Company of Heroes 3 may have wrapped up its first public preview, but over on the forums Art Director Tristan Brett has given a more detailed look at the art vision guiding the development of Relic’s highly anticipated real-time strategy game.
He sets out the three pillars that drive Company of Heroes 3’s art vision, which together cover the inspiration, the style and the subjects of the game’s art. He’s explicit about the cinematic influence drawn from films such as Fury and Dunkirk, and illuminates some of the challenges posed for a game striving for authenticity.
Pretty and gritty
Brett explains that the first pillar, “Life at War”, represents the main artistic inspiration for Company of Heroes 3. The contrast of “Pretty and Gritty” is central to the game, simultaneously capturing the romanticism and charm of the Mediterranean and making the game’s iconic destruction feel all the more spectacular.
The second pillar is “Cinematic Realism”. This represents “the style and the how” of the game’s art. It covers both the influence from World War Two films and the “Cultural Texture” of the settings in the game, as well as Relic’s bespoke Essence Engine and the objective of gameplay clarity.
While the series’ progenitor drew heavy (and often barely disguised) influence from films like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, and Company of Heroes 2 from Enemy at the Gates, the third iteration labels Fury, Inglorious Basterds and Dunkirk as its touchstones.
Brett notes the impression of authenticity that reverberates around the hull of the Brad Pitt-starring tank flick, the “attitude” of Basterds and the “human storylines” of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and the 1968 film The Devil’s Brigade. He also mentions the inspiration from recent colour documentaries (notably Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old).
As Brett explains, the art team behind Company of Heroes 3 use the term “cultural texture” to describe the audio and visual cues used to define cultures and locations in the game. This involves the layout of towns in addition to the ways people, both civilians and soldiers, and their environments are differentiated.
Two large collages, linked here and here, help to illustrate the research and conceptualization of the visuals. There’s some interesting details here, with concepts ranging from Roman ruins to different shaders on vehicles.
Of the Essence (Engine 5)
All the impressive physics in Company of Heroes 3 come down to Relic’s Essence Engine. This is the technology that makes possible new graphical features and the next development of the game’s 3D destruction system, “Destruction 2.0”.
The intended realism of the game poses some challenges for the user interface. Accurately drawn and rendered objects will have the habit of blending into each other in a smoke-filled battlefield situation, so the art team created a system to ensure gameplay clarity.
The visual qualities of elements are all examined as part of this process. The contrast of light and dark helps units to stand out whether they’re in a street or in a field, while colour grading is used to draw the player’s attention to the action.
Brett includes a lot more detail in his post on the official forums, the text of which is actually three years old. The art team will soon elaborate on the “Living Battlefield” pillar. This is the “canvas” of the game: the units, environments, and the things that are the subject of the player’s gaze, like animation and visual effects.
Future public previews
While the first public preview event for Company of Heroes 3 has wrapped up, another is being prepared. On both Company of Heroes 3 and Age of Empires IV, Relic is using player feedback to gather feedback from players about the early state of the game.
You can check back here for more news about Company of Heroes 3, including future updates about its multiplayer and historical campaigns. Meanwhile, you can take a look at our list of the best World War Two flight games.