Behind the Lines
March 2008

In This Issue

 

Grazing Fire

Ah, the first warm days of March! The sky is blue, the grass is green.

Most of us feel compelled, either from sheer sanitary necessity or relentless spousal pressure, to undertake that onerous ritual known as “Spring Cleaning”. Why that term has gained acceptance (as opposed to, say, “Winter Cleaning”, when people who live anywhere north of Georgia have no reason to be tempted by the charms of the great outdoors), is a semantic mystery we can’t explain. But “Spring Cleaning” has become too entrenched now to be changed by anything less than a national referendum – so clean we must, rather than succumb to the lure of sunshine and balmy breezes.

Insofar as prolonged manual labor has any pleasures to bestow, the S.C. Ritual does sometimes bring to light forgotten items that can surprise and delight us (“Ah, so THAT’s where my uncut version of “Caligula” disappeared to four years ago!”). This year, near the bottom of a stack of document storage boxes so deep and whose contents had been so long forgotten that the labor of uncovering them was more along the lines of an archaeological dig than mere housework), we discovered a most interesting artifact: a dingy but intact copy of a one-shot magazine entitled “Game Players’ MS-DOS Strategy Guide”, which appeared on the newsstands almost exactly 30 years ago! In terms of human history, a mere eye-blink, but in terms of high-tech entertainment, a stone tablet covered with Babylonian cuneiform! It had been published, and edited, by the now-legendary Robert Lock, the entrepreneur who founded “Compute!” magazine (the first two issues of which were mimeographed in his living room and sold door-to-door, in plastic baggies, by volunteer geeks). It became one of the great success stories in the history of magazine publishing, and when he decided to sell the rights and move on to other endeavors, Lock cleared a profit variously reported at somewhere between 30 and 50 million dollars (depending on which ex-staffer you ask and how rancorous their memories are of its final months – Orson Scott Card, for one, tends to growl and spit over his shoulder whenever anyone even mention’s Lock’s name!)

This “MS-DOS Strategy Guide” was evidently a one-shot trial balloon Lock published to see if the sales numbers suggested that the market was ripe for a second slick magazine dedicated to computer games and simulations (“Electronic Gaming Monthly” was already established, but was not yet the iconic publication it soon became). Evidently the “strategy guide” (which contained almost nothing about “strategies” but did offer comprehensive thumbnail descriptions of virtually every extant game title) sold better than expected, because 3-4 months later, it morphed into the first iteration of what would evolve into “PC Gamer”!

Anyway, here's the Top Ten List from 20 years ago, along with the designer's/publishers trademark name):

  1. The Ancient Art of War at Sea (Broderbund)
  2. Balance of Power (Mindscape)
  3. F-19 Stealth Fighter (MicroProse)
  4. Jordan Vs. Bird: One-on-One (Electronic Arts)
  5. King's Quest IV (Sierra On-Line)
  6. Pete Rose Pennant Fever (Activision)1
  7. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Koei)
  8. The Three Stooges (Cinemaware)2
  9. The Universal Military Simulator (Rainbird)
  10. Zak McKracken & the Alien Mindbenders (Lucasfilm)
Well there you have it. I hope this trip down memory lane was as much of a zap from the past as it was for me!



Enjoy the newsletter,
Sean Drummy and the Newsletter Team

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


1 The planned sequel, "Pete Rose's Legal Battles" never got past the preliminary design specs.

2 Cinemaware games featured the lushest, snappiest-looking graphics of any game designs ever seen to that time. Unfortunately, the company bet the farm on the Amiga platform, because those were the only computers capable of doing justice to the artwork; its PC conversions looked so drab, muddy, and coarse-textured by comparison that every one of them tanked on the marketplace and the company soon followed the Amiga into oblivion.


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This Week's Historical Short: Monopoly and the Allied POWs in WWII

The Historical Short section is designed to provide a brief snapshot of an interesting historical event or trivia that is a little off the beaten path of regular historical discourse.

Shady Doings Under "The Boardwalk" - Monopoly and the Allied POWs in WWII

You would think by now that every significant, or even modestly interesting, fact about World War II had been unearthed and posted on the Internet. You might have to do some digging, of course, but somewhere in Cyberland, you can find out the brand name of Field Marshal Montgomery’s favorite toothpaste!

So we were amazed, and hugely intrigued, by a revelatory piece that appeared recently on the ever-fascinating website Mental Floss. The article, entitled "World War II Weapon: Monopoly With Real Money", recounts the following amazing story:

Starting in 1941, increasing numbers of British airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape. Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful, accurate map, one showing not only where-stuff-was, but also showing the locations of "safe houses" a POW on-the-lam could go to for food and shelter.

Paper maps had real drawbacks: they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear-out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush. Someone in the MI-5 branch (one hopes it was the youthful incarnation of "Q"!), got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It's durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads and unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington, Ltd. When approached by HM Government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, Waddington's was also the U.K. licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly. As it happened, "games and pastimes" was a category of item qualified for insertion into "CARE packages" dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war of all belligerents.

Under strictest secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Wattlington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were located (Red Cross packages were delivered to prisoners in accordance with that same regional system). When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's also managed to add:

  • A playing token containing a small magnetic compass
  • A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together
  • Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian and French currency hidden within the piles of…Monopoly money!
British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first missions, on how to identify a "rigged" Monopoly set - by means of a tiny red dot, one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square! Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, perhaps one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely - HM Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in another, future war.

The story wasn't declassified until 1987, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington's, as well as the firm itself, were finally honored in a public ceremony.

At any rate, it's always nice when you can play that "Get Out of Jail Free" card!


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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 first part in a new series on the history and recent resurgence of the "naval gun."

Manning the Guns (Again!)

William R. Trotter

Part One of a Three-Part essay on the latest, surprising, trends in 21st Century naval warfare…

When President Teddy Roosevelt coined his memorable phrase "The Big Stick", he was referring not solely to the mighty size and numbers of the U.S. Navy, he was using a specific metaphor that all his turn-of-the-century listeners instinctively understood: the great size, power, and reach of the battleships' turret guns. They were, and for half-a-century remained, the puissant voice of a World Power's wrath. Their broadsides evoked the thunder of Jove; their boiling muzzle-flashes epitomized "power projection" like blazing thunderbolts; there were few important harbors in the world that Roosevelt's Great White Fleet could not either blockade to impotence, or or devastate physically with their main weapons.

Dreadnoughts (I'm loosely referring to major warships launched between 1890 and 1945), were fearfully expensive to build; they quickly became status symbols for the handful of nations rich enough to construct and maintain them. The implied message: If you're not able to launch ships like these, better not mess with us, our political agendas, or our merchant fleets. The argument seemed irrefutable and the one rather decrepit maritime power that tried to challenge the US Navy - the moribund Spanish "Empire", which had been in gradual decline since the days of Elizabeth I - had its fleet virtually annihilated for that rash decision.

Ironically, although it was the financially stressful "naval race" between Great Britain and Imperial Germany that contributed to the causes of the Great War, the high seas' fleets of both major opponents were something of a muscle-bound asset; they were SO expensive to build and maintain that neither opponent could ever afford to rebuild what it already had in 1914; and so powerful that a lost engagement would materially influence that rest of the conflict. Hence the nations controlling them were very reluctant to send them to sea in show-down strength, given the primitive means at their disposal for reconnaissance, and the importance of getting in the first salvoes, the initial hour of combat could be critical, and the odds of getting that advantage probably fifty-fifty. Admiral Jellico, First Lord of the Admiralty, husbanded his capital ships very close to their home bases, for as he often and truthfully said: "I am the only man in Great Britain who could lose this war in a single day".

The Kaiser's admirals felt exactly the same, and only once, during the entire bloody conflict, did both grand fleets come out to wage full-scale battle, and the result, Jutland, while costly in lives and ships, was broken off before any clear victor could emerge. The German ships proved harder to sink (more survivable) but the British enjoyed superior gunnery and inflicted gruesome damage on several major units that, even if they didn't sink, blow up, or loose steerage-way and run aground, were as effectively out-of-the-war as if they had been sunk. By the time those Jutland-damaged units were restored to fully operational status, the British had added more major warships, so the numerical odds against the Imperial German Navy were even greater and two years of sitting idly at anchor had rotted the morale of their once highly-motivated crews.

Read on here to continue part one of Manning the Guns (Again!).


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Game Spotlight: Panzer Command: Kharkov Screenshot Gallery and More...

Panzer Command: Kharkov is a recently announced World War II turn-based tactical wargame based on the popular Panzer Commander: Operation Winter Storm. As a stand-alone sequel to the original release in the Panzer Command series, Panzer Command: Kharkov includes a massive list of improvements and additions.

In addition to these brand new screenshots, also check out the new wallpapers (various resolutions listed below) and the first promo video (also embedded below - and before you ask, Panthers are in the game but not in the Kharkov '42 campaigns, the video is just a fun teaser).

Screenshots



Wallpapers

Available wallpaper resolutions:



Promo Video


Download the video as a zip file.

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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. A New Larry Bond’s Harpoon – Commander’s Edition Update Puts to Sea! - Tons of new features and improvements, heading at flank speed to Harpoon fans everywhere
  2. Panzer Command: Kharkov Announced! - A Major New Release in the Panzer Command 3D Tactical Wargame series from Matrix Games!
  3. Carriers at War Gets an Update - A quick update with a few fixes adds to the previous 1.02 major update.
  4. Conquest of the Aegean Is Updated - A new v3 update for this continuous time wargame advances to the front.
  5. Legion Gold Now Available from Matrix Games! - The successful Slitherine Strategies hit is now available at Matrix Games!
The latest release from the Matrix Games lineup.

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A Parting Shot

The weather is getting warmer (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at least) and so is our release line up. These past few weeks have been relatively quiet for Matrix but don't let that fool you. Summer time means convention time and convention time means a veritable Blitzkrieg of new products. Apart from word of the new Panzer Command: Kharkov and War in the Pacific: Admiral's Edition announcements which we've been beating to death, there are plenty of other titles nearing completion. Some have been announced, some are still deep in the Matrix Games lair waiting for the right time to strike.

I also wouldn't be surprised if a short promo trailer wasn't all that we saw coming in anticipation of the Panzer Command: Kharkov release. The community buzz has already reached a fever pitch and Matrix fully intends to feed everyone's anticipation with plenty of media like videos, screenshots, and more!

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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