Hammer & Sickle

Article

posted 11/29/2005 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann

As the son of an Air Force intelligence officer I was a bit intrigued when I got the press release for the upcoming game Hammer & Sickle. Not only was the game set during the early stages of the Cold War but instead of taking the role as a spy for the NATO side you actually played the game from a Soviet perspective.  Intrigued I contacted (he’ll say harassed) our PR person for CDV and he hooked us up with the following interview.

 
GamingNexus: Can you introduce yourself and your role on the game?

Hello, I’m Mario Kroll, the Associate Producer for Hammer & Sickle. I’m also the PR & Marketing Director for CDV Software Entertainment USA.

My role in the game was to primarily speak to the North American audiences about Hammer & Sickle and to get them excited about this very unusual title. I also work with the English-speaking online communities to test the game and get the word out about it. Along with that, I collect feedback from both gamers and editors and get it to the developers to help them better adapt the game so it will hopefully resonate with the North American consumer.

GamingNexus: Could you describe the plot of the game and the timeframe of the game? 
Mario Kroll:
Hammer & Sickle takes place in 1949, primarily in the British-American sector of post-World War II Germany. In the Second World War your alter ego was a Special Forces soldier that was very successful fighting against the Germans from inside the enemy’s territory. The war ended, all seemed peaceful and you retired, so to speak. Suddenly you get a summons from a former superior, now deep within the KGB, asking you to return to Germany and build up a network of informers to keep tabs on the new threat – the Western Allies. You manage to infiltrate Germany, but once you get there things go terribly wrong. Most of your former contacts are imprisoned, dead or have vanished. You, stuck without money, paper and limited weapons have few choices. To top it off, you stumble across a plot where someone is trying to pit the two new super powers against each other in a nuclear Armageddon. Your mission becomes to find out who is behind the plot, why they are trying to accomplish this and, most importantly, how to stop it.

GamingNexus: As an American it’s a bit odd to play the part of a Soviet spy, how did you come up with the idea of having players see such a different side of the political fence?
Mario Kroll: That’s really what makes the game unique; getting to see the world from the side we used to say was that of “the bad guys.” By playing as a Soviet spy, you’re not confined to doing nice things or of fighting against conventional “bad guys”. The game was developed in Russia and so, I suppose, from the developer’s perspective it was perfectly natural to play the non-American. I think the concept is refreshing and lets you appreciate “how the other side lives,” if you will.

 
GamingNexus: When people think of Cold War era spies, they usually think of a character like James Bond, how does the main character in the game compare to 007?
Mario Kroll: For starters, you are not confined to any one particular character. You can create your own character in terms of appearance and background (which translates into one of six specializations). While your experience from a plot perspective is the same, how you look and what you are naturally adept at is different based on your preferences. James Bond, in my mind, is this sexy suave guy, almost with super-hero like charm and powers. Our main character is a much more gritty soldier that happens to be good at both killing and at spy tradecraft. How he develops and what he does after the game begins is really up to you.



GamingNexus: The game is billed as a tactical RPG, what exactly does that mean?  Is it turned based game play or real time?
Mario Kroll:
Hammer & Sickle is a real-time game during normal world exploration. Once you enter combat, your decision making becomes tactical and action is turn-based. You, your party members and your opponents begin to take actions that consume action points and play out in sequence based on each character’s initiative. This allows for a faster paced game as you learn about your environment and investigate the main conspiracy. It also slows things down and allows you to make carefully considered tactical decisions based on the combat at hand. We feel that’s a great balance between speeding things up when you want to get on with the story but also allowing you to think before you get your character or your party killed simply because you can’t click fast enough.

GamingNexus: Given that you are in the spy game what is the role of the NPC’s in the game?  How do you interact with them?
Mario Kroll:
Interaction with NPC’s is through a dialog system. Whenever there’s an NPC that you’re able to talk to (not everyone is friendly or interesting enough to talk with <grin>) there will be an icon designating such. When you walk up to them and start talking, you’ll hear and see their comments, to which you can choose a reply from a list. This allows you to decide what sort of attitude you’ll take towards the NPC. If you’re a smart-Alec back to them, then they’ll probably not be very helpful, but if you’re too much of a suck-up, they might likewise be turned off from talking to you. It all depends on their personality, which you’ll learn more about the more you talk to them. Lastly, as the game progresses, some NPC’s end up joining your party to become playable characters that can make or break you in the game.

GamingNexus: What are the RPG elements in Hammer and Sickle?
Mario Kroll:
Hammer & Sickle allows you to customize your character’s appearance, equipment and skills to start. So you can choose from one of six character classes – Sniper, Scout, Soldier, Grenadier, Medic or Engineer. Each class obviously has unique benefits associated with it, and as you play the game, you’ll earn experience points to increase your skills. We have a fully fleshed-out skill tree, just as in other RPG’s, so your character truly develops as you play the game.  You also, of course, will be able to collect a wide range of equipment and weapons. The other component is the interaction with NPC’s in the game world. How you respond to them determines not only the makeup of your team or party, but also affects who will help or hinder you in the game.

GamingNexus: How many missions are in the game? About how long do you think it will take to get through the game? Can you describe how the missions are structured?
Mario Kroll:
At last count, we had over 40 potential missions. The missions are broken up by maps, with most maps having a number of alternate paths and optional plots that can be explored. The second map is a good example – while it’s one map, there are eight missions within. There’s plenty to do on each map, and each “mission” leads into the next, creating a chain of events which affects the overall outcome of the game. 

It’s hard to pin down a number of hours that the game will take, because it’s so open-ended. Here’s an example of what I mean:  on one map, “Joe” the gunrunner (I won’t give away his real name, don’t want to spoil the game for you), asks you to kill off his rival. If you do it, he’ll sell you any weapon he has available and pay you a handsome sum. However, when you meet up with his rival, the rival says “Tell you what, you let me go, and I’ll pay you the same, leave Joe alone and give you another job to make more money.” So it’s up to you; do you take the quick route by killing the rival? Or do you keep him alive, finish the mission he gives you, and see what Joe has to say after all this? Or do you ignore them both and move on to another task? Whichever you choose, it’s going to open up more “routes” through the game and the final objective of avoiding nuclear annihilation.



GamingNexus: What is the role of the day/night sequence in the game?  What kind of time system is built into the game (real time, scale time)?
Mario Kroll:
Day/night cycles are part of the game, though they are accelerated. Most people don’t want to sit on a nighttime mission for eight hours, so we sped things up quite a bit. The cycles do affect mission progress by making it easier or harder to complete tasks. One mission has you sneaking into an official’s house to steal some documents. If you do it during the day, nobody’s home – making it easier in some ways. If you sneak in at night, you risk running into the house’s occupants, but you’ll avoid being spotted by pesky neighbors.

GamingNexus: What is the final weapon count in the game?  How did you determine which WWII weapons to include and which to exclude?
Mario Kroll:
There are more than 100 ranged weapons (pistols, rifles, stationary guns, etc.) and there are 29 melee weapons in the game. The weapons were chosen from a list of what was available during the timeline of the game to ensure realism. We have a few spy gadgets and experimental weapons, but even those are as closely tied to the real-world aesthetic of the game as possible.

Thanks to Mario for taking the time to talk to me about the game and thanks to Ted for dealing with my constant harassment.