...I can sympathize with most of randallreed's concerns and agree that products sold should be properly documented. However, this game was and remains a "Monster Game", complete with convoluted coding that not even the programmers were certain of at the time of it's writing. Furthermore, years of effort to debug and correct problems with the game model by Moravael, Denniss , and others has morphed the game over time in major ways that made the original (and even revised) manual obsolete. Today, you really have to read through the matrix forum to come anywhere close to understanding the game.
But let's face it... IT'S A GROGNARD HOBBYIST'S GAME... not a government defense contract. In the end, it has been the labor of hobbyists and historians...
(Ah... Avalon Hill...The General... SPI... GDW... Now you're making me swoon reminiscent. I actually have a copy of The Longest Day in my closet... still unplayed... oh well. )
Thanks. I suggest you try The Longest Day. You will find that the rules are straightforward and the game play crisp. The only thing that makes that game a monster is the sheer size of the mapboard and the number of counters in play. For WITE,any hassles and complexities with the code have little bearing on what the PLAYER needs to contend with to play the game without expending many hours of study and dedication. If things don't work right in the visual display, or the panzers won't compute correctly when moving over the Prypyat Marshes, then fix it, but all you need to tell the player is, "Its fixed!" There is no need to go into detail on how you corrected the code to make it work the way you originally intended.
The advantage of a computer game is its ability to automate and reduce game complexity for the player. I note that in most computer games I have played, no one spends pages describing how the Artificial Intelligence works. They don't seem interested in it very much except to say, "The AI is really stupid in this game, even on the hardest setting." Why do players not crave information about the AI? Because they do not need it in order the play and enjoy the game (in most cases). Are they interested in the logic built into the AI? Probably, but not to the point that they need pages in the rules covering aspects of the AI.
I am desperately trying to think of an analogy here but the best I can come up with is finding a big old grey blob of a hornet's nest in a tree. In order to avoid being stung, I do not need to know the intricacies of how the nest is constructed on the inside, all I need to know is the location of the hole where all the hornets will come swarming out. If I don't stick my finder in the hole and shake it around, my experience with the outside of the nest should be fairly uneventful. (I said it was lame!) The programming code is there to facilitate the player's task load, not add to it.
When I wrote the game manual for The Longest Day, it was published as a fairly dense 48-page "Rules of Play" document. Of the 48 pages, 14 pages are actual rules, the rest are designer's notes, game variations, a 224-item annotated bibliography, five pages of "job aid"-like summary charts and tables, and five pages of index. To play the first scenario, a player needs to digest less than two pages of rules. Of the 34 pages that are not rules, much of that is filled with interesting data gleaned from my research that can be optionally accessed by any player so inclined. These 34 pages are part of the game manual, but are clearly not part of the rules. I went out of my way to delineate to players what were rules, what were optional variations and embellishments, and what was historical and other data listing my research sources as a courtesy for full academic disclosure.
I believe that the 380-page WITE manual is about the same or even less. As an educated guess, I believe that the essential rules to WITE could be presented in 38 pages or less, using the same typeface, text density, and page layout as the online game manual. Then, create a second document,and let's call it Historical Synopsis and Data. There you can do with it what you will; study it or ignore it or worship it. But sequestering the two categories of information can only help the first-time player.
Likewise, even in beta testing, online rules can be kept reasonably current as major changes are made to the system. But, if the rules are horribly disorganized and poorly written, revising a hot mess is not at all easy. Create a solid, structured, foundation for a set of rules and one will find that the ability to keep pace with revisions or expansions is pretty robust.
GROGNARDS? Well, yes, I guess I still am. But the same can be said of the majority of wargame players, whether manual or computer, right? Play on!
Randall C. Reed
Game Designer, Instructional Designer, Documentation Consultant