Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations Review

Event Engine Initiation

CMANO includes an Event engine. This function is used to trigger actions under certain conditions. For example, the game could send a message to the player giving additional orders mid-way through a game. The Event engine is also used to randomize the starting location of units through teleportation to different locations. While the randomization feature is essential to any game’s re-play value, the way CMANO conducts this exercise is somewhat weird.

Most games offer randomization as a basic feature. When the player loads the game, random locations are selected, and the units are placed on the map in their starting positions. The player can then proceed to enjoy the game.

In CMANO, the player loads the scenario, issues his orders, and then starts the scenario only to find his units miraculously move a few hundred miles and that he needs to re-issue his orders and plans. While this function works as designed, it does appear bizarre to normal players especially since CMANO is supposedly created from scratch and thus could easily use a more normal and traditional pre-start randomization process.

The Event Engine is also used to simulate things like airborne paratroop deployment. When the transport aircraft arrives at a pre-determined location, the Event Engine triggers, and a land unit (paratroop formation) magically teleports to that location to simulate the deployment of the unit by parachute. Although this seemingly works at a cosmetic level, it raises fundamental questions like: “Why is such an awkward implementation required in a game that is supposedly starting from a fresh code base? Why not simply allow the aircraft to deploy the airborne unit wherever it likes (the way it happens in Real Life)? How does the unit re-embark (not teleport) back onto the aircraft? Why the work-around nature of the Event Engine?” The function is especially odd since CMANO successfully introduced a new feature allowing for the deployment and subsequent recovery of landing craft from amphibious ships.

The Event Engine seems to have been implemented as an afterthought. Old games struggling within the restrictive bounds of legacy source code such as Harpoon, Fleet Command, or Combat Mission might try to shoehorn or cram a new additional feature in such a ham-fisted ad hoc manner. Games that do this often end up looking like the Frankenstein monster. As stated previously, the Event engine is perfectly functional for randomization, but not very polished.

Taken individually, the UI shortcomings might be viewed as quirky, inconvenient, or just annoying. However, when seen in the aggregate whilst playing, the rough and unpolished UI can make a player feel as though he is fighting the UI instead of the AI.

Air traffic Control System

CMANO introduces a new level of complexity to aircraft operations, which may be the single-most gratuitously convoluted function in this game. In most games like HCE, NWAC, or H3, air operations are slightly abstract with planes taking off every minute or so. Players have a general idea how long it takes because it is uniform and easy to integrate into mission planning.

In CMANO, air operations are an intricate affair with planes leaving their hangars, using elevators, rolling down taxiways, taking off according to runway limitations, forming groups, performing their assigned missions before entering the landing traffic pattern to return to base and land. Launch and recovery operations are fully automated and a player could not interrupt the AI-controlled process even if he wants (and he definitely will!) Theoretically, it sounds wonderfully complicated and adds a level of complexity not often found in wargames. Unfortunately, James Doohan (Engineer Montgomery Scott from Star Trek) said it best in,  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, “The more they over-think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain”

This is exactly what happens.

  1. Planes can find themselves unable to launch from clogged runways;
  2. Different aircraft can have various launch times such as 1:30min, 2:30min, 3:45min (making it impossible to coordinate activities because there is no way to know what the times are without actually launching!);
  3. Aircraft can fail to land and then crash from fuel starvation because of problems and congestion in the traffic control pattern.

Air traffic control students might enjoy this element in the game, but most players will likely only find it confusing while adding no entertainment value whatsoever beyond snarled airports and crashed airplanes (not to mention scenarios). Although some may perceive this feature as a realism factor, that is only true if they think plowing 60 million dollar aircraft into the ground from fuel deprivation is realistic because the planes could not get through the landing pattern.

Scenario Editor and Modifications

The scenario editor in CMANO has been the subject for a great deal of boasting. Not only will it allow users to create their own scenarios, it supposedly allows for limited database editing capability. To be perfectly clear, no database editing capability whatsoever exists within the CMANO scenario editor. Users who actually need database editing capability should not delude themselves, as CMANO simply does not offer this possibility.

The CMANO database is comparable to a deck of cards. Players can shuffle and mix items already found within the database, but users can neither create anything new nor modify the values or behavior of any pre-existing system. This means that existing Russian radar can be placed upon NATO planes or American missiles on Chinese ships, but no new systems can be created that do not already exist within the database nor can users change the performance of any pre-existing system. This feature equates to nothing more than ‘moving around the pre-existing database furniture’. Most users can recognize this function is not the kind of database editing properly exemplified by success histories like the Total War series, Paradox Games, and Harpoon; each user must decide for themselves whether or not the game’s “database re-combination/re-arrangement” function actually meets their needs and expectations.

The scenario editor notwithstanding, many other components of the game are readily modifiable. Third-party users have already collected additional images for platforms (since only a single solitary image is included with the official game). Even sound file modifications for explosions and such appear feasible.

Graphics

The map and icons are pleasant, but certainly not FPS quality. It is okay since that level of detail is unnecessary. The map offers excellent graphic representation and allows for a high level of precision and detail. The one shortcoming is the fact that only the NTDS (Naval Tactical Data System) symbols are officially available in the map displays. While this is ultra-realistic, it would have been nice to see some more easily recognizable symbols or at least have that option available. Learning the NTDS icons is not an impossible task, but not everyone wants to memorize the entire gamut of symbols, either. It is a game, after all, and not a vocation. Thankfully, third-party icons are available and have been used during this review.

Sound

The sounds are limited to a few explosions, gunfire, and what were supposedly missile and aircraft launching. They appeared to have congealed horribly and only created confusion since it was not possible to distinguish between them. In the end, they were just turned them off for the duration of this review.

Documentation and Technical

The manual is quite poorly done, is heavily laced with jargon, lists non-existent references, and is peppered with simple spelling errors. A reader could easily be confused as to whether the author is describing the Game or the Scenario Editor. It almost assumes that the player already knows how to play other games such as Harpoon. Newcomers to the genre may not find it very helpful. The Tutorial lessons are detailed and provide adequate instruction for newcomers.

Conclusion

This game is theoretically functional, but could easily have used six additional months for optimization and polish. As it currently stands, CMANO is a hodge-podge of ideas haphazardly thrown together. It is good that CMANO replicates many functions from NWAC and Harpoon3. It is too bad that they many bad ones are also duplicated while helpful ones were forgotten. Features such as the Formation Editor and Event Engine are prime examples of good ideas for functions that were poorly implemented and badly integrated. The awkwardness of the UI makes the game a chore to play instead of a pleasure. A thorough re-examination of the overall design phase might be prudent, especially considering how some features generally considered “standard” within the naval wargame genre are conspicuously missing.

This is version 1.0 and, hopefully, improvements will come in the form of game Patches instead of “paid patches” (a.k.a. download content or DLC). Should this game be meaningfully patched in an expeditious manner, an update of this review is certainly possible.

Good

  • Many game functions and commands are compatible with Harpoon3. H3 veterans will easily grasp game concepts.
  • Physics package will ensure that all units observe the laws of physics
  • Highly detailed sensor and weapons resolution
  • Scenario editor allows for scenario writing
  • Third-party modifications to images, sounds, and icons easy to add
  • Color-coded messages for ease of reference
  • Detailed sensor modeling, Fog of War, weapons engagements, physics package
  • High level of weapons and platform detail
  • Excellent control over messages

Could be Better

  • No multiplayer capability
  • No database editing capability
  • Crude formation editor capability
  • Air traffic control system congestion and failure
  • UI is severely overloaded, cluttered, and user-unfriendly
  • Direct player control difficult to exercise
  • Inadequate hot key usage – too much “clickology”
  • Auto-aerial defense mandatory
  • Lack of a database editor

Reviewer System Specs

  • AMD Athlon 64x Dual 2.6gHz processor
  • ATI Radeon X1200 Series
  • 2GB RAM
  • Windows Home XP Service Pack 3

Video

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