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Interview With Chris "Mo" Sherland

Reed Hubbard Posted:
Interviews 0

When World War II Online was released in 2001, many saw it as the next big step for MMORPGs. The game promised huge battles between axis and allied players in a series of theaters throughout Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. Players would pilot aircraft and drive tanks and other vehicles that were faithful recreations of the actual vintage hardware. Even the map was a true, scale representation of the actual terrain of WWII. While most of these features were eventually realized, a troubled launch coupled with increased competition in the market put the reins on WWIIOL’s success. While it has settled into a unique niche and has gained tremendous acclaim, it has never risen above what could be termed as cult status.

However, that is all about to change. The developers at Cornered Rat Software have been constantly improving the game and the small but dedicated group of players has continued to grow as word has spread. New features are regularly being added, existing features are being enhanced, and the war is raging with increased fervor as new recruits join the battle. As the game’s fourth anniversary approaches, CRS is prepared to re-launch the game with a new boxed release, as well as add-ons to the existing European Theater. We spoke with Cornered Rat’s own Chris “Mo” Sherland, executive producer of WWIIOL, about the game, the expansions, and plans for the future.

MMORPG.com: World War II Online is coming up on its fourth anniversary. How pleased is the development team with the game thus far?
Chris: Boy you cut to the chase eh? That is actually a tough one to answer, but I know I speak for the whole team when I say we are very very proud of WWIIOL, and at the same time we are never satisfied with where it is, and we are always eager to get the next update out. We’re addicted to the development in a big way, and WWIIOL has lots of dreams left to realize.
MMORPG.com: We understand that the game will be reintroduced to store shelves this year. Discuss the plans for this and what it means to the game. For example, will we see some of the other theaters (like North Africa) that were originally planned for WWIIOL?
Chris: Well it means everything really. We have not had a box on the shelves in 3 years, and it has simply limited the growth of the game and the studio. Our next release is a reintroduction to the retail market and the first in a series that will see new theaters and countries added to the WWIIOL service. This first release is titled “Beyond Blitzkrieg” and covers the war in Europe from 1940 through 1943. We will most likely release a “booster” pack taking the ETO through 1945 and adding the US and Italian forces. At that point we’ll be preparing the second major release that will feature North Africa.
Will this release be North America only, or will it be released in Europe as well? What about a German release?
Chris: As I write this we have a contract for North America distribution only, but we do have irons in the fire for the major European territories as well. We may self-publish in those territories if we have not cemented a deal by the release date.
Discuss the marketing strategy for the boxed release. Will you start a new marketing campaign? What kind of advertising is planned and where will it reach the consumer?
Chris: Well we are defining that now. The release date is set for May which will be the 65th anniversary of the opening shots of WWII. Our publishing and distributing partner will have a lot of say in the marketing strategies but we are working hand-in-hand with them.
Will the Battle of France and North Africa theaters be run at the same time or consecutively?
Chris: At the same time. It still stands as one of the primary goals of WWIIOL to support multiple theaters operating all simultaneously.
MMORPG.com: Last year you introduced paratroopers to the game. Tell us how this has changed the game and how players have responded.
Chris: It’s been huge for the game. No other MMO has the tactical and strategic depth of WWIIOL, it’s simply not possible on any scale smaller than what we have done. In that light Paratroopers have allowed the player base and the high commands to change the face of tactical gameplay. All the units in WWIIOL are attrit-able [sic] through combat operations, so the ability to drop fresh troops on beleaguered towns or re-supply regular infantry through air transport has proven to be decisive. It’s also a huge thrill to be on a para drop, or defend against one.
Is there any plan to upgrade the graphics and/or UI? If so, when?
Chris: The graphics engine we use for WWIIOL is always being upgraded, but are planning for the North African release to be running on a completely new engine. However the UI is getting completely redone for the “Beyond Blitzkrieg” release.
MMORPG.com: Speaking of the UI, one of the bigger complaints has been the chat/radio interface. What changes have been made to it and what future enhancements are planned, if any?
Chris: Yes our chat functionality has changed a lot over the 4 years we’ve been running. We will eventually re-do the entire chat system, but over time we’ve made the existing system much easier to use while simplifying and streamlining basic functionality. For example in the past you could be standing right next to another soldier, and unless you were “tuned” to the same channel, you could only reach him with a PM. Now you can open the chat buffer and type without worrying about channel tuning to speak to the guys who are near you. If you want to talk to the guys you can’t see that are on your mission, or on the same objective, we’ve auto tuned those as well and made all channel access hot-key driven so you never have to use the mouse to navigate focus or select anything. It’s much more user friendly now and mimics other MMO chat functionality.
MMORPG.com: The mission system has received a bit of criticism in the past. For example, a player could kill four enemy tanks and not get a successful completion because he did not return to base, but he could park a rifleman in a fortified bunked for 15 minutes and get a completion. What changes have been made/are in store for the mission system?
Chris: The mission system was a rush job years ago and is finally getting some proper love for the box release. Our backend database scoring system has far outstripped the one within the game engine, and we will be using that (http://csr.wwiionline.com) to form the back bone of in-game scoring and mission reporting. We’ll be adding new mission types and reporting that will do away with mission results as they are delivered now in favor of a breakdown that scores players on not only kills, but on completing the objectives of the mission like capturing facilities and cities as well as group success.
After the Beyond Blitzkrieg box is released and the team shifts back to feature development, what in naval development will be your priority...more ships and boats, or an enhanced modeling approach with a more complex damage and damage control model, or the hydrodynamics and weather models, or longer naval view distances and other mechanics issues, or polycrewing and spawn-at-sea-AI-for-empty-positions, or something else?
Chris: Well the tactical need is there, making players fulfill it is the tough part. TOEs (table of equipment) will help a lot in that units will be bound together by geography and brigade, meaning that the tanks you are fighting along side of will have your same objectives and working together will be the most effective way to get your goals met. Ultimately we can only encourage teamwork and discourage lone wolfing, the rest is up to the players.
Will mortars be added? If so, when and what type/size?
Chris: Yes mortars will be added, and probably before North Africa. Classic sizes that were used during WWII range from about 50mm to 120mm. We’ll be modeling the appropriate sizes for the different armies.
Will poly-crewing become a reality sometime in the next year?
Chris: Yes, we want to be able to open up all positions on all vehicles with a join-in-the-field system where gunners won’t have to join at spawn. For example a Destroyer captain might be nearing enemy shores and open his gunner positions up for polycrewing allowing players to join without having to have ridden all the way across the North Sea.
Will the high explosive model (currently being used by grenades and flak shells only) be applied to high explosive tank rounds and bombs? If so, when?
Chris: Yes, “statistical HE” is being retrofitted to all HE rounds in a methodical audit. Right now we are testing an audit of aircraft weapons, and we will be looking to a full audit over the next few dev cycles.
Will you be implementing radar?
Chris: Yes. Radar will come before the North African release.
Is the server system robust enough to handle the potential sudden large influx of new players caused by the release of Beyond Blitzkrieg?
Chris: We’re doing everything to ensure it will. Our publisher is working to manage distribution in a much saner manner which will help avoid some of the problems we encountered on our first retail release.

If you would like to give World War II Online a try, make sure to check out MMORPG.com's exclusive 14 day trial offer! You can get it at this link.

We’d like to thank Chris “Mo” Sherland and Al “Rafter” Corey of Cornered Rat Software for their time in answering our and your questions. Also, a big thanks to all the MMORPG.com members who submitted questions. It is you who make this site such a great place. For more information on WWIIOL, visit the official website at http://www.wwiionline.com.


Reed Hubbard