Enemy Nations Interview
by Al Giovetti, 09/30/96
with Dave Thielen, Enemy Nationís Producer
Developer: Windwood Studios
Web Site: http://www.windward.net/
Release: September 1996
Producer: David Thielen
Phone: 212-258-6000, 800-469-2539, (303) 739-4019
Enemy Nations is a Viacom New Media overhead perspective, real-time strategy game that seems to be doing quite well. Enemy nations combines the strategy game with multi-player and very high resolution graphics.
Alfred Giovetti (AG): Welcome to The Computer Show, David.
Dave Thielen (DT): Hi Al, and thanks for having me here on the show.
Alfred Giovetti (AG): Is this the first game for Windward Studios?
Dave Thielen (DT): Enemy Nations is the first game for this company but I was a senior developer at Microsoft on the Win95 team. Most of the people at Windward Studios are very good, very experienced Windows developers.
AG: Would you say that Enemy Nations is a Command and Conquer or Warcraft clone?
DT: Definitely NOT a C&C clone. This was started about 18 months ago, before anyone knew much about C&C, and is an amalgamation of a number of different ideas. While it fits in the C&C genre, it also sort-of fits in with The Settlers, Transport Tycoon, and even Sim City. And it has multiple features in to help people play as allies.
AG: What have you done to make the artificial intelligence challenging to game players?
DT: It has to respond realtime to the world because the scenarios are not pre-built. So it truly is a pro-active and re-active instead of scripted based on a given world map.
AG: I have heard that there are twelve different planet types. Can you elaborate on these different environments?
DT: I think you meant terrain types here. There are 12 different terrain types. Each world is randomly generated and so each world will have greater or lesser degrees of each terrain type and in a different layout.
AG: What is the User Interface (UI) like and what makes it more usable in Enemy Nations?
DT: A couple of major items on the UI. First you can rotate the world in 90 degree increments and zoom in at 4 levels, like Sim City 2000. Second the world wraps so you don't have a safe corner to put your back to. Second, it uses the Windows model/UI (it's a Windows game) but it doesn't look like a Windows app. Some Windows games have a standard windows caption bar and menu and so your game and Suspension of Disbelief are all inside the window but you have that caption/menu bar reminding you that you are in a windows app. Others take over the entire screen but you loose multiple overlapping windows and the known windows UI. We have a UI where Windows users will have no trouble using it and can have overlapping windows - but they will forget it is running under windows.
AG: What type of operating systems does Enemy Nations run under?
DT: Enemy Nations runs on Win95, Win 3.1, and Win/NT. It is a 32-bit multi-threaded Windows app on all 3. (I wrote a preemptive multi-tasker for Win 3.1.) Each AI opponent has it's own thread (as does the sound driver and sprite caching code) so the AI is constantly operating (and so a faster processor means a smarter AI.)
AG: Could you describe the Campaign mode?
DT: - yes. As well as create a random game (both single and multiple human players).
AG: What about campaigns for internet or multi-player play?
DT: For multiple player mode we wrote our own network library since DirectPlay isn't ready for prime time. We have native drivers for TCP/IP, IPX, NETBIOS, MODEM, RS-232, TAPI, and DirectPlay. The TCP/IP drivers include the ability to play over the internet. And the game is written to handle up to a 2 second latency with the players not noticing.
AG: What about graphics, what have you done to make the game look pretty?
DT: We run under Windows so whatever resolution your Windows driver is set to we run on it. We have designed the UI, art, zoom levels, etc. with a low-end of 640x480x256 color, what we call low-res, and a high-end of 1280x1024x24M color, what we call good-res. All the art is on the CD at 8, 15, 16, 24, & 32-bit color depths.
AG: When graphics are rendered, many developers use different pre-rendered angles, called render angles, that you can view the graphics at when they turn. The more render angles, the more realistic the graphics. We heard you used more than the normal number of render angles to make your game more realistic. Can you elaborate on this?
DT: The buildings obviously are rendered from 4 directions (cause you can rotate 90 degrees and rotate a given building before building it). The vehicles from a lot more (how many was expensive for us to determine so it's a secret). But as vehicles turn - if they turn slow enough, it occurs on the screen with the vehicle moving a pixel at a time. We do transforms on the fly so basically we can rotate a vehicle 360 degrees and to the user the resolution (?) of the turn is based on the resolution of their screen.
AG: Most people are excited about multi-player game features. Can you tell us about how many people will be able to play online and other details on the internet and other types of multi-player game play.
DT: Not sure what the limits will be. There is no hard coded limit right now and the underlying code can handle up to 2 billion players. The problem is we make the map bigger when there are more players so 20 players won't find themselves in each other's lap. But because the worlds are randomly generated, we have to track a couple of bytes of info for every hex in the map. That adds up. On the flip side, we've squeezed that down to 9 bytes of data (we actually do some compression) per hex so adding a player is not as much of a hit as it used to be (when it was 24 bytes/hex). So we need to re-test with this smaller memory footprint and see.
The net code however should not be a problem. Most multiplayer games actually run on 1 computer and the other machines are basically terminals. So player 2 says attack, the message goes to player 1's machine, the unit moves, player 1's machine tells player 2's machine to move the unit. This not only generates a lot of net traffic but as you add players the whole game slows down because everyone is waiting on messages from player 1's computer. We have minimal network traffic and it's mostly peer-to-peer so lots of users don't hurt the net much or slow down the game.
AG: I can see by the clock that you have got to go, Dave. Thanks for sharing all these exciting details about, Enemy Nations.
DT: I was happy to come Al and share with you and your audience. Please donít wait to long to have me back.
Scott Udell, Viacom does planetary conquest in style, Computer Games
Strategy Plus, issue 70, September, 1996, pg. 38-39.