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Interview: Antonio Santamaria of Artech Studios, 'Naval Assault' developer

Artech has been developing video games since 1982
Artech has been developing video games since 1982

505 Games recently released Naval Assault: The Killing Tide, a submarine-based action shooter inspired by the aquatic battles and subs of World War II. It's an accessible and  suspenseful title by a developer who's been kicking out code since 1982.

After the game went gold, we had an opportunity to chat with Antonio Santamaria, Head of Engineering at Artech Studios, about the historical settings of Naval Assault, the team's past experience, and whether or not players will get to sink those dastardly U-Boats. 

Antonio, as always we kick things off with our icebreaker: What was the first game you ever played?

Antonio: The very first game I ever played was an old arcade game called Sprint 2 by Key Games/Atari. It was a black and white affair, top-down racer with four gears. I don’t think I could stay in fourth gear for more than about three seconds; it was so fast. But it didn’t matter - I was hooked.

Das Boot
Artech's 'Das Boot' from 1990.

Way back in 1990, you developed a submarine sim called Das Boot. Is this in any way a spiritual successor?

Antonio: I’m not sure I would call it a spiritual successor, but certainly we remember that game fondly. One of the things that made Das Boot fun was that despite being called a simulation at the time, it didn’t have a really steep learning curve. If you wanted to just focus on using your periscope or manning the deck gun, the “fun parts” of controlling a sub so-to-speak, you could. That’s something we tried to do with Naval Assault: The Killing Tide as well.

Over the past several years, Artech has developed decidedly family-friendly games for a casual market. What was the main inspiration to develop an intense, submarine based WWII shooter?

Antonio: The idea came about after developing our last Xbox LIVE Arcade title, Aces of the Galaxy. That was a pick-up-and-play arcade shooter, where you basically blew up everything you saw. It was intentionally made to be very fast and not terribly deep, your main concern being to stay alive. For the next project, we wanted something that kept the action, but had a more deliberate pace and added a little more depth to the equation. Going back to Das Boot from the Amiga days, we loved the idea of playing a sub as it leant itself to a nice mix of stealth and fast action. Unfortunately most recent sub games were simulations and had really steep learning curves. So we decided to try and make a sub game non-sim fans could actually play, and made a quick demo where you could just torpedo ships and shoot planes with a deck gun. It was basic, but proved fun, and the full game grew from there.

So Naval Assault: The Killing Tide definitely leans more towards an arcade style experience?

Antonio: It is much more accessible than a simulation and the learning curve is not as steep. However, I would call the overall experience more of an action game than an arcade game. In many levels, you are thrown right into the combat, or not very far from it. You have unlimited ammo and can survive multiple hits (usually). That said, it is definitely not a “run and gun” game or a pure arcade game by any means. The pace varies a lot. Sometimes you can’t seem to shoot fast enough, while other times you need to carefully use your stealth while trying to maneuver through minefields or intercept transmissions. In fact in most areas, if you run in on the surface with guns a-blazing you’ll be dead in no time!

How long has Naval Assault been in development?

Antonio: The game was in developed in one form or another over a couple of years.

Can you touch on the Xbox 360 exclusivity? Was there a primary reason for not developing this title for the PS3 of even PC?

Antonio: The game started life as an Xbox 360 title and leveraged some of the technology we had developed through our previous games. It wasn’t an attempt to exclude any platform in particular at the time, but having released two Xbox 360 titles just prior to this it was just the way it worked out.

World War II led to some drastic changes in Naval Warfare, especially with submarine development. That also led to the Allies putting an emphasis on developing technology to detect and defeat submarines. In Naval Assault: The Killing Tide, what poses the biggest threat to a player?

Antonio: Despite having a powerful arsenal, the player’s submarines are actually quite vulnerable. The biggest threat to the player comes from being detected, and as a direct result coming under fire from multiple enemies at once, particularly from depth charges. Enemy ships like to hone in on your position and pepper the area with charges. Waves of enemy bombers also do the same. The player’s best defense is to stay undetected as much as possible, but once you start attacking you are pretty much letting the enemy know you are in the area. At that point it is up to the player to juggle their offensive capabilities with defensive ones, balancing the need to take out threats with the need to avoid them altogether. It can be quite a challenge.

Will players have a chance to sink those nefarious German U-Boats?

Antonio: They will. Those and tankers, battle-ships, E-Boats, aircraft... The U-boats can be particularly problematic because, like you, they are hard to spot. You often have to rely on sight to see them at depth, and that can be tricky while you are trying to stay out of harm’s way at the same time. Often you will see their torpedoes before you see them.

Will there be any type of progression system, or incremental upgrades as the game progresses?

Antonio: Players are ranked per mission according to how well they do, and earn stars as a result. Do well, and you can unlock different subs with different capabilities: some have better deck guns, or more torpedo bays, or can travel faster while submerged, making each better suited for different scenarios. You can replay any mission with any unlocked sub, allowing you to go back and increase your score, or earn more stars to unlock subs sooner.

Naval Assault: The Killing Tide also boasts online multiplayer. What type of action or modes can we expect there?

Antonio: The online mode of Naval Assault: The Killing Tide is a fast-paced action game where players try to intercept radio transmissions while at the same time trying to sink each other’s subs. It plays out kind of like a combination of capture the flag and death match. As a player you can try and sneak around undetected to find radio towers that are transmitting messages, or you can go on the offensive the whole time hunting other players, to prevent them from doing the same. Your sonar and visibility are limited, so you have to rely on brief glimpses of the enemy, maybe the wake from their periscopes, or the sound of nearby torpedoes or gunfire, to figure out where they are. It can get quite tense as you are looking around (and above and below) the whole time, trying to watch your back, as a skilled enemy can come out of nowhere. There are five different maps available based on areas from the main game, some of which also have other enemy vessels.

We know you've designed the game against the backdrop of historical settings, but were you able to recreate any historical battles for the game?

Antonio: The battle settings are based loosely on the locations of real battles in the English Channel, North Sea, Cape Farewell and Bay of Biscay. The actual battles themselves are fictional, as the storyline is based on an alternate sequence of events that did not actually occur in history.

Ok, here's your chance to grab the spotlight and pimp Naval Assault. What should gamers know?

Antonio: What we set out to make was a submarine-based action game where players could experience all the things that make submarines so intriguing: from the stealth capabilities, to the awesome firepower both above and below the surface. It has a different pace from a lot of games: it is not a simulation, nor a run-and-gun shooter, nor a straight arcade game, but something in between. There are times you will be running on the surface at full speed taking out squadrons of bombers with your deck guns, and other times when you will be sitting at the bottom of the ocean with your engines off, feeling the tension as depth charges slowly sink all around you…hoping one won’t hit. Sometimes you will be shooting at everything you see, and other times you will be hunting through the periscope for that one target you know should be there but can’t find.

There’s a lot of variety in how you can approach a level, and the pace can vary wildly within different sections of a single mission. It can be a tough game, and with 26 single-player missions across five different areas, plus extra multiplayer maps, all of which can be replayed with different subs, it can take awhile to work through it all, but we hope players will find it delivers a different, rewarding experience and a lot of excitement.

Naval Assault: The Killing Tides is available now for $49.99 on Xbox 360. We'd like to thank Antonio for taking the time to chat with us, and the awesome PR team at Bender/Helper Impact for making it happen.


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