Ubisoft EndWar Interview Feature
We chat with Ubisoft Shangai's Michael de Plater about making shouting at your TV a good thing, and how Pandemic nearly beat the team to the punch.
For all the interesting things Nintendogs does, what put me off the game was the amount of chatting involved. Talking to my real-life cat is one thing, but cajoling a virtual dalmation into fetching a toy is quite another. As i walked into the posh Soho Hotel in central London, I wondered whether throwing war into the mix would break my shy spell.
EndWar is a console real-time strategy game being developed by Ubisoft's studio in Shangai. There creative director Michael de Plater and his team have spent the last few years working out a way to make shouting at your television not only enjoyable but a natural part of gameplay. So far they seem to have it mostly right.
My first few minutes with the game were shakey. Like a baby learning to walk, I took a few distressing steps into a new world as onlookers - aka Ubisoft's attentive staff - gauged my performance. I held down the right shoulder button on the Xbox 360 controller, priming the ears of my squad in the battle space. "Unit one, move to alpha," I heard myself say. And just like that, a trio of gunships veered off to the left towards their mark.
EndWar is the ultimate lazy person's war game. Armed with a microphone and a keen battle sense, you can get away with very little manual work. The game was able to recognize not only my South African accent and De Plater's Australian one but the British and other accents assembled on the day too, all without missing a beat.
If there's a negative side to the voice commands, it's that they're not all intuitively arranged. I kept shouting the Camera command in the wrong order, and from the racket around me, I could hear I wasn't the only one. But that's something that will come with practise.
Something else that will hopefully come after putting in more time with the game is the confidence to handle the flow of battle. De Plater's deft tongue can do wondrous things to any skirmish, but I found the learning curve to be steep, and after more tha half an hour I was still far from confident. But unlike with most other real-time strategy games, I actually want to get better in EndWar.
To find out more about this intriguing game and to learn more about the development process, I cornered De Plater for 15 minutes for a quick chat about EndWar.
Kikizo: What you've been showing here today is looking interesting. I wasn't really sure about what to expect when I got here. Can you tell me what your plans are for a PC release? I know it's been planned as a console game.
Michael de Plater: I really think the distinction between console and PC are getting pretty irrelevant now. All the games that would have been PC games five years ago, shooters like BioShock and Mass Effect and even Call of Duty, they all lead on console now. So it's basically the same as that. We'll do a PC version. I think Mass Effect was quite good. They followed up with the PC version, made a few tweaks to customize and adapt it for that. I think that was a good approach.
Kikizo: But in the past you've mainly worked on PC as your lead platform, right?
De Plater: Well, I started off doing EA Sports.
Kikizo: Oh yeah? Which ones did you work on?
De Plater: I worked on all the Australian ones, so I did Rugby League and Cricket and Australian Rules Football. It was kind of good, since we were doing three games a year, every year, and those were all console. And then it was funny. Every one said, Your experience is sports games, what are you doing at strategy games? And then we did Shogun, of course, and then suddenly all we know how to do is PC strategy games, so I think it's just people pigeonholing [us]. I think, especially the experience with this game and it being so collaborative, like getting to work with people who's main experience is tactical shooter or Clancy games or console games. Basically all games now are cross-genre games. I think ever since [Grand Theft Auto] all games are cross-genre games. So Mass Effect's like a shooter and GTA's a driving game.
Kikizo: What was the main starting point behind the storyline?
De Plater: The starting point for the storyline was to have big, kickass land battles in iconic location, and the blocking point to that was that we wanted a World War II-scale end-of-the-world apocalyptic conflict that was realistic and that took place between real superpowers. We didn't want America versus a third world country. We wanted genuine superpower rivals.