A screenshot from Company of Heroes 3.

A screenshot from Company of Heroes 3. (Company of Heroes 3)

This article will be the first of a series of articles examining the relationship between war and video games.

For as long as we have recorded history, we have documented war. Countless pages have been written about the trials and tribulations of the battlefield soldier. Warzones deprive people of their justice, lives, and liberty, yet those unfamiliar can still experience the stories and gravity of war.

It is considered an honor to a writer or a reporter when she or he is able to get a soldier to speak of their experiences, because the level of trust required to enable someone to speak their truth is always difficult.

How we have documented war has ultimately remained the same but has advanced recently due to relatively new technologies.

We have exchanged lines of text for code.

This form of transcription has created an immersive illustration of war.

It’s potential has even been seen by the Department of Defense, inspiring the DOD to utilize this technology of video games for a variety of applications.

The benefit of video game technology for the Department’s use led to video game company, Unity, being selected for a highly coveted contract.

It also has led to digital recruitment efforts, such as creating E Sports teams and a twitch channel.

However, the most prominent memory of the Department of Defense’s use of video games was when they created a video game, America’s Army.

Its purpose was to create a video game that garnered interest in military life and also provided a simulator for those who have yet to enter combat.

While many of you are already aware, signing up to join Uncle Sam’s military does not mean combat.    It could very well be working for Stars and Stripes.

Which leads me to the first game of this series which I wish to discuss: Company of Heroes 3.

I knew from the moment that I played it that it was a next generation game. It was a real time strategy game that took great effort into focusing on individual details. I appreciated how the game took account topography, giving you or your enemy the advantage of the terrain--the capability to fortify positions in buildings or on top of tanks.

Unlike most Real Time Strategy games, Company of Heroes 3 also forces you to recognize individual units with more care than previously by providing individual voices for each unit.

The concept, the detail, and execution were amazing to me. Ten out of ten.

Company of Heroes 3 made me think about how video games have transformed as a medium, serving us more immersive storytelling not traditionally possible amongst other 2D media.

Cinema has tried to compete in this area by providing Virtual Reality or moving seats to simulate the immersion that video games provide.

Video games have become one of the premiere sources of storytelling.

However, the process to create intricate and elaborate illustrations for the sake of storytelling has always remained the same.

Company of Heroes, as a series, sheds a light on the history of World War 2. Albeit that the stories may be fictional, they still draw from history; their essence is based in our past. For example, Full Metal Jacket, a story about the Vietnam war, is one of the greatest illustrations of war.

Company of Heroes 3 is an impressive example of war being told through a video game.

To further understand how Company of Heroes 3 pulled this off, Stars and Stripes sat down with Senior Developer on the Company of Heroes 3 team, David Milne.

We began the interview by first understanding how history major turned coder David went about creating the single player campaign for Company of Heroes 3 with his team using history.

…I’m a mission designer, so my focus is the single player missions that you’d be playing throughout our campaign. And certainly, from the mission design standpoint and our narrative standpoint on the campaign in general is coming from a place of history. You know the first thing we do when we’re pitching a mission; when we’re coming up with what we want to do is we go to the history books.

…a big chunk of my job was reading history books, watching documentaries, going through, trying to find, you know, personal accounts of soldiers on the ground and trying to draw from that experience because we want this to feel authentic and we want to represent the history of these battles.

And, we want to be as recognizable of that and we want to in a lot of ways, pique people’s interest in the history.

And you know if somebody plays our game and then gets inspired to, you know, look up the more true accountings of what all happened there. You know, I count that as a success.

While history serves to guide the story of Company of Heroes 3 single player campaign, the story is given life through its programming and writers.

Like most war epics, the reality of war must be present in the story, both on and off the battlefield.

When asked about how Company of Heroes 3 achieved this, David responded by focusing on the North Africa single player campaign story.

I would say maybe a misconception of the North African theater is that it was this, it was just fought in open desert, you know…and it was just fighting.

And that was OK and that, you know, there weren’t many atrocities or things that were affecting the local population, but that’s untrue.

War is always going to affect whoever’s trying to live through it. And so we’re trying to focus on that aspect of it as well, of saying like…there is a cost to o this war and it affects people and every [sic] death is a tragedy and the people who are trying to live through this and just trying to live their lives are extremely affected by it.

We’re not trying to hit the player over the head with that message over and over, but we don’t want to ignore it either it’s a reality of this.

This was a real series of events…and so we want to make sure that we’re not ignoring that aspect of it as well.

By demonstrating the reality of war, Company of Heroes 3 provides a clearer path to how a video game can immerse someone into the realities of war.

But how conceivable is it to re-enact battles through real-time strategy simulations?

David’s response shed light on that.

For instance, when we’re creating our units and creating the voices and the dialogue for them, you know that we’re not just picking random things for them to say, you know, they’re each of our units in the game has a biography written for them.

They all have a story.

They all have personality traits. They all have these things that when we write the dialogue for them to say that comes out and what it is and I think that you know that adds this very sort of human element to it and feeling like these are real people on the ground that are fighting this. And when, you know, they swear and they yell and they get freaked out when artillery hits near by them… I think that it’s that personality that we’re trying to add to the game and really reinforcing that game helps draw you in and helps bring that battlefield to life in a lot of ways.

These aren’t just little plastic green army men.

These are people.

By recognizing the humanity of soldiers and significance of human life in war, Company of Heroes 3 is adding to the mythos of the soldier.

When asked if he contributed to the mythos of the American soldier, he replied:

I don’t know that I’ve thought about it in that context specifically, but probably yes.

I mean, you know, like I said, you know, a company of heroes is in a lot of ways, sort of my first introduction to you, you know the history of World War Two.

By that virtue, you know the representation that we give is going to color that interpretation and represented in some ways not just for you know, the Americans but for the British and the person Company of heroes too. For the Soviet forces as well…When we’re trying to represent these things, there is there a sort of responsibility there to make sure that we’re representing it in as honest a light as we can.

…if this is going to be your first introduction to Company or to World War 2 in general then yeah this is going to be an influential work...

The ether of an epic is in myth, history and immersive storytelling.

Video games, based on the context of past, present, and perhaps future wars, must provide these elements to develop an outstanding and impressionable war story.

A video game may very well be the next great epic.

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