Daniele -> Armored Brigade Developer Interview (4/13/2017 9:38:11 AM)
Juha Kellokoski is the main programmer and game designer of Armored Brigade. Together with his three fellow comrades Sam, Nikola and Dmitriy, they form the team developing the game.
We met Juha and we had the chance to ask him some questions about its latest work.
First off, thank you for answering these questions about upcoming game, Armored Brigade.
Matrix. Would you like to tell us what has been the driving force behind its design?
Juha Kellokoski. The starting point was to make a game I like to play. I've combined elements from games that I have enjoyed, including wargames and simulations, and even flavors from outside these genres. I've been an avid gamer since the mid-80's. The original Steel Panthers is perhaps the greatest inspiration, if I had to name just one, but I'm sure that the players of many other PC wargame classics will feel like home when they try Armored Brigade. Also, especially in the earlier days, I did a lot of research about what the players think is missing from other games, and did my best to make sure Armored Brigade won't be lacking in those respects.
M. When it was available for free, Armored Brigade got a strong reputation among wargamers. What is the story behind this incredible project?
J.K. Armored Brigade was actually my first game project. The initial steps were taken as early as 2004 when I decided to do something else than just modding the games of others. I considered different ideas, including a “Roguelike” game concept, but with real graphics. A bit later it evolved into making a Steel Panthers clone, with turn-based gameplay. I think the current real-time concept matured in late 2005, and later the '87 equipment became the data set. Since then it's been expanding and expanding in all directions. Basically, everything has been redone several times, and even now we're ditching old stuff we know can be done better. The first freeware version was made public in March 2008. It was a very sincere effort, like “Hey, I made a game, do you want to try it?” I was fairly ignorant about the “grognard scene” and all that. I started receiving emails from the grognards, (ex-)servicemen and established publishers, saying very positive things about the game, even in its early, crude form. Unfortunately, I wasn't very responsive those days, and even left some of the emails unanswered. Hopefully I've improved from that. Around the same time the discussion forum was opened, and I got feedback and help from the players, and kept developing the game. All of the current team members were “recruited” from the forum. I'm still the only programmer and the project leader. Sam is mainly responsible for the textures, Dmitriy makes the maps and additional artwork and Nikola is building the database. In 2016 I decided to work on this project full-time, to give it all the polish and chrome it deserves. For that purpose, I established my company, Veitikka Studios, and signed a contract with Matrix Games. That's where we're now.
M. How is Armored Brigade different from other Real Time Tactical Wargames?
J.k. I think the uniqueness comes from the combination of detailed combat, and from being able to zoom in and see the tank commanders scanning around and the individual men and casualties, and then zoom out and witness the tactical map that has enough space to cover a full 122mm artillery range. The game is very flexible and supports multiple ways of playing it; in pausable real-time or in custom-length “rounds”. All that comes with a dynamic AI opponent and unlimited replayability. There are features rarely seen in wargames, such as asymmetrically placed objectives (different for both sides), identifying enemy units as hostile before engaging, fake “neutral” units etc. It's a very unique package, never before seen in computer wargaming.
M. I’ve seen some maps and they look fantastic! How have you created them? Are you using real topographical and geographic settings?
J.K. Not many strategy games can boast of their realistic maps (and the number of RTS games with such maps is even smaller), so realistic that you can easily compare the real map and the map in the game. I have not seen such maps of this size yet. These maps are based on real terrain, real elevation and real details, and also, on original military maps of the era: in the game, you'll see roads that are not there today, and learn that some of today's roads did not exist in the 80's. Abandoned factories and railways are in their correct places.
Map creation is done in stages and with the help of several tools: geo-programs, graphic editors and even in-game developer tools. The process of using these tools together is rather difficult, but we hope that in the future we can develop a full-fledged and self-sufficient map creation tool for newcomers.
Our goal was not only to make the units and their behavior as realistic as possible, but also to create terrain as realistic as possible. Forest has different types and densities, there are different types of roads, rivers and lakes, bridges, houses, factories, warehouses, even churches, all with real elevation data, and with support for all seasons of year! Of course, creating maps of such size and detail is extremely resource intensive and requires a lot of effort, but we're doing our best and feel confident about meeting our ambitious goals.
M. The “Cold War turning Hot” situation has always been an intriguing setting. What fascinates you the most about this fictional confrontation?
J.K. Personally, I admit that the main attractiveness of the era, especially the 80's, may come from its nostalgic feeling. Tom Clancy stuff, MicroProse games and so on, especially flight simulations such as Gunship and Stealth Fighter play their role here. I spent countless of hours loading the missions from the Commodore 64 cassettes! One of the aspects I want to simulate in Armored Brigade is the gradual (or sudden) destruction of environment into debris, with burnt forest for miles around. You can turn the map into a “post-nuclear” battlefield by changing a few scenario parameters. I think this important feature has always been missing from “Cold War turned hot” simulations. After all, it's perhaps one of the first things that come up in WW3 nightmares.
M. If you could list three game’s unique and main features, what will you include?
J.K. Even if they perhaps cannot be fully considered as never-before-seen features in wargames, if taken out of the context, I think the combination of huge selection of units and equipment, combined with the ability to pick tactical maps from large master maps, and the dynamic AI opponent make Armored Brigade a unique “sandbox” wargame. That's how I like my wargames, and that was the starting point when the system was designed, even if now the game has much more to offer than just generated skirmishes.
M. Another important element of this game is the AI ‘s responsiveness and adaptability. Could you give us more details on it?
J.K. The AI is fully dynamic, meaning that you can throw in any combination of map, forces and scenario parameters, and the AI is able to handle it. No scenario plays the same way twice. One very interesting feature in the game is the so-called “dummy objectives”, which is a very rare feature in wargames. Just like in the real world, the opposing forces don't always have the same goals. In most wargames, both parties are trying to control the same piece of ground or hexes. So, in Armored Brigade you can have a “dummy objective”, which both sides see in a different location. That makes the AI behavior less predictable. On top of that, such objectives don't even affect scoring. That should make you think twice (or more) before stacking your units to defend one single objective. The AI opponent may not even be coming that way! Overall, the AI is certainly above the average wargame AI level. It can be aggressive and knows how to synchronize the land, air and artillery assets.
M. Most Cold War wargames are set in central Europe for obvious reasons, and Armored Brigade is no exception. Will we see other scenarios?
J.K. One of the master maps and branching campaigns will be set in South-East Finland, which can be seen as a fairly exotic Cold War location by the majority of players. There's at least one desert map planned, but it probably won't feature campaigns. We haven't really reached the phase where we will focus on producing scenarios, so there are still open questions in the air. Nothing prevents the community from making and sharing additional maps and scenarios, because they have a very open and easily editable format. Armored Brigade features a full-blown in-game data editor, making it easy to modify and add factions, units, weapons etc.
M. I guess that designing a wargame like this hasn’t been simple, with so many elements to consider. What has been the most challenge so far? And what, on the contrary, pleased you the most?
J.K. I think from the game design perspective the AI is probably the most challenging aspect. Making it realistic, unpredictable and challenging is a challenge indeed. Unlike in many other wargames, which have a scripted AI, the Armored Brigade AI is fully dynamic, and that brings in its own nuances. For example, I can say that it's almost impossible to make the AI conduct a river crossing in a “realistic, unpredictable and challenging” manner. The game should take into account all the complexities, planning and synchronization at the tactical level that we have in the game, without making it a turkey shoot for the human player. So, because we want the AI to be very good, we need to consider it in other elements that we incorporate into the game. As a basic rule, if the game has a piece of equipment then the AI must know how to use it properly. I don't want it to be like in some other wargames, where you may perhaps have all the equipment in the world, but all the AI can do is to drive them straight into a minefield, without any coordination with other forces.
I think the most pleasing thing has been to see how it all comes together. The game is more than the sum of its parts and has massive depth under the relatively simple user interface. We're working on the branching campaign system, the top-level layer that merges it all into an epic wargaming experience.