The Flare Path: Moscow Or Bust

By Tim Stone on January 20th, 2012 at 1:03 pm.

Sorry, no Foxer this week.

The Flare Path has a bust of Napoleon on his mantelpiece, and a bust of Wellington on his piano. Sometimes, when he comes into the room unexpectedly, he finds these busts side-by-side on the sofa puffing on clay pipes, or stretched-out on the carpet poring over old maps. Last night he came downstairs in the small hours and discovered the pair riding around the room on the back of the cat. The cat looked pleadingly at FP. FP looked disapprovingly at the busts. The busts dismounted. FP went back upstairs to finish his reports on The Paradoxification of AGEOD, 2×2’s 2011-12, and L’ Aurore, an amazing Vehicle Simulator add-on.

Athena Acolytes Alarmed

The announcement of a new AGEOD game usually causes forage caps, kepis, and berets to be hurled heavenward. The French team and their associates have a habit of digitizing wars that are seldom digitized (see Rise of Prussia, Revolution Under Siege, Wars In America etc.) and creating TBSs that are as pretty and playable as they are plausible and something-else-positive-beginning-with-P.

Their last production, a sprawling Victorian behemoth called Pride of Nations, might have been a bit too hefty for its own good, but that didn’t mean fans of the two Phils weren’t loitering excitedly on Wednesday afternoon in readiness for Le Big News.

Excited loitering turned to mutinous milling when the unveiling revealed a project bearing few familiar AGEOD hallmarks. Napoleon’s Campaigns II will utilize Paradox’s Clausewitz engine rather than AGEOD’s Athena one. It will spurn turns and it won’t incorporate one of the studio’s characteristically artistic 2D maps.

Unsurprisingly, some series devotees were less than impressed, interpreting the approach shift as a sad consequence of the studio’s surrendered independence (AGEOD were bought out by Paradox in 2009). Others were more philosophical, pointing out that a popular theme paired with a popular engine might generate the revenue necessary to fund more quirky Athena wargames; in a placatory aside, Philippe Malacher did stress that the studio would be releasing another Athena project later this year.

However optimistic your outlook, it’s hard not to look at the WIP screenshots released thus far and feel a flicker of trepidation. Battles in AGEOD games have never been spectacular, but, thanks to a rich and revealing selection of post-aggro event icons…

they’ve always had scrutable structure. That structure appears to be absent in NC2. Maps in AGEOD games have always been distinctive and atmosphere-enhancing.  Clausewitz cartography has a nasty habit of making ancient Rome feel much the same as medieval Japan or England.

It’s a bit early to be spotting bugs, but as a resident of Southern England, I do feel duty-bound to point out to NC2’s map person that it might be more appropriate to call the province that extends west from the Thames Estuary, ‘London’, or ‘The Thames Valley’ rather than ‘Winchester ‘.

 

Strength Through Unity

Though Unity of Command didn’t scoop the Usenet Wargame of 2011 Gold award, it richly deserved, it did grab the Bronze. Recently I encircled Tomislav Uzelac, one half of Croatian newcomers 2×2, waited a couple of turns until supply shortages had depleted his defensive capability, then battered him repeatedly with low velocity questions like…

RPS: The reaction to UoC seems to have been overwhelmingly positive. Has that positivity translated into better-than-expected sales?

Tomislav: I don’t know if I can really get across how excited (and relieved) we are about the reception we’re getting, both from the players and in the press. We knew going into the release that we have a solid game, but offering a couple of years of your life to judgement like that is anything but easy.

We are also enjoying a pretty good start to the sales – for the wargaming niche that is. The more mainstream success you’re hinting at hasn’t really materialized. It may yet happen though, as there’s an ongoing buzz about the game and it’s still very much growing. We’ll see…

RPS: Have any aspects of the player feedback surprised you?

Tomislav: I was really surprised by how quickly problems were found and picked apart in beta testing. The game already had relatively few bugs, so testers mostly reported issues with UI usability and game balance. We had a very articulate group of people there and so a lot of what you see as “polish” in the game comes from that beta test feedback.

Once the game went live, there were several minor controversies in the forums, but to be honest, there I was mostly surprised at how civil the whole thing was. I guess I went in expecting a complete zoo or something.

Also surprising, and slightly annoying, is a complaint that we sometimes get that goes something like this: I couldn’t complete the game in the first few attempts, therefore the game is obviously broken and developers should fix it.

See, maybe I’m old or something but with PG and such, if you couldn’t get the required victories it was your problem alone. It’s really all about being challenged, then coming up with something clever and feeling good about yourself if you pull it off.

RPS: Besides Panzer General, what games and books most influenced the design?

Tomislav: For games, it was basically SSG’s Korsun Pocket and the Totaler Krieg boardgame. I read through the Designer Notes booklet that comes with Totaler Krieg so many times I could probably list that as a literary influence too. It’s there that I came away with the idea that you can “design for effect”, meaning you really only need to convey the overall operational challenge for a given scenario. If you can get that to work, you don’t need to account for every gun and mortar on the Eastern Front.

I love most books by David Glantz on the subject. I know a lot of people consider them dry stuff, but I think if you can stomach the staggering (no, really) amount of detail in there, they’re actually very well written.

RPS. Is the UoC that was released at the end of last year, the same UoC you sat down and started coding in 2008?

Tomislav: I had an initial prototype already in late ’07 actually, using mockup graphics. It was more of a hardcore wargame at the time, for example it featured HQs and the frontline was a much more complicated affair with no man’s land and elaborate movement penalties.

It evolved from there but it was all very gradual, very iterative. The goal was to make the game historical, yet fun and accessible. That we actually made supply into an exciting game mechanic shows you the kind of hoops we had to jump through to get there.

RPS: Why don’t more wargames have AIs as crafty as UoC’s?

Tomislav: I’m not entirely sure. One thing I do find surprising is when there are options for attacking AI and even AI vs. AI; and at the same time there are serious deficiencies with your basic, defensive AI. It’s the most obvious and useful thing the AI can do and it’s also the simplest problem to tackle. Why not go for the low hanging fruit first?

It’s worth noting that full credit for the AI in Unity of Command goes to Ante Turudić, our AI developer. He created an AI opponent that is completely unsophisticated except for the very low-level, very localized stuff. On that level he then implemented a fantastic toolkit of 30 or so “tactics” that in fact make the AI such a big win. There’s no silver bullet in there, just a ton of little things, each done exactly right.

RPS: I have to ask. Did you consider other names? The title is just about the only thing I don’t like about UoC.

Tomislav: I think you’re just being cruel to be honest. See, if us wargame developers were endowed with a literary talent to match yours we wouldn’t be stuck with “Brrr on the Chir” type titles in the first place. So while I give your recent rant about wargame titles high marks for entertainment value… I think morally it’s the equivalent of poking fun at retarded children. You should just leave us be, you know.

RPS: What does 2012 have in store for 2×2?

Tomislav: We are working on a comprehensive update to the core game along with new content in form of a rather large DLC/expansion. The update comes first and we’ll probably throw in a few scenarios at that time already, as a kind of a temporary fix until the new campaign is complete.

This new project is still in concept stage, but I think I can give you some details already. For one, we will be picking up the story after the Stalingrad Campaign ends. There will be many more scenarios as we now have a scenario editor (original scenarios were in large part done by manually editing usc files). We’ll also be making some changes to game mechanics and the AI that will enable us to handle the positively huge scenarios you’ll find in this campaign.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

 

L’ Aurore Awe

The list of people I’d attempt to recruit if I was ever in a position to finance gaming’s first hardcore Age of Sail sim, now has a second name on it. As mentioned in The Bolitho Deficit, the creator of HMS Surprise would be the obvious candidate for Sail Science Consultant. In Axeonalias I think I’ve found the perfect Lead Shipwright.

One of Vehicle Simulator’s most talented boat builders, he’s presently toiling away on a truly breathtaking recreation of an 18th Century Royal Navy frigate. L’Aurore has already consumed somewhere between 350 and 400 of his waking hours, and doubtless dozens of his sleeping ones too.

Named after the star of Julian Stockwin’s latest Kydd novel, the frigate will come in two configurations (guns stowed and action stations) and feature usable launches plus a fully-modelled interior littered with the kind of maritime clutter that Aubrey’s and Bolitho’s crews would regularly have sat upon, slept in, sipped from, or tripped over.

Due to inherent Vehicle Simulator limitations we may never get to see L’ Aurore’s decks and rigging thronged with tars, or see her stout sides and flapping sheets punctured by French broadsides. That’s a pity, but for recreating the quieter phases of life aboard a Nelson-era warship, L’Aurore looks untouchable. Keep a telescope trained on this thread and this site for release info.

, , , , , , , , , .

23 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Soulstrider says:

    Napoleon’s campaigns II seems interesting, though AGEOD always scared me a bit due to their sheer complexity, I own PoN and barely touched it due to this, this coming from someone quite experienced CK/EU3/VickyII/HoI

    The WW2 wargame seems nice though all my strategy ww2 needs are more than fulfilled with Men of War and Darkest Hour(the HoI spinoff not the fps).

    • Vinraith says:

      Most AGEOD games (PoN excepted) are significantly less complex than Paradox-developed titles. They’re wargames about position, stance, and supply, rather than diplomatic intrigue or resource collection. PoN is the singular exception. It’s brilliant, but extremely intimidating. AGEOD had been discussing plans to introduce some shorter campaigns to that game, which would be a welcome alternative to diving into the gran campaign deep end.

      For my part, Napoleon’s Campaigns was IMO the least interesting of AGEOD’s titles (not bad or anything, just an overdone subject) so regardless of engine issues or other design aspects it doesn’t hold a lot of appeal. That’s ok, I’ve still got lots of their other games to play. I do hope it’s a financial success for them, though. I gather Pride of Nations wasn’t (which is criminal, it’s got some of the most brilliant mechanics I’ve ever seen in a strategy game) and I certainly want them to continue making games.

    • Megadyptes says:

      PON might probably be selling better if turns didn’t take half a day to process.

    • Soulstrider says:

      I just remembered I got Birth of America II from the Paradox newsletter, I guess I might try it to get a feeling of AGEOD games, though the American Independence war isn’t really a subject that interests me.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      Most AGEOD games (PoN excepted) are significantly less complex than Paradox-developed titles.

      So why do they feel so much more complex?

      I ask in complete sincerity and non-snarkiness. I love wargames, even (especially?) big complicated ones; but I’ve tried several times to get into AGEOD titles, including Birth of America, American Civil War, and Revolution Under Siege, and every time I’ve been completely defeated and befuddled by them. The interfaces always seem beyond opaque, and even the maps, which so many people seem to love, frustrated me with the way the lack of contrast and muddy colors made provinces, borders and units all sort of blur together.

      (Note: it’s entirely possible that all this is due to a character flaw on my part.)

    • Megadyptes says:

      They are less complex, the Pox games deal with international relations between hundreds of countries, trade and production, research, religions, colonialism, and many other things. The AGEOD wargames deal with mostly war and a little bit of economics here and there. The complexities of the AGEOD games are to do with unit organisation and posture. The AGEOD wargames full into the trap of most wargames of having terrible UI and huge manuals to actually understand what anything means in the game therefore making it harder to actually play the game unless you have the wargaming sperg spirit.

      In summary, complexity doesn’t = difficulty of playing, complexity just means there are many parts involved to make up the whole. A game that is difficult to get to grips with is just down to poor interface design and instruction.

  2. Tim James says:

    What a delightful and adorable bitchslap by Torislav regarding the name of Unity of Command. I can’t help but give wargame developers some extra slack on their game names now. Well played.

  3. rapier17 says:

    As another resident of Southern England, I feel insulted that, in NCII, Sussex is referred to as Worthing. Worthing?! Ye Gods, that place is less prominent than Eastbourne! Perhaps they should have added the names of the Counties? Like, I don’t know, Sussex? Kent? Hampshire? How bizarre.

    • McCool says:

      My favourite thing about the “Winchester” area in that map is that it doesn’t contain Winchester. Maybe they meant Westminster? Worthing is also an amusing choice of name. Chichester is a more traditional capital for Sussex, or maybe Lewes?

      The only likely explanation is that the developer is from Worthing, I suppose.

  4. Will Tomas says:

    Unity of Command looks interesting, but sadly not enough for me to be sure about buying it. It’s not on Steam so is it unlikely to be discounted anytime soon?

    • cptgone says:

      i’ve been lusting over Unity of Command screenshots for months now, but i’ll keep waiting for a deep discount – and if that doesn’t happen i simply won’t be playing it.

      back when my gaming backlog wasn’t so ridiculously large, i got a discounted copy of Revolution Under Siege. haven’t had time to play it yet, although it looks like fun…

    • Premium User Badge

      Man Raised by Puffins says:

      Le Sigh.

    • Premium User Badge

      Man Raised by Puffins says:

      They were dropping discount codes on their forums over Christmas and the New Year, allowing me to snaffle a copy for ~£17, but I suspect they were one-offs (or rather, two-offs).

      From the sounds of it they’ve already been rebuffed from Steam (though they are trying again), which is a pity: With Paradox doing most of their trade over Steam I’d have thought UoC would be right at home there.

    • TimA says:

      You should give in and just get it, incredible game. Listen to the Three Moves Ahead podcast about it, good analysis.

  5. Megadyptes says:

    AGEOD have been going downhill since being bought out by Pox (and renamed Paradox France as well by Pox). Sad times. That model of L’ Aurore looks absolutely stunning, I’m tempted to pick up Vehicle Simulator now. It’s gotta be better than SHIP SIMULATOR EXTREMES which I picked up in the sale and is a pile of buggy pants.

  6. Premium User Badge

    jeffthewonderbadger says:

    That frigate model is beautiful. BEAUTIFUL. I want to live in it.

    • Dys Does Dakka says:

      Indeed. I feel my inner sim-geek awakening from its long slumber… Heavens help me.

      -I’d actually really like a proper “command your own warship” sim. Preferably ranging from the rise of naval warfare to a cold-war-gone-hot setting.
      Command anything from Roman galleys to the USS Nimitz and its attending fleet; career mode, dynamic campaigns, mod support and and and…

  7. Premium User Badge

    Man Raised by Puffins says:

    Good to see some UoC love for it is indeed a lovely game (inasmuch as a game about the brutal eastern front can be, short of going all kawaii hitler).

  8. Premium User Badge

    jimbobjunior says:

    Extra points for using a proper multiplication sign in “2×2″ rather than a boring old “x”.

  9. wodin says:

    I liked the sound of his original plan for the game….make it…though I’m a detail lover…loads of detail but easy to play is what I like..

    Oh anyone plays Squad Battles Red Victory or AotR I made a couple of new mods for them. I’ve had a good response since releasing them…it’s sort of a super deluxe pack..new faces\unit\info\vehicle\weapon boxes, tweaked ground and terrain and symbols and new counter backgrounds..

    http://www.4shared.com/zip/1yFAYBQS/Red_Victory.html

    http://www.4shared.com/zip/6gEfNj1j/AotR.html

  10. csuzw says:

    I really like the look of Unity of Command but I struggle to get on with World War settings so I doubt I’ll get it. It’s a shame because it really looks like it’s got accessibility completely right which is so rare in these types of games. If it was a Napoleonic setting I’d be all over it. Are there any decent recent Napoleonic era (pref later end of that period) games around? I’ve got Napoleon: Total War but for whatever reason I’ve found it the least fun of all of the Total War games – I don’t think the game is suited to guns. I used to own some decent Talonsoft games like Age of Sail but can’t find them now. I’m somewhat tempted by Napoleon’s Campaigns but I’m worried it’ll be too complex/unapproachable but I haven’t been able to find any videos of it to see exactly what it’s like. The screenshots make it look a bit soulless. I’n still not sure Fields of Glory has every been bettered.

    • kaliper says:

      Waterloo: Napoleon’s Last Battle and Austerlitz: Napoleon’s Greatest Victory by BreakAway Games are real-time grand tactical level wargames in which you have direct control over infantry battalions, cavalry squadrons and artillery batteries. They’re pretty old, based on the Sid Meier’s Gettysburg engine, but nonetheless are well done and enjoyable. Matrix has a a more recent and more complex title called Crown of Glory that is played on the strategic level with an optional turn-based tactical layer to fight individual battles.

  11. thebigJ_A says:

    Since Pride of Nations ran so awfully I could never play it, while I’m able to run all the Paradox games just fine, I’m glad they’re switching engines. (How does a turn-based, 2D map run so badly, anyway? And the turn times! Ugh.)

    I really wanted to love PoN. Biggest strategy game disappointment of last year. I love me some Napoleon, though, so I’ll be watching this new one excitedly.

    Also, I REALLY wish Unity of Command had a demo. I love Hearts of Iron 3, but that’s the only wargame (is that considered a “real” wargame by the grognards?) I’ve ever truly enjoyed. I tried valiantly to learn War in the Pacific:AE, but it was just too unwieldy. This seems far more accessible, but that doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy it. Demo, please!