We are proud to release an interview with the development team behind the upcoming tactical strategy game Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog, the latest in the classic and critically-acclaimed Close Combat series. The developer interview goes into detail about the new Close Combat game: new features, graphics, and more!
Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog centers on the German counter-offensive at Mortain in 1944 during World War II. Facing defeat in Normandy, the Wehrmacht must capitalize on their offensive to push the Allies back into the sea, while the Allies must marshal their defenses and maintain their post-invasion positions. With 35 linked battlefields, a grand campaign, and a multitude of single scenarios, the entire aspect of this conflict is covered. Wargamers will also appreciate the updated 32-bit graphics, improved animations, improved strategic layer and the gritty real-time tactical combat that Close Combat is well-known for.
Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog got the all-star treatment, as it will be the last 2D Close Combat of the series. The next time any wargamer commands their forces on the newest Close Combat, the series will be in stunning 3D!
Here's the interview!
1.) What sort of effort went into the graphical overhaul for Panthers in the Fog? What other graphical aspects were changed?
A huge amount of effort. The original engine for Close Combat was created during the 1990s, and it used a 16-bit graphics format that had some serious limitations in terms of quality and flexibility. For Panthers in the Fog we invested a significant chunk of time and effort in updating the graphics format to 32-bit graphics, resulting in improved clarity as well as a more sophisticated appearance.
The prior graphical system which required a separate game file to store image masks. Now edges of graphics can utilize semi-transparency resulting in a more cohesive presentation, while the extra bit depth results in better looking images.
With regard to the aesthetic improvements, most of the graphics were enhanced in some way. For instance, the vehicles were generated from 3D models to give a more realistic appearance. This required considerable effort to get the proper blend of model textures and render settings. The maps were also approached in a considerably different way. More realistic terrain elements were created, as well as development of new techniques to achieve a more photorealistic appearance. Trees and foliage have been drastically improved, while buildings have hand crafted interiors and shadows.
Another area of improvement were the explosion animations. Using film footage of actual explosions, new effects have been created to match the more photo realistic look of the tactical maps. More variety has been introduced to the number of explosions to lessen the likelihood of repetition when multiple detonations are occurring simultaneously.
The atmospheric effects have changed. Fog is no longer a flat colour laid over the screen, while the flare and fire halo's seen during night time battles have been animated using 3D software and exported as an animation into the game.
As ever, there is a brand new strategic map along with new gadgets throughout the UI and tactical maps. The strategic map is an evolution of the aesthetic of the strategic map in Close Combat Last Stand Arnhem. Satellite maps were used to generate a 3D model of the entire strategic region, that was utilized to shade the map giving it a more 3 dimensional appearance.
Even the UI benefited from the new 32-bit graphics. Unit icons, terrain gadgets, defend / ambush arcs, etc. have all been updated to take advantage of the new 32bit system, while the in game UI allows the player to see more of the battlefield. We were able to improve almost every graphical aspect of the game and really bring the look of the game out of the 1990s.
2.) What additional features in the strategic layer have been added or changed in Panthers in the Fog?
As with all our releases, we added feature to the strategic layer of game-play to support and reinforce some of the critical decisions that were involved in the historical conflict. Control of Hill 314, the high ground east of Mortain, allowed the US Army to observe and shell the Germans with artillery. So control of this point in the game gives the advantage of spotting enemy units further away on the map (daylight and weather permitting, of course).
Allied air superiority (and to a lesser extent artillery) played a key role in the battle just be limiting the ability of German units to make large-scale movements during daylight. So we added the ability for a player to allocate air or artillery support to interdicting enemy movement on the strategic map itself. Units hit with interdiction may fail to move at all, and if they do, they’ll be less effective in combat due to the disorganizing effects of enemy air strikes or artillery fire.
And last, but not least, we added a new weather condition to simulate the thick morning fog that played a key role in the early stage of the battle. Some of the most iconic stories of the fighting revolve around German tanks appearing out of the fog and the sudden, short-range engagements that would result. This was such a big part of the story that it went right into the name of the game.
3.) Will there be an experience system for soldiers that carry over from battle to battle? Will we have to use the same forces or can we switch out units?
Unlike previous releases, Panthers in the Fog will track every individual soldier and units throughout a whole campaign or operation. The effect of their experiences (both good and bad) will carry over from battle to battle, even if the unit is not one you’re actively using. This was an often requested feature from some of our most dedicated fans.
The force selection mechanism has also been completely redesigned for Panthers in the Fog. The goal was to simplify the system but maintain flexibility and preserving a reasonably historical force-mix. So there will be two components to picking your forces in Panthers in the Fog – selecting whole platoons, which will come in groups of units that match the actual historical organization of the US and German armies at the time, and selecting individual support units, which are chosen individually and let you round out and customize your force.
The way losses are replaced has also been redesigned, and the new system plays into both of the changes above. Formations will receive replacement soldiers overnight, and these will be used to fill out losses or recreate units that were totally wiped out. But these green replacements don’t have any combat experience, and you’ll need to shepherd them through a couple of battles if you want them to gain experience and reach veteran status.
4.) Has the UI been updated or upgraded in any way?
We’ve made a lot of tweaks and additions to the UI to make game play easier. The in-battle UI has been redesigned to make better use of the available screen space, while giving you a clearer view of the battlefield. It’s also completely customizable, letting you move or hide components as you wish. We’ve added ‘overhead’ icons for each unit to make it easier to find your units, even if they’re moving under a tree, and to click on the one you want, even if a big group is intermingled. And we’ve added a fading ‘Last Spotted Here’ marker for enemy units, so you can see where an enemy unit was recently even if your troops only saw them briefly.
5.) Has the tactical combat aspect been touched at all for Panthers in the Fog?
We’ve made a couple of important additions and changes to the tactical combat for Panthers in the Fog. One is that you can now transport troops or tow using vehicles. This is something players have long asked for, and will help make towed guns a more viable unit type. You can also use it to mount infantry in armored half-tracks, to move them quickly around the map while protecting them from enemy small arms fire and shell fragments.
And we’ve revised how mortar units work, to make them more realistic without getting too complicated. In previous versions mortars would respond instantly to fire orders, and could rain destruction anymore on the map within a few seconds. Needless to say this made them very powerful, so they had to be kept pretty inaccurate to try and counter-balance this. In Panthers in the Fog we’ve added a targeting delay for mortar teams. They’ll now take about 30 seconds to ‘zero in’ on a new target, but we’ve also made them more accurate, and fire faster, once they have zeroed in. Your mortar teams will also remember their last three targets and you can fire at them without this delay. So your mortars fire will no longer be able to instantly hit moving troops or vehicles anymore on the map – not unless they make the mistake of crossing an area you already have the mortar zeroed in on. This makes them much more realistic and adds a degree of decision-making and planning that didn’t exist with mortars in previous versions of Close Combat.
Finally, we’ve made some improvements to the AI opponent will help make it a bit more of a challenge. The AI in previous releases was not very good matching its objectives at the strategic level with its planning and fighting at the tactical level. Now the tactical level AI will be more focused on capturing or holding victory locations (ground) that helps it accomplish its strategic movement goals.