Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

The first Red Orchestra (Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45) sprung up from the fertile grounds of the PC modding community. Using the various engines available to them, a group of dedicated enthusiasts wrangled with code to create their own World War II shooter. The team went on to win $50,000 in the Make Something Unreal contest held by Epic, and Tripwire Interactive was born.

Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 is a satisfying snarl of a game. It has you lying prone somewhere in the bleakest field in the whole of eastern Europe with bullets whipping intermittently over your head as you move further up into the battle: an inchworm of utmost determination. The space between where you are now and your unceremonious death is an affectingly thin membrane stretched out at an unspecified location between you and where your enemies lie in wait. No regenerating health will cushion your fall should you nudge your small pixel head into an enemy’s line of fire and this level of severity gives each game such weight; you’re enclosed in that world, within a soldier’s mindset. It’s never enough to run out into the fore with all guns blazing – patience and skill are always necessary to help your team to victory. I asked Alan Wilson, vice-president of Tripwire, if their new game Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad would maintain this kind of affectionate brutality.

“Ohhh, yes. Bullets cracking by you MATTER. That grenade you just saw fly through the air can’t be laughed off with a handy health pack and incoming artillery is very much an ‘Oh SHIT’. We hope we’ve done a few smart things, like allowing people to spawn on their squad leader (if he’s alive) to prevent people ALWAYS having to trek for 3 minutes just to catch a bullet – we want people in the action reasonably quickly. But there is also the potential for sneaky shits like me to creep around, flank and get behind you. There are ALWAYS options, which is something we beat into the level designers. There are always alternatives, always ways to get around the MG that’s gutting your team in a choke point. In fact, if your team makes a habit of getting snarled up in some choke point, you’re on the wrong team.”

In the various iterations of modern multiplayer shooters, there’s a very apparent formula to proceedings – a tendency to put a carrot on a stick in lieu of encouraging tactical gameplay and a huge reluctance (or outright refusal) to add depth or to change anything on even an aesthetic level. Artificial skill-curves are engaged and the same game is churned out, year after year, with a different numerical denotation.

“I got bored of run-gun-die-spawn-run-die-gun-spawn-die-gun-run-blah-blah a while ago. I like to have a moment or two to out-think people, not just out-twitch them. I get the impression that the studios are just looking for new wrappers to put on that run-gun format – I get bored of that far too easily. I’d like to see more people trying to break out of the moulds and do something new and interesting with MP games.”

With Red Orchestra 2, it’s obvious that Tripwire have spent time assessing the ways in which this well-worn genre can be built upon and energised. The various intricacies implemented have been tailored to enhance the experience; while staring down your rifle’s iron-sight, your soldier will take a breath and then hold it briefly in order to steady the shot. Great attention has been paid to the sound a gun makes as it rattles in your hands and you’ll be able to tell soldiers apart not just from their uniforms, but from the way they hold their weapons – a historically factual convenience.

“We also spent a lot of time thinking about information that is available to the average soldier in a WWII setting. Peripheral vision is a simple example: in the real world, I can catch movement out of the corner of my eye. I can detect movement over a range of around 185 degrees side-to-side, but the usual field of view in an FPS is more like 90 degrees, which completely cuts off a whole chunk of real-world perception. Another example: if you are moving with a few members of your squad, they don’t vanish from your perception the split-second they duck behind cover 3 feet away. You KNOW they are still there. You can hear them, you glance around in real life in ways you really can’t in a game, so we give the player that info too. Not a damn mini-map that sniffs out enemy players – just something to remind you where your comrades close by are. In terms of communication – when your squad leader orders a team to get across the street and storm a building, he doesn’t say ‘wait while I mark it on your overhead map’, he doesn’t babble on about ‘the one across the street, er, blue doors, no not those blue doors, the other ones’ – he just points and says ‘THAT one, shithead’. So we allow the player to mark the location and the player can see the mark in the world by pressing a key. It’s simple and it only shows up when you ask for it, with a single key-press.”

New systems have been introduced that will affect the battlefield directly; the morale of the team depends on how well you and your team are playing. A higher morale will result in objectives being captured more quickly than they would be by a team with lower morale, while the dynamic soundtrack (scored by Sam Hulick of Mass Effect fame) will be reflective of this, too. “Morale is a fragile thing – if some noob guns down your best, most heroic player, it can ding your morale fairly quickly.”

Meanwhile, the hero system encourages people to team up; gained through kills, assists, objective captures, commands and responding to orders, your hero traits will directly affect the players around you. “One of the key benefits will be the ability to boost the morale of those close by in game. This means faster capturing of objectives, or a better ability to hold on to them. We’ll work on the whole balance thing to make sure it’s subtle, to suit the RO style of game.”

Alongside this, new gametypes are being introduced. “The key gametypes we’ve talked about so far are Territory, which is based on the simple concept of taking/holding objectives in the map, and Countdown. We’re really enjoying Countdown at the moment in testing. It’s the new take on the single-life gametype. The stock single-life thing tends to leave those who die quickly muttering ‘hurry up and die already’, which isn’t very constructive. Or fun, really. Our take means that it is really a sequence of small single-life games, linked together across a larger (RO-size) map. You actually want the guys left on your team to win and advance so that you can respawn, get back into the action and go after the next objective. It tends to lead to lots of yelling and cursing, which is usually a good thing. We like people to get involved.

“On top of that, we are layering the multi-player campaign. We wanted more than just ‘play map – win/lose – play some other map’. This way people can get involved for more than a few minutes at a time; what happens on each map actually matters on the next. And HOW you win or lose can matter too. It just adds that whole extra layer of involvement, which can make for a far richer experience.”

Tripwire have enlisted members of the RO mod community to develop Rising Storm, an expansion for Heroes, while also publishing smaller creative endeavours on the PC (Zeno Clash, The Ball). Do they have a bit of a soft spot for the platform?

“We tend to see PC gaming as the apex of the pyramid – with genuine dedicated servers, 64 players and the sort of silly stuff that PC gamers like. Creating for the PC and then porting to other platforms is a matter, usually, of de-tuning our work. You can’t ‘up-res’ your work, but you can sure as hell ‘down-res’ it. It would be like photography: I’ll take the best quality picture I can and, if I want to publish it over the web, I’ll work on it to bring the size down to fit. And if I do it right, it’ll still be damn good. But if I take a picture on an old phone camera, it’s going to look like crap if I try and print it at full poster size. If we can sell RO2 on console, I’ll be a happy bunny, but PC is our home turf. We like the PC, we like independent developers who can exercise their creative freedom – but we also like them to be aware that we all need to make money to go on doing what we love! So with Rising Storm, not to mention In Country: Vietnam, we are looking for creativity – AND playability.”

With a small studio of 25 people, Tripwire itself has some advantages over larger studios due to its creative autonomy. “We have to keep ourselves in business, but no-one is telling us what to do. RO2 can be what we want it to be. This is tempered by the fact that, if it crashes and burns, we are toast as a company.

“As a smaller studio, we’re prepared to take a few more risks, step off the beaten track a bit. A big studio wouldn’t have done what we did with Killing Floor last year, for instance. They’d have bought it in and then turned it into CoD:FlOors or something, whereas we could just recognize it for what it is: a game that is huge fun, silly, blasting the crap out of monsters with big guns. We don’t need to spend $10m on cut-scenes and character back-story stuff for over half-a-million people to enjoy it.

With Red Orchestra 2, we’re trying to fit a niche in the middle of what’s available. Not run-gun and not off-the-deep-end realism. As realistic as possible, but accessible. I want the guns to perform like they really did. I want to see the right mixes of weaponry in sensible and relevant settings. We think we fit in that ground – people who want realism and good old hardcore FPS death-or-glory can get their fix but we aren’t forcing people to learn the correct way to field-strip an MG-42, or use some dodgy key-combo to focus on a difficult shot. We hope we’ve created a tactical shooter with gore and sudden death, with layer upon layer of complexity for those who want it but also ‘jump in and shoot shit’ for those who like that sort of thing. We want to prove that a shooter can be tactical AND accessible.”

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad will be released in 2011.







8 responses to “Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad”

  1. Walter avatar

    I was a massive fan of the first one, straight into it from Day of Defeat, good news that there is a second one on its way out 😀

  2. Simon avatar

    Looks right up my street. I played a little of the original back in the day, but got my arse handed to me constantly – of course, nowadays that happens in every game so it doesn’t matter.

  3. heady89 avatar

    Excellent article, this game will be very nice :P, finally a PC exclusive

  4. Wilson avatar

    This is a well written, detailed and insightful article.

  5. Hans avatar

    Excellent read. Can’t wait this game to be released.

  6. Brad avatar

    Sounds too good to be true.

  7. shane avatar

    Very well written article, keep up the good work.
    I bought two copies of the deluxe edition, for my friend and I.
    It is pretty fun and I really enjoyed the first game.

  8. Kris avatar


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