Developer Bulkhead Interactive’s homage to the great first person WWII shooters, Battalion 1944 has grown quite the following since its announcement last year. A far cry from the British-based developers previous 2 titles – Penumbra: Breath of Life and The Turing Test, both of which featured puzzles, Battalion 1944 was greatly received on Kickstarter, successfully raising over £300,000 of a £100,000 goal. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Bulkhead’s aim is crystal clear: to rejuvenate the classic multiplayer shooters of yesteryear with Call of Duty and Medal of Honor obvious inspirations behind the studio’s move from puzzle-based games to the shooter genre.
I recently caught up with Bulkhead Interactive at Gamescom 2017 in Cologne last week to find out more about the studio’s exciting first person World War II shooter coming to PC, Xbox One and PS4 in the future.
Could you start by introducing yourself to our readers?
My name is Howard Philpott I am the Creative Producer at Bulkhead interactive working on Battalion 1944.
Your aim with Battalion 1944 is to recapture the feeling of classic multiplayer shooters. Why a World War 2 shooter? what is it about that particular period in history that inspired you to make this game?
Howard Philpott: WWII is so interesting from a historical perspective, but also the way that the weapons worked. You’ve got the one shot rifles, the bolt actions and the SMGs that work so mechanically well, they translate so well into a game. The Americans and the Germans their weapons were constantly evolving against each other, they had to balance them against each other in real life and they work so well against each other.
You cite the gameplay of Call of Duty 2 and Medal of Honor as inspirations behind Battalion 1944. What is it about those 2 games you found so enjoyable that you strived to create and ultimately resurrect a much-loved genre?
Howard Philpott: Totally, so the old games had these simple mechanics that’s the main thing, they were basic but also extremely skill based. They had small quirks that made them great, you could fast reload and strafe jump, these were small technical bugs but to players, they were techniques that people could use to play the game better. That is something that we are trying to bring back with Battalion 1944. Games have evolved now to have progression systems and all these unlocks, we wanted to go back to basics and really cut out all of the bullshit and just go back to everybody starting with the same weapon all on a level playing field, the players who are good at the game will excel.
By all accounts, Battalion 1944 is a huge change in direction from The Turing Test and Breath of Life. When did you first decide you wanted to leave the puzzle genre behind for something much different?
Howard Philpott: Yes it was a massive departure for us, we made Penumbra and Turing Test because they were games we could make with a smaller team. We started out in university, we had a small closet as an office and we thought “what is the smallest game that we can make?” but at the same time the most interesting game that we can make and at that time that was puzzle games. We have always wanted to make a shooter from the start we were never able to do that but finally thanks to the sales of the Turing Test which was received really well and as well as our Kickstarter, we actually got to the point that we can make a shooter which we always wanted to do.
Like many developers, you went through Kickstarter to gather funding. Were you surprised by the hugely popular reaction from players to the game both during the campaign and post-Kickstarter?
Howard Philpott: Definitely. We had an inkling that people wanted this kind of game because there was always a community for these older games. The massive support we saw when the Kickstarter launched was just insane, it went viral around Europe which was insane. The continued support also has been good as well.
We’re currently enjoying a strong resurgence of games of WWI and WWII shooters with Verdun, Battlefield 1, Days of War, Enlisted and the upcoming Call of Duty game just to mention a few. Why do you think we’re seeing a sudden resurgence of World War shooters in video games?
Howard Philpott: I think games go around in cycles just like films, everything is about zombies and stuff, and people got sick of WW2 shooters because there were so many of them. Then developers went more and more into the future and again people started to get sick of that with Infinite Warfare and all sorts of those games. People wanted to go back to the roots and for us, it wasn’t just rooted in the theme it was rooted in the gameplay, simplifying things.
You want Battalion 1944 to be based on player skill. In this regards how does the game differentiate from the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty?
I think with Battalion it is much more fast paced, there are no vehicles and when you are shooting people with a 1 shot rifle you have to be very on point. There is lean and stuff which Call of Duty has removed, all of these small little tweaks and quirks of the old games we have put back in, that’s what makes it a higher skilled game.
You opted to remove unbalanced unlockables and overpowered abilities for Battalion 1944 to keep each player on even terms on the battlefield where skill ultimately prevails. How important was it to you as the developer to make sure you kept Battalion as fair a fight as possible?
Howard Philpott: It is extremely important. One of the maps we are working on is an Omaha beach map. Historically, the battle on Omaha beach was very painful, it was very one sided for a long time, we wanted to make it a fair playing field so what we did was put the battle on a point where the beach just has been taken. As a competitive game, it’s really important to have a balanced playing field.
Battalion 1944 features some classic shooter game modes. How did you select which ones best suited the game you are creating?
Howard Philpott: Absolutely our competitive mode which is a twist on Search and Destroy is a class based mode then we’ve got Team Deathmatch and we will implement CTF possibly at a later date. We wanted to keep it simple and the reason for doing that is because we believe we are a game that is going for the E-sports crowd and we want everybody to enjoy our competitive game.
Battalion 1944 features maps based on real-world locations. Where will the game take us and how many maps do you plan to have available at launch?
Howard Philpott: For Early Access, we are hoping to have 5 or 6 maps they are currently in development. We have some nice city levels and as I said earlier we have the Omaha beach map, we have a few more up our sleeves. Post launch we are hoping to do a British and Russian DLC that’s potentially free so everybody will be able to get that content, we don’t want to split the player base.
You’ll be hosting seasons for Battalion 1944 through your competitive system Battlerank, can you explain how that will all work and how long each season might last?
Howard Philpott: Battleranks has changed quite a bit since Kickstarter. In Kickstarter we said you would be getting rewards each season, we will still be doing that but the way it works in more like traditional competitive shooters like Counter Strike and Overwatch you have an ELO rating. Later down the line in development what we want to do is we want to have team based matchmaking so you can make your own team page and have your own team stats that will be a separate rank. You can play on your own with your own skill rating and you can play with your team and have a separate skill rating.
Despite not quite reaching the stretch goal at the time, is a single player campaign still a possibility for Battalion 1944 or is it going to be strictly multiplayer when the game launches?
Howard Philpott: Unfortunately not, we would love to make a single player game but we do not have the budget or time to be able to do that. If we were going to do it we would want to do it well.
You held a Closed Alpha for Battalion 1944 back in May this year. What did you learn from that test moving forward? What’s the next step?
Howard Philpott: We are currently on our third alpha playtest and things have been going great. We have been getting so much feedback in terms of design and the little features people would like to see implemented. We are able to use that, it’s the advantage of being a Kickstarter and Early Access game, you get these opinions coming through and we are able to sift through them and see which ones are good and which ones are bad and after reviewing that we can say we need to get this done for the next alpha.
You’ve mentioned heading to Early Access at some point this year. Is that still the plan and do you have any idea when it might happen? do you have plans to enter Game Preview on the Xbox One at any stage?
Howard Philpott: It is going to be early 2018. We are going to take a 3-month break now, we are gonna cut off social media after that break and come back with a big amount of content for people to look at. Regarding Game Preview, we are not looking at doing that right now. We have been speaking to Microsoft but we won’t be doing that I’m afraid.
You’re teaming with Square Enix again to publish Battalion 1944 on consoles and PC, more specifically the Square Enix Collective division. With other big name publishers also interested at the time, what made you decide to once again stick with Square Enix?
Howard Philpott: So we had a lot of interest from other publishers, which is really cool for us as an indie developer. We had been with Square Enix Collective before we knew how they worked and they were able to offer the freedom that other publishers could not offer and for us, that was a huge thing. We want to make the game how we want to make it, and that is what Square Enix Collective is allowing us to do.
Will Battalion 1944 release simultaneously on all platforms when it launches?
Howard Philpott: No, so we will go to Early Access first, PC is our main focus and we will do consoles later on.
Thanks for your time Howard.
Battalion 1944 will head to Steam Early Access in early 2018.