It's a grotty London December afternoon with leaden skies and howling wind, but thankfully we're hiding below decks on the HMS Belfast on the Thames. An apt location really, considering we're there to interrogate Klaude Thomas, producer on Eidos's Battlestations: Midway, a game that's suffered numerous delays but is now set to emerge on PC and Xbox 360 in early 2007.
Battlestations: Midway recreates the battles of World War II in the Pacific between the US and Japanese naval might, from the point of view of the battleships, the aircraft carriers, the submarines and the aircraft, Thomas explaining that "It's about the really big-scale battles".
As the big cheese, players sit in the US commanders chair in single-player, in control of all these machines of war. While the game features a 2D command map giving an overhead view of the battle from which you can select units and issue them orders - move and attack, for example - the idea is that you hop into any of the 'units' under your control and, well, take control at the simple press of a button.
So you can, say, get into the cockpit of a torpedo bomber, fly the plane and execute torpedo runs, sail battleships and launch shells from turrets at the enemy and glub-glub beneath the waves in subs. To get in the thick of things. For a first-hand experience. You get the idea. Apparently, it's nigh on impossible to achieve victory by simply playing from the 2D command map, so it's into the hot seat you go...
The units in the game have a fairly accurate physics simulation don't they...?
Klaude Thomas : The approach the game takes is the units just don't have hit points. The ships have... taking ships as an example... they have compartments, they have a hull that, when it's hit, takes leaks wherever it's hit and then takes on water. A ship has pumps so it can pump out water. It'll ultimately sink, but it can list according to where it's flooded. Plus, each of the individual things, like the bridge, the engines, the turrets, are all individual targets as well so each unit is quite detailed.
On planes with multiple engines, you can shoot out an engine. They're all made up of components. The physics for that is emulated - not perfectly. But the aircraft physics is not totally arcade - you can do everything you can do in an aircraft. And the ship physics... you have proper listing and sinking and so on.
Why this level of accuracy as opposed to something more arcade-orientated?
Klaude Thomas : Because I think it makes the gameplay a lot richer. If you just had something arcadey it would have been shooting at this great big ship and it wouldn't have mattered where you hit, because you're just hitting it and doing damage. These ships are big objects and it wouldn't have been right to model them with just one 'number', it wouldn't have given you the gameplay.
Why have we've been waiting so long for the game?
Klaude Thomas : Well, it's getting the game right, working out the gameplay. It's difficult to find another game around that you can point to and say 'This is like Midway'. Okay, we can look at WWII aircraft fighting games like I-L 2, we can look at some games with submarines, but nowhere do you find the whole thing where you've got the action of being able to control a carrier or a battleship as a whole unit. And also you have the rest of the fleet around it.
I think Carrier Command from years ago.. In that game you had a carrier and you could launch things but you only had three units. But that's probably, as a reference point... You don't really have many reference points for Midway. In Midway you can jump from being in a submarine, to suddenly being in a Wildcat fighter plane, and you can do that at one press of the button, and the scene has to keep up and the control scheme has to be such that you don't get confused. But it does work. But if you think about what it actually means to be able to do that... it's quite a big thing.