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Interview: SimHQ Theatre of War Q&A

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SimHQ: A single infantry man can destroy masses of enemies with a captured AT gun.

Martin: Interesting issue raised, because at the same time some other people seem to complain about the too low survivability of AT guns. So if we quantify "can" as in "it happened to one of the thousands of players once", then the answer is a strong yes. Theatre of War is designed specifically to allow heroics from individual soldiers. That’s part of the RPG element of the game, and part of what makes it fun. A skilled sniper likewise can take out a large number of enemy before being spotted. The individual skills, and of course luck and skill of the player, do make a big difference in the game. This seems to be one of the areas which people constantly seem to ignore, but it’s a central design to the game.

SimHQ: Vehicles stopping before rotating tracks and presenting posteriors to AT gunners.

Martin: Well, again it is not that simple. Each unit is continuously evaluating the situation on the battlefield and tries to understand which enemy is the most dangerous and can inflict more efficient damage. Just imagine a situation when you see an infantry man with an AT rifle and a tank aiming at you from your right flank. Logically you will try to neutralize the tank first.

SimHQ: Trees and grass afford little or no cover.

Martin: Indeed, grass does not influence visibility currently. It’s merely a visual effect, and can even be switched off on computers with limited resources. In the future we plan to make grass influence spotting. Trees on the other hand do have an impact. Please see my previous comments.

SimHQ: Line of Sight problem -- establish a good LOS.

Martin: It was a deliberate design decision to leave out artificial line of sight tools from the game. From the very beginning we wanted the aiming and shooting procedure to be as close to reality as possible. The idea is that a player can select a unit, press "Enter" and evaluate visually if there is a line of sight to the enemy. It is not easy to go against people’s expectations however, so we plan to implement a LOS tool in the nearest future.

SimHQ: And the biggest complaint we hear -- no entry access to buildings.

Martin: Theatre of War is not an urban combat simulator. If it was, the inability to enter buildings would have been a serious flaw indeed. But it’s not, and with the focus on rural battles with only limited settlements, this design decision has saved us a LOT of time and effort to ensure a timely release, and it has very little impact on the combat simulation or outcome itself. By the same logic as used for this complaint, Theatre of War’s most serious flaw should be that it doesn’t simulate naval combat, or diplomacy, or strategic bombing, or doesn’t include all nations who participated in WW2, no pacific theatre, no jungle maps and so forth… Having said that, and repeating what we already stated, we do intend to introduce this feature in the add-on. It is a big effort because the amount of coding support, animations etc. needed to do this within the context of the game is huge. So it cannot be done in a free patch. The timeline for the add-on is at least 6 months.

SimHQ: Is there any additional work being done on the camera? Some players have reported that if the game is un-paused, the camera cartwheels all over the place no matter what the settings.

Martin: Currently this issue is reported exclusively on computers with AMD Athlon 64 CPU. To fix it just install the patch available at: http://www.amd.com/us-en/assets/content_type/utilities/amdcpusetup.exe.

SimHQ: What items or features do you think are getting unjust blame and/or criticism?

Martin: AI. People are blaming it when they lose a battle (but then blame the same AI for too high efficiency when playing against it ) a lot. And they blame it for not being like in other games (CM or CC, where you order around squads and not individual men). And they blame it because they would like Theatre of War to be a totally different game. But Theatre of War is what it is, and the AI, once used in the proper context, is very powerful and advanced, and quite realistic, too. Soldiers don’t simply hang around waiting for orders unless you tell them to. The AI is proactive and reacts to the battlefield and events. People who criticize the AI really should say that they simply don’t like the game because it doesn’t fit their playing style or preferences, but not blame the AI for something that, by design, the player is supposed to do (or not do).

Sound. We used a fully-featured sound engine to render realistic battle noise, i.e. the further away a unit gets the lower is noise you hear. As a result some players especially those with on-board sound cards seem to think that the sound in the game is too weak. However, this is not the case. We recommend that you use a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 and a good acoustic system to make your neighbors believe military exercises started in your apartment. By the way, in the next patch we will introduce an "improved sound pattern" which is less realistic but more exciting for that group of players.

SimHQ: What more can you tell us about the new add-on?

Martin: Do you mean the Moscow Expansion pack, or the (not yet officially announced) add-on? Well, the Moscow Mission pack contains a new campaign (German assault on Moscow, 1941) and a new map editor, which allows editing certain parts of the existing maps (trees, fortifications etc.). It complements the already released Mission Editor to create new scenarios. The Expansion pack will be finished shortly, we are currently localizing the contents.

As for the (not yet officially announced add on — well, work is underway. It will be dedicated to one campaign with linked missions. Unlike the existing campaign which covers the entire war, the add-on will progress through various engagements of the same single battle/operation. Players will be able to play from both sides. Also, we plan to add new equipment, buildings that can be entered, on-map mortars and howitzers will be introduced. We will share more information on this soon once the work on the first patch is finished, and make a formal official announcement then.

SimHQ: Will it include bug fixes only available if someone adds it?

Martin: All critical bugs for the original game will be released as free patch, and the Moscow Expansion is also going to be released as a free download. The add-on will include them as well of course but otherwise only introduce new features not in the original game. The add-on will have to be purchased, the patches (and Moscow Expansion) will not.

SimHQ: What is Battlefront.com's goal for Theatre of War? Do you see it as a series or the same title with add-ons and fixes?

Martin: Both 1C and Battlefront entered into this partnership with the same goals and the understanding that we’re producing a game not (primarily) for the mainstream market (although it has great mainstream appeal, just like Combat Mission does, of course) but a real wargame for the fans of the genre. We both have long-term plans for the game, as should be clear from the announcements of a first patch, a free (!) expansion, and later an add-on which will add huge features, like buildings, on-map mortars, etc. In a market moving from release to release within weeks while gameplay value is constantly declining from release to release (many newer games can be finished in a few hours or simply become stale after more than a few evenings), Battlefront’s business model is fully focused on long-term support and games with long-term gameplay value. 1C believes in this model as much as we do, and both companies’ track records should speak for itself in producing quality games with high replayability values. What happens after the add-on of course is undecided yet. It is ultimately in the hands of the players. With sufficient support, we can see the series grow to include other theatres or periods. Time will tell.

SimHQ: How would you position Theatre of War in relationship to your upcoming and highly anticipated Combat Mission: Shock Force?

Martin: If you’re expecting me to say that Theatre of War is more mainstream while Shock Force will be more hardcore, then I have to disappoint you. Both games merely attempt to deliver a more realistic simulation of land warfare than most of the other shooter or strategy titles out there, and it’s difficult to position them vis-à-vis each other as to which does a better job. None is going to be perfectly realistic, and both will probably leave room for improvement over time. When designing such a simulation you always have to make certain decisions on what to do and how to do it, and what to leave out. No game that attempts to simulate something as complex as land warfare can simulate it all. It’s difficult enough to simulate just one piece of equipment such as in a tank sim with all nuances, and now multiply this with the complex nature of a full battlefield. CM:SF is going to have to abstract or simplify certain things just like Theatre of War does. You can debate if one choice is better than the other, but none is inherently better or more realistic. As a wargamer and game developer I am in wargaming nirvana at the moment, having the option to play one or the other, and I enjoy the different approaches, nuances and differences in both games a great deal.

SimHQ: Thanks again Martin for your candor. We wish Theatre of War the very best and look forward to the resolution of the open issues we've discussed.


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