Inside R.U.S.E.: Hands-on Means Exactly That
Eugen Systems’ World War II-based strategy game R.U.S.E. will get a well-deserved place in the annals of gaming history for its headline innovation: It’s the first Triple-A PC game designed from the ground up to work with the multitouch features of Microsoft Windows 7. But there’s no point in being first with technology if you’re not also the best.
While R.U.S.E. can be played without a mouse and scroll wheel -- gamers instead use the pinch/zoom and other gestures familiar to smartphone owners -- it has much more to offer hardened real-time-strategy (RTS) fans and newcomers alike.
That being said, the game’s release in September couldn’t have come at a better time. Major PC manufacturers have all launched multitouch monitors, all-in-ones and laptops. Although a multitouch interface won’t do much for first-person-shooter fans, picking up units in an RTS game to direct them around the screen with your fingertips is a natural evolution for this genre. And by staking its claim early, R.U.S.E. won’t just be using the emerging control method -- it will in some ways be defining it.
“With R.U.S.E., we really wanted to capture the feeling of being a real strategic commander,” says Cedric Le Dressay, technical director and cofounder (with his brother, Alexis) of Eugen Systems, a Paris-based company best known previously for its 2005 PC RTS game Act of War: Direct Action. “We wanted a huge battlefield. … We wanted to create maps that are 100 times bigger, that gave you the feeling you’re in complete control, like a god of war,” Le Dressay says.
Where Old Meets New
Located inside a Knights Templar fortress that dates from the 13th century, Eugen Systems is just a few blocks from the modern Pompidou Centre. Most of its 60 employees are engine coders, whose job is to translate the creative team’s vision into working builds quickly so that ideas can be tried out, then pursued or abandoned as appropriate. “We don’t believe in the ‘design bible,’” Le Dressay explains. “We work better when everyone talks and can see a live version straight away.”
Initial versions of R.U.S.E. were based on the company’s existing game engine used for Act of War. Right from the start, Le Dressay knew he wanted to make an engine capable of running a game that’s different from the standard RTS.
That vision became the IrisZoom, the code base at the core of R.U.S.E. that moves seamlessly between macro and micro tactical control. At its most extreme, the game is represented as a giant tabletop in a military HQ, but IrisZoom can take the player down to an almost first-person camera on the front line in a single zoom.
The result is that R.U.S.E. not only looks different from other strategy games; it plays differently too. “The technology we have is very important,” explains Mathieu Girard, senior producer for R.U.S.E.’s publisher, Ubisoft. “It’s how we can express everything without breaking the immersive factor.”
Building the Fourth Wall
In R.U.S.E., every effort is taken to keep incongruous elements from breaking your immersion. There’s no mini-map, for instance -- why would there be when you can quickly zoom out to space for a tactical overview? There’s no overview panel at the bottom of the screen, either. To issue an order, point a cursor or finger at the spot where you want to interact, and the right context menu pops up.
“We want you to focus on what is on the battlefield,” Girard says. The game’s epic scale is due to the multithreading capabilities of the IrisZoom engine. It makes the game fluid and fast, regardless of the PC you’re playing on.
“Without multicore,” explains Le Dressay, “R.U.S.E. couldn’t exist in its current form. As a reference, Act of War had around 150,000 individual elements on the map, but in R.U.S.E. we up that number to 25 million objects. Computers aren’t 1,000 times more powerful, but spreading the load over multiple threads has the same net effect.”