We asked SSG artist and designer Steve Ford if he could take some time out from his busy schedule to give us an insight into the work he has conducted on the Decisive Battles of World War II series, and his involvement with SSG.

So armed with a Tablet Pen in one hand and a mouse in the other - freshly dripping with cyber paint - this is what he had to say.

Note that larger versions of the images are available by clicking on the images themselves.

The images provided in support of this interview are a sample of these in development and taken from Decisive Battles of World War II - 'Battles In Normandy' which is currently under design and production by SSG. All images are the property of SSG and may not be reproduced without their consent.

How did you get involved with SSG and what is your role?

I first wrote a letter to Steve Hand back in 1993, I think, after reading an article in Run5 about how he got started with the company. I had been playing Battlefront for a few years and had designed my own scenarios using the editor and 'Warpaint'. I sent some samples with my letter. SSG liked what they saw. Fortunately we all lived in Sydney so I was invited to lunch where I also met Ian and Gregor. They commissioned me to do a few ships for CAW and later, some army sets for Warlords. The rest, as the cliche' goes, is history.

Can you give us a bit of background information in relation to some of your past work?
I studied graphic design but began my working career in radio and television. That was back in the 70s (which gives you some idea of how old I am). I was a producer/writer for nearly 15 years before making the leap into professional graphic design. However I have been a keen wargamer since I was a teenager.

As an artist where do you get your inspiration?
I can't answer, it depends on the job. If something is working then one just has a feeling that it is right but i wouldn't call it 'inspiration', more like intuition.

Has there been any one piece of art which you have create which you think stands out from the crowd - that you hang your hat upon?
Despite some of the flak they have been getting on the discussion fora, I am quite pleased with the latest generation of maps for Korsun, Normandy and Stalingrad. They have been very nice pieces to work on especially in refining map drawing and GUI layout skills.

In terms of hardware and software - what are your tools of the trade?
I love Photoshop. I use it every day of my life, well just about. I also use 3D software, Illustrator, Paint Shop Pro ( for its thumbnail viewer only). I rarely if ever use conventional media any more. If I never have to pick up a paintbrush again that will be just fine. I really prefer to work in an entirely digital environment. The tools of my trade are a 2.1gig processor, 1.5gig + of RAM, a Wacom 12x9 Drawing tablet (Plus the Pen Tools plugin for PShop), a flatbed scanner and a 21" monitor.

In terms of the work you are conducting on the Decisive Battles of World War II series - can you describe how you create some of the Maps - do you use custom brushes or tiles?
Firstly I should dispel some myths about the maps. They are all single graphics. The only tiles available are in the editor for displaying terrain selection and they are never used for a final release map. There was a low-end tile set in the original release of TAO but that technology ended there. Even the free download of TAO 2 has a single map graphic.

In DB Korsun for example the scenarios ship with two map files Bigmap.BMP and Bigmapbad.BMP. They are clear and mud, respectively. So when the weather changes it's because the game is displaying a completely different .BMP.

As for how I create the maps, it would take waaaay too long to explain in detail. Let's just say they end up being mammoth Photoshop PSD files being, sometimes, over 90 layers and several hundred meg in size. I also use a variety of other applications and then import parts into the PSD. The roads and railways for example, are done first as bezier curves in Adobe Illustrator. For that I need a jpeg trace layer made from a map dump taken from the KP editor. The curves must then be exported from Illustrator back into PShop where I can then generate up to ten different layers while blending them with the background. It gets quite involved.

Do you use any reference maps to ensure that the final map is accurate in terms of terrain and features?
I like to refer to a map or sat photo if possible. In normandy and stalingrad I wanted the coastline to resemble its real world counterpart as closely as possible. This is sometimes not easy because of the constraints of the hex grid. It usually comes down to a bit of guesswork and deft use of the stylus.

What are your biggest challenges?
Getting out of bed in winter.

Do you have any tips for any budding scenario decisions out there - in terms of creating a quality map?

Practise, practise, practise and then when you are really proficient with Photoshop, Illustrator and 3DSMax - practise some more. There is no substitute for experience. The axiom 'It's 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration' has never been more appropriate. There are no quick tips. Just try different techniques. If something looks good then develop the techniques you used to get that particular result. After a time you will acquire a bank of skills. I can't offer any other advice.

Do you get time to play the games which you help create?
Yes, Ian and I have played Korsun exhaustively. I am very closely involved with game development as well as the graphics. I worked closely with Roger on the development of the original TAO in fact, most of the play testing for the original 32 turn campaign was done by the two of us. As I said earlier I am a very keen wargamer. I am a grognard really. I only like real world hard - core war games. I don't care for RTS, FSP, Fantasy. The only RTS game I like is Close Combat. Otherwise I would prefer to play our Decisive Battles Series. I have found this last year that Korsun Pocket is a very engaging campaign especially when one plays against Ian Trout.

What is your favourite battle or era and why?
WW2 and ACW (American Civil War). I was raised on war movies and as a child the only toys I had were plastic soldiers. I had a box filled with HO-OO scale Airfix soldiers and could happily spend hours if not days re-enacting battles from WW2.

Thanks for your time Steve. Will we see you on the PBEM battlefield?
You're welcome - If time permits, maybe.