Quinn Duffy: I do really like the way Sega approaches their development. They want Relic to be a craft-led studio, managing our own creative process and having more ownership of the game from beginning to end, including areas typically outside traditional development, like PR or marketing.
This means that Relic has to grow – we don’t have these positions internally. We’ve been building up the studio slowly hiring metrics analysts and our new GM who will lead a lot of the future efforts. But the independence is very interesting and challenging – Relic needs to make money, and we need to find the ways to do that while building our games, building relationships with the community, and making our games better all the time.
COH2.ORG: Relic has just turned 15 and you've been with them nearly all that time. This is your first release as 'Game Director'; you've mentioned before that it's not a very common role within developers - did you settle well into the role and enjoy the pressure? Would you like to do it again?
Quinn Duffy: I think in some ways I’m uniquely suited for this role on this team – I was on COH a long time ago and remember what our goals were and I have a particular interest in military history that helps bring some guidance to the presentation elements of the game. There are still a lot of things to learn about a role like this; how not to bottleneck decisions, how to continually message the creative vision, how to balance my desire to dig into the game details with the need to stay at a higher level…those are all challenges. But I enjoyed it, and I like the game we created, and I like our plans for the future.
COH2.ORG: Given all the feedback on the various forums, it's clear to see they had some influence on your direction. Where did you draw the line, be it time constraints or technical, and will you be continuing to draw from community feedback?
Quinn Duffy: Time constraints and cost (which covers technical challenges) are always a consideration. You always have to weigh the benefit of cost versus benefit…and there’s the short term costs and long term cost. You might want a feature that will work now, but cause endless headaches in the future as you try to create new gameplay within existing systems. That was a huge challenge on COH2 – how much could we redo from COH, how much of the COH gameplay could we maintain, how many of the systems would we need to modify/tear out/rewrite? You live with those decisions for years afterwards because they can lock you into a development path that’s hard to deviate from.
Back to the point – of course we listen to the community and of course they have influence…within reason. Some things are cost constrained, some are creatively constrained, some feedback is too premature (i.e. it takes time for the game to find some balance), some feedback is just ludicrous or mean spirited. We’re trying to find some more direct ways of finding that feedback, so we’re going to get a test server up and running and be able to more rapidly iterate on feedback without breaking the main game.
COH2.ORG: There have been a lot of features that have been asked for, and of course the chaps privy to your 'roadmap' have simply sat there, smiled and said, 'exciting!'. Clearly the replay functionality is being worked on - how have you prioritised work after release? Is it from number of requests or something else?
Quinn Duffy: There are a number of ways we prioritize. What’s the most requested feature? What do our key communities want? Who’s here at Relic that can work on it? Is someone on holiday or sick? What’s the scope of effort? Can we do something short term and build on it, or does it require an ‘all or nothing’ fix?
COH2.ORG: You've previously stated that mortars are your favourite unit. Could you be found hanging over the devs' shoulders 'encouraging' them to make them more OP?
Quinn Duffy: Haha. No. I just like the presentation of mortars. But I think the reality is if we built our battlefields in keeping with traditional tactics and doctrines there would be such a preponderance of artillery and fire support that things would get messy. A typical Soviet Mortar Company would use roughly six 82mm mortars firing somewhere between 15-20 rounds each to support an attack on an axis roughly equivalent to the width of the Moscow Outskirts map. You want OP? We haven’t seen OP.
COH2.ORG: Who writes all the dialogue when you click on a unit? In vCoH they were great, and I'm glad to see that tradition continued (Current fave: "I am missing a biscuit. Stealing is not the Soviet way, Comrades!").
Quinn Duffy: We had a narrative designer and a contract writer do the bulk of the writing and I wrote several hundred lines for each side – mostly the ambient chatter stuff.
COH2.ORG: Some of the more esoteric areas of the Eastern Front were covered by Donovan Webster in his book 'Aftermath: The Remnants of war'. Will you be looking to release maps that match up to that which became the 'bone fields'?
Quinn Duffy: Maybe. My guide for Theater of War in the next few years (and I honestly think it’ll take that long to cover everything) is ‘Absolute War’ by Chris Bellamy. It’ll give us a really interesting roadmap. We’ll have to figure out the best ways to deliver some of these stories though – Kursk would be an amazing battle to cover, but we can’t pack dozens of tanks into our maps, so we’ll have to find some details of those battles that COH2 can really do well.
COH2.ORG: In Aftermath & Dan Carlin's 4 part series called 'Ghosts of the Ostfront' on his Hard core History podcast, an exceptionally challenging environment was highlighted - Carlin in particular is a very involving historian and paints the bleakness and brutality of the battles incredibly well. I know for sure that I get chills listening to it. Are you happy with the feel and scale of COH2 now that it's released?
Quinn Duffy: Yes, a great podcast. I’m happy with parts. We tried larger unit numbers, but realistically speaking players can only control so much…unless we radically changed the game, and we didn’t want to do that. So we like the scale and the continuing focus on the tactical combat. Tonally, I think COH2 does a better job than COH. I think we captured the tone of war in a more complete way – it feels more kinetic, more violent, I like the audio and the effects and how they deliver the full experience. But there are still steps to move towards delivering something more compelling in terms of narrative and the Theater of War gives us a great opportunity to fill in some of the blanks.
COH2.ORG: Have the sales matched up to expectations? I realise actual figures will be confidential.
Quinn Duffy: We don’t typically talk about sales, but I’m personally very pleased. I think our concurrency peak is record-breaking for Relic.
COH2.ORG: How do you feel about the (largely negative) way players have reacted to the day 1 DLC?
Quinn Duffy: At first I was a little bummed out, but then I realize in this internet day and age that what people say (‘I hate DLC and I hate Relic’) and what they do (buy DLC) is really at odds. Ultimately, the Day 1 DLC offers what was available in the Collector’s Edition but I think our communication around that wasn’t quite clear. The fact is that Relic can provide some content for free (MP maps for example) but free life-time support for a game isn’t sustainable.
We’re also new at this, but we’re gathering some good data to help us make better content that players want.
COH2.ORG: Did you watch any of the TFN Competition? Did you think either faction played more strongly than the other?
Quinn Duffy: A little bit, but we had our ‘Canada Day’ long weekend. As a card-carrying Canadian I’m obligated to support local beer producers. What I did see was a pretty formidable Soviet opening game.
COH2.ORG: Did the TFN competition provide valuable balancing feedback?
Quinn Duffy: Absolutely. Some of our balance designers were in the competition. And the community put together some really good data for the various games that we’ll use to look at. I know the maxim of balancing for the pros is tossed around a lot, but balance changes at the pro level can have a really big impact on the casual base. So we’ll dig into our metrics and see where the balance is based on skill – the tourney was a great data point, but I’d like to see our own data too and what kinds of questions we can answer from the collective whole.
My sense is we have to nudge a few things but be careful doing it. It’s early days. But we’ll get our test server up and start working through some things with community feedback – eventually I’d like to run a full public test server.
COH2.ORG: What do you think are three things that the original Company of Heroes did differently from other RTS games that made it fun? How well do you think those carry over to Company of Heroes 2?
Quinn Duffy: These are really interesting questions. Games are a sum of their parts, so I’ll talk about what I feel are big impacts on fun that you might not think about (people talk about balance and army design and stuff like that but I don’t think that’s the foundational stuff).
Firstly – and most importantly - we de-abstracted some of the combat and core mechanics of strategy games. We try to give things a plausible context and a presentation value that takes you into the gameplay and combat in a way that hadn’t really been done in the real time environment. And we took the game way out of the spreadsheet – there was a big focus on ‘feel’ driven by our approach to the historical content as much as possible. We tried to make the game more WYSIWIG driven (what you see is what you get) and add the random craziness that happens on the battlefield.
Secondly we made the game look and sound unlike anything else at that point.
Lastly, I’d say depth of detail. How often do you hear a piece of speech you’ve never heard. The game is full of that stuff.
Fundamentally, all of these things carry over to COH2 because this is where we see the lineage and what makes COH…COH. These are things that I would not compromise on.
COH2.ORG: What do you think are three things that the original Company of Heroes did that weren't effective? How well do you think Company of Heroes 2 fixed those things?
Quinn Duffy: Oh, tough one. My list as a developer will be different than my list as a player. As a developer I’d say that COH was almost impossible to extend – we would have found it very hard to add new features, new code, new armies, new systems, new UI. Because it was so complex, it was always difficult to add to the game.
There were a lot of obtuse combat rules – it had flavor, but there was such a challenging array of benefits gleaned from hidden knowledge and that hurts your potential player base.
Maps were hard to build and very expensive…okay, I’m grasping at straws here.
The reality is, there isn’t much about the gameplay of COH that I can really complain about. A lot of what we changed in COH2 was to make it easier for us to balance what we had and to make more COH stuff by extending the game and provide more breadth. But we also wanted to add things we wanted in COH but couldn’t do – cooler environmental destruction and gameplay, vaulting, True Sight, a bigger focus on context and more kinetic battlefields.
COH2 improves some of these things, but we’re totally not there on accessible information yet – de-mystifying some of the combat rules for more casual players. In fact, I think we went backwards a bit – there’s a real focus on numbers, but they’re so hard to interpret without knowing the whole story and that’s something we struggle with reconciling. I’d love to get more stats in the game, but the gameplay is so situational that stats are completely meaningless half the time. For example, an HMG is really effective vs infantry…but only if it’s facing the right way. We have to find solutions for that kind of thing.
COH2.ORG: What was the thought process behind removing things like Supply Yard upgrades, BARs, and purchasable veterancy from the tech tree, forcing everyone to quick tech to vehicles and tanks because that's the only thing fuel can be used for?
Quinn Duffy: I love leading questions. Okay, I’ll bite. I’ll at least demonstrate that some of these things were probably accidental – I mean there was thought put into them at the time, but these were solutions to fix issues we felt – given time - we might have solved in other ways. Or maybe COH would have sucked without supply yards. Our economy is challenging to build a game around so we ran into things we weren’t quite expecting. Anyway, these are my memories;
I personally viewed the Supply Yard as a failure of our ability to balance the amount of fuel in the game and to offer good gating to the motorpool and armor company. It came in late, and it was a bit odd. If we’d been a bit smarter or had a bit more time we might not have gone that route. It’s also not particularly cost effective for players – it takes a really long time to pay off the higher priced supply upgrades.
Global passive upgrades like the BAR are a pain in the butt to balance – so we kept jamming more and more fuel on to it until it felt like a choice. BARs used to be squad level upgrades. You could choose BARs or Thompsons but that was viewed as onerous by some people. I felt the upgrades gave us a great little mix of longer range damage and suppression mixed with riflemen armed with Thompsons to close in. The tactical play was really cool.
Purchasable veterancy we just saw as a bit silly to carry to COH2. Like the BAR, it’s something that pays off in ways that are massive as you build more and more units. It becomes infinitely cost effective, so Germans could really start to steamroll. With COH2 we wanted to get to a vet system that had consistent inputs – damage basically – and all armies gained unit vet the same way. We had four unique vet systems in COH and that was just too much.
COH2.ORG: Why were buildings rebalanced to provide such massive protection against small arms fire, and why was their health/resistance to collapse weakened so much, compared to the original Company of Heroes?
Quinn Duffy: Primarily because they offered incredible protection in real life. I would actually submit they collapse far more often. The new destruction system needs a few tweaks. Many of the Soviet buildings have fewer windows and openings, so while you’re taking less damage in a building, you’re also dishing out less in many cases. That being said, buildings are on our list to look at.
COH2.ORG: In choosing which features to bring over from OF, why pick Button Vehicle?
Quinn Duffy: Firstly because it’s actually true. An effective counter to enemy tanks is to shoot out their vision blocks when they’re in combat. The crew literally has to stop and change them out and that takes several seconds. Secondly it’s an ability that promotes combined arms tactics. The Guards can do it, but it’s hard for them to actually kill a heavily armored tank – but an AT gun or another tank can help.
COH2.ORG: Why do Soviet mortars fire with only one crew member?
Quinn Duffy: The 120mm mortar does – that was primarily an animation constraint because of how the 120mm mortar is handled in the sim.
COH2.ORG: Do you think cover was too effective, just right, or not effective enough in infantry fights in vCoH? Do you think it is the same in COH2?
Quinn Duffy: I think COH didn’t have quite enough variety of cover in key locations. There’s a lot of heavy cover so that’s the default basically. COH2 has a lot of light cover – they didn’t build many stone walls in poor Russian villages. Anyway, there’s some balance in between there somewhere. I don’t think the cover modifiers are any different so it feels like distribution – less green cover.
COH2.ORG: Why does barbed wire require the enemy to research something if they want to cut it without getting a vehicle?
Quinn Duffy: Because it actually might last longer than a minute or two! Barbed wire has about a 2 minute lifespan on the battlefield, which was one of the reasons we were trying the barbed wire fields. Luckily the hazard removal packages also include mine detectors.
COH2.ORG: In what ways do you think TrueSight makes the game better? Do you think it has any downsides?
Quinn Duffy: We’re definitely not done with TrueSight. I like the system – it’s relatively easy to understand, it adds some new tactics like ambush and great combat around buildings, and when people start making maps they’ll really be able to take advantage of it. If there are any downsides, one might be not knowing which of your units can see an enemy unit…but I think the upsides are really compelling.
COH2.ORG: How has the removal of target tables changed how certain match-ups tend to play out, if at all? What has changed the most now that target tables are gone?
Quinn Duffy: It hasn’t really affected the core game, although there are outliers in place where I wish we had more control – differentiating a couple more weapon types would help. But target tables led to a lot of lazy balance (mostly by yours truly). We could change the relationship of very specific units but over time, the rules are lost, problems are hard to debug, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Plus it’s a data nightmare adding new armies and was one of the reasons we couldn’t realistically do mirror-matches.
COH2.ORG: Why do most of the Intel Bulletins provide such negligible buffs? For example a 3% discount on a satchel charge is only saving 1.5 munitions.
Quinn Duffy: Because they weren’t designed solely to provide buffs. I always saw it as a way to add some flavor, add an educational opportunity, and another way to give players targets to help them learn the game and various unit relationships. I like the idea of rewarding achievements with something gameplay related, but we didn’t want to break balance so we chose smaller bonus numbers.
COH2.ORG: Full health tanks sometimes fall through the ice after taking a shot to the hull. If the tank is getting hit and not the ice surface, why would that cause the ice to break?
Quinn Duffy: Most shots do AOE damage and they’ll damage the ice too. The bigger the tank, the more damage the ice takes, so I would expect to see more big tanks with high health going through the ice. It’s a risk.
COH2.ORG: The NKVD doctrine commander currently feels very underpowered compared to the others. Is there a possibility that commander abilities will be modified even after release so that they will be better balanced?
Quinn Duffy: Some of them – we’ll be looking at Commanders the same way we review other parts of the game. We’ll balance command points for example and try to figure out why certain commanders feel underpowered or have less utility. Could also be that not all commanders have found their place in the gameplay routines of the community. It’s an ongoing process and the answer might be to tune, tweak, or just create something new.
COH2.ORG: Do you think that the player base could be better served by releasing information about your anti-cheat measures by following the practice of full disclosure (as related to IT security vulnerabilities being made public as they are found), or will they be kept confidential?
Quinn Duffy: Oh, I have no idea. The old adage of forewarned is fore-armed might come into play here – what information is of use to cheaters and will it help them or not? Will the same information help the community or not. I think what I’d like to see is finding ways for the public to help police the game. Replay tools for instance that could help identify cheaters. I will take to my grave a lack of understanding of what motivates a cheater…I just don’t get it.
COH2.ORG: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, and for your candor throughout this interview! To carry on an ancient tradition, I must now quickfire a few questions at you. What's your favourite food?
Quinn Duffy: Varies. Lately? Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches.
COH2.ORG: Favourite drink?
Quinn Duffy: Double Stoli Vodka on the rocks, wedge of lime.
COH2.ORG: Favourite Cigar?
Quinn Duffy: The one you are smoking with good friends.
COH2.ORG: Smooth answer! And finally, favourite war movie?
Quinn Duffy: Does The World at War count as a war movie? It really helped form my interest in WW2 History.