I'd like to use this thread as kind of a quasi-blog (whatever that is) to express thoughts from inside the AE Team - and responses to same. This thread will replace the "General" thread from earlier in the project. First topic is "EXPECTATIONS". Sorry for the length - and I suspect most regular readers know most of this stuff - but for those that don't ...
With the pending release of AE – some of us on the development team – well specifically me – worry a bit about player expectations. If expectations are too high – then we can only fail to meet them – if they are too low – then of course we can exceed them. It is not my job to set expectations – it is up to each person to have their own – but our efforts at providing information to the players cannot have helped but set expectations too high in some regards (and perhaps too low in others).
The purpose of this discourse is not to reset expectations per se – but to provide a balanced over view of what AE is – and what AE is not. Players can then set their own expectations. The game itself will be out soon – then players can align their expectations with reality and we very much look forward to that! – but until then expectations will exist – for most players - without direct hands on knowledge of the game.
The idea for AE came from a thread started by Brady about 4 years ago – called Uber WITP – IIRC. The thread proposed a new game of WITP – called WITP_II – which would include all the dreamy ideas all players wanted WITP to be. I was surprised by the responses – there were quite a few people volunteering to work on such a project. I decided to see if we could push the idea a bit – so we moved over to another private forum to discuss it. Within about a month – we’d worn out most of the enthusiasm – those who were not professional software project people had at least gotten some exposure to the amount of work that would be required to bring such a project to successful conclusion.
There was still a group of CHS people and a few others who wanted to do something – so the idea arose that we would try to get permission from Matrix to work on the code. This idea brought Erik and Joe together – we agreed to an overall strategy – that really hasn’t changed since – this was roughly August 2005. Then we had a four way discussion with David and Erik on Matrix side and Joe and Don on “our” side – everyone was agreeable to move forward. The plan was three fold (1) We would finish the current patch that was in process (18.104.22.168 – which became 22.214.171.124) then (2) We would do an “Enhancement Pack” for WITP to include a few of the wish items players had requested – then (3) having built up a team with the previous efforts – we would try to tackle a new game from scratch – the vaunted WITP_II.
By March 2006, we started on step (1) finishing the patch. Of course we wound up doing five patches (126.96.36.199, 2, 3, 4, 6) before we got totally focused on what we then called “EP” (Enhancement Pack) which eventually became AE. Just like “finishing one patch” became “doing five patches” the “quick Enhancement Pack” became a three year project all by itself.
We still have not started the third component of the plan – and it remains to be seen whether we will.
The “AE Project” really started work in May 2006 when we built our list of goals. This started from the WITP wish list of about 400 items as it was at that time. We added in about another 100 items from ourselves and emails we had received – then we prioritized. Our starting scope was about 65 items. Our team was about a dozen people at that point, the key CHS contributors, Don, Andrew, Kereguelen, Treespider, TheElf , myself as well as Tankerace and Terminus from WPO, and Nik and Michael from our WITP patch team. Probably about 50 different people have worked on the project – some on – some off at various points – the project credits reflect my best effort to give credit where credit is due. The credits of course reflect a static list where as the reality is and was fluctuation.
Of course the project grew beyond our (well at least my) original intention – considerably beyond. I had in mind about a one year project – we wound up with a three year project. We changed a lot more things than I had originally envisioned – including almost a complete rewrite of the primary AI processor. We absolutely did not intend to do that from the start – in fact – we thought we were going to finish the game a year ago – but that was exactly when we realized we would have to rewrite the AI to get everything to work. That was perhaps the boldest decision we made – well I made it – so blame me and no one else! But then finally we got something we could make work – and we moved the scripting to the editor so the “functional” team members would be the “AI script writers” and not the technical programmers. This has the added benefit of allowing players to work on AI scripts themselves post-release as well.
The high points of AE include the new 40 nm map with twice as many hexes and bases. The distortion of the original map has been improved – even though any 2D map must have distortion – but the new map – optimizes correct distances – something very important to play of the game. Many new terrain types have been added – and the transportation network modeling has been improved to allow multiple hexside level transportation links – this resolves a number of problems in stock.
The OOB has been greatly enhanced. The new OOB has been researched by about a dozen people who have spent many years researching this theater (for instance I have been studying WITP for 30 years). The OOB is still “Divisional plus ants” but many units which were abstracted or even omitted in the original game are present in AE. To make the OOB more accurate there are several subsystems involving withdrawals and upgrades – all this can be controlled in the editor.
There are a lot more slots and the art associated with the new slots is more flexible – planes do not need to be on a palette anymore – individual base art is now possible.
Air combat is less bloody, piling up many aircraft on one base is tougher.
LCUs now have modes for rail movement, rapid movement and combat. Units can also recover more quickly if out of combat via a new rest mode. Pursuit is still possible but units must be placed in a specific reserve mode.
Naval forces now have a rich waypoint system, which includes patrol zones and various follow options. Port operations, loading, unloading and refueling have been completely redone – the new system is much more accurate.
Naval Damage has been enhanced with a new class of engine damage, reinterpretations of the previous damage types and a new subsystem for port repair management.
A completely new editor is provided with many new features, including access to more data attributes, all the new slots and the AI scripts.
The supply, fuel, resources, oil systems have been changed. There are now light industry and refinery types to further differentiate supply and fuel production. Japan will need many more ship loads of raw materials to be brought back to the home islands to drive the production machine.
All in all, AE has more of everything, more hexes, more units, more subsystems. So what does AE lack?
The waypoint system is very useful and will make game play easier for players – who can now avoid various workaround systems they may have developed to try to approach a waypoint capability. This being said, most of our team are a bit disappointed that AE has added more player keystrokes per turn overall to the turn processing. We have begun to make more improvements in this area and more are planned – but I would rate this has my biggest personal “pet peeve” area.
The port restrictions in AE may strike players as very different from WITP, you will not be able to load or unload large amounts of fuel and supply at tiny ports like you are used to in WITP. And rearming large taskforces and ships will be tougher. While many of our testers liked the idea, in theory, of more port restrictions, when they faced the reality of these restrictions, there were a lot of complaints. We have mitigated the restrictions somewhat, but AE still has more realistic ports than WITP and we will still expect some negative reaction because of this, at least initially. We hope that once people get used to the new system, that they will like it. That did happen to me.
Playing AE is like playing WITP with the microscope turned up to a higher resolution. The map is larger, the level of detail is greater, the level of micromanagement required is greater. This means that clearly AE is not for everyone, but we think that for those who like WITP, then AE should be even more of the same. However, if you spend most of your time playing Axis and Allies, then AE may not be for you!
In terms of time and difficulty, I might equate playing Allies in 1942 in AE, to playing Japan in WITP. Whereas playing Japanese in AE is harder than playing Japanese in stock. Japanese players will need to plan in more detail there use of critical resources such as the deployment of their naval air HQs which allow the Betty/Nell to carry torpedoes. Also a clear understanding of what it takes in terms of ports and naval support to rearm the carriers and battleships is essential. While we document all this in the manual, I might even suggest a player perform some testing to be sure some of these key aspects are understood. I got into deep trouble in one early test game because I misunderstood the rearming rules.
Both sides will find themselves more constrained logistically and this is more realistic, but it will make play harder. It will mean more planning is required. The operational tempos seen in WITP may be possible in AE but not without a lot of prior planning to get the supplies and fuel where they are needed before they are needed there.
The rearming restrictions will make it more necessary for major fleets to return to port, this will impact the operational tempo as well.
Additional penalties on amphibious unloading will mean that more preparation points must be gained by amphibious troops, to avoid failed landings, this will also slow down the tempo.
Re-stated players may not be able to do all the things they could do in WITP – the logistical constraints will be an inhibitor. With that said, we also expect that once AE gets out “into the wild”, creative players will come up with great strategies for success, just as they did with WITP.
Stacking limits on atolls and small ports and airbases there seem to drastically reduce the value of these locations. I think we will see less activity in the atolls and more ignoring. Either side can probably take them, but having them may be more of a liability than not having them. Very few of them will make good airbases - those would be the ones worth having perhaps.
So how “good” is AE compared to WITP? Well “goodness” can only really be defined by the individual player, but AE was made by WITP players and it includes many things that WITP players wanted. Of course it does not include everything that every WITP player wanted. There are things I wanted that didn’t make it – and this is true of everyone on our team. So I might say that while we are all happy, everyone is also at least a wee bit disappointed – and I would be very surprised if there is any player that has no disappointments. There are thousands of things we added – there are many, many thousands of things we did not. It really came down to priorities and somebody had to set them. Our team leads did most of that. I’m sure a different group would have prioritized differently – but we couldn’t have everyone prioritize everything – we have no process for that.
Once the game is out – we actually look forward to getting feedback from the players and we will react. In fact I’ve said during several of our recent internal debates – “hecque let’s just get this game out there and let the players decide”.
It is been a crazy three years – the one year project that became a three year project. I’ve learned all sorts of things about how to work with 30 or so guys all over the world that I have never seen and will never see – and try to keep everything moving in more or less the same direction.
We’ve had our ups and downs – I think more people have left the team than we’ve ever had on it (figure that one out!). We’ve had plenty of disagreements – but primarily because everyone cares about what we are doing – so their passion comes out.
No one got their way very often – including me! But we actually have every one of the core contributors we started off with –though some left and returned a time or so – and some are in different roles than they started in. But this has been a great team to work with – because of their diversity – and because of their professionalism – fundamentally everyone on the team wants this game to be as good as we can make it.
Is it “better” than WITP? Well that has been our goal – to make it better than WITP in as many ways as we had time and resources for. Is it better in all ways? Of course not. Is it better in “most” ways? Maybe, but I doubt it – given that I have no idea how many millions of “ways” there are. But I do believe it is definitely better in some ways – the ways in which we tried to make it better. Time will tell if the players agree – but one of the few things we do agree on is that it is time to release the game and let the rest of the players help us prioritize the rest of the things we might do in the patches.
< Message edited by Erik Rutins -- 7/23/2009 6:27:40 PM >
AE Project Lead
New Game Project Lead