Behind the Lines
January 2006

In This Issue

 

A Letter from the Editor

Welcome to 2006 everyone!  Let me just say that, apart from our neighbors nearly setting their house ablaze with illegal fireworks, this was the quietest new year I have had in ages... So thank you to all the people who left me alone for a day!  Mind you, it was just twice as busy when we returned from our day off, but for a brief 24 hours I was in heaven.  Let me not bore you any more with the day to day life of the newsletter editor.  Instead, lets focus on some cool items we have lined up for this little shindig.  We've got interviews, satire, and an After Action Report that's over 100 pages long!  Well, ok, more like a LINK to an AAR over 100 pages long... but that's still pretty darn cool.

So sit back, grab a cup of bevvy-drink, and enjoy the first issue of Behind the Lines for 2006!  Oh and don't forget to give me feedback on this month's newsletter.  Send your thoughts to JoeL@matrixgames.com.

Sincerely,
Joe Lieberman, Editor

Feature:  Battleground Europe

To sum it up in one sentence:  Battleground Europe is like real life war, without any of that getting shot nonsense.  What is it?  Well, in case you hadn't heard of it before, it is a Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG).  To be more specific, it is a First-Person Shooter MMOG.  Now wait, before you write this off as some lame fantasy setting where you spend 25 hours killing small rodents before your axe wielding psychopath can dare challenge a small child with a fork, let me tell you exactly what Battleground Europe is.  It is a realistic first person combat simulation where every other person you meet is a live human opponent.  It contains a strong mix of tactics, action, and hiding in uncomfortable places while mortar, bombs, and enemy fire explode all around you.

Yes, in short, it rocks.  It contains dozens of realistic weapons, hundreds of realistic cities, and the entire world is pretty much interactive.  Players can fly planes, sail ships, and take to the good old ground to capture cities and objectives.  One of the things that will instantly grab you is the sound effects.  Sounds are realistic, and each gunshot has a specific sound tied to a specific weapon.  I am told there are many veterans who know, just by the sound alone, if person shooting nearby is friend or foe... and just what weapon he is using!  It doesn't end there though.  While you are out in the countryside it is pretty quiet.  You hear your boots, maybe he occassional plane in the distance, and that's about all.  Enter a warzone and the atmosphere changes radically.  There will be the whistle of bombs falling, explosive blasts (you can usually see those too), planes flying and crashing, AA guns chugging away, tanks rolling, and plenty of bullets flying.  It's like a non-stop audio assault that relays the battle without even seeing... and trust me- it is a LOT safer to stay hidden and listen than it is to poke your head out a window to watch the goings-on.

BUT MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL:

We will be featuring a special Matrix Allied Task-Force Invades Battleground Europe WEEKEND event.  We've talked the good fellows over at Playnet into offering up a special 14 day trial, completely free.  To kick off this special offer, Matrix Games will get their own special channel inside the game.  Once you download the demo and join the Allies (Britain or France) and tune to channel 79 by clicking F7 on your chat bar, selecting "Custom" and entering the numbers 79.  You'll get a  chance to play Battleground Europe alongside all your Matrix friends, the developers, the Matrix staff, and a variety of "newbie" helpers who will be volunteering to organize us into an effective and ruthless unit.  The Germans are winning with the entrance of the Tiger tank, and we can't have that (No offense to the Germans out there)!  So join the Matrix Allied Task-Force on Jan 28 and Jan 29 for the first ever in-game event for Matrix fans.  This is your best opportunity to try Battleground Europe, and we are bringing it to you absolutely free!

The free trial download will be available on Friday, Jan 27th at around 4:00 PM Eastern Time.  You can download it from www.battleground-europe.com.

So come on, or I will be lonely in there... I can only take on 10, maybe 20 Germans at a time... I need your help!

Wargaming and Romance, Never the Twain Shall Meet

I apologize in advance to female wargamers, but our survey indicated that the male wargamers were most in need of advice.

Ask a wargamer what V-Day is and you'll get a mix of answers.  Some will say it is victory in Europe, some the Pacific, and others will give the exact date and time of either of those events.  Usually, none of them will suggest that it is valentine's day.  Some would say that wargamers have a lot to learn about romance, but we all know it is the women who have a lot to learn about romancing a wargamer.  I took some time to talk with some of the guru wargamers on V-Day romance; here is the result.

#1:  An Explosive Evening:  Nothing says "I Love You" more than fireworks- Except shooting cannons.  We recommend no less than a 3 inch bore with a 7 inch muzzle.  Firing black powder cannons in a safe environment... true romance.

#2:  Storming the Bastille:  Most fortresses overlook water.  Water is romantic right?  Get cracking as you re-enact what it would be like to defend a fortress from a raid in a variety of century-specific settings.  A romantic game of storm the battlements will always result in a perfect view of a harbor or water-way!

#3:  Show your Soft Side:  Girls love a tender guy.  V-Day is your chance to show her your softest moment.  Visit a local national war memorial and pay homage to those who gave their lives to protect your freedom!  Shed a tear and she'll be yours all year!

#4:  Impress Her With History:  Hey, history isn't ALL about war!  Something darn important happened on Valentine's day that resulted in the decline of Al Capone's empire.  The turning point in the bootleg wars of the roaring 20s happened in Chicago in 1929.  So find a local speak easy and retell the story of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre... do it with miniatures and you'll earn some bonus points.

#5:  Game On!:  Why be tied down to do something extra special when you can say you love her on a variety of hex sizes.  Find a significant battle and lay out your soldiers to spell out something romantic before they charge valiantly into the field.  We recommend the War of the Roses, because girls like roses.

And so it goes:  Wargamers and Romance, never the twain shall meet.

Note:  If you do any of the above items, I am not to be held accountable for the result.  Any of the above actions may result in your taking out the trash for the rest of eternity, doing 3-5 in the dish department, or even death by cold-shoulder after spending a night in the dog-house.

 

Interview with Dave O'Connor

BTL: Hi Dave, could you please introduce yourself to our fans? Who are you, where are you from, what experience do you have?

Dave:  I’m Dave O’Connor, President of Panther Games. I am 50 years old. I live in Canberra, the capital of Australia. I grew up in Newcastle, New South Wales, about 160kms north of Sydney. Like many people of my age, I have had a range of experiences. Work wise, I have been an articled clerk in a law firm, a training officer at Garden Island dockyard in Sydney, a senior policy officer in the Strategic and International Policy division of our Department of Defense, an officer in our Army Reserve, a database developer, a designer and manufacturer of board games, a company director and developer of computer wargames. 

I’m married ( over 30 years now ) with two children. My son is just starting university and my daughter is sweet 16 ( going on 25 ). I work from home, which is both rewarding and challenging.

BTL: Tell us a little about Conquest of the Aegean.

Dave:  Conquest of the Aegean ( COTA ) is the third in our Airborne Assault series of realistic computer operational level wargames. Like it’s predecessors Red Devils over Arnhem ( RDOA ) and Highway to the Reich ( HTTR ) it’s a Pausable Continuous Time ( PCT ) game whose artificial intelligence ( AI ) makes it stand out from the rest of the wargaming pack. The AI is powerful enough to be trusted to manage subordinate commanders. This allows it to support a realistic command system and enable the player to focus on the things that real world operational level commanders focus on. In short it supports macro-management. Players can still micromanage but they don’t have to. So players will find that there is more fun than work, playing COTA than playing your traditional turn based micromanagement wargames.

Our game engine has undergone some serious development work for COTA and includes a swag of new features. The biggest of these is the Realistic Resupply system and the Mixed Mode Movement system. Over all the AI is significantly improved. We’ve listened to our customers and addressed many of the items on the “wish list” like better basing code for artillery, better delay code, new and improved reaction and reassessment code. The user interface ( UI ) has also been enhanced. It now supports a minimum screen size of 1024 x 768 and can be customized to work on the largest of today’s monitors. We’ve taken advantage of the extra space to display more data in the sidebar, an Order of Battle display, a display tool bar at the bottom of the screen, new Depot and supply arrival tabs, enhanced terrain popup and many other UI improvements to make it easier to access info and play the game.

BTL: How realistic will the scenarios be compared to what was actually going on at the time?

Dave: Steve Long did most of the historical research on COTA. He was given tremendous assistance from the Australian Dept of Defense, who arranged access to many historical records. Xavier Davis did most of the maps and these were based on scans of the WW2 maps of the region, provided by the Australian National Library. So the historical scenarios are very close to what actually happened in terms of unit organization, orders of battles, objectives and the terrain on which they were fought

BTL: Is it a campaign or a scenario driven system for COTA?

Dave: While we intended to add a Campaign feature to COTA we had to shelve this in order to incorporate the mixed mode movement system required to effectively simulate the rugged Greek terrain, much of which was impassable to motorized but passable to foot and mule. In HTTR terrain was either passable or impassable to all units. Motorised units could move through forests, albeit very slowly, but they were not prevented from doing so. Further, because of the relatively flat nature of Holland, slope effects on movement were not factored into. For Greece, this would not do. So the Campaign feature got dropped to make way for Mixed Mode Movement.

I might add that the Mixed Mode Movement feature was the hardest thing to do of all the work we have done on COTA.

BTL: Give us a breakdown of some of the more interesting missions.

Dave: There is a tremendous range of scenarios. There is a good mix of small, medium and large sized scenarios from the Greek, Crete and the hypothetical Malta battles. There is also a good mix of historical and hypothetical or “what if” scenarios.

First Contact at Veve sees the German LAH trying to force a passage through the mountain gap in northern Greece. Elasson Rearguard has the New Zealand cav regiment fighting a desperate rearguard action to buy time for the Allies to dig in along the Olympus line. Foothills of the Gods is a pitched battle with the Australian 6th Division defending the Olypus line against a German Korps comprising strong panzer, infantry and mountain troops.

Springing the Trap pits the 2nd FJ Regt against a mixed Allied Bde in a do or die battle to control the vital bridge across the Korinth canal. Cutting the Line has a Greek motorized division conducting a raid on the German supply lines. The Pindos Historical Campaign recreates the Italian offensive launched from Albania into Greece in 1940.

From Crete we cover each of the historical landings at Iraklion, Meleme and Rethymnon. We also include a number of what-ifs including Folgore at Meleme, which sees the Italian paratroopers making the main assault.

The Malta scenarios are designed by one of our Panther Prowlers, Ray Wolfe. He has done a marvelous job of creating two very tight, tense and desperate struggles. Battle of the Maltese Cross sees Italian and German forces invading by air and sea in 1941. Ray of Hope sees British Commandos and Armour along with Australian “diggers” counter-invading in 1942. Great stuff.

But I must say one of my personal favorites is the second tutorial scenario titles Setback and Rebound. Steve Long originally designed this but I couldn’t resist the temptation to rejig it. It’s a classic “club” and “counter-club” scenario in which the Germans go on the offensive first to wrest control of three crossings over the Sperkhios river, gateway to Thermoplyae and Athens. The Allies must delay and deny the crossings to the enemy, while the 6th Australian Div assembles for the counter-attack to Lamia. This scenario has it all.

BTL: On a scale of 1-10, 1 being the easiest and 10 being the most grognardtastic, where does COTA lie?

Dave: That’s a difficult question to answer simply. In terms of attention to historical detail and the level of realistic simulation, COTA is a 10 for sure. Yet the beauty of our game system is such that it is simple to learn but difficult to master. The ability to macro manage (IE just give orders to HQs ) means that even a novice can start playing straight away. After a while players gravitate to whatever level of play they are most comfortable with. Personally, in the larger Corps level scenarios, I tend to give orders to my Brigades and when the action heats up I may give direct orders to several battalions.

 BTL: When COTA is finished what will Panther Games work on next?

Dave: Next cab off the rank is Battle from the Bulge ( BFTB ). All the maps bar one are done. Most of the research into units, estabs, order of battles etc is also done. We’re hopeful we can release BFTB around six months after COTA’s release – though I desperately need a holiday ;)

We have now set up five Data Design Teams ( DDTs ) to focus on developing the data content for our upcoming titles, thereby freeing us to focus on engine development. The West Front team is working on BFTB. We have East Front, North African and Pacific teams focusing on WW2 and a Modern team looking at doing a modern warfare version.

Our aim is to release one new title every six months or so, each with one new BIG feature. The big new feature for BFTB will be Minefields and Road blocks and the engineering tasks to clear them. For the first in the East Front series we will do Soviet doctrine; for North Africa the new feature will be vehicle breakdown and recovery; for the Pacific it will be offmap fire support and for the Modern it will be helicopters.

BTL: Are there any Panthers in Australia?

If you mean the four leg variety, then no, not in the wild – though we do have some in the zoos.

BTL: If you could travel back in time and witness one single event, what would it be?

The Wright Brothers making their first flight.

BTL: Do you have any words of wisdom to convince someone unsure if COTA is the game for them?

Try it. You won’t be disappointed. Check out the HTTR and COTA forums. Do a search on the war-historical newsgroup and find out what other unbiased wargamers think of it.

If you want to be challenged but don’t want to be overloaded with micromanagement; if you want to gain an appreciation of what a real commander faces in operational warfare; if you want to be able to play out a scenario in a few hours; if you want to see the future of wargaming; if you want to be part of a very supportive and responsive wargame community; if you want to have bucket loads of fun, then COTA is your next purchase.

BTL: Do you have any words of wisdom to bring us closer to true self awareness?

Sure do – 100% commitment, 0% attachment that is the secret to a happy and fulfilling life.

BTL: Do you have any words that rhyme with Hamburger?

Never heard her

BTL: Well, it’s been great talking with you Dave. Thanks for the great information, the enlightenment, and the absolute assurance that your ability to rhyme and ability to produce great games are separate. I hope everyone will stop by and participate in the Conquest of the Aegean forums and find out more about your great game (COMING SOON)!

 

Whispers...

What on Earth are all these people talking about?

Holy AAR Batman!  

MarkShot, who did the Highway to the Reich miniguide and After Action Report has released a whopping 120 page holy GRAIL of AARs for the upcoming Conquest of the Aegean.  Follow the link below to download this monstrosity, and special thanks to Mark for taking the time to put it together!  It's fans like you who give Matrix that extra bit of flavor and spice!

COTA download link (ftp://ftp.matrixgames.com/pub/conquestoftheaegean/COTA Mini-Guide Dec-22-2005.zip)

So with that in MINED (ok, I'm allowed one wargaming pun per issue, right?)

Crown of Glory Wins Game of the Year

Definitely my pick for our Rookie of the Year studio, Western-Civ proudly accepted the Wargame of the Year award from War-Historical.  Read more here:

http://www.matrixgames.com/news.asp?nid=289

I would like to say Happy Birthday to... us?

That's right!  It's Matrix Game's 6th birthday.  We wrote about it in this thread:

http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tm.asp?m=1035590

But the real important announcement is at the end of the thread where we shamelessly put together our video trailer:

http://www.matrixgames.com/aboutus/matrixvideo6.asp

As sappy as our trailer is, the importance of it may not be instantly apparent.  We hope to use our new streaming video section to deliver live interviews and live events from the conventions and other on-location activities of the Matrix crew.  Yes, you too may live the highlife vicariously through our new streaming video.  For now, enjoy our little test video and birthday present to ourselves!

 

Updates

This section will provide links to the updates released between the last newsletter and now.  No more having to search for download links; we've got 'em right here!

War Plan Orange 1.15:

ftp://ftp.matrixgames.com/pub/warplanorange/WarPlanOrange-UpdateRelease-v1151.zip

PureSim Baseball 2005 1.20:

 ftp://ftp.matrixgames.com/pub/puresimbaseball/PureSim2005Gold-UpdateRelease-v120.zip

Battleground Europe:

BGE uses an auto-patch feature, but just the same the Sniper and Tiger Tank were released this month onto the virtual battlefield.

And Coming soon will be a patch for Star Chamber:  The Harbinger Saga and another patch for War Plan Orange!

 

 

 

A Parting Shot

As we sign off our first issue of 2006 I want to take a moment of thought to remember the brave crew of the Columbia.  By the time you get your next issue of Behind the Lines it will be almost a month after the anniversary when the Columbia Space Shuttle broke apart over Texas at Mach 18.5, instantly killing all seven crew members.  In many ways it is easier to remember a fallen soldier who died defending a cause.  I believe the death of the Columbia crew and their pursuit of science is no less noble, though much easier forgotten.  So on Feb 1st don't forget to take a moment to remember the Columbia.  I sincerely hope it will be the last vessel in my lifetime to go down with all hands.

And so, by the next issue of Behind the Lines the dreaded Valentine's Day holiday will be behind us; and while some of us without that panache for love will be stuck doing the dishes for weeks to make up for it, I leave you with the one fallback plan.  Find a rose or pretty flower in a nearby garden, write a sign that says "I picked this one for you" and bring the girl out to it.  Cheap, fast, easy, and you will go down in history as a creative leader in love. 

As usual, if you have any ideas for next issue just drop me an e-mail at JoeL@Matrixgames.com.

Good luck all you lovebirds!

Joe Lieberman
Newsletter Editor