The Flare Path: Emotionally Authentic

Because Luke Hughes has a master’s degree in neurophysiology and psychology from Oxford, and uses terms like “emotional authenticity” when talking about his upcoming “leadership RPG” Burden of Command, I reached for my little tin of Big Questions when preparing today’s interview. Amongst the sensitive subjects discussed below: the glorification of war through video games, swearing on virtual battlefields, and why players of XCOM resemble seagulls.

RPS: How are you hoping to achieve “emotional authenticity” in Burden of Command?

Luke: By making it first and foremost a human experience rather than a tactics and strategy experience. Thanks primarily to permadeath, death has real significance in Burden of Command.

Permadeath matters not just because your player character might die but because as a leader you have to think about your NPC lieutenants and enlisted men’s deaths. You will have to consciously send men you’ve grown to like and respect into harm’s way. If they don’t come back, you can’t just reload and bring them back. Time and again vets on the team, including ones with combat tours behind them, have emphasized the importance of this aspect of command. What we call Men versus the Mission. This War of Mine, Darkest Dungeon, XCOM and of course more traditional roguelikes have employed this mechanic, but here we use it to make you think about the virtual lives you hold in your hands, not just your own.

Of course if you don’t give a damn about them and view them only as sprites this will fall a bit flat. So as a second technique we use ‘choose your own adventure’ like leadership moments. These seek to focus you on the Burdens of Command by presenting you with tough and often very historical choices. Not only Men vs Mission but for example, your men versus say the fate of other men (e.g. do you hold the hill at terrible cost so a different company is not outflanked?) What about the lives of civilians caught in the crossfire? Or even those of the enemy when the opportunity for perhaps too needless a slaughter is offered (like the still debated Highway of Death in the first Gulf War). When is it right to offer up your own life, ending your avatar’s career?

Context-linked character outbursts (“barks”) and the wonderful portraits created by Mariusz Kozik regularly appear on the screen further humanising your troops.

Finally, we try to center the tactical battlefield mechanics around human psychology: Morale, Suppression, Trust, Respect, Experience, and what might be called of the natural human “fear of death.” We try to create emotionally authentic battlefield mechanics.

RPS: Computer wargames have got by with simple morale variables and leader proximity buffs for decades. Why go deeper?

Luke: Why is a wargame experience only about tactics? The founding father of tactical wargames, Squad Leader’s John Hill once wrote:

“Squad Leader was a success for one reason: it personalized the board game in a World War II environment. Take the “leaders,” or persons, away from it and it becomes a bore. Though this may sound surprising, the game has much in common with Dungeons & Dragons. In both games, things tend to go wrong, and being caught moving in the street by a heavy machinegun is like being caught by a people-eating dragon. Squad Leader was successful because, underneath all its World War II technology, it is an adventure game, indeed Dungeons & Dragons in the streets of Stalingrad.”

Since then we’ve largely lost sight of his insight and left the roleplaying and emotional experience to the dice (“Snake Eyes! My squad just went berserk right as you charged across the street.. Oh man it just took out… etc, etc”). Close Combat digitally went significantly further with psychologically modeled soldier sprites. Unfortunately the sprites died so quickly you never had time to form the emotional connections like real bands of brothers do.

Why not take John Hill’s D&D analogy seriously? What we do first is attempt to put you in the boots of an infantry captain in World War II. That’s why we brought in historian John McManus, have many vets on the team, and even hired an archivist to go into the US National  Archives and retrieve actual after action reports written by the captains and lieutenants who were there at the time. We’re hoping that by emphasizing the personal emotional experience of being a wartime leader, with all the responsibilities and emotional burdens that entails, that we are doing a more authentic war game, not a less authentic one. Just like how This War of Mine conveyed some of the emotional experience of being civilians in a war zone.

That being said, “simple morale variables and leader proximity” go a darn long way on the tactical side. But in the 30 years since John Hill  there has been a lot of fine thinking in tactical board games as well as digital ones (Steel Panthers, Close Combat, Command Ops, anyone?). Standing on the shoulders of those giants especially those in the boardgame space we believe we can emphasize even more emotionally authentic tactics and aspects of battlefield leadership. For example, many many tactical games both cardboard and digital focus on firepower even if on the surface they appear to focus on morale.

Typically you repeatedly fire at an enemy unit until it “breaks” and “routs” or is otherwise removed from the map through firepower alone. Firepower equals the “kill.” A fair statement for artillery but much less so for small arms fire. On real battlefields soldiers who weren’t panicking kept their heads down because they didn’t want to die. Would you stand up in the face of active machine gun fire to surrender or run away? I wouldn’t and they didn’t. Hence in WWII it took something like 8000 bullets to inflict a casualty. So instead you’ll need to close to assault a suppressed enemy.

But real warriors are usually reluctant to engage in hand to hand fighting. Leo Murray, the author of the superb book Brains & Bullets, estimates that left to their own devices fewer than 20% of soldiers are willing to commit to a hand to hand assault. It will be your burden as a leader to motivate that other 80% into finishing the job. For that you’ll need to have earned their trust by risking your own ass with them under fire. You can see how the human factors built on and off the battlefield come back to play a role in tactical mechanics.

I go into more detail on the mechanics of suppression, trust, and so forth in my latest dev blog.

RPS: War is a cruel, capricious creature so, surely, games that represent it accurately must be cruel and capricious too?

Luke: Random death was of course pervasive in World War II, and officer casualty rates were high. What you might call the all too real  “physical authenticity” of the battlefield. So shouldn’t we just have your or your officers randomly die with frequency to be authentic? Well, two answers, first the casualty rates dropped significantly if you had battlefield experience. A lot of the casualties came on the first day or even moments of battle before soldiers had learnt to keep their head down, read the terrain, etc.  Secondly, and perhaps more subtly, I think we need to juxtapose physical authenticity and emotional authenticity. Real soldiers form emotional bonds. Good leaders are often like fathers to their men, shepherds. And real soldiers have lots and lots of time off the battlefield to form those bonds. Remember the saying “war is 99% percent boredom and 1% sheer terror”? Well unless we plan a boredom simulator (probably not a sensible move from a sales perspective), we have to capture that emotional authenticity by reducing capricious death sufficiently to allow you to develop the emotional connection with your men that is part of the reward and burden of command.

All that being said if you insist on wandering around in the open in front of unsuppressed machine guns then yes you will experience the capriciousness of war. And sometimes even if you don’t act with folly. Though typically we’ll wound you and put out of action if you’re following good tactics rather than just kill you outright. Everyone is subject to permadeath in Burden of Command, including you. But we lighten up on the pedal to create the time for emotional authenticity and thereby an engaging gameplay experience.

RPS: Do you think games about war can glorify their subject thereby making real wars more socially acceptable?

Luke: As Robert E. Lee once said, “It is well war is so terrible or we should grow too fond of it.” Many wargamers, myself, among them, have sometimes felt concerned that, as I believe you once put it, we are playing in a graveyard. That we extract and focus on only the intellectual challenge of generalship and or the excitement and ‘glory’ of a well fought tactical battle. Similarly it is clear many people feel disquiet at the “power trip” that the endless offing of the enemy in a first-person shooter like Call of Duty creates. There is a place for the study of strategy and tactics and a place for escapist fun but there is also a place for an engaging experience touching on complex realities. The sales of games like This War of Mine – which explores the harsh realities of civilian experience in a warzone – suggests players of all kinds and not just wargamers might welcome engagement just as much as “fun.”

Interestingly I have never felt any disquiet working on Burden of Command. Quite the opposite, in fact, that perhaps we are doing some small service by showing respect for the realities of war and the burdens of leadership. Interestingly we have many vets on the team and among the playtesters, including some with combat experience, and while they are quick to point out that no game can really touch directly on the reality of combat, they also feel that Burden of Command, by being respectful of the emotional and leadership burdens of the real experience might do a service. Much like Band of Brothers, or American Sniper, if done well we can gain not only a sober sense of the challenges of war, but also a respect for those who endure it on our behalf. In short we can take away not the “glory of war” so much as a respect for those who serve and those who have served. Men like the Cottonbalers, the focus of our project.

RPS: Tactical wargames like BoC obviously can’t show the disturbing visual reality of war but they could offer aural authenticity. Will there be F words and nerve-chafing screams in the game?

Luke: There weren’t going to be until you suggested it, Tim! But honestly, it’s an excellent idea. Our current plan is to have the writers Allen Gies and Paul Wang write many textual “barks” that trigger dynamically by situation and personalities involved to draw you into the “emotional action.” This War of Mine did a fine job on this. But if we can afford to do it on the auditory side for certain background human sounds like you suggest, that might be powerful.

RPS: I understand you’ve played the new CoD. If you’d been in a position to boost its realism in any single area prior to launch which area would you have chosen?

Luke: I’d have added respect for death. CoD does a remarkable job visually and with human characters setting the stage of war but then it pulls its punches through gameplay mechanics.

Right now in CoD your own death is only the inconvenience of a near instant reload. The NPCs around you are generally protected by “plot armor” meaning they have to stick around for the extended plot to be realized and the very expensive voice acting not to be wasted. Like Darkest Dungeon or This War of Mine I’d suggest taking the risk of giving it permadeath. Similarly, how can you experience the weight of war if your decisions can’t get others (the NPCs) killed? Look at how much players bond with the fanciful soldiers in XCOM or Battle Brothers. This comes back again to the core burdens of command, your irreversible responsibility over the life and death of others. Of course making such changes would mean a lot of other design changes for CoD (like procedural “levels” to make permadeath acceptable like in a roguelike). Not an easy task. It is our good fortune that we built Burden of Command from the ground up with emotional authenticity in mind.

RPS: The term ‘hero’ seems to be everywhere these days. Will there be heroes in Burden of Command and how will we know them when we encounter them?

Luke: Too often the a hero in a gaming context is someone who dispatches endless enemies with dramatic skill. In his book On Combat Colonel Grossman talks about certain men being “sheepdogs” meaning they see their role by contrast as the protection and welfare of others.  Such men often make good leaders, like Captain Winters in Band of Brothers (a personal hero of mine). I always remember that scene where Winters decided to falsely attest to his superior to having sent out a second canal patrol at the end of the war to spare needless loss of life. However, I also remember many times where he had to order attacks that would likely kill men he respected and cared about because of the responsibilities of his role. In  Burden of Command we similarly want to give you a role where you decide how you balance your mens’ futures versus your moral responsibility for the mission’s success. Where you have a chance to be a different kind of hero.

RPS: Does your knowledge of neurophysiology and psychology influence the way you design?

Luke: I tend to think about game design from the mindset of  the “biological basis of behavior.” When Sid Meier says “games are a series of interesting decisions” I’m immediately thinking “what the heck is an “interesting decision” in biological terms? Well animals assess the world constantly in terms of “threats” and “opportunities.” I remember once watching a seagull I’d thrown some bread to… bread I threw deliberately close to me. It kept dancing into range of the bread (“opportunity!”) and then dancing back as it saw me too close (“threat!”). That seagull was dancing on the cusp of an “interesting decision.”

Guess what. Our biology as gamers isn’t any different. So when we realize in XCOM that if we move into the building this turn we’ll get to destroy the objective before the clock runs out (“opportunity!”) and then we realize there are probably Xenos hiding in the building (“threat!”) we suddenly find ourselves hovering on the cusp of an “interesting decision.” So in Burden of Command I try to make sure most tactical decisions involve an opportunity and a threat. Or at least two equally enticing opportunities where you get to pick only one. There the threat is the opportunity cost of the choice not taken. I push the writers to think similarly for the Choose Your Own Adventure decisions.

RPS: How have you prepared for your first foray into computer game design?

Luke: Well, I’ve sat at the feet of many virtual mentors during the past year. I’ve spent a lot of time watching Game Design Conference (GDC) talks on YouTube, listening to game design podcasts (shout out to Three Moves Ahead, Ludology Podcast, Dirk Knemeyer’s Game Design Round Table), and studying game players feedback in forums. I also spent a lot of time analyzing successful digital designs outside of wargames (XCOM, Crusader Kings 2, Banner Saga, This War of Mine, etc) to try to make myself think out of the (game)box about the wargaming genre. Then I read through all of William Bernhardt’s books on writing (the Red Sneakers series) to get myself educated on narrative design. We’re at a very fortunate time in the game industry when so many brilliant people are sharing their insights virtually. Finally I brought to the team of series of outside advisors and experts like Chris Avellone, Alexis Kennedy, William Bernhardt, well-known artists and more to advise us on good and visually appealing game design. So, well, we’ve been doing our homework. If our design falls short it won’t be from lack of trying!

RPS: Thank you for your time.

*       *       *

If Burden of Command has a polar opposite it’s probably The Operational Art of War IV. Released yesterday, the most anticipated wargame of the year (according to its publisher, Matrix Games) is about as human/compassionate as a Czech hedgehog.

TOAW4 has much more important things to worry about than whether one wisecracking 18-year-old private from the Bronx steps on a Bouncing Betty near Aachen in 1944 while going to the aid of his wounded commander. Its concerns are generally brigade, division, or corps sized.

Capable of simulating almost any 21st, 20th or late-19th Century op, the TOAW series has been a genre favourite for almost twenty years. This latest version includes a reworked GUI, support for modern monitors, and realism advances in several areas including naval warfare and supply. A few quick-off-the-mark purchasers are clearly surprised and disappointed by the game’s AI inconsistency (Some of the myriad scenarios feature a so-called Programmed Opponent ensuring challenge and historicism in singleplayer. Others rely on an incompetent generic understudy and are best suited to PBEM) but a slightly misleading feature list won’t, I suspect, prevent TOAW IV from swelling the series’ small but loyal fan base.

*       *       *

This way to the foxer

50 Comments

  1. 1Derby says:

    Excellent article.
    Intelligent conversation.
    Well done.
    I will support this project just to vote with my wallet and encourage such a thoughtful approach to game design and respect for the material.
    I am looking forward to the finished product.

    • lhughes42 says:

      1Derby thank you for that. Especially the wallet aspect LOL. Well seriously it’s an honor to work on this. A particular pleasure has been the people we meet including various vets (the USMC seems to really like us.. what does it mean?) from all kinds of countries. You can help us a lot short term by such comments here and also following us on social media. Gaming market is SOOO saturated. Insane. Small indie with big heart needs help (hmm I think I just wrote a personal ad 8-() ).
      Luke — project lead

      • EveBenson says:

        I get paid over $95 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing… Click Here And START

  2. Ssnake51 says:

    Glad to hear TOAW IV was released. Was really looking forward to purchasing it. Unfortunately, it’s not the AI issue now holding me back but the failure to design a game that can properly scale for a 4K monitor. Can’t believe that developers are still flubbing up that issue.

  3. zulnam says:

    Can’t wait to get this.

    I won’t pre-order, since that’s wrong; but if it’s not review bombed on day 1 due to technical glitches i will get it right away, damn the reviews!

    • lhughes42 says:

      Zulnam. Thank you. Burden of Command is a work of passion for us. I don’t plan to release it till it is in the shape the topic deserves. That being said you have a prudent policy!
      Luke (project lead)

  4. Gothnak says:

    That looks really interesting and i’ll certainly be checking it out when it releases. I’m looking to do something similar with characters with an RPG idea of mine once the next project is out of the way.. Oh for unlimited cash!

    • Shiloh says:

      It’s a very good game already, I’ve been involved in playtesting it for a while now.

    • lhughes42 says:

      Gothnak, if memory serves, you were kind in our reveal article here. We are trying to make modding tools. First for the team to build things but eventually modders. I can’t promise what shape those will be in at release but big believer in mods. I’m most interested in the stories of various soldiers and units being told. Any $$ made are to further that end (OK maybe I take the wife on a vacation LOL). Seriously to me the excitement is all the stories yet to be told. Suggestions of future DLCs are always welcomed. Naming particular Units and perhaps related book and a ‘why them’ of interest.

      • Gothnak says:

        You are correct, i should give you a bell really, i’m a Games industry veteran with 20+ years in design/programming. I might be able to give you a few pointers on the dev/interface side of things as obviously you are doing well enough on the high level design :).

  5. bramble says:

    This game is on my radar as a likely purchase, and I didn’t know it existed before reading this. Thanks for the thoughtful and intelligent interview.

    • lhughes42 says:

      Bramble thank you. Tim Stone has been more than kind to us. Should you care to follow us on FB or Twitter (@BurdenOfCommand) that is more than helpful.
      cheers,
      Luke

  6. Jack_Empty says:

    Great article and wonderfully informative. Both these games mentioned here remind me strongly of ‘Overlord’ a D-day tactics game I played on my Atari ST. I remember getting very frustrated as 9yo that my units would ignore my commands to attack a strongly held french village and fall back. The look of the map and this concept of unit self preservation are very similar, but my experience of ww2 war gaming is massively limited to one obscure ST game so maybe this a common concept.

    • chuckieegg says:

      Is that the CCS version by Ken Wright? I remember the frustration too. It might have made sense on a Napoleonic battlefield, but not when each turn took a week over several square miles. The entire army could march off in the opposite direction that you wanted.

    • lhughes42 says:

      Jack_Empty glad you asked. Not familiar with the game but this is an important topic. Burden of Command is not for every gamer. If you want control over the battlefield. Man we are so not your game :-( On the other hand if you like the idea of leading in the face of chaos we might be. Lots of RNG. Lots. That being said we try to make the leaders a means to manage that. Overcome the odds, recover from bad events etc.
      But last thing I want to do is lead someone down the path of frustration. In wargaming there are some that like a lot of control (wargame chess) and some who relish “friction” on the battlefield. I’m afraid for better or worse we are in the latter camp. Because if you read in military history it’s pretty much an series of misadventures. Read Shelby’s trilogy on Civil War someday. Lord.

      • Jack_Empty says:

        Ihughes42 that wasnt a quip at any frustration that may or may not be in your game, in fact it was a minor revelation of sorts about my flawed 9 y/o tactics and why those units would ignore me, good on em really! Ill check out those recommendations, that Brains and Bullets too and keep a close eye on the progression of your game!

  7. Shinan says:

    Oh man, Burden of Command sounds exactly like my jam. I hope I won’t forget about it by the time it’s out.

    (And maybe I’ll go back to Fields of Fire for a bit. I’ll just have to clear some space on a table somewhere)

    • lhughes42 says:

      Shinan you have good taste. Did you see our discussion of Fields of Fire in this dev blog? link to bit.ly
      One of my personal pleasures has been talking to some of those designers directly (Ben Hull of FoF, Chad Jensen (Combat Commander), Jim Krohn (Band of Brothers), Uwe Eickert (Conflict of Heroes). Teaching my nine year old CoH right now. He’s already crushing me :-( Maybe he should write our AI LOL.
      Luke

      • Shinan says:

        I only checked this article again after this week’s Flare Path so sorry for such a late reply. But yeah, I did read the link to the boardgame devlog in the article and it made me realize “Hey, I have Fields of Fire in my collection somewhere. I really need to play it again.”

        Combat Commander is another one I’ve played a lot with my little brother. It is a great “story generator” (like that one time the “walking wounded” card turned the tide of battle by appearing in the middle of nowhere and being badass due to some lucky rally and advance cards :D)

  8. jpm224 says:

    So are all of these little decision moments and events randomized, or will each mission play out exactly the same every time? If the game is only good for one playthrough I will probably wait for a sale to purchase, even though I find the ‘leadership RPG’ concept very appealing.

    • lhughes42 says:

      jpm224: “So are all of these little decision moments and events randomized, or will each mission play out exactly the same every time?”
      Great question. My squirrely answer is ‘it depends.’ To be less rodent like:
      1 – core critical events (see Crucibles in this dev blog link to bit.ly) are scripted as well as core scene setting for battles.
      2. – battlefield narrative events — our intent is that we will have a good library of these dynamically fired. Depends on what you do, where you go, what happens. A bit like old boardgame Ambush. I have the engine for that. We’ll have to see how much energy we have to full fill the vision LOL
      3. Dynamic battlefield — I want a lot of chaos on that battlefield (see link to bit.ly) which means ideally were you to fight the battle again that it would feel some what different.

      OK all that being said I don’t want to mislead. This version is *not* a dynamic campaign system like old Steel Panthers or procedural rogue likes (e.g. Darkest Dungeon etc). That is my dream for version two. That being said I would defend that there is a space for narrative focused experiences. Best analogies would be relatively linear RPGs like Banner Saga. Or Shadowrun Returns.
      I hope that gives you enough information to make an informed buying decision.
      cheers,
      Luke

  9. Michael Fogg says:

    The famous ‘do you want to live forever’ line, now attributed not just to Frederick II but even a WWII grunt?

    • brgillespie says:

      Frederick II is attributed as saying that (in essence, but worded differently).

      Perhaps the fearsome Sgt. Maj. Daly was simply a reader of history. However, he is indeed attributed with saying, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” before charging into machine gun fire.

    • lhughes42 says:

      Actually my attribution was WWI :) I’ll have to see if article said WWII. I suspect the sentiment has echoed down the ages :-/

  10. Michael Fogg says:

    With regard to ’emotional authenticity’ of a battfield sim, I think an important thing to note is that, both in works of fiction and in reality, the war/battle is understood as something extraordinary and temporary – a radical departure from everyday life. A lot of the tension hinges on the questions – what did they do before, what will they do after this and how will they be changed by the experience (if they survive, that is). Like in the memorable and touching pre-credits sequence in the finall BoB episode. Taking part in a camapign or battle is usually a crucial point in a person’s biography. By their nature, games have a problem simulating this aspect as they don’t inlclude civilian life in any way. Their wars are endless, self-contained and expand to cover 100% of reality.

    • lhughes42 says:

      Michael Fogg. This really is insightful. Interesting game design anecdote. One of the writers wanted to start with civilian life of some of the NPCs. I nixed. Why so foolish? Well my concern is that for wargamers not getting into the action pretty quick was going to alienate them fast. Might have been a blunder on my side. We shall see. That being said we build up their characters and natures as the game progresses. Probably not enough on the civilian side (some) but we cover things like their time off in Naples between battles, meeting civilians, hell we even have a “manage the administrative paperwork” scene for a touch of realism! Though right now I’ve insisted that be an optional one LOL (Paul’s a bit pissed at me for that ;-) ).
      My hope is if we do well our audiences (like you) will give us a bit more slack for character development early on. The novel Fields of Fire by James Webb did a really nice job of those intro vinettes. Read it?
      Again I just want to call this out as quite thoughtful. Thank you.
      Luke
      p.s. did you watch teaser? We try to get some of your points across towards end: link to bit.ly

  11. AyeBraine says:

    A splendid article, really glad you took this interview. An incredibly interesting high-brow high-concept project I never heard until now. Thank you.

    • lhughes42 says:

      AyeBrain “highbrow” o lord. we’re doomed now. Best take that as a compliment :-) Here’s the hope for you.. I’ve been a gamer since I can remember. My design goal is always game first then history, authenticity etc. That being said we have a design maxim in the team “bend history but do not break it.” For example we take license to have a fictional company in the historic Cottonbalers regiment. This allows us to cherry pick the best battles. That being said we respect the truth of the battles.

      Thanks for weighing in,
      Luke

  12. Kolbex says:

    This may put me in the minority, but I would vastly prefer not knowing the numerical odds of things like “your captain will likely die”. Nothing breaks immersion for me like seeing the dice roll. He looks likely to die. How likely? Well, roll this die 10 times, and one time he will die.

    • LewdPenguin says:

      I think it does leave you in the minority, I believe an earlier article on BoC covered displaying the outcome odds, originally there was no indication and it was left up to the players judgement based on the situation but they got alot of feedback from testers becoming frustrated (at least some of the time) by not knowing, and rather than half-fudge it by adding things like ‘very likely to die’ or ‘may die’ to the wording they decided to just show the % chances.

      I do see your point though, and hopefully they’ll include a toggle to let you turn off the chance display if you prefer to play that way, it should be fairly straightforward to do so assuming they don’t think of the option a week from release.

      BoC in general sounds like a game I really hope manages to make their ideas work within a solid strategy game and not become simply an essay on how bad war is bolted onto a wonky game, even though doing so is likely to mean it becomes at times unpleasant to play. It will certainly be interesting to play something designed more around the way I often play anyway even in strategy games that generally treat your men as numbers to be thrown into the blender until the tide turns your way.

    • lhughes42 says:

      Kolbex this is a very interesting design issue. Probably a lot of persona taste issues there. The excellent looking future game Sacred Fire had an interesting dev blog on this which created a twitter conversation with us. I think you might it most interesting:
      link to sacredfiregame.com

      Luke

  13. cpt_freakout says:

    I don’t play a lot of wargames (usually opt for tactics games) but Burden of Command seems right up my alley. Quite excited to give it a shot when it comes out!

    • lhughes42 says:

      cpt_freakout you post is just the kind of one that makes my day. We are trying very very hard to broaden the audience for “war games.” This War of Mine is a game about war, seen from the other side. Nice example of shattering conventions. We’re closer to the classic wargaming harbor but out intent is to focus on the larger emotional experience as well as tactical of leadership.
      The question I pose myself: look at the large audience of Band of Brothers (HBO) look at relatively niche nature of traditional wargames. Why is that? Seems to me surely it is not opening up more the human side. So we’ll see.
      Luke

  14. klops says:

    I’m not really that much into getting new games or waiting eagerly for something to finish. My backlog is full of unplayed great games. But this will be on “very possible day 1 purchases” list. Now there are two games: Six Ages and Burden of Command”

    • lhughes42 says:

      klops Six Ages! Nice company to be in. Loved King of Dragon pass. Might I suggest you take a look at Sacred Fire too? link to sacredfiregame.com
      Fascinating detailed psychological combat combined with physical.
      cheers,
      Luke

      • klops says:

        Thanks for the suggestion! Never heard of this actually. Somehow I’m not that drawn into the game by a quck glance but this is something I’ll keep my eye on (won’t make it to The List yet, though).

        Dunham, Weller and Avellone are quite a bunch as references! And most likely the others as well, I just don’t have personal experience with their games.

  15. Eawyne says:

    As a boardgame/wargame enthutiast with a strong lean on the solo side, BoC is just the video game for me. Building up strong narrative/love with my characters is what puts a good amount of fun in soloing. I recently got a hold of Raid on St.Nazaire, and that’s exactly the kind of setting that would benefit from the BoC idea.

    So as I don’t pre-order, I’ll have this closely under my radar, hoping to see it come out real soon =) Thanks for this enlighting interview, as I didn’t know of this game before !

    • lhughes42 says:

      Thanks for the kind note Eawyne. I have not played Raid but did watch Stuka Joes’s fine YouTubes on. We have a lot of boardgame influences including solitaire ones. This dev blog might interest you: link to bit.ly

      • Eawyne says:

        Yes, I’ve read the blog entry =) But alas, I didn’t play any of the games you mention there ! (although I’ve read quite enough about them to not feel lost).

        As I’ve got a lousy memory, all those games become a rule-fest as I constantly keep refering to the manual. Raid’s been an exception so far, luckily. That’s why seeing this in video game support is such a good idea to me ^^

        Ha, on a side note, will this become available on GoG ?

  16. Jord68 says:

    Ever since RPS mentioned this game I’ve been dying to play it, finally some emotion is brought into a WW2 strategy game.

  17. klops says:

    By the way, what was the game addressed in The Flare Path, where you could play in the Axis side, most likely in Barbarossa, and you had some sort of personal decisions that you needed to make in addition to the strategy map movements? The scale was bigger and your decisions could affect e.g. Göring’s relation to you, and that then again could affect on air support, or something like that.

    • lhughes42 says:

      O yes that is Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa. The designer Cameron Harris is one smart cookie and a friend our our project. He was the trail blazer in many ways on introducing leadership decisions and sometimes emotionally fraught ones into a wargame. Flare Path did a good article on the design awhile back.

  18. scut says:

    Uhh if American Sniper is one of your inspirations for something authentic and respectful I’ve got a reverse mortgage to sell to you.

    • lhughes42 says:

      I suspect I deserve schooling. Please educate me. I am more ignorant the further you get fom WWII. I just thought the film calling out some of the emotional complexities was worthwhile. Please tell me how you think I should view the film. That way I might not end up with a bad mortgage ;)

      Cheers,
      Luke

  19. sierratango says:

    I created an account just to say this game (Burden of Command, that is) looks fascinating and I’ll likely buy it just because of the concept. I am not a wargamer by any means. I mostly like cRPGs like Divinity: OS2 or Dragon Age and the most wargamey I have gone is probably Crusader Kings 2 (which is to say, barely at all), but the concept of a “Leadership” RPG set in WWII is too much for me to resist.

  20. FlashPaperGrind says:

    RockPaperShotgun never disappoints when it comes to serious, in-depth and quality interviews! I have been looking for a wargame to play that does more than just idle my curiosity. Burden of Command seems, based on how much love and passion Luke has for it, to be the one.

    I stumbled across this article while fumbling with the idea of getting TAOW4 and can now state that I will employ as much patience as possible while waiting for BoC.

    Games that trigger a true-to-life emotional connection between player and character are few and far between, while some do aim at the mark, very few actually hit it.

    This War of Mine caused all sorts of crazy reactions in me when one of my survivors just couldn’t cope with his actions. This was an interesting mechanic purely based on a character making his own decision regardless of how I felt about it.

    As a fully-aware society that lacks total empathy for what is happening to humanity on a global level (could just be me, or at least caused by the state of things in my beloved home country) we, as a gaming community, are repeatedly thrown through the veil and into a realm that cares not for morals and ethics. We play games that cause us to lose empathy for victims of violence, we play games that reward bad behaviour and we play games that let us pick people up and feed them to giant animals.

    A game like Burden of Command, if I understand Luke’s goals, hopes to throw us back into the seat of empathy, build a connection with our character and drive the story based on how we feel about the state of things in each ‘moment’.

    As with any game, there is a chance that the developers may have to cut things out, weaken a plot due to stuff they never tell you, rush a build… Luke seems to not want to do any of those things with Burden of Command, so, without adding any pressure Luke, the avid War Gaming community will be watching this one with eager anticipation and much salivation!

    Ps. Apologies for the long post, I guess I felt compelled to pen my thoughts about the interview and the game you are passionately developing!

  21. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    Great interview. Like cpt_freakout, i hardly ever play wargames, but this one sounds like one i might be able to get into.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like on a battlefield actually having people’s lives in your hands, but i have dipped in and out of management in an office environment over the past decade or so. It’s terribly interesting figuring out how best to motivate your team. How do you give them enough autonomy to let them learn from their own mistakes but still nudge them along the path you know they need to take? How do you give them enough downtime to boost morale but also ensure they understand the urgency of the task at hand? You have to know when to protect your guys from the shitstorm and when to have them stand up and own it, when to try to retain them and when it’s better to encourage them to move on, all kinds of things.

    As predictable as human beings are in the aggregate, modeling an individual’s unique personality in software in a believable fashion has got to be really tricky. I was tempted by the article on Football Manager a couple weeks back, but i think that game seems a bit too black box and “grand strategy” for me. It sounds like something focused on more personal interactions might be just the ticket.

  22. Yasha says:

    Really looking forward to this game. My biggest issue with both war and grand strategy games is that oftentimes simulation complexity comes at the cost of emotion and human connection. Thank you so much for developing a game which attempts to plug in that human element whilst sacrificing little! I truly wish you guys success, and I am planning on also purchasing with my wallet. Kudos to RPS and the dev for such an intelligent and compelling read.

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