The Firing Line: Heroes & Generals dev talks planes, boats, and massive FPS action

The Firing Line - Heroes & Generals interview
I've become fairly obsessed with Heroes & Generals lately. The browser-based World War II shooter-cum-strategy game is still in beta, but it's wicked fun to play (and to watch). If you missed our previous coverage, you'll need to know that H&G is the brainchild of Reto-Moto, a firm composed of Hitman franchise veterans based in Copenhagen.

Reto-Moto game director Jacob Andersen was kind enough to field a few of my questions regarding the title's claim to massive FPS action. He also talked at length about the merits of connecting with the fan community as well as the game's aerial, amphibious, and ground-based aspirations. Join us after the cut.

Heroes & Generals - AA guns
Massively: Can you define what Reto-Moto means when it advertises H&G as a "massive online FPS," as quoted in the fact sheet? I ask because many gamers get hung up on the definition of the term MMOFPS, which seems to vary depending on whom you talk to. The current build features instanced 12v12 battles, correct? Does the team plan on expanding those numbers at some point or is that pretty much the target goal?

Jacob Andersen: Our first attempt to describe the game was as a "mass participation online game," but that also was a bit vague. We mean it is massive in the sense that a lot of players (thousands) fight toward a common goal (to win the war). The current 12v12 per mission is only temporary. We will slowly be increasing the mission player count over the next few releases, but as everything else online, this needs to be done in a controlled matter. Our goal is to have at least 48 players in each mission.

The different unit types put different pressure on the physics system (for instance, the physics calculations for tanks are much more processor-demanding than planes), so we are considering separating the spawn slots into types. We can have quite a lot of planes, so we obviously hope to have some massive air battles once we introduce heavy bombers!

Can you describe a bit about the architecture in layman's terms? I'm assuming the game uses instances/zoning technology. I was surprised to see such a large and beautifully rendered world in a browser game when I played the beta, for example, and our readers would be keen on hearing as much technical detail as you'd like to give out.

The game runs using what you would call zones or instances, which means the same base map is used many places. We decided to go with this design for several reasons. First of all, it's a shooter, and most shooters get more fun the more familiar you are with the map. So playing a new map or a randomly generated map in each play session might sound cool in theory, but in reality, it's confusing and not very fun. Secondly, it gives players a chance to play tactically when they know the map rather than having to rely on scouting before engaging. We would also prefer to spend time tweaking a few maps and adding details to them instead of just spewing out a lot of maps.

The maps are designed to be asymmetrical (you attack from the edge and the goal is usually at the center), which gives a lot of variety when the enemy can attack from several different points.

Heroes & Generals - jeep on bridge
You've got a large roster of ground vehicles and several aircraft too. Any plans for boats at some point?

If you mean battleships, then maybe. We are talking about it but we'll keep discussing it until we think we have a good way to implement them. The main problem with warships is that they are so slow! But I could definitely see some fast U-boat action in the game. Smaller boats are on the table too but not within the next few releases.

Can you talk a little bit about the team's background, and how you came to H&G from something like Hitman? Is this the game that you guys have always wanted to make?

Well, a few years back (actually five to six years back) we started seeing the end of boxed games in a sense, that the way we were developing those games was extremely restrictive. Such large sums of cash are used developing those games that you are not allowed any (or very little) experimentation with game mechanics off the beaten path.

We saw that games like World of Warcraft and EVE Online started finding their way to the internet with great success. Games that were purely driven by a set of gameplay rules and not so much of story and scripted sequences. That intrigued us a lot. We also really liked the idea that an online game would be alive and always evolving. We are able to react quickly to requests from users or new gaming trends.

Developing the game with the players is a lot more rewarding than the old way where you keep everything secret until it's finished. You get to create a game that people want to play because they have been part of shaping it. If you don't get that feedback during development, then it leaves you with the only option of throwing millions in marketing after the players to convince them that they like the game.

Heroes & Generals - paratroopers
It seems like H&G devs are making an effort to connect with the beta community on a deeper level than is typically seen in this industry. How difficult is it to marry the team's design ideas with things that the community asks for?

Easy! There are a lot of great ideas being discussed among the community on our forums, and we are reading a lot of that and also trying to join the discussions as much as possible. We would love to be even more involved in the discussions, but we also have to spend time developing the game.

It's not like we're trying to have the community design the entire game for us. That probably wouldn't work. Instead we're listening to their comments and suggestions to make sure we're not going in the wrong direction. And occasionally a really great idea pops up too, and we incorporate it into the game. The feedback here is way better than the feedback you would get from focus tests and internal QA.

Heroes & Generals - game director Jacob AndersenFrom what I saw of the game in closed beta, it's pretty polished relative to a lot of MMOs at similar points in the development process. Are most of your core features in the current build, or are there lots more things you'd like to include prior to release (or after release)?

We feel that we have most core features in place (hence the beta tag), but a lot of polishing and balancing is required still. Obviously we'll keep adding features in the future, also after launch.

Do you have a general timetable for open beta and release, or is it simply "when it's ready"?

Right now our goal is to stabilize the game and prepare it for scalability so we are able to handle a lot of players before we go into open beta. We can't really say much about how long that will take and how long we'll keep the game in open beta before it is final. And even after release, we'll keep adding new features and more content, so the lines are quite blurred here.

Does the team have any concerns about the long-term sustainability of the free-to-play model? Are you finding that a majority of the beta community supports the development with war bonds or is it mainly a few people who make large contributions?

We expect the F2P model to be the industry standard within a few years, with only a few giants being able to continue with a subscription or box model. My guess is that you'll see the quality of F2P games increase dramatically over the next year or two. Right now our biggest concern is the dreaded pay-to-win, but it's something everybody is focused on.

We're trying to make a fair and balanced F2P system, where you cannot buy your way to an advantage but can choose to specialize in one area at the cost of another area. So if you, for instance, modify your weapon so it shoots faster, it might be at the cost of a decreased damage. The same applies to the vehicles and Assault Teams modifications, when implemented.

Anything you'd like to communicate to our readers?

If you want to help us shape Heroes & Generals into the game you want to play, then head over to the official site and sign up for a beta key!

Sounds good -- thanks for talking to us!

The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.
This article was originally published on Massively.