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Cossacks II: Napoleon Wars Interview
Kyle 'Pezman' Peschel :: 12:25 AM @ February 22nd, 2005 :: In-House: Interviews
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Cossacks II: Napoleon Wars is an RTS with history, not only is it the 4th game in the series, but it also is focused on 19th century warfare. We managed to wound Mario Kroll with our bayonet and the Associate Producer at CDV and he spilled his guts, and details about this hot action title from GSC Gameworld.

GameGossip: Cossacks II: Napoleon Wars is the fourth title in the Cossacks series; tell us where you are taking the brand with this title.

Mario Kroll: Cossacks II is going to drop players onto the front lines of the early 19th century European battlefield. The original Cossacks: European Wars, and its expansions (The Art of War and Back to War) took place between the 15th and 18th centuries. The original games were straightforward (though excellent) RTS titles, with players battling to build quickly, gather resources and crush the opposition.

With Cossacks II, we�re adding a more strategic element to the game, much akin to what you�d see in tabletop games like Risk or Axis and Allies. We�ve also added elements of diplomacy and economy to the mix, which will allow players to do nasty things, like poison the wells and cut off enemy food supplies, weakening them before the first shot gets fired.

GG: The Napoleonic Wars seem like a logical step for the brand and one that has history buffs excited. Can you give us European history dropouts a refresher course about this era, and important battles we�ll see?
MK: I�m certainly no expert on the era myself, so I can relate. Let me give you the two-cent version as I do understand the backdrop in which Cossacks II is set:

During the late 18th and early 19th century much of Europe was at war (not that the previous centuries had transpired all that peaceably). For most of the twenty-two year period from 1793 to 1815, Britain clashed swords with France, initially over France�s declared imperial intentions, then to put a stop to the ambitious plans of expansion by a vertically-challenged Corsican by the name of Napoleon I, or, as we know him, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon dedicated his life to military service and excellence, often exhibiting brilliant strategic and tactical leadership, coupled with unbridled ambition. He began his military education at age nine and advanced in rank and responsibility to become a general by age 26 and emperor at 30. Ultimately he led France�s Grand Arm�e to wage war across Europe, into Egypt, and across Russia.

The events that transpired during Napoleon�s rule are often viewed as purely European, but in reality they affected nearly the entire globe. As an example, by 1812, the ill feelings between Britain and France surrounding naval blockades and trade embargoes had escalated, sparking the fierce but short War of 1812 (to 1814) in which the United States fought against Great Britain for possession of what is present-day Canada.

By 1812, Napoleon realized that, due to British naval supremacy, a successful invasion of England was an improbable goal; he instead turned his focus east and invaded Russia with his massive army. Nearly 500,000 French casualties later, Napoleon retreated back to France, hounded along the way by a determined army that included the fierce and proudly independent Cossacks, a native horseback warrior people from the Russian and Ukrainian steppes.

After his retreat from Russia, Napoleon abdicated the crown and was banished to a small island called Elba; it was not long, however, until Napoleon returned and again raised an army. In 1815, at the well-known battle of Waterloo, an allied British-Dutch army led by the Duke of Wellington, and supported by the Prussian army, soundly defeated Napoleon, ending the Corsican�s imperial ambitions once and for all.

In Cossacks II we�ve decided to take more of the historical inspiration from the era rather than focus on reenacting a huge number of predetermined actual battles. Out of the box we are including only six such pre-set battles; an additional four will be historically inspired battles, and we�re also including at least ten open-ended RTS style �skirmish� battles and a seven-mission linked campaign, of which the first two missions double as tutorial.

The battles we are including are, in chronological order, Egypt, Ulm, Austerlitz, Aspern-Essling, Preussisch-Eylau, and finally Wagram. While there are certainly many others we could have focused on, I feel that these are a solid representative sampling that place would-be armchair generals in a position of having to solve several challenging military obstacles.

GG: The previous releases were straight up RTS titles, tell us about this new �Turn Based� feature you are planning, and how it affects the game strategy.
MK: You are correct. The original title and the two expansions offered a largely �by the numbers� RTS experience but infused with a number of unique units and interesting settings from the annals of European history. For Cossacks II we�ve retained that option for fans of the original, but also expanded the choices significantly.

When playing in the �Battle for Europe� mode, Cossacks II becomes a refreshing blend of turn-based gaming in which diplomacy, economics, and strategic planning take precedence, with a fast-paced RTS interface where battles are resolved in real-time.

Each turn begins with an overview of the European map, which shows where both your enemies and allies are positioned and their relative territorial �possessions.� From this strategic map, you can perform various strategic and diplomatic actions in support of or against neighboring nations.

For example, you could play nasty and pay to have your enemy�s weapon caches destroyed, cut off his food supplies, or even poison his water supply. If you instead feel like playing the role of diplomat, you can open trade routes with neighboring nations, barter for rights of passage, strike peace treaties, or even �buy� their loyalty by persuading them to become your protectorate.

GG: What is the team�s take on resource management? How will it affect my armchair imperial tactics?
MK: There are multiple resources to manage in Cossacks II, each having a direct effect on your strategy. A good example of this is iron and coal�a lack of either will make it impossible for your troops to fire muskets or reload artillery. A lack of suitable building materials such as wood and stone will make it impossible to build structures such as barracks, and so you�ll be stuck with no way to generate more troops until that shortage is addressed.

A really important resource in the game, though not really something we actually call a resource, per se, is the peasantry of your nation. If you don�t have enough peasants, you can�t gather enough resources. A clever general might work hard to decimate your civilian population, thus making resource collection a vexing matter, to say the least.

Foodstuffs are also crucial, as large standing armies will rapidly consume what�s in your storehouses; once the rations are gone, your soldiers begin to fall as surely as if hit by enemy shots or skewered by bayonets.

Although resources are important, the management thereof has been significantly de-emphasizes so that one can concentrate on combat first and foremost, relying on the AI to take over many of the manual chores, with the exception of occasional peasant allocation tweaks, unless the player wishes to micromanage that aspect.

GG: How has working with a 3D engine allowed the team to expand the games scope? What sort of sparkly details will there be to cast a trance on us?
MK: The new game engine allows a significant improvement of visual detail of troops and terrain. We have significantly increased the number of troops you can now have on the battlefield�literally thousands of soldiers on one screen at the same time�all duking it out with muskets, bayonets light and heavy cavalry, and a wide range of artillery that includes howitzers, cannons, and even rocket artillery. Cannons fire balls in realistic trajectories and muskets puff smoke as volleys are shot; watching a thundering rush of highly disciplined cavalry in action is a thing of beauty to behold.
GG: Let�s talk AI; how many formations are available? How do troops react to long travel? Do they use roads sparingly or aggressively?
MK: There are three basic formations available once individual soldiers have been formed into a cohesive army. One is optimized for massing offensive fire, one for moving most efficiently, while the third provides no mobility but offers optimal defense against an enemy assault. Within these three formations there are a number of additional options such as having troops selectively fire only one row at a time rather than unloading in one fell swoop (and then being nearly defenseless until after a lengthy reloading process).

In Cossacks II, we have a fatigue system that is reflected directly in the morale of your troops. A long march across open terrain (as opposed to along roads) will tire out your troops, weakening their battle resolve. Thus, roads (and the selected formation) are very important to the aspiring emperor.

An army that�s well rested is far less likely to flee at the first musket shot than one who�s been grinding its way across unforgiving and cumbersome terrain. As for our use of roads, each map contains what we think is a realistic number of roadways, and your troops attempt to maximize their use when sensible, to keep them well-rested between clashes.

GG: Word on the battlefield is that you�ve increased the game�s scope to include over 150 unique units. How has that affected balancing?
MK: There are more than a hundred different types of units, including many unique ones for each of the six included nations. These range from relatively ineffective local militia and national guards all the way to units that possess (and have earned) a reputation so fierce that their mere appearance on the battlefield tests the resolve of their opponents.

Given the new time period in Cossacks II, the addition of new units was a no-brainer. Of course, we took into account gameplay balance, and have done our best to ensure that no one unit is ever going to dominate the game. For example, while heavy cavalry has never been fun to fight against, there are tactics that have worked well throughout history to counter their potential threat, and many of these are available and viable within Cossacks II.

GG: Sounds great! I�d like to start upgrading my computer now to play, what sort of system should I expect to need?
MK: Actually most recent computer from the past couple of years will play Cossacks II absolutely fine.

We suggest a minimum of a 1.5 GHz processor, a 64MB RAM video card, and at least 256 MB of memory. A 2.4 GHz processor with a 128MB video card and 512 MB of system RAM, or better, is what we�re suggesting as a system for optimum game play. We recommend a relatively recent video card from ATI or nVidia to ensure compatibility there as well.

GG: Retell your most triumphant victory you�ve played out thus far, we�re a sucker for details.
MK: Well, I don�t know how triumphant it was, but it was entertaining. During a recent press event we had just completed setting up the demo machines and were making sure that multiplayer LAN was working correctly. It was a skirmish battle between myself and a certain unnamed PR rep.

Our unnamed general, if you can call him that, felt there was no need to be concerned with cohesive battle formations, which are actually very important in the game. By forming individual soldiers into armies, you keep their morale high, and they receive better offense and defensive modifiers. I think I may have forgotten to mention that tidbit to him at the onset of the game, however. ;-)

In essence, a ragtag pack of men is no contest against a disciplined formation. Not realizing the mismatch, our PR friend pumped out dozens of low cost units and sent them in every direction conceivable in hopes of first finding and then harassing my army.

The harassment tactic worked�at least until I stopped laughing at the gnat-like attacks and ordered my troops to shoot back, scattering his rabble in all directions. While he had spent his resources on generating wave after wave of lowly militia and sending them as unorganized skirmishers, I�d built up reasonably well-disciplined and trained armies of musketeers, artillery and cavalry, waiting to meet his saunter into my territory.

Needless to say, the rest of the game was spent mopping up the stragglers he called soldiers while destroying his peasantry, capturing his villages, and taunting him across the table. At one point, he had only one soldier left, and the poor little fellow kept trying to bayonet soldiers at the tail end of my formation, until I ordered a few to turn about and lay some musket rounds into him.

For him, I think it was a lesson learned: formations will make or break your army, as will a good leader.

For more information on Cossacks II: Napoleon Wars be sure to check out the official website. Remember to look for this game on shelves around Mid April 2005.

Latest Similar Story: Interview Round-Up (03/16/06)

#1 - Ray Ban - 02/22/05 @ 08:40 AM EST
Interesting interview. It's good to have the in-house stuff back on track :)

BTW, have you considered reporting on new downloads? Driver updates, gamedemos and the like?
#2 - Apple - 02/22/05 @ 11:11 AM EST
interesting interview indeed. I didnt like the last cossacks, maybe this'll be a bit better.
#3 - nemarsde - 02/22/05 @ 12:28 PM EST
I'll certainly be giving it a try if they release a demo. I've never liked the limited gameplay of RTS games, so the expanded features of this game really appeal to me.

On top of that, if I get to play the British Army and the 95th Rifles, I'm there. :D Over the hills and far away.
#4 - Reflex - 02/22/05 @ 11:01 PM EST
Good interview Pezman.
#5 - CtrlAltDel - 02/23/05 @ 10:18 AM EST
n1 pez
#6 - nemarsde - 02/24/05 @ 04:22 PM EST
It'd be pretty cool if they could get the Sharpe TV series licence for this game. If they had all the music and likenesses of the actors, I'd buy it. It could have the same intro as the series! :D
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