The Sicilian Defence: Battlefront Talk Plans, Prices, & Pixies

By Tim Stone on July 6th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

I’m free! Using a straightened coathanger, a blob of chewing gum, and an old Broken Sword walkthrough, I’ve managed to escape the fetid dungeon that is The Flare Path. God, the air out here sure is sweet. And the views – wow! – that must be Mount Manshoot over there, and that can only be the Temple of Fairly Tiresome MMOs. A man could totally reinvent himself in a land like this… he could ditch decades’ worth of baggage and inhibitions.

Alternatively, he could have a panic attack, and decide to calm himself by talking to the nice people* at Battlefront about their staggeringly bold Combat Mission roadmap.

*On this occasion: studio co-founder and CM co-designer Steve Grammont, CM: Fortress Italy project manager Chris Nelson, and marketing guru and press wrangler Martin van Balkom.

RPS. Blimey! CM: Fortress Italy, ‘CM Shock Force 2′, ‘CM Eastern Front 1′ and ‘CM Battle for Normandy Module 2′… all with ETAs in the next 12 months. What’s happened within Battlefront to allow for this dramatic change of pace?

Battlefront: Years of planning and many years of careful execution. When we originally conceived of the CMx2 engine (2003/2004) this was always a major component of it, even though we realized it would be several years after the first release before we could really kick it into gear. Gamers have an under appreciation for how long it takes to do things right. Especially when the scope of work is compared with the size of the team carrying it out. Still, these announcements didn’t come about overnight. Since the first release (CMSF) each successive release was a bit shorter than the one before it. The major acceleration seen now is simply an extension of earlier progress and an increase in the number of people working full time on it.

RPS: Organisationally, how are you handling the plethora of projects? New external teams? Shorter holidays? Industrious pixies?

Battlefront: We tried pixies, but they drink on the job too much and they don’t clean up after themselves. A bad combo, trust us.

We’ve had an outside partner working with us since CM:SF British Forces. This is the single biggest reason we can handle more things at one time. Since then Battlefront has added new people to its roster to move things along even faster. Holidays were never much our style, though we are starting to remember what they are like. Kinda nice.

RPS: Has the success of CM Touch played a part in your new plans?

Battlefront: Not directly, no. That was done mostly out of house by a developer we’ve worked with in the past and probably will work with more in the future. Our part in the development was more spiritual advisor and provider of data.

RPS: Italian weaponry of WW2 doesn’t have a fantastic reputation. Going by CMFI playtests is this reputation fair?

Battlefront: Definitely. Basically the Italian Army is more of a WW1 army in terms of both weaponry and organization. When Mussolini planned on a big empire building future for Italy he apparently forgot that sort of strategy usually works best with a strong military. Or at least one that is stronger than the ones it does battle with. Bolt action rifles, sparse allocation of full automatic weapons, no infantry based AT weapons, antiquated AFV designs, etc. all doomed the Italian Army to defeat in the face of the Allies.

That being said, at Combat Mission’s level of warfare it’s still possible to see the Italians put up a good fight. Especially considering we’re talking about abstracted pixel warriors who aren’t as afraid to give it a go as perhaps the real flesh and blood versions might have been. If you’re on the Allied side, rewards come best to a commander who knows how to handle his own forces. As CMSF proved, the quality of the force is less important than the quality of the player.

RPS: Have Italian organisational and equipment idiosyncrasies provoked any interesting/unexpected tactics from your playtesters?

Battlefront: Yes and no. The testers who are familiar with Shock Force found playing the Italians a lot like playing as the Red forces. Specifically in CMSF they often fond themselves tactically outclassed by the Blue forces, though still able to do some damage. Especially if the other guy isn’t doing the right things at the right times. I’m sure the Normandy only testers see it that way too, however my guess is they took a few more lumps along the road to enlightenment.

RPS: Is it reasonable to assume that future CMFI modules will focus on Monte Cassino and Salerno?

Battlefront: Yes. The intention is to simulate the rest of the Italian Campaign all the way up until the surrender of German forces in May 1945.

RPS: The Flare Path Reading Room has a special shelf (currently empty) for books suggested by developers. Would you like to christen it by recommending one or two CMFI-related ‘must-reads’?

Battlefront: A must-read for Operation Husky is Bitter Victory by Carlo D’Este. D’Este does an excellent job of framing the strategic and operational challenges faced by both sides in Sicily with a very fair analysis. The book is also very well sourced which can provide an interested reader with more resources to follow through.

And let’s not forget Battlefront’s own “The Battery Commander, his Batman, and a Cook”. Originally released as companion for Combat Mission Afrika Korps, it is as current and good a read as back then, and covers Italy.

RPS: The ‘CMx2 2.0′ engine upgrades that are part of CMFI are going to make a lot of old CMx1 diehards very happy. Which changes do you think are going to have the biggest impact?

Battlefront: Long term the improvements to the editor are the big ones. The v1.x editor is a capable tool, but definitely a hair pulling experience in a few critical spots. Even the best scenario makers had productivity hampered by time consuming aspects which we’ve now largely got rid of. Collectively these improvements will likely lead to more people making more things for CM over time.

From a short-term gameplay standpoint, the new commands and improvements to how they are issued are the things people will most likely identify with right away.

RPS: I can see the commercial rationale in charging for engine upgrades to Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy, but isn’t there a danger of creating a very complicated situation multiplayer-wise? Say Tom has an original un-upgraded version of CMBN, Dick has CMBN plus Commonwealth Forces plus the upgrade, Harry has CMBN + Commonwealth Forces but no upgrade, and Barry has CMBN + module 2…

Battlefront: The perceived multiplayer problems with modules and version numbers are already proven to be just theoretical, not actual. Remember, this part of our CM strategy has been in place since CMSF Marines was released 3+ years ago. When two people attempt to link up the game figures out what they have in common and that is what they get to play with. No fuss, no muss. Of course the versions have to be identical, but that has been true for all CM games going back to the beginning 12 years ago.

RPS: Isn’t making purchase of the upgrade mandatory for the next CMBN module likely to cause resentment in some quarters? When people bought CMBN there was no mention that future modules would require a paid engine update.

Battlefront: When someone purchases CMBN they are buying a stand alone game at a stand alone game’s price. If we were instead charging $100 with a promise of more content to come for free or cheap, then a year later were told they had to pay money on top of that… THAT would be an understandable reason to be upset. Which is one reason we didn’t do something like that. The future is uncertain so it’s best to have people pay today for what they get today, not pay forward for something we haven’t even started making yet.

Now, let’s turn this question around. When people bought CMBN they bought with the assumption (based on past history) that their game would get a few smallish improvements for free, then would be left behind when the next CM game came out. All the big improvements in the latest and greatest CM would not be accessible for their game at any price. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, it’s announced that they now have the opportunity to continually improve their game experience. The opportunity itself came with no extra cost and that means if they never take advantage of it they are no worse off than they were before.

After seeing a few days of feedback from customers it is clear they are overwhelmingly excited by this new, and unexpected, opportunity to keep their games current with the latest features.

RPS: Do you have any plans to experiment with different campaign approaches during the next 12 months?

Battlefront: Campaign improvements for Upgrade 3.0 are planned. We have enough ideas already in hand to keep several teams busy for years, it’s safe to say we don’t need any more ideas to choose from. Which ones we pick will be determined at a later date. One thing we can say is there will be no “strategic overlay” (game within a game) in CM ever. There’s just no way this is good for CM, Battlefront, or ultimately the customers who think they really want it.

RPS: Combat Mission: Fortress Italy passes the Flare Path wargame titling test with flying colours. Who came up with the moniker, and how do you go about naming a new project?

Battlefront: We have brainstorming sessions which involve a lot of serious attempts at coming up with a name, followed by the sobering reality that so many cool names are already taken, then a period of inaction where the surviving names sit around waiting for us to try and top them. After crossing off dozens of names there’s always at least one that manages to stick around to the next round. Often times that is the name that eventually gets picked, simply because nobody can think of anything better and also can’t find a reason to cross that one off. Sometimes we get lucky and we take a shine to one that isn’t already taken, which is actually what happened with Fortress Italy.

RPS: If I arrived at Battlefront HQ reception clutching a plan for a sci-fi or post-apocalyptic CM game, would I be a) Politely shown the door b) Impolitely shown the door c) Invited into the Inner Sanctum for tea and a chat?

Battlefront: A good hypothetical question, especially because we don’t have an HQ! But let’s say, hypothetically, you found it and got past the sharks with the frick’n laser beams on their heads. Upon getting to the front lobby your idea would be greeted with mocking jeers and gestures. Why? Because at any given time we have just such a design being kept alive by nothing more than sheer hope that someday we will find ourselves with enough time to do it and do it right. In short, we have talked about this since (IIRC) before CMSF was even released. Our hearts want it to happen, but our brains keep directing the eyes to the calendar and reminding the gray goo that our dance card is quite full for quite a while yet. Still… we do dream!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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23 Comments »

  1. Richie Shoemaker says:

    What’s that at the end? Combat Mission: The Forever War, you say? Coming out 2016? Why that’s marvellous!

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Combat Mission: Mad Max.

      With the option to construct your vehicles from anything lying around.

    • CJ says:

      ” …we have just such a design being kept alive by nothing more than sheer hope that someday we will find ourselves with enough time to do it and do it right. …”

      Combat Mission – OGRE. What bloody marvellous dream. Pity the separate IP negotiations would never let it happen.

      Still, I will dream.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        You think? Steve Jackson has licensed OGRE games before, and he’d probably love the opportunity to pimp it now that it’s coming back into print.

  2. Valhuen says:

    I truly used to love Battlefront, CMBB & CMAK still remain two of my most frequently played titles. However since the fiasco with the launch of CMSF, and the subsequent flood of “paid improvements”, it will take a lot for me to trust BF again. CMBN looks great, but I don’t like the idea of constantly paying for upgrades. In short I can game the entire Eastern Front with CMBB, why would I pay for 12+ games to do the same thing (at this rate am assuming that’s not an unrealistic number), even if the engine upgrades are decent enough?

    IMHO BF truly has lost their way……

    • Triglav says:

      I agree. The love affair with the fiery CMBB was a long one, and the tight, fresh young beauties from BF-land, while they do look pretty, just strike me as more interested in my wealth rather than my happiness.

  3. The13thRonin says:

    It’s unacceptable to charge for engine upgrades. No other company would get away with this but here it’s lauded because the developers of Combat Mission happens to lord over a ‘niche’ market. Not only is it unacceptable as a business model but also frankly it’s insulting to long-time customers when it comes out that new customers will not have to pay for the engine upgrades but will rather get them for free. In other words the message that the developers of Combat Mission are trying to send is “don’t buy our games until we finish polishing them or we’ll charge you extra.”

    I’m sure someone will chalk this up to a sense of ‘entitlement’. The fact of the matter is that this whole fiasco leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I’m not the only one. I will not be buying Fortress Italy or the engine upgrade, I am lost to this series now. I would rather go sink my money into developers who actually care about their customers.

    • Valhuen says:

      Completely agree, it is nothing short of pathetic IMHO. As to the point of other publishers doing it, seems to be an unfortunate growing trend. The aforementioned Black Shark 2.0 is a good example, I had just purchased Black Shark then Eagle Dynamics pulled that BS. Others have done this as well, quite a few Matrix titles that are bug-ridden are patched up and released as a “new edition” (such as Crown of Glory & WWI).

      Seems far too many publishers are abusing the niche aspect of the market, and as long as people keep on paying for spurious “upgrades” it will continue. Used to be an avid supporter of many of these publishers until greed took over, now I find myself passing on many titles I would have otherwise purchased. Well, at least they are not as bad as Storm Eagle Studios in my eyes, except for Battlefront, which has ensured that CMSF will be the last title I ever purchase from them.

    • wodin says:

      Listen,. When CMBN came out everyone was told that when the new engine came out it WOULDN’T be backward compatible. No one moaned about it. They’ve now said look we will have to do a fair bit of work but if you really want it we will have to charge What BF are doing is actually giving us an option where we had been originally told that would never happen.

      So everyone who moans about it really have no leg to stand on. If you don’t want the upgrade then don’t buy it. I probably wont buy it as CMBN doesn’t get enough play. However I’m sure I will upgrade the East front titles to version 3 of the engine.

      Anyways as I said and BF said everyone was aware no backwards compatibility would happen from engine to engine. Thankfully we now have the chance if you want it.

      BF haters who never forgave them for Shock Force or the new CMx2 style I just can’t understand. People are willing to pay subs just to play the same game month in month out for godsake. Or pay extra for new hats or something daft. Here BF actually offer us a great engine upgrade with new features similar to an expansion in away and they get hate for it. They haven’t even gone back on their word in a negative way. Maybe they should have though fuck em don’t offer the upgrade we told them it wasn’t going to be done anyway and the fuckers will only moan about it if we have to charge. Wargamers…moaning anal fuckers at times that bare grudges and chips on their shoulders like no others.

      • Tim Stone says:

        “When CMBN came out everyone was told that when the new engine came out it WOULDN’T be backward compatible.”

        Which was fine. I think the issue here – the one I’m not sure BF properly addressed in their answers – is that when CMBN came out, it was marketed as the base game for a series of Western Front WW2 modules. There was no mention that all the modules, except for the first one, would require the additional purchase of an engine upgrade. It’s a little like buying FSX in 2006, and in 2007 being told that, in order to use any future commercial add-ons, you”ll need to shell out for Service Pack Whatever.

  4. 0positivo says:

    I have no idea what this game (or the serie, as a matter of fact) is, but as an Italian, I’m kind curious about it. Especially so considering how most WWII games completely avoid Italian forces, due to their objective lack of good equipment
    Hell, I always wondered how the “Italian Tanks” would perform in World of tanks, but then I realize, there were really only a handful of italian tanks. Even less, if one considers tanks that were actually decent

  5. DogKiller says:

    In some ways, I kind of like the more focused scope of what they’re doing, because you get to play around with certain units and forces in depth, as opposed to getting just a single scenario covering certain forces or nationalities. But on the other hand, the original series… so good. There was something special about being able to do an entire theatre with just one game.

    I do find the new CM games a bit frustrating, though, because the battles and victory conditions set by the scenario designers in the campaigns are just so brutal. It’s not fun spending an hour or so fighting a battle just to find out you lost because there was a single German soldier hidden in the corner of an objective zone or because you’re continually funnelled into killzones with no room for manouvre. Perhaps I’m just completely crap at the game, though, as I never play PBEM or anything like that.

  6. Jimmy Jazz says:

    ‘Ello all, I personally haven’t been quite interested in any Combat missions until recently. I was curious if anyone here could point me towards a good starting point if i wanted to start playing them?

  7. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    RPS. Blimey!

    Yeah, RPS is pretty awesome. ;)

  8. Dana says:

    I never got into new Combat Missions. They seem too micro-intensive, especially compared with the old engine that was more abstract in many ways.

  9. Iskariot says:

    I love the CM WW2 games, but I would never buy this. I am just not interested in Allies vs Italians.
    I have great interest in german and russian WW2 armor, and a minor interest in Allied stuff, but the Italians? No thanks. Everybody thought they were a joke. And to be honest they were. For most WW2 wargamers Italian forces must be the least interesting. They are right up there with the belgians and dutch.
    I am dutch myself but I would never want to play a game that featured our laughable army in WW2.

    • wodin says:

      East front out in during the year at some point.

    • Dana says:

      They did conquered northern and eastern Africa, and that makes them relevant in WW2 setting.

  10. wodin says:

    The future is bright for my tactical wargaming. Looking forward to the east front title and Shock Force 2 as funny enough whilst playing CMBN I soon started to miss my modern toys, something I’d never have imagined saying. Though West front WW2 bores me these days.

  11. Bhazor says:

    I would sacrifice each and everyone of you for a meticulously detailed hard sci-fi wargame by these guys.

    So yeah, I’d put £30 into any kickstarter they may be considering to fund it.

  12. EPICTHEFAIL says:

    No comments of this type…

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