “finished” state, I was staggered at its level of detail and audio. After that, you get a chance to gauge reaction at big shows like E3. Again, not real consumers, but maybe even more valuable because they’re industry professionals and they can be, or pretend to be, jaded.

Anything stand out in your mind from that time?

QD: I remember demoing the original Company of Heroes on the floor at E3 in 2006. The first thing I would do is zoom the camera in on the infantry so you could see they actually had five fingers. That would make jaws drop, because RTSs just don’t apply that level of detail. We still get first time reactions to Company of Heroes because we just recently set some new records for concurrency. We’re getting similar reactions to Company of Heroes 2. I love how our recent press events have gone, and I love the reactions of those who have seen the game in the flesh. It’s deeply gratifying.

Has development of the sequel been any different from the original one, such as team size or development time? Or is it more or less the same?

QD: This development has been quite a bit different in some areas. For example, we have a smaller, more focused team, as Company of Heroes peaked at over 100, and we have a better sense of our goals. We also have some more maturity and a better sense of what quality means. As for what’s the same, we have powerful new technology and gameplay systems that we learn how to better leverage on nearly a daily basis, we still have a lot of passion for history and authenticity, and we have a lot of fun working on the game.

What are you doing to build upon the game experience?

QD: There are a few things, or maybe it’s really just one thing looked at a few different ways. I love the way the game feels and we’ve added some cool new features, but the game still has that Company of Heroes essence. In fact, I think the new features help focus on the tactical even more and really help supplement, and improve the original gameplay. For example, flanking was important in the original game, but flanking in Company of Heroes 2 feels so much better with the new True Sight line of sight system and infantry vaulting. We really want to present a full experience to the player, and that’s something I think the franchise has always done well. We try to make sure every ability, every point of contact, every discipline is contributing to the design of a feature so the game looks, feels, and sounds right.

Beyond that, what aspect of Company of Heroes 2 do you feel is shaping up to be the most interesting?

QD: If I had to pick one thing, I’d say I’m most interested in seeing how the fans respond to the gameplay and everything we’ve built to engage them. We have a great story to tell, and we have amazing presentation. The game looks incredible right now, but those things help sell the gameplay, and I want to see what people think of the new stuff.

The media has been bemoaning the state of PC gaming for several years now, often saying that “PC gaming is dead.” With Company of Heroes 2 coming out on PC, do you feel the state of PC gaming is as dire as people think?

QD: No, I think the PC has officially died three times during my career, and those that forget history are doomed to repeat it. PC still offers a premiere experience, especially for the kinds of games we build here. There are really big games on PCs that either sell millions in their first weeks, or earn millions every week from huge player bases, so PC is definitely not dead. I’d argue PC developers are really well placed to adapt to whatever the future brings and that maybe we’re entering a new renaissance.

So what is your take on the subject?

QD: I think the way people consume games is changing due to the rise of always-on connectivity, tablets and other powerful mobile devices, Ultrabooks, PCs we don’t recognize as PCs, and Cloud storage. It really means you could enjoy the same game five different ways during the day on a variety of devices. However, I think the PC will always be a strong, core part of that matrix of entertainment options.

So, any chance of a Homeworld 3 in the near future?

QD: Sure, there’s always a chance. Mathematical probabilities are so interesting. [Laughs]

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out PC World's complete interview archive.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

PC World

1 Comment

Kirk Heriot

1

I am curious about the relationship between Company of Heroes 2 (Eastern Front) and the free mod for Company of Heroes of the same name - "Eastern Front" - that was created in 2010 (http://www.easternfront.org/).

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