The new title in the Strategic Command series appears to be easily one of the most accessible and, at the same time, deep wargames ever made. We had the chance to chat with Hubert Cater from Fury Software, the mastermind behind this game.
Matrix: First off, thank you for answering these few questions about your upcoming game, Strategic Command: WWII War in Europe.
Would you like to tell us what has been the driving idea behind its design?
Hubert Cater: My pleasure and I think it would be safe to say that the main driver behind the design for the Strategic Command series has always been to develop a game that was simple to play, but also one that offered a deep and immersive war gaming experience.
Our very first release, back in 2002, captured the essence of this balancing act quite well and received much praise for offering that well sought after rock, paper, scissors experience, but at the grand strategy level. Having kept much of the design simple was also very well appreciated as players could play out the entire European Theater from 1939 to 1945 in a few evenings. Multiplayer then became an attractive option as head to head games could be completed in a much shorter period and as a result we saw numerous tournaments and some very competitive and lively forum interactions between players.
Today, and as the game series has matured and expanded with much larger maps, additional unit types, and deeper rule sets and options, maintaining accessibility and ease of play has remained our top priority. No game should ever feel like a chore, and just like it was with our very first game, a player can start a game, click a few units and get into the action right away.
M: One of the most intriguing features is the chance to lead an entire alliance of nations through the war rather than a single country. Will the player experience the diversity of tactics and equipment, for a better integrated strategy? Also, how challenging has been the balancing between the Powers involved, given so different war capabilities?
H.C.: While you do lead an entire alliance, each alliance is made up of several nations so at times having to deal with a diversity of tactics and various equipment levels is still fortunately a big part of the game.
For example, if playing as the Axis alliance, German troops, equipment and overall combat effectiveness will typically surpass those of its primary partner Italy, as well as its minor alliance partners such as Finland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. While Germany may be running roughshod over mainland Europe in the early years of the war, an Italian force in North Africa may struggle against a stronger British opponent and these types of situations require cooperation and joint planning from all partners in order to have a successful long term strategic campaign.
As in real life this leads players to make some tough decisions and either split their forces, alter their tactics and/or overall strategy, or simply accept that some partners will be more effective than others.
One exciting new feature we've included is to allow the AI to control some or all of your major partners in the game. Now a player can play as the Allies and have the AI control Poland and the USSR for them while they play the UK, France, and the US. Alternatively, an Axis player could set the AI to control Italy while they play Germany, and in this case, and just like in history, they might also face a situation where their Italian AI controlled partner surprises them with a poorly timed invasion of Greece, requiring the Germans to divert forces and delay an optimally planned invasion of the USSR. In addition, we've also added the ability to switch sides at any time when playing against the AI. If you've put the AI on the ropes, you can now choose to take over for it and see if is possible to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat!
M: The Diplomacy System appears to be very important in the game, adding a further dimension to the War that must be taken seriously in consideration by the players. Could you give us few examples of how it works?
H.C.: While most nations were firmly leaning one way or the other during the second world war in Europe, the diplomacy system allows you to attempt to bend a nation either towards your alliance or away from your opponent’s alliance. If you are very successful with your diplomatic efforts, they may even join the cause on your side militarily.
The diplomatic system works with a nation's mobilization percentage. Each nation can lean from 0-100% towards either the Axis or the Allied alliance and once they reach 100% they are considered fully mobilized.
For example, Sweden begins the war as neutral but leaning 20% towards the Axis, while Canada also starts initially neutral but leaning 80% towards the Allies. Bringing either of them to 100% will cause them to enter the war and join their respective sides.
Outside of full mobilization, diplomacy also offers other ways to upset some of the balance on the map. For example, there are several nations that will only provide military resource support via convoys if they lean in your direction and only if at a minimum mobilization threshold. One example is the US Lend Lease program that will only initiate once the US has reached a mobilization value of 40%. A crafty Axis player may attempt to invest in some diplomatic effort towards the US to slow their interest in the war and as a result delay this all important convoy of military supplies to the UK. Counter diplomatic efforts are also possible and at times you may find yourself in a situation where all diplomatic efforts from both sides only end up maintaining the status quo as both sides simply attempt to protect their interests by canceling each other out.
Diplomacy is not free however and requires the expenditure of Military Production Points (MPPs). As a result, spending on Diplomacy typically comes at the cost of other items such as new unit purchases or investment in Research. In Strategic Command it is up to the player to find the right balance between spending on Diplomacy and the other requirements that the war desperately needs funding for.
M: There will be the chance to switch between NATO counters and 3D units?
H.C.: Yes, the game offers full counter sets for both NATO and 3D units. This time around we also have quite a few more counters for the 3D units and players should see more visual cues and differences as unit research levels are applied for each particular unit type.
M: The previous titles in the Strategic Command were open to community modifications. Will be the same for War in Europe? If so, will the players able to add custom scenarios, even with different time setting?
H.C.: Yes, the game will ship with the fully featured Editor that we also use to create our campaigns and players will be able to create and add as many custom scenarios that they can dream of making. While the core game engine is highly suitable for WWII and WWI it is always possible to create scenarios for different time periods and a little creativity and data manipulation can go a long way.
The good thing is that we've added more editing capabilities, options and unit types in order to open up the game engine to increased customization. If in the past some players were able to create custom campaigns covering the Sengoku Jidai period of the 16th century, then it should only be that much easier this time around.
M: The new AI is definitely one of the strongest assets of this game. You have already written a detailed blog post (see here) about it, but I was wondering how far ahead the AI could plan. Is it able – for instance - to prioritize specific researches to better counter you in the long run?
H.C.: For longer term planning the AI uses a scripting system that allows it to chart several paths over the course of the war. This allows us to chart a general planning path and then have conditional planning parameters and events to help handle the fact that war can be dynamic and that all the best laid plans may eventually need to be revisited.
The scripting system allows us to link together key elements such as offensive planning, amphibious assaults, transporting, fleets, research, diplomacy and even unit purchases. We can coordinate these as much as is needed and even have multiple sets of coordinated plans.
Scripts can be fine tuned for specific actions on specific dates, and/or for specific years. For example, if we start to have the AI invest in Advanced Rocket research for Germany in late 1941, then we can coordinate that with some specific unit purchase scripts to ensure that Germany will purchase and place V1s and V2s for 1944.
M: What have been the main difficulties in developing the game so far, given that you are targeting both veterans and newcomers?
H.C.: One major challenge was to ensure the game was fresh enough for veterans while ensuring that newcomers didn't get lost in the ever expanding design that is Strategic Command. As we added options and new game play mechanisms we needed to remember that the game had to remain approachable and easy to play. The good thing for us was that these requirements were not mutually exclusive, so much of our time was spent on only adding new mechanisms that actually made it easier to play, while at the same time we worked to improve the existing mechanisms and user interface and ultimately the overall user experience.
The game now provides more visual feedback such as highlighting zones of control, hexes that can be entered once an enemy zone of control is eliminated, dynamic territorial control borders, simpler mechanisms to highlight interception and escort ranges and so on. It also offers a new UI design with much more feedback on UI function as well as critical in game information at your fingertips rather than always having to reference the manual.
M: You have been working on this game for a considerable amount of time. It’s pretty obvious that it is not only a work, but also a great show of passion. Could you tell us what has pleased you for the most in this great challenge? Do you have future plans after Strategic Command WWII: War in Europe?
H.C.: It definitely is show of passion and I think that for both Bill and myself, one of the greatest moments in this development cycle was when we first released the game for formal Beta testing. The very positive reactions and enthusiasm for the new design was very well received and worked as a bit of a morale boost after having spent so much time on this project. When you become close to a project and one that has been under wraps for so long now, letting it go a bit and then to have your vision and efforts confirmed is always a nice thing.
For future plans, I know Bill is keen on a new WWI release and for myself I'm even open to the idea of working on the AI for other games now that we've made great strides in our own AI architecture. Either way, it really is a “sky is the limit” approach for us as we put a lot of effort into expanding the Editor and game engine for maximum flexibility.
Despite this, any project will still be a tremendous amount of work, but we look forward to it.
< Message edited by Daniele -- 10/10/2016 5:27:57 PM >