Behind the Lines
March 2007

In This Issue

 

Grazing Fire

When Dave asked me to write a new introduction to this newsletter, he wanted funny, personal, relevant, timely, and he wanted it all yesterday. And on the salary he's paying me, too!

Several lost brainstorming sessions later, I still didn't have any good ideas, so I headed off to my Friday soccer game. This week's game was, well, weird. I play in a 30-and-over co-ed indoor league where you're required to have at least 2 women on the field at any one time. I've been playing defense/midfield almost exclusively for about 15-20 years. For whatever reason, this team wants me playing up front. It's weird, because I'm much more of a passer-point guard type than a shooter. But they want me to shoot, so I shoot.

When I first started playing with this team, I set up a bunch of goals, but didn't score many. At the end of last session, I started shooting a lot more. With indoor soccer, if you miss, you've got a rebound to work with, so there's no reason not to shoot more.

In the games I've played in this season, I've scored about 8-10 goals, plus another 3-4 two-pointers (longer distance). One or two of them have been cheap rebounds, but mostly good positioning. One of the 2-pointers was the last shot of the game when their goalie was pushing forward to help get shots off and I just booted one toward their goal when clearing it on defense; it went in right before the buzzer sounded.

I bring this up because I've had two weird experiences in the last 3-4 games. First, I actually lost track of how many goals I scored in one game. We lost, which probably didn't help me remember. But of our team's 8 points, I know at least 3 of them were, me, but I don't know how many more.

Second, the past Friday, I actually had a team stick a defender on me full-time. I'm not a fancy dribbler, and I'm not all that fast. But I'm not afraid to shoot from wherever I am, so I guess I'm considered pretty dangerous. One of my goals last night was a cheap rebound. But right near the end of the game, with about a minute left, I managed to worm my way through three defenders and boot one past the keeper (who wasn't really that good) and everyone had a look of "how did he do that?" on their faces. When you're in the middle of flying legs and elbows, you don't really think about what you're doing. Just retain possession and keep moving forward. But I guess it looked good from the sideline. It's just so not me - I'm the guy that always yells at everyone else to shoot early and often, find the open teammate, even if they're not very good... just weird that I was the 'dribble-and-shoot' guy...

So how does all this relate to strategy gaming? I'm getting to that, promise.

The joke among the 30-and-over players is that if soccer were telepathic, we'd all be great, because our heads are usually two steps ahead of where our bodies are capable of being. Most of us have been playing for 20-30 years (I started in the summer of '77) and we can see the game unfold as we play, we just can't always get our bodies to do what our minds know they should. The weird sensation for me the other night was that I did. My brain and my game were actually in synch for the first time since my freshman year of college or so.

I saw the game much like I see my strategy games. The available moves were there. I knew what chances were worth taking, and I knew the bigger rewards would come from taking the bigger risks. And I was able to do it all in real time, which was the real surprise.

Has strategy gaming helped me with my soccer? Probably not directly. But it keeps the mind sharp. It keeps the analytical side of me ticking. It keeps me looking beyond the current situation and into the near future with my available choices, and into the deeper future with the payoffs and consequences. Though in fairness, I think soccer does keep me in better shape.

Sincerely,

Brant Guillory
Marketing and Press Relations Manager


This Week's Feature: Behind-the-Scenes with SSG

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.

Why did we design our new Battlefront game, and why did we do it the way that we did? Well, before I answer those questions I should explain some of the philosophy behind any of our games. We try to produce games that recreate the essence of a particular battle and do it in a manner that is entertaining and fun to play. We want a system that presents real military problem and rewards militarily sensible decisions. At the same time, we want that process to be enjoyable.

Just what constitutes the essence of a battle is clearly a matter of opinion and consensus may be elusive. When it comes to judging whether a particular game system is enjoyable, universal agreement is impossible. So we make games that we personally want to play, and hope that enough people agree with our judgments. We’re still here after more than 20 years in the business, so something must be going right.

So why Battlefront? Well, we were very happy with our previous Decisive Battles system, but there are a limited number of battles that are suitable for that scale. Moving to the Battlefront gave us a much wider scope and we deliberately chose battles in four different theatres so as to give third party scenario creators as much material as possible to work with.

The new system also gave us a chance to implement a completely new AI system. The previous system worked pretty well for battles where the computer had the units to maintain a continuous front. That condition definitely doesn’t apply in either Market Garden or Gazala, and only our new AI system made it possible to recreate those battles.

I’m especially proud of the way the AI performs as the Allies in Market Garden. It maintains a sensible perimeter with 1st Airborne, shrinking it when actually pressured to do so. Guards Armoured dashes up the road to Nijmegen, the US Airborne divisions defend their sectors while XXX Corps guards the road and repairs the bridges. These tasks are not easy for a human player to master and the fact that the AI can do all of this in a competent fashion is an under appreciated minor miracle.

Talk of Market Garden brings me back to the reasons why we make games in the first place. I own many history books, and quite a few dealing with Market Garden in particular. However, none of them produced the same feeling as playing the Allied side at Market Garden for the first time. Looking at the map, looking at the Allied OB and then looking at the map again, this time noting all the different places where the operation could be derailed gave me an insight into the battle that the books just couldn’t provide. To me, this is one critical reason why we all enjoy wargames. Yes, we want to play with history and explore alternatives but we also get that understanding that simply reading the words of others can’t easily reproduce.


Historical Perspective

The Historical Perspective section is intended to give readers the "history behind the game." This week, Osprey Publishing takes us to Operation Market-Garden, one of the scenarios from SSG's new Battlefront.

The following extract is taken from Osprey Publishing's Campaign 24: Arnhem 1944: Operation Market Garden by Stephen Badsey.

The Battle of Arnhem, known today by its Allied codename of "Operation Market Garden," was the largest airborne battle in history, and the only Allied attempt during World War II to use airborne troops in a strategic role in Europe. It was a battle of Army Groups numbering hundreds of thousands of men, but repeatedly its outcome hinged on the actions of small forces and individual battalions at crucial points. Rather than a set piece battle with a tidy beginning and end, it began on 17 September 1944 from a confused and daily changing pattern of events and ended ten days later as the only major defeat of General Montgomery's career, and the only Allied defeat in the campaign in North-West Europe.

In the planning before D-Day on 6 June, the Allies had assumed they would advance steadily inland with General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commanding Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), directing the advance of his three Army Groups, Montgomery's 21st Army Group, 12th Army Group under Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, and 6th Army Group under Lieutenant General Jacob Devers, on a broad front against a strong German defense.

After the collapse of the Axis forces in Normandy, Montgomery first raised with Eisenhower the idea of changing Allied strategy to a single thrust advance by his own 21st Army Group through northern France and the Low Countries and into Germany. On 23 August, Montgomery at last pressured Eisenhower into agreeing that 21st Army Group's thrust into northern France should have priority.

Montgomery issued formal orders for Operation Market Garden on 12 September. The plan called for First Allied Airborne Army to assist Second British Army in a rapid advance from the Meuse-Escaunt Canal all the way to Nunspeet on the Zuider Zee almost 160km (100 miles) away, before turning east into Germany. The airborne troops would capture bridges over the major rivers and canals at three towns, each with a population in 1944 of about 90,000: Eindhoven, about 20km (13miles) from the start line, Nijmegen 85km (53 miles) away, and Arnhem 100km (64 miles) away. These airdrops would occur on three successive days.

British paratroopers at Arnhem, 1944. Illustrated by Kevin Lyles Osprey Publishing Ltd. Taken from Elite 1: The Paras 1940-84. http://www.ospreypublishing.com/title_detail.php/title=Q5731

The plan was for each of the airborne divisions to land as a formed body in open country about 10km (6 miles) from its main objective, and then advance to capture it. If everything worked, each of the three complete divisions would finish after three days holding an all-round perimeter of at least 40km (25miles) while ground forces arrived.

Unfortunately, these distances and timescales only made sense if the German troops were not in fact going to fight. Meanwhile, the Allied ground advance would be made along a tree-lined double track road which ran through countryside that was almost entirely flat and well suited to the defense.


To find out more about this book, or to purchase your copy, head over to OspreyPublishing.com


FRAGOs

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

  1. Boku Strategy Games Signs Multi-Game Deal with Matrix Games - Good news for Matrix, Boku, and Double Shot Design. But more importantly good news for gamers!
  2. Update Compilation CD Released - Update files too big? Purchase the Update Compilation CD and get the latest version of all your Matrix Games titles.
  3. Legion Arena Gold Now Available - The original Legion Arena and its supernatural Cult of Mithras expansion now available under one title!
  4. The Operational Art of War III Update - Modability, playability, and more scenarios. What more could you ask for?
  5. Chariots of War Re-Released - Cry "Havok!" and let slip the... Chariots of War
  6. New Battlefront Screenshots - Just in the nick of time for the game's recent release.
  7. Flashpoint Germany Update - Some in-game editor fixes and cleaner game messages for your Cold War needs.
  8. Close Combat: Cross of Iron Released - Not to mention a spiffy in-depth look at the what to expect from this great sequel.
  9. Forge of Freedom Update Preview - Don't forget to take a look at the Armchair General Interview for more details.

Matrix Personnel Dossier: SSG

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 Gregor Whiley, the developer behind Battlefront.

If you could be present as an observer for any battle in history, which one, and why?

Agincourt, for the history and the atmosphere and the fact that the battle is small enough for a single observer to see much of what is going on. Then, when battle was fully joined, you could pick up your poleaxe and wade in.

First military book you read?

John Erickson's 'Road to Stalingrad'.

First game you ever bought?

First computer game was Southern Command, an SSI wargame that, funnily enough, was written by Roger Keating. First boardgame was Fortress Europa.

What game turned you on to strategy gaming?

It all started with D&D, which led to fantasy miniatures, naval miniatures, boardagmes, wargames and then computer games.

Coolest military machine (current or historical)?

Me 262, the perfect marriage of form and function (if you ignore the operating life of the jet engines, which was measured in hours). Given an unlimited budget I'd buy one of the replicas.

Last time I walked more than 1 mile was?

I don't walk, I ride my bike. I did 150K last weekend, same again this weekend


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.

First off, a little bit about what to expect in coming newsletter editions. Our goal with the Matrix Games newsletter is to use it as a way of highlighting up-and-coming or just-released products to meet the enthusiasm for titles when they're at their peak. As a result, if you see a new title hot off the presses, expect the newsletter that follows it to contain plenty of digital goodies to whet your strategic appetite for that brand new game. This doesn't mean, however, that once a game has been out for a while that its appeal has at all diminished. We're also planning to revisit a few seasoned Matrix hits to give you the low down on what their venerable developers are working on next. Speaking of venerable development teams, I wouldn't be too surprised to see some feature articles coming from the TOAD team sometime shortly, especially since TOAW III has recently been updated...

As far as rumors are concerned, we've got two juicy tidbits for you this issue. First, expect to see some details and perhaps even a release announcement for the next title in the Panzer Command series very shortly. And second, we can't say much but... you may also soon hear the rumble of aircraft on the Matrix Games aircraft carrier flight deck for another currently "nameless" naval strategy title. Stay tuned to find out more...

Last but not least we'd like to mention that our public relations director, Joe Lieberman, has left Matrix to pursue other things. Holding down the PR end of things at Matrix now are Brant Guillory and Sean Drummy.

Thanks for reading!
The Newsletter Team