Empire Earth 3

Empire Earth III to the games Senior Producer Jeff Buccellato. Jeff was very gracious in taking the time to answer all of our questions about what is shaping up to be one of the biggest titles of 07 as well as a must have for fans of Real Time Strategy games and the Empire Earth Series. I would like to thank Jeff for taking the time from his busy schedule to answer the questions.

What is the background and setting for the game and how much continuity is there from the last game in the series?

Jeff: The Empire Earth franchise from Sierra Entertainment has always been about commanding the entire span of history and beyond. With Empire Earth 3, we’ve moved forward to actually put in the “Earth” in “Empire Earth”. With a detailed globe of the world to conquer in a seamless and continuous experience, removing the concept of scenarios and campaigns found in other RTS titles, Empire Earth 3 will continue to give players command of empires and expand them as they see fit and now let you keep everything from the resources they collect, the wealth they generate, what they’ve build up, and all the spoils of war in a fully persistent world.

What are some of the unit types players will use and are there mega weapons?

Jeff: Empire Earth 3 maintains the familiar unit types found in its predecessors with infantry, cavalry, naval, mortar, siege, spies, heroes, priests (a soft spot for these as I love converting opponents’ units and throwing them back at them), etc.

This time around, playing from a global down to the territory perspective just begs for mega weapons, doesn’t it? Empire Earth 3 takes full advantage of this with additional, realized functionality from the global view. This meta-map view not only lets a player expand his empire across the globe one or more provinces at a time, manage his global economy and his provincial governors, but offers him opportunity to research such mega weapons as “Scorched Earth” (if you’re going to loose a province to an invader, make sure there’s nothing left to lose!) and “Shock and Awe” that takes carpet bombing to a new scale. That’s just from the global view. From the province view, things get nasty with the typical items of destruction such as warheads to the Quantum Singularity Gun (a “QSG” by any other name is still localized, mass destruction indiscriminant of what and whose units and structures it takes out in its swirling vortex).

How is resource gathering handled for the game?

Jeff: Empire Earth 3’s predecessors provided recipes of resource ingredients necessary for unit/structure creation. This gave diversity and game play to the maps with resources ranging from trees to uranium, depending on the epoch and make for a slower paced game. With Empire Earth 3, we knew we wanted to truly “conquer the world” yet we didn’t want to slog through provinces having to manage that type of cookbook building of units and structures. We do keep the diversity of resource collection with forests to fish to harvest; they just all end up into a single raw materials pile. We also provide a means to generate wealth that doesn’t use the environment so much as it relies on players to set up trade routes between their markets, natives, and other civilizations. Empire Earth 3 moves away from the micro-management of specific resources to just two types used in the recipes to create players empires providing more focus and attention to world domination.

What graphic engine is the game using, and what does it allow you to do that was not possible in the previous game?

Jeff: We have rewritten the Empire Earth 2 engine from the ground up, and added a number of features. We support Shader Model 3, which lets us do a number of different and cool visual effects. We incorporated normal mapping into the engine, which we have used on units and buildings to great effects. We have physics in the game, so buildings will explode very satisfactorily, units go flying when hit with explosions, ships bob on the ocean, and tanks recoil when firing. We added an ambient occlusion texture to the buildings, which integrates them with their environment very nicely. There are also a number of smaller touches that will set the game apart from its predecessor: procedural grass, water flow and improved shore effects, a much improved water system that allows for multi-level water, dynamic lights attached to effects, and a fantastic new particle system and toolset.

What forms of multiplay will we see, and can players set their tech level higher than the AI, should they wish to?

Jeff: Without a doubt we will have Multiplayer skirmish with up to 8 players while having basic to advanced control providing customization of game play. This includes setting different tech levels for players and AI alike, AI difficulty and player handicapping, amounts of resources, relics, treasures, and tribes found on the map, etc. We continue to explore other multiplayer methods that take full advantage of both the game’s rules and parameters we are developing and the extensive beta test Empire Earth III has. We will also offer ladders, anonymous matchmaking, and extensive stats tracking of game elements (which units get used the most, what game maps have the most play).
What is your favorite strategy to use in the game, and what is your favorite unit?

Jeff: This is a tough question, especially how the game play continues to evolve, the regions we have in the game, and the tuning and balancing going in. In Empire Earth 3, we pulled back from the homogenous, multiple civilizations found in its predecessors after listening to the criticisms that they all felt essentially the same. Empire Earth 3 has 3 regions, Western, Far Eastern, and Middle Eastern, with their own distinct methods of play, unique tech trees, units, and structures. The West is geared towards a slow and steady method of play while the Far East has rushing built into it. The Middle East seems to be always on the move with a good blend of units and most structures that can pack up and move out when desired. We went farther than before with the units allow most of them to be upgraded with an additional ability or two for further customization and strategy within a region.

As for a favorite unit, there’s a Western Swordsman that captures the look and feel of the game while kicking ass with a stylized armor and long sword that I fell in love with at the concept phase. I’m torn though between him and the Middle East’s camel cavalry unit with its fast movement and surprise camel stench ability (let your imagination run just a little just like any units standing near it when you fire off that ability!).

Weather has played a large part in strategy and battles in the past two games. How do you plan to implement weather conditions in the game and what can players look forward to?

Jeff: Weather looks great in Empire Earth 3. We took to heart criticisms of Empire Earth 2 that the weather was too “in your face”, and we will continue to work with beta testers to make sure that game play is never compromised by obscuring units. But we do have a robust and detailed weather system with rain, snow, fog, sandstorms, wind and lightning. Each different climate type has its own mild and heavy weather and the weather effects are always playing on the maps in a gentle way, which gives the maps a very nice sense of place.

In games of this type, A.I. is often critical for the success of a game. How has the A.I. for the game been setup and what features will it include?

Jeff: We have rewritten a large section of the AI for Empire Earth 3, and have added the concept of Low Level AI strategies. We modeled these largely on the way that humans tend to play RTS games. An example of low level strategies might be forward building a base, rushing an enemy’s production buildings, or defending your resource sites. Built on top of these we have high level strategies, like booming or turtling. The AI uses the low level strategies as building blocks for the high level. But you can never be sure exactly what the AI will do, because (just like human players), they have tendencies rather than hard and fast rules for how to play.

What new units can players look forward to?

Jeff: While some units will be returning from previous Empire Earth games (this is a “historical” RTS after all), many will feel completely new, both in visualization and play. For the most part every unit in Empire Earth 3 will be new from the earlier era bowmen (and bow women) to the updated and more powerful Hercs of the West and new genetically & cybernetic enhanced Far East soldiers of the near-future.

What sort of missions and campaigns will players face?

Jeff: Empire Earth 3 moves away from the traditional mission and campaign approach (the “load the next map in the campaign only to start from scratch and be force fed what to do game play) and focuses the play on free-form interaction with the environments (4 separate and distinct locals from the artic, frozen tundra, arid, sand-sweeping deserts, temperate places teaming with ambient life, to lush tropics enriched with dense jungles and flowing waterfalls) and with quests. Similar to World of Warcraft, by Blizzard Entertainment, players encounter opportunities that send them on missions with some blooming into large, multiple-province quests as it leads them across the globe. These missions and quests can be completely ignored by the player too, if desired (although the designers are putting a lot of heart and soul into them and trying at least a few will make them a happier bunch). How a player takes his empire to the end of its journey with world domination waiting for him is more the results of his actions and decisions and less that of the game designers. A player’s experience with his empire is truly his own civilization’s history and nobody else’s in Empire Earth 3.

What sort of musical score will the game have?

Jeff: Empire Earth 3 will have an interactive music style as opposed to a traditional score. We wanted to bring an approach similar to what some shooters have down where the player is brought further into the game with the music. When the player engages in a battle the music will swell and when the player is just exploring the music will help tell the story of the search.

What were some of the biggest challenges in creating the game and your greatest triumphs?

Jeff: Combining the turn based elements of World Domination with Real Time Strategy and then combining them with a persistent world, turned out to be quite a challenge. The design team had to think long and hard about implications of their decisions and we ended up talking through and playing on paper, much of the World Dom design before we ever were able to play it on the computer. As a result I think we ended up with a much richer World level game play model than we would have otherwise, and it’s turning out to be a surprisingly fun aspect of the game as a whole.