Suddenly Struck

By Jim Rossignol on March 17th, 2008 at 8:55 am.


Seemingly motivated by nothing in particular, CDV have circulated some new screenshots of the recently-released World War II strategy Sudden Strike 3. What struck me about them is the artistry involved in making this kind of game: making so many tiny men, trees, and archaic vehicles. It’s a little like videogames are preserving, even exemplifying, the kind of impulses towards miniaturization and realistic representation that is otherwise only found in model railways or the peculiarly idealised exploit of constructing miniature villages. I think it’s one of the things I respect most about RTS games generally: their unusual perspective, and the idea of designing a world that is intended to be seen from above. There’s something essentially gamey about being an eye in the sky over some intricately constructed terrain, and having partial but far-reaching influence over events, rather than simply being in there, in first-person, or flying over it all in a polygonal aeroplane.


As for Sudden Strike 3 itself, well, it’s the kind of strategy that we love to hate: that slightly-too-hard personality-free RTS based on the endless mud-plazas of World War II. Nevertheless it’s so detailed, so rich and full of activity that I can’t help but get attracted. It ought to be good, even though the Sudden Strike games are actually turgid, troubling experiences that inexorably grind away vital fragments of your soul. And although it’s not one of those games I’d seek out, but when a commissioning editor commands I go in there and find out what’s going on, I feel a vague sense of relief. I was waiting for a mission, and for my sins, I usually get one. The Horror, etc.

Here are those images in motion:

And the 269mb Sudden Strike 3 demo can be downloaded from here, should you wish to familiarise yourself with the heavy drag ‘n’click that is Sudden Strike.

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15 Comments »

  1. Kieron Gillen says:

    The interesting thing about Sudden Strike for me is that it really sold a lot, yet somehow is constantly overlooked.

    Not that I ever played it.

    KG

  2. LongFred says:

    I actually liked the Sudden Strike series very much, especially the MP part was interesting. There is no base building and no resource game, but there are objective points in the form of multi coloured Zeppelins scattered across the map. If you control a whole group of Zeppelins of one colour, reinforcements will arrive, normally after a time span of ~5 minutes. Bigger colour groups will give you more or better reinforcements, ranging from some trucks loaded with green infantry and a supply vehicle to veteran tanks, heavy artillery or even devastating airstrikes. While the general rock paper scissors system applies, veterancy of units means A LOT, as one fully vetted tank could with a bit of luck take out 3 or 4 green enemy tanks, hit chance, viewing range and shot damage being partially dependent on vet level.

    A big problem (and somehow also a big appeal) of the original game was that contrary to the real WW2, defensive positions in Sudden Strike could be insanely effective due to the fact that your units were so limited to begin with.

    Simple line of sight rules prohibited units to look up ridges, and made them so easily defendable that 2-3 PAKs and FLAKs could hold off dozens of enemy tanks and trucks, especially if you hid spotters in forward positions (mostly houses, on hold fire). While it could be very gratifying to see one’s defensive positions hold a position, it also made the MP game very slow, and often totally dependent on Artillery action. Also, due to the support mechanism, it was often enough to start commando action into the enemy territory and taking control of the Zeps you needed for a second, as this would already grant you the support.

    The game was often insanely hard and unforgiving in Single Player and could often only be won by Trial and Error. This was mostly due to the fact that there was no real AI. The game just challenged you by throwing insane amounts of enemies at you, by abusing Artillery in a way that would make you throw random things across your room, and triggering events that would often mean a sudden reinforcement of enemy forces in your rear, resulting in more reloading and bigger, more important things being thrown.

    There is still much positive to be said about the game. The possibilities and the tactical components of Sudden Strike were immense, so immense that while no AI of that time could have done the game justice, the multiplayer tended to be great fun, even with all the above criticism. Most cute model scenery on the map could and would be levelled, and clever map design made every approach on a city, every building of a ponton bridge a nerve wracking experience, as you never knew where the enemy sat in hiding with his guns on ‘hold fire’ to wait until he could do some real damage. And in a time of Command and Conquers and Warcrafts, this was a game where losing 5-10 tanks could mean defeat if you played your cards wrong. This was one of the games I enjoyed most playing against my friends at that time, when I still did that pretty regularly.

    Finally, I disagree with the final comment about SS3: It is not really personality-free, and that is because it is personality-free. I know, but the point is that while most RTS games try to pin some degree of immersion through story attachment on these games, it is the blessing of the Sudden Strike series that it does nothing of the kind. And while I enjoy the game not boring me with a totally pathetic storyline, the extended vetting system and the quick and ugly deaths to be died in this game let me feel some very different attachment to my instruments of war than some idiotic hero unit or playing though the war with some special batallion, or something equally kitschy. Sudden Strike has always been a sandbox game.

  3. Cigol says:

    I loved the original, especially in multiplayer. It was no Starcraft but it was a lot of fun, artillery especially. Singleplayer wasn’t bad either but it was essentially the same old scripted missions you’ve seen a thousand times before.

  4. Andrew says:

    Sudden Strike: Big in Germany.

    Also inexpressibly boring. Loathe those games and I’m a big RTS fan.

  5. LongFred says:

    Ahh, I just recalled the feeling of guessing correctly and ninjaing the enemy’s Artillery position with a commando unit that scaled some ridge impassable to vehicles and advanced behind the cover of trees, and then enjoying the high pitched screams of your enemy from the other side of the room like others might enjoy a nice ice coffee in a particularly hot summer.

    Another thing to like about Sudden Strike was that these games actually had a Russian side from the start. Nowadays, it seems to be pretty impossible to get a WW2 RTS that involves more than Germany and the USA (and maybe the British)…

  6. Lou says:

    It’s a little like videogames are preserving, even exemplifying, the kind of impulses towards miniaturization and realistic representation that is otherwise only found in model railways or the peculiarly idealised exploit of constructing miniature villages. I think it’s one of the things I respect most about RTS games generally: their unusual perspective, and the idea of designing a world that is intended to be seen from above. There’s something essentially gamey about being an eye in the sky over some intricately constructed terrain, and having partial but far-reaching influence over events, rather than simply being in there, in first-person, or flying over it all in a polygonal aeroplane

    Sorry for the long quote, just wanted to make clear to what I am referring – I’ve thought this for a while now, how exactly that trend seems to get less and less, and is only really left in RTS games. I for one miss top-down/isometric games in other genres a lot, and it’s a particular shame that now that 3D is finally far enough to be pretty much as detailed as 2D was (as demonstrated by Titan Quest, for example), while having lots of other advantages, the perspective, formerly especially used in RPG games, is almost dead.

    Sometimes after playing an FPS or Third-person game, I long more for a change of perspective than a change of game or genre.

  7. cliffski says:

    I really like the look of this, but there is NO interface GUI stuff in that video at all. I won’t buy a game like this without a demo, because I find that although the engine looks good, in practice I am just commanding a group of glowing neon circles and health bars, completely overshadowing the actual visuals.
    Is that the case with this one?

  8. Jim Rossignol says:

    *points at demo link*

  9. cliffski says:

    indeed. I just gave it a try. I should try the tutorial next time. And it seems caps lock toggles off all the GUI crap.
    Didn’t seem to have any idea what I was doing and seemed to be impossible to keep an eye on everything, but that’s skipping he tutorial for you.

  10. Radiant says:

    Let this forever be known as the article Rossignol wrote whilst completely baked.

  11. Jim Rossignol says:

    There’s another way of writing?

  12. Vic Davis says:

    It does look beautiful. What if you took the Sudden Strike 3 engine and put the Close Combat mechanics into it? Or even the Combat Mission mechanics.

  13. Dinger says:

    Okay Jim, let’s dance.

    There’s something essentially gamey about being an eye in the sky over some intricately constructed terrain…

    I’m not even sure a “God’s eye” or “Isometric” perspective is necessary. In fact, let’s abuse two overused and inapt metaphors: Sandbox and antfarming.

    Sandbox: developer types like to use “Sandbox” (hell, it’s been used in this thread) to evoke the idea of a game where a player decides what to do and what the rules are. What they mean, though, is a game type that has multiple types and magnitudes of sub-games for the user to play. So, in practice, if a “regular” videogame were like a miniature golf course or a hedge maze, a “sandbox” game would be like an amusement park — lots of little rides, most of them suitable for small children who don’t mind waiting in line to repeat the same inane spinning teacup bit fifteen times until they get it right.
    Oh yeah, one other thing: not even the Sims gets called “Dollhouse”. Basically, the two ideas are the same, only the actors are gendered differently.

    “Antfarming” is a great term to use for the classic developer’s mistake of falling in love with a complex design that doesn’t really do anything for the player other than make a dull game confusing as well.

    But what about the real deal? Has anyone actually looked at what happens in a sandbox?
    Sandboxes are where cats shit and children play, in that order. Kids play with toys, plural. After about the age of two, the fun isn’t in making that yellow truck move around the sandbox; it’s in making that truck deliver a load of catshit from Witch Mountain all the way down to the semi-fertile farms of Booger Gulch. If there’s more than one kid, the toys and the choice of game will be a manner of negotiating and reinforcing the social order: now’s when we set your Luke Skywalker action figure on fire and bury him behind the ashy remains of his Tatooine lollipop-stick factory, while my SpongeBob doll dances on his grave shouting obscenities.

    Sandbox play does not involve kids taking single toys as their avatars and exploring the sandbox with them. It’s kids staring down at toys and establishing relationships between them, the environment and each other. That’s what makes train sets cool, model villages, RTSs and Combat Mission.

    Ant Farms? Well, I just brought them up because they’re best viewed from a horizontal-perspective. Part of the surprise of ant farms comes from the fact that, while we often see across a flat surface, the behavior seems much more complex when an anthill can be seen from the side.

    So top-down or isometric isn’t necessary; it’s just how we best see the relationships between the terrain and the agents.

    Miniature models and their virtual counterparts probably share another common bond. Some video game artists seem particularly fond of assembling them, usually in the proximity of a 3D scanner.

    SS3 + Combat Mission = a serious drop in worldwide productivity.

  14. LongFred says:

    One clarification: I didn’t really use Sandbox in that way, I was rather thinking about those Weekend Napoleons with their tin figures, Sandbox Strategists.

    And to contribute something more interesting: The appealing thing about this rather ‘neutral’ model style is probably similar to LEGO environments. The less people crap their artistic and stylistic vision all over the place, the more you are free to develop your own.

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