Behind the Lines
June 2007

In This Issue

 

Grazing Fire

"Strategy gaming" is a nice term. We all have some idea of what it means, but how much of my idea of 'strategy gaming' matches up with yours?

In the military (I'm an officer in the Army National Guard) we talk about three different levels of operations: tactical, operational, and strategic. But where "strategy" meets "strategic" can be very different that what gamers see as "strategy gaming."

Talking with some other gamers, 'strategy gaming' seems to exist in the world in which a plan is not merely desirable, but essential for success. You can't just charge into a nest of Wehrmacht machinegunners and twitch-fest your way through the flying bullets. You need a plan of how to take down the enemy.

What's fantastic about Matrix's stable of games is that we have so many options for how to strategize your way through the world. Are you a swords-and-sandals type? Do you prefer carpet bombing? Or do you prefer the double-switch with the pitcher's spot due up in the order?

The great thing about strategy gamers is the way in which they can discuss the world with each other. I spend a lot of time on campus (my other life is as a PhD student) and the latest cause celebre is Darfur. I think we can all agree that what's happening is awful (and would be nice if it could be stopped), but how many strategy gamers look at the proposed 'solutions' and shake their heads? How many of us look at the 'plans' being bandied about and wonder if the planners have ever strategized their way across anything more than a game of Risk? You can tell who the other strategy gamers are in a room when they have the same derision for the media-celebrity-solutions for Darfur that you do.

You probably see it in the boardroom, too. And on the sideline of whatever sports league you're in. And in the heated discussions with your local school board about the future budgets. Strategy gamers inherently plan their way through things. It's not always a great plan; but it's a plan. There's a base of action from which any deviations will be made, but there's at least the guidance to inform those decisions.

And for my money, we could all use more strategy gamers making decisions in the world right now.

Sincerely,

Brant Guillory
Marketing and Press Relations Manager


This Week's Feature: Tales from TOAD Rock with the TOAD Team

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

Hi all! Ralph and I thought we'd take some time and let the community know a little about what's coming down the pike, and how things are going.

It's been really great to see the community response to the release of TOAW III. Sales have been good, PBEM games are starting on a daily basis, and you can advertise for opponents at several websites, including Matrix Games in the opponents wanted forum. Several designers have shown up again to work on their scenarios, retrofitting them to take advantage of new features in TOAW III, and to publish new work. In the last patch, we had 13 scenarios added or revised - ranging in topics as diverse as Waterloo to Vietnam.

The 3.1.0.9 patch adds the ability for designers to edit the equipment database. This allows them to build specialized databases for the 19th Century, Vietnam War, WWII, Modern Warfare, etc. These allow for the possibility of battles, or eras, to be better covered than with the stock database. We've already seen some dB-modded scenarios converted from TOAW-COW, and I expect to see this become a very popular feature.

What's TOAD (the people behind TOAW III) up to in the future? Recuperating for a bit first, we went longer than expected between releases so getting the last patch together was a killer. Then we intend to get back to some planned enhancements in TOAW III, and get started on some other TOAW related ventures. We'll have more on that in following newsletters…haha!

We've kicked around a lot of ideas, both long range and short term. There are some minor leftovers from the last patch, or from COW, that still need to be touched up. We'd like to freshen up the UI a bit. The VCR should play full screen, the mouse wheel should zoom in and out, make editing objectives in the editor easier, etc.

Two important things for the next patch are something called "Unicode" and allowing users to change the fonts around. Right now, there are 256 individually drawn characters available. It's possible to change them around a bit, but extremely difficult. By adding in full Unicode support, this will allow several additional languages to potentially be written to. Things like Cyrillic (Russian), Japanese and even Chinese are possible applications of this, though it may turn out that the characters are too small for a working Japanese or Chinese version. Cyrillic may be too small as well, but it's a start.

We're looking at tweaking the engine in several ways, for future patches. Some minor, and some major. Helicopter movement was never implemented too well in earlier versions, and we want to straighten that whole subsystem out. Current flanking rules are neat, but they have the flaw that a horizontal front will still present units that can be 'flanked,' even though in real life, they couldn't be. Conversely, sometimes in a vertical front, units should be flanked, when they aren't. This is due to hex-grain differences between a N-S, or an E-W oriented front, as portrayed in a hexagonal grid. We've got testing to do, to see how the game play is affected by such changes and to make sure that they are reasonable. We also want to address player 1 versus player 2 asymmetries, in future patches or products.

Some other ideas that we are throwing about include an enhanced modeling of air, and naval operations, supply, turning over formational control of a player's units to Elmer, extra events, increased parameter limits, and so on. Where the "line break" for feature additions will be with respect to TOAW III, versus future products, is something that we still haven't fully decided on.

Whenever our crystal ball gets fuzzy, we just look to the community for a wellspring of ideas. Obviously, not everything everyone in the community wants is possible, but we do know that whatever else happens, we'll all have fun bringing you the best damned game on the market for operational warfare.

Regards,
James A Mathews


Historical Perspective

The Historical Perspective section is intended to give readers the "history behind the game." This week, Will Trotter gives us the first 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.

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

William R. Trotter

If, in the late spring of 1944, you took a dime-store protractor and stabbed its point into Tokyo, then extended its pencil-arm until its point touched the map in the center of the Marianas Islands, then you rotated that pencil until you'd drawn an arc extending from the east coast of Borneo to one of those bleak, uninhabited rocks in the far reaches of the Kurile Islands, you would have drawn the most important strategic boundary in the Pacific Theater of War at that time: the Inner Defensive Perimeter of the Japanese Empire.

As bloody and hard-fought and important as they were, the battles for the Solomons, the Gilberts (Tarawa), the Marshalls (Kwajalein and Eniwetok), the Aleutians, and the coastal enclaves of New Guinea, had resulted in the conquest of points that marked the outer limit of Japanese expansion during the period between Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway. By June of 1944, all the remaining Japanese bastions outside of our imaginary circumference (Truk, Wake Island, Rabaul, Biak, and Morotai among the more important) had been successfully bypassed and left to "wither on the vine". Some of these places were defended by very large enemy garrisons, but all had been rendered offensively impotent (and in the remoter outposts, such as Wake, the defenders had been reduced to disease-riddled apathy, too wracked by starvation even to lift their rifles in self-defense). Unless it was a very slow or very overcast day elsewhere, no one even bothered to bomb them any more, much less planned to assault them; by their very existence, they created a slow but constant hemorrhage of the Nipponese homeland's dwindling resources. To cite just one example, a significant portion of the Imperial Navy's submarine fleet, was now assigned the responsibility - not of hunting U.S. surface units - but of providing food for the starving and erratic ambulance service for the gravely wounded, the desperately sick, or the handful of officers so politically well-connected that they could pull strings and obtain a one-way ticket out of these isolated hell-holes, where the combined effects of poor diet, crumbling discipline, intolerable boredom, and a growing sense of military worthlessness were causing the suicide rate to climb, month after month, and an ever-growing percentage of the garrisons to turn openly psychotic. Things hadn't reached the stage of cannibalism yet, but prescient officers could see that, too, looming over the horizon.

But on every occupied island on or within our fresh-drawn pencil arc, there was feverish activity as Tokyo urgently dispatched transport aircraft and convoys -- loaded with troops, weapons, construction supplies, tanks, and whatever bits of heavy ordnance could be found that had not already been emplaced elsewhere too the most critical points along the Inner Circle. It seemed certain that the Americans' next amphibious blow would strike somewhere along or within that critical demarcation. The loss of any such position would signal a profound strategic shift in the balance of forces throughout the Pacific Theater; the loss of an island such as Guam or Saipan, would caused the earth to tremble as though from a major earthquake. If the Americans cracked any part of those defenses, the effect would be like a knife thrust into the body of the Japanese Empire. Furthermore, any bastion that was lost, could never be regained by a counterattack; the Imperial Navy no longer had the ships, the fuel, or the surplus of trained pilots required to mount such an operation. What was left of that navy, in fact, dared not sortie forth unless the situation was both so dire, and so pregnant with the possibility of a decisive Japanese come-back as to warrant the taking of gravely calculated risks. Japan's admirals had not become timid men, far from it, but given the demonstrated American ability to conjure enormous fleets seeming from thin air, Japan's naval strategists knew they only had one, possibly two, throws of the dice left, and the gambles would be justified only if, in the admirals' opinions, there was a better than even chance of a smashing upset victory.

At the very least, Japan needed enough of a victory to put the brakes on her enemy's momentum, to roll back the Allied avalanche long enough for the Home Islands to rebuild their strategic stocks, for the mighty new fleet carriers now under construction to be launched, and for some of the advanced and very capable new aircraft to move from drawing board to production line. Plans existed, of course, for a number of such bold but potentially table-turning operations; and if the colossal Battle of Leyte Gulf would prove anything, it was the boldness and imagination of Japan's naval strategists, for despite crucial shortages of fuel and pilots, they almost pulled off one of history's great upset victories - if Admiral Ozawa's nerve hadn't failed at the last minute, the mighty Yamato alone would have virtually annihilated the U.S. invasion fleet off Leyte, an outcome which surely would have set the Allied timetable back six months if not a year.

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


FRAGOs

FRAGmentary Orders are updates to previously-published missions. In this section we provide a rundown of the latest updates from Matrix Games.

  1. Carriers at War is Put to Sea - SSG's highly anticipated naval warfare sim is now deployed and ready for battle!
  2. Commander - Europe at War Signed by Matrix Games - Matrix and Slitherine are bringing some fantastic strategic-level World War II action in just a short while.
  3. A Forge of Freedom AAR Contest - Love Forge of Freedom and good at telling stories? There just might be some prizes in store for you, soldier!
  4. John Tiller's Campaign Series Now Available - 350 Scenarios and John Tiller's brilliance packed into one tiny disk of silicon. How can you go wrong?
  5. UFO: Extraterrestrials Update Released - Chaos Concepts sends out a pretty substantial update that's chock full of improvements like Hotkeys and even more user-defined options.
  6. New Guns of August Screenshots - Bitter trench warfare never looked so good!
  7. Forge of Freedom Gets a MASSIVE Update - This latest update is a veritable bomb shell of new content and improvements. Whether you liked the game or positively loved it, this update is worth a look.
  8. Harpoon 3 Updated - The ultra-realistic naval warfare sim just got... more realistic!
  9. War in the Pacific Gets an Update - Some tweaks and improvements to this longstanding wargaming classic.
  10. New Carriers at War Screenshots and After Action Report - If you weren't already excited by how good this game is going to be, a new AAR from the lead developer himself is now available.
  11. Operation Market Garden Tournament Announced by Matrix Games and SSG - Think you're good at Battlefront? Prove it!
  12. UFO: Extraterrestrials Invades North America - A pretty rockin' video and some screenshots mark the earth-shatteringly anticipated release of this sci-fi strategy hit.

Matrix Personnel Dossier: TOAD Team

The Matrix Personnel Dossier is an opportunity to get to know the developers behind the titles published by Matrix Games. This week we're spending a few minutes with Ralph Trickey and James Mathews, the developers behind The Operational Art of War III.

First military book you read

Sun Tzu's Art of War

First computer was...?

Altair 8800

Ginger or Mary Ann?

Mary Ann, definitely she was the wholesome, down-to-earth hottie on GIlligan's Island. I'd play Professor for her any day. Ginger always struck me a a floozy that would do anything for her career.

First game you ever bought

I don't remember which game was first, but my parents bought me a lifetime subscription to S&T for my 16th birthday. I refused to touch D&D (owned by TSR) for several years because of what happened between them and S&T.

If I were a rock star, I'd be _____ and why

Gene Simmons from KISS. Don't tell my wife, but dressing up in makeup and jumping around on a stage sounds like a lot of fun.

What game turned you onto strategy gaming?

Chess. I was never the best, but I had a lot of fun learning. I always seemed to make these grandiose plans that failed because I forgot something obvious, though.

Favorite movie you're willing to admit to in public? Movie you dig that other people make fun of?

Office Space, definitely. That's a must see for anyone that works in an office. I enjoy watching Falling Down, but that one scares my wife when I watch it.


A Parting Shot

Our Parting Shot section is intended to be a mix of rumor, commentary, recap, and whatever else doesn't fit in with the other sections.

The newsletter team is particularly pumped about our new Historical Perspective piece about Saipan. If you haven't clicked through to our main webpage to finish reading part one of six in this series, you're missing out. Gamers who were positively spellbound by Mr. Trotter's opening account of the battle should head over to Matrix and check out Carriers at War, Battlefront, or the classic War in the Pacific. The Pacific theatre of WWII has so much to offer and if Saipan, one of the most intense encounters of the entire theatre, was as entertaining to read for you as it was for us, those three titles will definitely provide all the blow by blow drama (with maybe a few suprises too).

As for the next edition of the Matrix newsletter, we hear the team over at 2by3 games is hard at work developing War Between the States, with pretty fantastic results. I wouldn't be surprised if Joel Billings and his crack development team made an appearance the next time this newsletter rolls of the presses.

Thanks for reading!
The Newsletter Team