Behind the Lines
January 2008

In This Issue

 

Grazing Fire

As we write this, the sun is going down on the last day of 2007. A summing up seems in order, but where to start? We may have known happier years, but, in retrospect, few that seem more rounded with good, solid accomplishments. Seven years ago, Matrix Games was just a concept, a mortgage note, and some borrowed capital. We knew roughly where we wanted to go with this company, and if there was no roadmap, we at least had been close enough to the gaming industry to have a firm grasp of what we did not want to do. We'd seen a number of new, idealistic game companies sink like torpedoes tankers, and we knew that, even if we avoided their obvious mistakes, in time we would make our own.

We did, but we learned from them. We've tried to create a trademark that would be flexible enough, dynamic enough, to pursue good opportunities rather than be a slave to a pre-set agenda. Given the rate of change in this industry, that required us to stay light on our feet, and to develop good instincts when it came to appraising new game ideas - an unknown newcomer may well have an angle that fills a niche others haven't perceived yet.

Over the years, we evolved a broad, rather deep catalogue, one without fenced-in boundaries.

Exhibit A: The games we published in 2007, which seem to demonstrate (if there is such a thing) the "Matrix Philosophy" coming into maturity. Our line-up was an eclectic mix of fresh, innovative titles by some of the most respected veterans of the industry; exciting titles that mark the debut efforts of new, vigorous young game designers, and solid additions to on-going series that have long since established a large and passionate fan-base.

We've been to outer space in UFOs, we've toured Europe with Bonaparte, we re-fought that American Civil War twice, with two dramatically different but equally respected titles, we've done the Sword-and-Sandal bit with the Ancients; we've climbed on afterburners in an addicting turn-based air combat strategy game; we spotted Commander: Europe at War as one of the great modern beer-and-pretzels games. We've republished, and we've continued to nourish new iterations of some series that are legendary gaming monoliths, Harpoon, War in the Pacific, and Close Combat; and if that weren't enough, we also re-published with the care and respect they deserve all of the great pre-HPS Battleground scenarios by John Tiller (the early titles that made him a household name)…

And we extended a more welcoming communal hand to the players, who, after all, keep us in business, by arranging live interviews and interactive chats that put them inside the industry, and by making significant improvements in this newsletter.

But that was 2007. And as midnight approaches, we don't want to sprain an arm patting ourselves on the back. When the sun comes up over Staten Island (and we assure you that it does, every single day, even if we can't see it) it will be 2008; we will take nothing for granted - especially the loyalty of our customers.

We have to earn that, over and over.

Isn't that what New Year's are for?


Comments? Questions? We'd love to hear from you through our feedback email address.

Enjoy the newsletter,
The Newsletter Team


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This Week's Feature: Silent Night - The Christmas Truce of 1914

The Feature Article section is designed to give an in-depth look behind one of Matrix's popular titles or to provide interesting supplements to our product line. Expect to see developer diaries, AARs, industry commentary, and the like here.

Silent Night: The Christmas Truce of 1914

For many decades, modern historians have assumed that the legendary, spontaneous "Christmas Truce" of December, 1914, was just another Great War myth (like the "Bowmen of Mons"), or that is was, at most, a localized aberration involving a few disgruntled battalions, that had been magnified all out of proportion by sentimentalists and pacifists.

It was not. Many thousands of men witnessed or participated in it, and contemporary research has turned up overwhelming documentary evidence - especially in letters and diaries - that the event really happened, and it was quite widespread, at throughout the British sector around Ypres.

By late December, 1914, disillusionment had seized both sides. There would be no dashing, quick breakthroughs, and once the trenches took root, no end in sight that would not require colossal butchery, on top of the half-million dead sustained since late August. It was not that patriotism had been extinguished, but the ordinary soldiers could see little relationship between love of country and the appalling slaughter inflicted by shrapnel, magazine rifles and machine guns. Bravery itself seemed to have no point!

Bear in mind that it could only have happened between two armies whose men shared a deep, powerful attachment to Christmas. In today's world, the cultural differences between most combatants would make such an event impossible.

At this stage of the Great War, neither army had learned the science of making dry, well-drained trenches; both Tommy and Fritz were living in barbaric squalor, calf-deep in freezing slime. "Being so miserable ourselves," one British soldier wrote, "it was only natural that we felt a rather strong brotherly sympathy for our Boche counterparts." In the most affected sector of the front, the trenches were often less than 80 yards apart - out of sheer tedium, it was not uncommon for the soldiers on both sides to yell insults, taunts, or jokes back and forth.

Perhaps what happened was due to the recent arrival of large-scale shipments of Christmas parcels from both families and governments. Enjoying the rare luxury of brandy, chocolates, and a cigar, the infantrymen relaxed enough to become sentimental.

No one can pin-point where the spontaneous truce began; one anecdote is as good as another (and there are hundreds!), there's some evidence that the whole thing started when a German patrol, under flag of truce, managed to slip a chocolate cake into British lines, accompanied by a note requesting a cease-fire so that both sides could bury the unclaimed dead, long-rotting in No Man's Land.

The signal for a cessation of hostilities would be, of all things, a concert of Christmas songs from the German trenches, slated to begin at 7:30, Dec. 24, accompanied by the placing of small trees, bedecked with candles, on the parapets.

According to many accounts, the truce began when a solitary German baritone began belting out "Stille Nacht", raggedly joined by hundreds of his comrades. One Tommy was heard to loudly remark: "Bloke's got a bloody fine voice!" and soon the British troops joined in, in English, with "Silent Night"

Next, crude placards began to appear over the sparkling little Christmas trees, and again, the Germans took the lead: "WE NO SHOOT, YOU NO SHOOT!" To which many British soldiers responded with hasty sings of their own: "FAIR ENUFF AND MERRY CHRISTMAS"

Christmas day dawned fair and mostly clear, and although the feeble sun provided little warmth, it did raise spirits. Cautiously, at first, small groups of soldiers emerged with hands extended to show they carried no arms. The trickle became a flood.

First order of business was to bury the dead. It didn't take long, because little was left to be buried. Many corpses went into common graves, with German and British soldiers alike helping to bury the remains, and taking care to salute each grave as it was closed.

The rest of the day was…surreal. Men from both sides exchanged booze, tobacco, badges, buttons, photos, addresses, and by mid-afternoon there were dozens of impromptu soccer games raucously being played in No Man's Land. Only one unit had a real ball; the others improvised, using bundles of wrapped straw or even empty ration cans. Many photos were taken and sketches made by correspondents who got wind of this extraordinary display of brotherhood and hurried forward to bear witness. By this time, with almost telepathic speed, word of the truce had reached the artillery. No shells fell to disturb the fraternization.

It lasted all day, and for several days afterward, the riflemen on both sides intentionally aimed high when their officers insisted that the fun was over and it was time to kill again.

Back at British Supreme Headquarters, the C-I-C, Sir John French, was apoplectic as more and more reports of this "treasonous" behavior poured in. An appalling specter had been raised: what if both armies just decided to quit? Who would fire upon them if they did, in their multitudes? A shudder passed through London and Berlin as the leaders contemplated this previously unthinkable possibility, and stern orders went forth reminding everyone that "fraternization" was a capital offence and ruthless measures would be imposed if this nonsense didn't stop at once!

Of course, there was no mass defection. Only one British officer, who seems to have been chosen more or less at random as an example, was court martialed, and his death sentence was soon commuted by King George V.

Things soon returned to "normal" on both sides, and the Christmas Truce faded into legend. But for one brief moment, something noble and unquenchable in the human spirit had risen from the mud and desolation of Ypres and bathed the "Poor Bloody Infantry" in the grace of its light.

It should be noted that not every soldier in the ranks approved. A corporal in an Austrian regiment, for example, thought the whole thing "disgraceful" and decried the very notion of hob-nobbing with "the enemy". Those who did so, he noted in his diary, deserved "harsh punishment". His name was Adolph Hitler.

And a callow young poet in a Welsh regiment left these lines commemorating the event; their sincerity is all the more moving for their lack of formal polish:

Oh ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.

To which, all of us here say: Amen.


For further information, see:

  • Silent Night: The Story of the World War One Christmas Truce, Stanley Weintraub (ISBN 0-684-87281-1)
  • The Christmas Truce (FirstWorldWar.com)

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Historical Perspective

The Historical Perspective section is intended to give readers the "history behind the game." This week, Will Trotter gives us the third of a series of articles about the historic Saipan operation during WWII. The following is an excerpt of a larger portion which can be found on the Matrix webpage. The first, second, third, and fourth installments are also available to read on the Matrix website.

Night of the Banzai Charges: The Strange and Bloody Struggle for Saipan - Part Four

William R. Trotter

The Parade of the Third Ward Chowder Society

There is something definitely terrifying about the first night on a hostile beach. No matter what superiority you may have in men and material, on that first night you are the underdog and the enemy is in a position to kick your ass.

Officer of the 4th Marine Division, describing the night of June 15-16

For every Marine who lived through it, the first night on Saipan was… memorable. Except on the extreme flanks, where the defensive perimeter touched the surf line, the invasion forces had occupied less than half of the ground demarcated by the O-I Line. In one sense, the landings had gone well: 20,000 assault troops were ashore and thanks to the direct order of General Smith, both Marine divisions had all their organic artillery on hand. On the other side of the coin, the Americans had suffered 10 per cent casualties - about 2,000 killed and wounded, and the beachhead had been peppered all day long by steady, accurate Japanese mortar and artillery fire. Losses were especially severe among the Marine gun crews, all of whose batteries were emplaced in the open, protected by nothing more than hastily thrown-up ramparts of earth and sandbags.

Landing the divisional artillery into such a shallow perimeter was a risky and highly unorthodox tactic, but the events of this night were to vindicate "Howling Mad's" gamble, for without the sometimes point-blank fire of those 105s, it is entirely possible that Saito's counterattacks would have penetrated the Marine's defensive line and, at the very least, turned the landings into chaos.

Japanese actions on the night of June 15-16 ranged from highly professional (and dangerous) infiltration probes - mostly carried out by the 200-300 enemy soldiers lurking in the drainage swamps between Lake Susupe and the shoreline - i.e., the vulnerable and lightly manned seam between the 4th and 2nd Marine Divisions) to the grotesque, almost surreal mob scene enacted along the coastal road leading south from Garapan.

At about 1940, Marine scouts reported some sort of wild gathering taking place just south of Garapan, where an estimated 2,000 Japanese troops were indulging in what looked and sounded like an old-fashioned political rally. Officers stood on top of tanks, waving their swords and making bellicose speeches, gesturing wildly in the direction of the Marine lines. Rising Sun flags were waving, repeated cheers of "Banzai!" rent the night. The troops - infantry formations from Saito's reserves - responded with deafening cheers. An oceanic amount of saki was being consumed, too, for many of the soldiers who would soon hurl themselves at the Marines were reeling drunk when they died.

Read on here to continue part five of Night of the Banzai Charges: The Strange and Bloody Struggle for Saipan...


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Game Spotlight: War in the Pacific: Admiral's Edition Screenshot Gallery

War in the Pacific: Admiral's Edition is the newly announced expansion to War in the Pacific. It is expected to be available for purchase early Summer 2008.


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Latest News

In this section we provide a rundown of the latest updates from Matrix Games, just in case you missed a press release or two.

  1. War in the Pacific: Admiral’s Edition Announced! - New Expansion for War in the Pacific with More Detail, More History, More Features!
  2. Empires in Arms is Now Available! - The long-awaited Napoleonic strategy game is packed, loaded, and ready to fire!
  3. Matrix Games Releases a new Maximum Football 2.0 Gameplay Video! - A new hard-hitting gameplay video slams like a sack from the blind-side.
  4. Forge of Freedom Anniversary Extravaganza! - A Major Update, New Video and Holiday Sale!
  5. Matrix Games Announces their 2007 Holiday Sale Event! - There’s nothing like a little wargaming to put everyone in the holiday spirit!
  6. Flashpoint Germany Is Updated - Some upgrades and improvements to this addicting turn-based Cold War-era strategy game.
  7. A New Advanced Tactics Update Now Available - A brand new 1.02 update on your desk and awaiting approval, Herr General.
  8. A New Update for Guns of August Thunders onto PCs! - A new update file marches towards hard drives everywhere.
  9. Larry Bond’s Harpoon – Commander’s Edition Released! - The latest addition to the addicting naval simulator series has left port - with a special deal! Be sure to gather plenty of intel on the new screenshots too.
  10. A New Empires in Arms After Action Report Now Available! - The hotly awaited title is now jam packed with plenty of info about its riveting gameplay. Don't forget to check out the new screenshots in addition to the second and third AARs too.
The latest releases from the Matrix Games lineup.

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Frag with the Matrix Staff - A Weekly Gaming Gathering

Believe it or not, it's not all business here at Matrix. After all, we are a company that publishes video games. If we didn't engage in any sort of digital entertainment we'd be frauds! The Matrix staff recently caught word that The Wargamer has rented out a Call of Duty 4 server and they're looking for people to join in on the fun.

Since a good deal of the Matrix staff is already quite addicted to Call of Duty 4, it was only natural that we flock to this server on a weekly basis to shoot digital bullets at one another.

So the bottom line is, if you like Call of Duty 4 and dig servers with low pings and a relaxed, fun environment, there's no reason not to stop by The Wargamer's Call of Duty 4 server evenings during weekdays to see if the Matrix staff is hanging out and having some digital fun. So without further adieu - the server information:

Server name: The Wargamer's CoD4 Server
IP Address: 69.90.34.10:28960

If you can't FIND or CONNECT to the server using the "Join Server" screen try this:

Connect to the server through your console manually. Go to Options and enable your console. Press the tilde (~) key to bring up the console and type: "connect 69.90.34.10:28960" (without the quotes). This should always connect you.

We also have a Teamspeak server that anyone from the community can hop on to and chat with fellow players as they seek to destroy one another. To join our server just download and install Teamspeak and connect to 204.13.13.11 to chat!

We hope to see you there!


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Help Wanted at Matrix Games

That's right - you heard correctly. Matrix Games is currently looking for a few good men (or women too, we are an equal opportunity employer after all) to help bring wargamers everywhere some awesome products. Right now, Matrix is particularly interested in hearing from anyone ready, willing, and able to take these positions:

  • Video Tutorial Creator - Matrix Games is looking for people who have experience in manual writing and video editing to create video tutorials to teach gamers how to play the latest Matrix Games titles without having to read a manual. The candidate should be well-versed with video capture software like Camtasia and knowledgeable in video compression techniques.

    Responsibilities for this position include playing and intimately learning Matrix Games titles and then writing a tutorial script for short video tutorial modules. The Video Tutorial Creator must also record reading the tutorial script while playing the game and illustrating the main points of the tutorial. The position will also require that the Video Tutorial Creator render the video file into an appropriate format both for CDROMs and online downloadable video files. Strong verbal and technical skills are needed for this position (and a sexy voice can't hurt your chances either).

  • Promotional Video Creator - Matrix Games is looking for articulate and technically proficient people who can create promotional videos for upcoming Matrix Games titles. The responsibilities of this position include creating a short video for an unreleased Matrix Games product that explains the basic mechanics of the title in addition to other major selling points.

    Promotional videos will generally contain a recording of gameplay to be done by the Promotional Video Creator in addition to voiceover, also the responsibility of the Promotional Video Creator. Experience in creating dramatic, visually appealing videos to add polish to these promotional videos is a big plus. Applicants must be acquainted with popular video capture software like Camtasia and well versed with video compression techniques.

  • Volunteer: Forum Moderators - Like to chat up a storm? Matrix Games is looking for responsible and mature individuals who have a passion for cruising the Matrix Games forums and don't mind laying the law down if necessary. Responsibilities include frequenting designated forums to moderate forum traffic, upholding and enforcing Matrix Games forum policies and dealing with any forum-related issues that may arise. Please note: This job is volunteer and is NOT a paid position. There will, however, be plenty of perks to reward dedication and hard work...

  • Volunteer: Product Experts - Grognards rejoice! Matrix Games is looking for dedicated individuals who have a passion for one or more Matrix Games products and are able to share their intimate knowledge of these products with other gamers. Applicants must have an impressive dedication to and in-depth knowledge of the products they are applying to be experts of. They also must have very strong verbal and interpersonal skills and be courteous, responsible, and mature. Responsibilities of this position include frequenting the forum of the product you specialize in and answering questions, providing assistance, and attempting to grow and support your product's online community. Please note: This job is volunteer and is NOT a paid position. There will, however, be plenty of perks to reward dedication and hard work...

Any interested candidate should shoot an email over to jobs@matrixgames.com. For anyone who has previously applied for a position and not heard back, we apologize for any misgivings. The sheer volume of applicants we recieve makes it very difficult for us to respond to everyone individually. We assure you though, every applicant is looked at for the position in earnest!


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A Parting Shot

Holy cow! A lot has happened in the month of December and we still managed to take a break around Christmas! As you can see, tons of news, plenty of hefty game releaes, and the veritable bombshell of an announcement: a long-awaited expansion to War in the Pacific is in the works! It's going to be difficult to top December this month, but we're sure going to try.

And as always, anyone who would like to drop us a line and give us some feedback, complaints, death threats, etc., please don't hesitate to do so by sending an email to feedback@matrixgames.com.


Thanks for reading!
The Newsletter Team


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