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Naval War: Arctic Circle. Interview with Jan Haugland, Turbo Tape Games

Interview

Jan Haugland working as the Lead Designer in Turbo Tape Games in the following Interview answers our questions about the upcoming RTS title based around Modern Warfare and named Naval War: Arctic Circle, where a player has to manage Naval and Aerial forces fighting for control over the Polar Regions.

Strategy games already covered various real world stories. A separate subgroup here is presented by the military warfare titles based around different historical eras. Meanwhile, the fans of such projects, although are very demanding, but still incredibly loyal and willing to actively engage in the community work. Naval War: Arctic Circle included to the portfolio of the Swedish publisher known as Paradox Interactive will also offer the players to engage in the creative process with the users’ modifications, what could additionally benefit the original concept.

Perhaps, on TV you you heard about the major world powers’ claims on the resources of the Arctic shelf. Large nations and their smaller neighbors have so far been unable to agree on who will own all of these natural wealth, and how it is best to divide them between the contenders. For example, Russia here takes a certain position, while strictly sticking to it, though the case still stays unsettled. From the Norwegian side one development studio named Turbo Tape Games tried to imagine, what would happen, if these contradictions are to be solved not by the diplomacy means, but with the strength of the military cruisers and missile launchers used as a foundation for the new RTS title.

The game Naval War: Arctic Circle places you in charge of a whole fleet providing with abilities to call in air support with fighters and bombers, to use the missile arsenal hoping that your radar will detect the enemy before a crushing blow to your forces is delivered. Recently we have discussed this project with its Lead Designer from the team of Turbo Tape Games based in Norway. In this Interview he took us on a memorable tour through the world of this military Strategy and the modern warfare on the high seas showing deep knowledge of the Russian Navy and its famous ships.

- Hello! Please, introduce yourself.

Jan Haugland (Turbo Tape Games)- Greetings, everybody! I am Jan Haugland, the Lead Developer on Naval War: Arctic Circle at Turbo Tape Games, located in Bergen, Norway.

- Give us some background about your career in the game industry before Naval War: Arctic Circle.

- Turbo Tape Games co-founder Fredrik Sundt Breien and I have a quite diverse background in the IT industry, mostly with consultancy, programming and usability, and worked together as college teachers giving computer science courses. We had an opportunity to work in a newly started game developer. To make a short story even shorter: we thought we could do a better job ourselves and started Turbo Tape Games in 2008. We have been doing a number of educational projects using game technology, but our goals have always been to create entertainment games.

- How did you come up with an idea to create this title? What were your sources of inspiration?

- The original Harpoon (1989) game was a big inspiration: it provided the subject matter for Naval War: Arctic Circle and showed that modern Naval Warfare makes for an exciting strategy game. At the same time, games like Starcraft (1998-2010) demonstrated how fun and popular Real Time Strategy (RTS) games could be, where a good user interface can make it easy to play a complex game, even if it is difficult to master, as the saying goes. We have taken some cues from Fleet Command (1999-2006) as well, but our goal is really to recreate the tension of the cat & mouse battles of Harpoon, add competitive multiplayer and have an accessible, modern RTS user interface.

- How does your Naval War: Arctic Circle stand out from other RTS Warfare titles?

- The subject matter itself, certainly, stands out: there are not many titles dealing with naval combat, especially not the era of missiles. We also recreate real, existing ships, submarines, and aircraft with their sensors and weapons. The game map is the real North Atlantic region. Having a war game in our real world certainly sets it apart. Many gamers are great fans of modern ships. We think the game industry has neglected them, at least until now!

- What are the most challenging aspects of the game in terms of its development?

- It is certainly a bigger and more ambitious project than we thought when we started, but I suspect that is true about most games. We mostly knew how to do the programming and art for Naval War: Arctic Circle, and learning the rest is what makes the job so much fun. All the other aspects of game development, from marketing to project management, decisions about what to keep and what to leave out, we had to learn. Seasoned game developers will probably nod and smile here. Luckily, we have had a great relationship with Paradox Interactive, who has a lot of experience in coaching game devs in this process.

- What Naval War: Arctic Circle features are you working on or improving currently?

- Right now, the most important job is making good, fun missions to play: balancing them, giving a few surprises here and there and creating a fully satisfying experience for the gamers. We made the Simulator first, now we are building a fun game inside that engine.

- How will you help the newcomers to the Real Time Strategy genre to learn how to play?

- The game Naval War: Arctic Circle will start off with some good tutorials, first explaining the basics of selection, movement, sensors, aircraft launches and then moving on to the fighting. The important thing is having a consistent user interface, we think. Keys and mouse buttons should work in similar ways across the board, to make it easier to understand how the game works. We think, and our beta testing has confirmed this, that once you get some key concepts, the game is quite easy to understand and get to grips with.

- Is it possible to change the difficulty levels in Naval War: Arctic Circle, and what is their influence?

- The missions and the campaign have three difficulty levels. Skill level is mostly about how many units you have available for the job, and how much hardware the computer adversary pits against you, and a bit about the level of aggressiveness.

- How long will the main campaigns be?

- We have two different campaigns, telling the story about this great arctic war from two different sides. We’re looking at between ten and twelve missions per campaign, ranging from simple skirmishes to large-scale battles where you have hundreds of units on each side. A typical mission in Naval War: Arctic Circle should take between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on how you play it and how high you turn up the time compression. In addition, we will put in a number of stand-alone missions with various exciting constellations of forces and nations.

- What are the main factions taking part in the Naval War: Arctic Circle conflict?

- I don’t want to give away too much about the campaign story, naturally, but the game starts with a weakened and fractured NATO, and the United States is busy with conflicts elsewhere, as it’s easy to imagine!. Through a series of incidents, where it is not clear who exactly fired the first shots, the UK and the Scandinavian countries on one side and Russia and her allies on the other side, stumble into a real military conflict.

Obviously, this is the most difficult part of it all: we merely needed a story to provide an excuse for having a war involving all the major and minor naval powers in the region, and Russia’s military has some of the most exciting ships and other units so naturally we can’t have a naval war game without Russia. It is important for us that Russians are not projected as «the enemy» in Naval War: Arctic Circle, and the campaign story will make it clear that there are no good guys vs bad guys.

The gameplay varies between the factions. Somewhat simplified, we can say that the US relies on its super-carrier groups, which are very strong and powerful. Russia has solid surface combatants, but need to provide air cover through land based, long range bombers, and  screening with its large fleet of attack submarines. The UK has fewer, but very modern and solid ships, something that is also true about Germany. Scandinavian countries have to rely on a coastal defense, with stealthy, smaller units, which, nevertheless, packs a punch.

- Specifically, for the Russian gamers, please, share a few facts about the Russian Federation representation in the game.

- In Naval War: Arctic Circle we will include the major ships of the Russian navy. Obviously the flagship Pyotr Velikiy and the other «Kirov» class battle cruisers, probably the single most powerful non-carrier unit in the game and in the real world. Arguably, she is also the most beautiful military ship in the world. We also have the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, Udaloy, Slava, Mistral (now building in France), Gorshkov, Steregushchy and the patrol boat Vikhr. We have three attack submarine classes and a significant number of aircraft, so the Russian military is very well represented in the game. We are quite confident that these will be fan favorites among gamers from all over the world, actually.

- Are there any resources to collect or bases to manage in Naval War: Arctic Circle?

- Our emphasis on «Realism» puts many constraints on what we could do, so you don’t have harvesting or base building in this game. After all, it takes years to build a new aircraft carrier. We will probably have a resource system for reacquiring aircraft and missiles, especially in multiplayer games, but this is not fully completed yet.

- What unit types will the game offer? How are they different between the factions?

- The units in Naval War: Arctic Circle range from aircraft carriers to small UAVs, with everything in between. Many are highly specialized. For example, the US has the largest aircraft carriers, with the largest air wings. I have already mentioned the «Kirov» above, which probably has the biggest missile arsenal of any ship anywhere. Russia also has very large land-based air wings of long-range bombers, and as far as I know, is the only country which carries supersonic anti-ship missiles on its submarines, which far extends the effective combat range of its subs. Norway, in fact, has the fastest armed ship in the world – the Skjold corvette, which is also very stealthy. Its Swedish counterpart, Visby, is not that fast, but carries more offensive weapons and has better sensors. So, yes, the factions are different and play quite differently.

- Can you provide an example of how your units’ variety and the collaborative efforts of orbit aerial and navy types are used to defeat an enemy in Naval War: Arctic Circle?

- You will need to use your units in collaboration with each other to win naval battles. The role of fighters, for example, will be to win the air superiority battle, deny the opponent the opportunity to use his own air for scouting, and finding the enemy surface ships before he finds you. The fighters themselves have to be careful of the anti-air defenses on the surface ships. Once detected, you can use the anti-ship missiles on your surface combatants to take out the enemy, while you keep your fighters active denying enemy early warning of the missile attack and an opportunity to attack you.

If you add land-based air with long-range missiles or submarines, this becomes even more interesting in Naval War: Arctic Circle. The units in the game naturally form a complex «Rock-Paper-Scissors» system. For example, submarines are a horrifying threat to surface ships, and to defend against them you will use helicopters to screen for, detect and attack enemy submarines. The helicopters are helpless against fighters, who again will fear anti-air missiles on the surface ships.

- Do the units get experience in battles? Are there any choices for their upgrades and unlocks?

- No, we don’t have an experience system, upgrades or unlocks in the traditional sense. You will see as the campaign progresses that you get access to more powerful units, and you may experience that your existing units get more powerful weapons, for example, a new missile type.

- What tactical orders and unit formations will be available in Naval War: Arctic Circle?

- We have full support of formations in the game. Both aircraft and surface ships move in formations, and you can tailor the formations to your needs. You have full control of all movement, all sensors and individual weapons, if you choose so. By default in Naval War: Arctic Circle, you can simply tell a unit to attack a target, and it will do that, sensibly. However, you can decide you want better control, and explicitly control its movement, select weapons and choose the number of missiles and when to engage. So, you can set your fighters to patrol an area and they will engage nearby threats automatically, or you can micromanage the dogfights yourself.

- What Multiplayer options will your new Strategy offer?

- We will support competitive One-vs-One at launch. We want to include other options, like Co-Op, 2-vs-2 and maybe even a larger free-for-all, but it’s very difficult to balance this when we use real world units and especially the real world as a map. I am convinced, however, that if the players want these options, we will provide them.

- What is the name of your graphics engine used in Naval War: Arctic Circle?

- We use the Unity 3D engine. It is a very powerful middleware system at a reasonable cost, especially for small developers of Naval War: Arctic Circle like us.

- Your game will feature a huge territory. How much is it detailed?

- All 36 million square kilometers of the game is available in one single, huge region. Naturally, the level of detail is not what we would need, if the game takes place on land. However, we have quite a good level of detail on the terrain both above and under the sea, and you can take advantage of the terrain to keep your units hidden from view.

- Does the map of Naval War: Arctic Circle reflect any parts of the real world?

- The map is the North Atlantic region of the real world, based on NASA maps, which we have simplified a bit to fit it into the Naval War: Arctic Circle game.

- Will your game include any moddable options?

- Absolutely. The unit database, all scenarios, campaigns will all be open and available to modders. So you will be able to tweak weapons, sensors, ships, aircraft and submarines, or build entirely new ones.

- How does your in-game physics work in Naval War: Arctic Circle?

- The environment is very important in the game, and the weather first and foremost affects sensors and detections. Rain and especially snow will reduce the effectiveness of radar and infrared. The available light, obviously, influences visual range in Naval War: Arctic Circle. If your scenario has especially bad weather, like above gale force winds, you may be unable to launch aircraft or even fire sea-skimming missiles.

- Who is the composer of your game? What is the soundtrack like?

- The music is composed by Demonaz, who is best known for his work with the black metal band Immortal. This is the first time he has allowed his music to be used in a video game, and even more, he has composed the music score specifically for our game. The idea of powerful war machines battling it out in the dark and cold arctic was a great match for his compositions, and his music really fits the theme and the tone of the game.

- Making Naval War: Arctic Circle, how do you see the future perspectives of the RTS Warfare genre?

- I hope that in the future, the big game publishers will realize that if you have a great story or a great game franchise, you shouldn’t necessarily only create a first person shooter to cash in on it. [Smiles]. I think, what lead many publishers away from the RTS genre was that it didn’t work very well with console controllers. But, first, the PC games Industry is far from dead, and gamers love the sense of control and power it gives them to control an entire army, or, in our case, a navy. I am convinced the RTS genre has a bright future, and I hope to see many different battlefields brought into the genre, not only Fantasy and Science Fiction, but games based on our real world, its past and present. Moreover, we hope to build on the Naval War: Arctic Circle game and develop future Naval War titles that cover all the oceans in the world.

- What features of the upcoming game do you like the most?

- There are so many things, but what really makes me feel great about it is that we bring real world aircraft, submarines and surface ships to our game and allow gamers to, as we say: «Play with the great machines of war». We are very happy the game works as intended: you have this massive power at your fingertips, but warships are really, as Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) once said, «Eggshells armed with Hammers». So, the suspense builds as you frantically scout, and you fear that the first glimpse of the enemy is dozens of missiles coming over the horizon.

- Polar Regions natural resources have already become a goal for diplomatic struggle between various countries in the real world. From your personal point of view, what is the best way to share this wealth fairly?

- That is a very complex question, obviously, and I will certainly not claim to have found a solution to that issue. I will only insist that it happens peacefully, so we can keep this arctic war exclusively to the domain of computer games.

- What are your favorite video games of all time?

- That would have to be Doom (1993), Quake (1996) and Starcraft (1998).

- Name 3 things you associate with Russia.

- I am obviously biased from having worked with Naval War: Arctic Circle for so long, because I truly associate Russia with its beautiful naval vessels. It is unfortunately a long time since I was in Russia, when I visited Saint Petersburg a couple of times.

What made the greatest impression on me then was the fantastic art collection at the Hermitage museum, and the very friendly people I met everywhere I went.

- Thank you, Jan!

- Thank you very much for your interest in Naval War: Arctic Circle. We hope to hear a lot from Russian gamers and naval enthusiasts. We’re sharing a lot of new information about the game up to and beyond launch, so follow us on our Forum on Paradox Plaza, on our Facebook page and through Twitter. We love to hear from our fans and enthusiasts of the genre!

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13.02.2012 | Features | Alex "Jace" Ivanchenko

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