Interview and Exclusive look at Wargame Airland Battle

We met up with Alexis Le Dressay - CEO Eugen Systems and got a hands on feel of what Airland Battle is set to offer. Jets, RTS, Dynamic Campaign and top notch Graphics. We look at it all.

This week I was invited to the London press release of Wargame Airland Battle. To be one of the first to get my hands on the exclusive reveal was a rewarding experience. I have of course, played the critically acclaimed RTS which is Wargame European Escalation, and I approached Airland Battle with an open mind. Not only did I get to see Airland Battle, but I also got to play the original on a touchpad.
The name was chosen after the US doctrine “Airland”, the merging of Land troops and Air together. Instead of Air vs Air or Air bombing, this was a combination of forces at the same time. True to the Cold War, Airland Battle had a historical approach with realism in mind. With ammo and fuel supplies, line of sight in a realistic manner and morale of units, Airland Battle takes its predecessor and polishes it to greatness.

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    At the press release I sat down with the CEO of Eugen Systems, Alexis Le Dressay.

Alex Brown - RTSGuru: Whilst hugely successful for an RTS, European Escalation was perhaps one of the most underrated gems of 2012. Tell me a bit about what Airland Battle brings to the table.
Alexis Le Dressay - CEO Eugen Systems: The Cold War era is fascinating to me, and we are again looking at “what ifs” in the Cold War era. We have aimed at two goals: “Cold War” and “Mechanised War”. With Nato and the Warsaw pact you get to fight over Scandinavia in a very open, dynamic campaign. Now with 10 nations and over 750 units we have included airplanes. We have introduced a realistic rendering system and with our new engine “IrisZoom” we have reproduced the game maps from satellite views. The graphics have been improved.
Alexis booted up a level and demonstrated the zoomed out level and loaded up an old favourite song, “Highway to Hell”. Flying around the world he zoomed right out to show an almost photographic image of the area, then zoomed right in to see drainpipes, dirt and flowers growing amongst the houses. Comparing my experience of EE to AB, it was a major improvement. From a cold bland map the gameplay was the true focus of EE, yet with AB I found myself lost looking at hills, roads and highly detailed brooks.

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    [b]RTSGuru: [/b]How many new maps do you have and will you be featuring old favourites as we see here?

Alexis: We have 30 new maps and some of the most popular maps are remade from European Escalation.
RTSGuru: The map looks impressive, how do the units look?
Alexis: Check out the Apache, we have it so detailed that if we fire one of its 8 hellfire missiles you’ll actually see the now missing missile. All the units have been redesigned with smoke plumes, heat vapour trails, new HD textures and improved spectacular graphics.
Alexis flew the Apache around, reigning death on the various buildings and tanks. The battlefield features persistent wreckage, leaving a once-peaceful cornfield littered with old Russian tanks. I was itching to give the game a go myself. Before I could ask, he had jets screaming across the sky.
Alexis: We have multiple classes of jets: interceptors, harriers, bombers and so on. The aircraft are based off the map, and when they run out of fuel or ammo they leave the map to go back to the base to fuel up. We did this for realism and the time limit is fairly balanced.
As he spoke Alexis ordered his Harrier to do a flyby with its cannon at a formation of tanks. He zoomed to the plane as it lined up its target: “As you can see it needs to line up, and the engine creates realistic flight and movement.”

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    [b]RTSGuru[/b]: Can a plane crash into hills or buildings?

Alexis: No, that would be annoying so we’ve set it to automatically adjust its altitude.
RTSGuru: European Escalation has been named as one of the benchmarks for RTS games in 2012. What has Airland Battle taken from EE?
Alexis: We’ve improved resupply to be selectable to supply individual ammo, spare parts or fuel. In addition we’ve disabled resupplies if in combat. We’ve made the environment burnable, so units hiding in forests can be burnt out. We’ve also redesigned the urban combat and building combat.
Alexis spawned some infantry troops and highlighted a building. A zone appeared where a selection of buildings were classed as a “block”. The units then garrisoned in the building and the group of three houses provided line of sight all around. Alexis went on to explain that before, you’d have to get units to building-hop to cover all angles, but now you can cover everything in a more user-friendly fashion.

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    [b]RTSGuru[/b]: One of the major criticisms of European Escalation was the steep and almost unfriendly learning experience. How have you tackled this for the sequel?

Alexis: We’ve introduced a tonne of new visual cues with range indicators and a new tutorial system. The first six missions slowly unlock new vehicles, forcing you to learn how to use the units efficiently. Once you’ve passed those, the solo campaign opens up to be completely dynamic.
RTSGuru: European Escalation was praised for its multiplayer mode, deck system and deep mechanics. It was, however, criticised for its solo play. How have you improved singleplayer?
Alexis: No one wants a mission like “Destroy the bridge” … that’s boring. You want control, free range and a dynamic system. Similar to the Total War games we have a campaign map.
Alexis booted up a screen with Scandinavia on show. Gesturing to two ports in Norway he continued.
Alexis: Your overall goal is to gain control of these two ports to stop the control of the seas. It’s up to you how you do this and you issue orders at 06:00 each day. The orders then play out with the outcome revealing in real time, and conflicts and issues becoming battles.

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    [b]RTSGuru[/b]: Do you plan to release Airland Battle on any other platforms?

Alexis: It is likely we’ll release the game on Linux, and who knows what Steambox will offer?
RTSGuru: I had a quick play of the original EE on a touchscreen laptop, do you feel players can offer competitive challenge to PC users?
Alexis: Oh yes.
I personally disagreed, the touchscreen felt great to use and it reminded me of the video trailers for R.U.S.E. The touchscreen was responsive and easily intuititve. I felt however that a traditional mouse and keyboard offered the full control you’d expect in an RTS game. Who’d drop hotkeys for touchscreen?
The touchscreen laptops ran on DELL XPs12 and a Lenovo Yoga 13, both Ultrabooks that used the basic Intel Chipsets. Working alongside Intel, EE has been optimised to run smoothly on said intel chipsets. The touchscreen is available now in a free patch.

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    [b]RTSGuru[/b]: When will beta be available?

Alexis: Within the next three weeks the beta version will be coming to the PC.
RTSGuru: Thank you for your time.

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    European Escalation has prided itself in being a highly detailed game, and in their efforts to open the game up to newcomers, Eugen Systems has not lost anything in the exchange. With new graphics, a polished engine and a friendly visual, Airland Battle is set to be a big hit.

The gameplay was almost exactly the same as EE, and the jets were a great addition. After an hour of playing I soon realised I didn’t even register the graphical improvements but rather enjoyed the new vehicles and tactics. With limited planes I found AntiAir to be a highly valuable unit. Playing an almost all-British force I felt a kinship to my units, something that Airland has aimed to supply by providing nation-specific units.
Even after the incredibly impressive graphics I couldn’t help shake the feeling that Airland was just a polished version of European Escalation and if it was not for the new engine I’d question the choice for a sequel over an expansion. One thing for sure though, I’ll be playing this when it comes out. Stay tuned for Beta announcement in a few weeks.