End of Nations developer Petroglyph Games still employs some developers who worked on the original Command & Conquer games at Westwood Studios, but the company recognizes that it has to modernize the real-time strategy game for today's market. Making End of Nations a free-to-play title is in line with that goal, but the studio also wants to attract a larger potential audience — and keep them engaged.
Accessibility is one part of that equation. Chris Lena, senior producer on End of Nations at publisher Trion Worlds, told me the developers want to "take away all the crap" from real-time strategy games. Petroglyph believes that many common elements of RTS titles, such as base building and micromanagement, just aren't fun for all but the players who already have tons of experience with the genre. According to Lena, the studio also feels that people who might enjoy RTS games don't try them out because of their preconceived notions about the experience they offer.
This is an area in which Petroglyph is incorporating direct feedback from the four beta periods for End of Nations. Lena explained that the game originally threw players right into a hectic, stressful action tutorial, because the studio thought it needed to wow players from the beginning. But beta testers gave feedback saying they immediately felt confused and overwhelmed. Lena showed me a revamped opening mission that's much less intense, easing players in.
As a free-to-play game, End of Nations has to be particularly well-balanced. It offers two different types of currency: Wealth, which you earn by playing, and Credits, which you can purchase with real money. Lena stressed that you can't buy your way to victory. You must unlock a unit before the game will let you spend money on it, and even if you buy an entire phalanx of Colossus tanks, End of Nations' points limit — a cost for using a particular unit — prevents you from bringing them all into a single match.
Petroglyph wants to "take away all the crap" from real-time strategy games
The other major part of Petroglyph's player-retention strategy is End of Nations' persistent, story-driven world. The game takes place 50 years into the future, where a tyrannical world government called the Order of Nations has assumed control of Earth. Players choose one of two factions, the Liberation Front and the Shadow Revolution, and help that group overthrow the Order of Nations. End of Nations is an asymmetric experience in that the factions have differing philosophies on how to run the world and offer divergent strategic experiences.
The Liberation Front is run by military leaders from Western countries who believe in democracy and freedom. It brings traditional military might to the table, waging war with tanks and infantry. Its units tend to be slower, but possess staggering firepower. The Shadow Revolution is a separatist group that split off from the Order of Nations — but not before stealing its advanced technology. Shadow Revolution forces seek to overwhelm their opponents with speed and stealth, although their units are weaker in general.
End of Nations features a map of Earth with a real-time display of the global conflict between the two factions. Winning matches in a territory will help to tip the scales in your side's favor, and eventually your team will capture a country. These struggles for control will play out over the course of periodic campaigns; for now, said Lena, they'll probably take place on a monthly basis, giving players regular endpoints for the fight between Liberation and Shadow.
Rotating the campaigns will also allow Petroglyph to move End of Nations' story forward as time passes. While a brief cutscene plays before each mission, the studio doesn't want to force-feed the overall narrative to players. Lena told me the developers are "trying to find every way to give it to you without making you read a book." Instead, the idea is to provide an engrossing fiction for End of Nations' world with backstory layered among the play experience.
That's not to say that End of Nations offers a watered-down RTS experience. Players can choose from a variety of competitive modes, including massive 28-on-28 battles where each player has as many as 10 units. Co-op play is also available in game types such as four-player matches against waves of AI forces. In a simple mission Lena showed me, he moved his Liberation Front units forward to capture zones, which increased the rate at which his team collected resources and allowed him to spawn units from that area as opposed to the starting point. Plus, players can modify and customize their units to their heart's content, making them look imposing on the battlefield.
If Petroglyph can put together these elements — an RTS that satisfies die-hard fans but can be understood by novices, and an engaging overarching narrative — it may have a hit on its hands, especially considering that End of Nations is entirely free to play. Trion Worlds plans to release End of Nations later this year on PC.