Longer Term Developments Decisive Battles

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Longer Term Developments Decisive Battles

Postby mcaryf » Sat Aug 16, 2003 5:48 pm

Since Roger's last reply to my Artillery and AI thread started to look further ahead I thought it best to use a new thread title as the old one would not reflect the content.

There were two key points - one the possibility of network play and two longer term battles facilitating equipment etc upgrades.

The idea of network play to facilitate simultaneous or cooperative moves is a very interesting area that seems to have two potential main strands. The simultaneous move concept is something that only a computer wargame could consider but obviously has a significantly better relationship to reality. I presume you mean I choose to attack a stack only to find that the stack has moved or been reinforced or whatever before my attack reaches full effect. Essentially the game is still turn based but each player turn is simultaneously resolved but being split up into a number of phases. More complicated to play, less predictable results ie you cannot see if you have won in one place before trying in another - a bit closer to reality but still not exactly right as in real time a commander could still abort or augment attacks as they progress. I have seen examples of this approach before and they have been good but you pay a price in making the game harder to play and therefore I guess even more difficult for the AI to handle.

I rather like the sound of the cooperative simultaneous move - I take this to mean that several human players, or humans plus AI assistants are battling another similar group. There would need to be some method of limiting information flow between the groups so that the real world communications difficulties would be mirrored. Thus players would have limited message bandwidth to tell each other that their forces would attack, retreat, consolidate etc. In the real Ardennes conflict when Corps Commander, Middleton, spoke with 106th Div Commander, Jones, they were using an insecure telephone link so spoke to some degree in code and there were also odd breaks in transmission. The net effect was that Middleton thought he had authorised Jones to withdraw his exposed regiments and Jones thought they had to hold out - result they were pocketed by the Germans. One thing I am not sure about is whether you would want to include a time limit on moves to simulate real time, I guess this might be necessary with network connections. In practice you could achieve what I have outlined without the need for a real time link as it could all be factored into a PBEM environment.

Thinking about longer term battles that might facilitate equipment upgrades you mentioned that the next project is Battles in Normandy. Obviously if Hitler had not insisted on the Mortain counter-offensive many of the units that appeared in TAO might have had greater strength in terms of more experienced troops rescued from Normandy and probably a fair bit of surviving equipment. Plainly there are problems in constructing convincing campaign scenarios that link directly from Normandy to the Ardennes although of course Hitler himself resolved on the idea of mounting an Ardennes counter-offensive some time in August/September 1944. An output results file from Battles in Normandy that could be input to a TAO3 Editor together with new equipment from known German production levels (eg 1600 new tanks) could be an interesting possibility.

I do not know your plans for Normandy but in scale terms you could have the whole campaign on one KP/TAO3 map. The initial lack of movement would probably make it a less interesting battle to fight at the regimental scale but for consistency is this what you would do? I have typically found playing various different Normandy simulations as the Germans to be very frustrating due to the impact of naval and air interventions - still I guess that Rommel must have felt the same way!

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Postby Roger Keating » Sat Aug 16, 2003 7:46 pm

We developed the simultaneous turn based rules in Warlords III but they never really saw much action as the real time Warlords Battlecry series came about. I really liked the play and that is why I intend to introduce it to the DB series.

The first thing is that the AI is always turn based. In a head to head contest there is no AI therefore no problem. In co-operative play the human players finish their combined turn and when they have both hit the end turn button, which could be under a time constraint, the AI will then play allowing both players a breather before resuming the battle.

When a combat has been initiated in a head to head contest the combat square is locked, no unit may move into or out of the hex until the combat screen has been abandoned or a combat carried out. Units that are taking place in the combat may be attacked themselves and the system will compensate for this. If a unit is moving and discovers that this move will be affected by the opponent the unit stops moving, and the player must order the unit to move again in the changed environment. If you are building up for an attack the defender can move out, or reinforce, his defending units as long as the combat screen has not been activated (which could be seen as on their screen as a combat marker appears over the appropriate hex).

Korsun Pocket is already written so that network play can take place without a lot of additional work being put in. The problem is that a great deal of testing needs to take place so that all the little problems can be ironed out. I do believe that a new style of play will be needed to win such a scenario. There are already a few ideas coming up such as the attacker having a few more minutes of play compared to the defender, especially at the start of the game, so that the attacker can play for a while before the defender gets to start their turn. Both would finish at the same time.

The idea of having one area, such as Normandy, affecting a later battle really requires a new game system. The Decisive Battles system is designed to handle an individual battle and the work involved to have one battle affect another would just not be worth the effort. A single game that was designed to carry the combat from the Normandy beaches to the heart of Germany would be quite different. Within the one game you would have built in capacity to reinforce and upgrade units while allocating resources among the various theatres you control.

This game would take a while to play and it brings to mind the 'monster' games such as War in the East and its many contemporaries. I believe that you could play such a game at divisional level and many of the features of the Decisive Series could be incorporated into it.

The idea would be to make such a game enjoyable and the decision processes would be quite different to the Decisive Battles Series.
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Longer Term Developments

Postby mcaryf » Tue Aug 19, 2003 12:53 am

Hi Roger
Thank you for your reply - I guess you are well into plans for the follow on products so I hope you find these dialogues useful.

I will think a little bit more about your network play concepts and post some comments later. However, I will take up the point re a simulation to provide some longer term perspective of the conflict in Northern Europe.

I do not think it would be necessary to provide a continuous scenario. There were only two really decisive battles - Normandy and The Bulge and it would seem to be quite possible to construct some link between them via an editor rather than continuous gameplay. Just briefly the Arnhem Campaign could have had a decisive impact so might be a possible future candidate to be included but the regimental level of play in KP/TAO3 is not ideally suited eg Frost's force would be too small to be apparently viable. The campaigns in the Hurtgen Forest, around Aachen, the Channel ports and Metz were rather attritional, indecisive and would not play as interesting simulations. The eventual Rhine crossings were largely non-events as the German strength was already exhausted.

We are therefore left with Normandy and The Bulge with many of the German and Allied units participating in both. This gives a real possibility for an output results file from Normandy to be input to an editor for The Bulge to take some account of different outcomes in Normandy.

Plainly alternative history gets rather difficult if the results are too far from the actual. Thus if the Germans push the Allies into the sea at Normandy there is no Bulge! However, any sensible analysis would conclude that once the Allies were established ashore it was just a question of how many casualties each side would suffer and how long it would take for the Allies to break through the German "roping off" strategy. I guess the true measure of success for players in Normandy is how much better or worse they can do than the historic, rather than can they change the total outcome. Given Hitler's misguided interventions, which destroyed his armies, I would expect that any reasonable Axis player should do better than history and save a larger proportion of experienced troops and equipment from the eventual defeat.

This could set up some really interesting possibilities for a TAO3 variant as the Bulge itself was again a battle that the German Generals themselves did not in practice believe they could win. If a larger force had been saved by the Germans from Normandy and they had been able to act sooner (eg in November) to exploit the winter window of opportunity when the Allied air was ineffective, then Hitler's objective of pocketing the Allied forces North of Antwerp might have been a real war changing possibility.

As it currently is, simulations like TAO3 have to give intermediate objectives such as Celles an intrinsic VP importance, that they did not in reality possess, in order to measure some degree of partial success or failure of either side. If the forces were more genuinely balanced, then the major measure could revert to the true task of destruction of the enemy forces.

Before I start riding too many hobby horses I will state simply my suggestion. Battles in Normandy should obviously exist as a stand alone product but it should include a facility for an output results file detailing losses by units on both sides and any major changes to timescales. These results are then available to an editor that can construct a TAO3 variant which incorporates the unit strengths surviving from Normandy with some factors to take account of intermediate campaigns such as Arnhem, Metz, Hurtgen Forest etc. There is then a further addition to both sides to reflect the strength accruing from new manufacture/training outputs. The player would have some ability to factor these into the OOB for his side and some more restricted opportunity to redeploy the units for a TAO3 scenario. Thus the Ardennes battle still takes place, possibly over a slightly larger area to incorporate the "to be pocketed" British and US forces North of Aachen, but the forces are potentially considerably stronger on the German side but with more demanding victory criteria.

The editor could be fairly broad brush for the AI side thus for 10% more forces saved from Normandy the Germans use OOB1 for 20% more saved use OOB2 etc. The Allied side could be given some options in the editor to make their task easier or not, eg Arnhem does or does not take place, to preserve some more reserves. Grognards, such as myself, might be allowed to play with equipment types to fine tune regimental strengths but this would not be essential.

I will stop embellishing this until I hear whether this idea has any merit.

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Postby Roger Keating » Tue Aug 19, 2003 8:55 am

Within a game, such as Decisive Battles the idea of linking Normandy and the Bulge is still fraught with danger. The Bulge is not just influenced by Normandy but by the disaster that was occuring on the Eastern Front. Many more German Divisions were tied up on the Russian front than on the Western Front.

Only a game that takes into account the whole German environment in 1944/45 would truly give Axis player the option to manipulate battles. The breakdown that was occuring in the Axis high command at this stage of the war was also a critical factor.

That aside, I doubt if I would like to play a Bulge game when I knew the Axis player was massively reinforced by men and equipment that had escaped the Normandy battles. In fact, as an Allied Player my advance across France would have been modified significantly by the resistance that would have been experienced and the Bulge would not have occured at all.

After gaining a foothold in France the defeat of Germany in the West was a forgone conclusion and, had the invasion been defeated, Germany would have only survived a few more months as the Russian juggernaut gained momentum.

I believe that the best way the DB system can be used is to create exciting, balanced battles that can be won or lost through a variety of strategies. A new game system that incorporated all of Western Europe or all of Eastern Europe would be a much better way, in my opinion, of getting across the strategic nature of the war. It would include the ability to rebuild and reorganize forces.

This brings me to a slight aside as I remember many years ago, as a teacher, when a game covering Western Europe was being played. The year 12's immediately grabbed the posts of the Generals at the front doing the majority of the fighting leaving the administrative jobs to the lowly year 10's. Only later in the battle when supplies were short and the year 12's had to compete amongst each other for resources that the year 10's relalized the power they held over the game. It was a delightful thing to watch.

Each game system has strengths and weaknesses but is able to do some things well. The DB system can reflect a single engagement well but multiple battles needs a different approach. Panzer General simplified the battles to achieve this, very successfully in my opinion, and the other way to go is a bigger game environment. Anything else would dilute the experience.
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Postby Joe » Tue Aug 19, 2003 9:05 am

This game engine is terrific.

And I agree that battles in the west would alwys be influenced by battles in the east.

I played the old board game Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. If you took the best features of:

Decisive Battles
Uncommon Valour
Third Reich

This would be a terrific game.
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Longer Term Developments

Postby mcaryf » Tue Aug 19, 2003 10:01 pm

Hi Roger
It does not look as if I will convince you about attempting to link at least two of your planned “Decisive Battles” but I will have one last try.

You did agree that once the Allies were established the outcome in Normandy was not in doubt. Just as an aside if the Normandy landings had failed, the political issue facing the Western Allies would have been very complex. Would they have wanted to continue bombing a pathway for Stalin to take over all of Continental Europe or would they have tried to engineer an earlier peace?

Given that the Allies will break out of Normandy, the Germans will eventually have to retreat precipitately because they can no longer “rope off” across a narrow front. Therefore there is at some stage going to be a reformed German defence that is most likely to include elements of the Siegfried Line.

Thus the Northern Europe campaign logically includes three “decisive” elements – establishing ashore, breaking out of the initial containment and then breaking the final German defensive line in front of or on the German border.

The outcome of the Normandy campaign in terms of losses and timescales therefore has a direct correlation to the final frontier battle. Whether this would have been on the actual line of the Ardennes is obviously debatable but it was one of the more probable lines and, as I mentioned before, Hitler himself formulated the idea of an Ardennes counter-offensive in August/September.

The fact that the Allies would be surprised is also highly likely even without the scale of the German losses in Mortain. As you pointed out the impact of events on the Eastern Front would dull Allied expectations of a German offensive. The Allies might not have attacked so hard at Arnhem and other places if the Germans had been perceived as stronger but equally they could have got into a “winter quarters” mindset and been just as likely to be caught by surprise.

I do agree that alternative history can be very problematic but I do think a link from Normandy to a revised Ardennes is not too great a flight of fancy – there would be no real reason why the events on the Eastern Front would have been any different if the scale of German losses in Normandy had been somewhat less. Blumentritt’s post war analysis (see Dan Parker’s book) suggested the Germans might have needed 15 or so more divisions to make the Ardennes objectives viable. This would have just been in the realms of possibility with a better Normandy outcome.

I guess all I am suggesting you add to Battles in Normandy is a facility for an output report file summarising final unit strengths. That could assist people, such as myself, in constructing alternate history versions of the Ardennes using the KP/TAO3 editor but without you necessarily endorsing the concept.

One final query – is there an article or has there been a thread discussion that looks at how the attack/defence values for particular units/types are chosen?

One final thought – at the end of TAO2 the German victory screen says words to the effect that now a negotiated peace with the Allies is possible. Have you thought about a final screen for “Battles in Normandy” – it could say now we have more time and resources to win the frontier battles to come!

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Postby Roger Keating » Wed Aug 20, 2003 9:19 am

Just a short note this time. The real problem is with the balanced nature of the DB games. If I was given one more Armored Division to start with in a bulge game I would be unbeatable. In designing a DB game the sides are carefully balanced to give a historical result based on the philosophy that both sides do not have units that get lost or wander around the board (except when the AI gets it wrong). This means that the Germans in the Bulge cover a greater distance than they historically managed but it gives the German player a great idea of what could have been achieved.

What you really should be asking for is a random game system within the Decisive Battles system. Imagine starting a game with a computer generated map and unit OB. Neither side knows what the other has or the best moves to break through the others line. General notes would be issued to both players by the computer before the start indicating rough guidelines on how they are to win the game.

I have looked into such a system and have been surprised by the way in which it could be done. It is not an impossible ask, however, I would have to clone myself to get it done this year.
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Achieving a Balanced Scenario

Postby mcaryf » Wed Aug 20, 2003 7:41 pm

Hi Roger
Thank you for your reply which I took to be a gentle reminder that your objective is to produce an enjoyable balanced scenario with a reasonable correlation to history. History buffs such as myself might like to play with "what ifs" but these would not necessarily be balanced and therefore would lack the longevity that comes with uncertainty of outcome.

When designing a new battle I guess your start point has to be the OOB as that is what players can relate to history. Plainly there is some margin for adjustment of relative unit strengths eg how US 2nd Armoured might compare to Ist SS in terms of attack and defence. I presume the easiest way to then tune the balance is to adjust the VP values of the various intermediate objectives. I do not recall ever having seen a game where the VP values are then made further adjustable as part of the difficulty ratings but that could probably be a better way to achieve a tougher game than say changing the dice rolls.

I am aware of a variety of wargames that supply random battle generators - this is obviously fairly necessary for naval buffs since the number of BB v BB encounters was rather limited in WW2. The uncertainty is obviously a big plus but I find relating the progress and actual outcome to history is a more important enjoyment factor for me. As there is only one Roger Keating I would prefer your time to be spent on historical or reasonable alternative history encounters rather than purely random battles. However, I am aware that I may not be typical and you could always try a poll to see what the majority of posters would prefer.

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Postby Robjess » Wed Aug 20, 2003 8:36 pm

I suggested a Poll to see what battles people would like to see as part of the DBWWII series..

Roger, a quick search on google "how to clone a human" presented the following return How to Clone a Human (version 1.1)

I dont know what scared me the most - that there is a step by step how to do it, or the fact that it is at version 1.1 - which suggests that its revised. I also note that they soon to expect to revise it with version 1.2. I would therefore suggest that you wait for the 1.2 bug fix release :)

Eitherway I look forward to Decisive Battles of World War II Version 7 : Random Battles.
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Postby Roger Keating » Fri Aug 22, 2003 12:54 pm

I understand that it is relatively easy to clone New Zealanders (my birth country) as there are all those sheep jokes.......
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Postby hank » Thu Aug 28, 2003 12:16 pm

I'm a newb to this particular game engine but I'm an experienced PBEM wargamer. I don't have KP yet (because it was backordered) but its on its way now.

My question is: Are there any plans at this time to develop a second game series of modern battle titles and/or fictional titles ? (such as Middle East, Korea, WWIII, etc.)

From everything I've read and seen, this is a very fine game with innovative user interfaces.

can't wait to get KP (and I don't mean "keep peeling") :D
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Postby Roger Keating » Thu Aug 28, 2003 12:52 pm

The Decisive Battles series is very much a creature of World War II and has unit size and battle time constraints. There are plans in the works for Decisive Conflict and Decisive Campaign offshots that look at different scales and unit sizes but no thought yet towards fantasy or modern battles.

To do a modern battle the mechanics would have to be redone although the interface would certainly handle it. SSG is a small company and can't really do a great number of games so that for the next year we will be concentrating on World War II.

I think that rather than a modern game it is likely that we will look towards the Civil War for further historical games and there is a possiblilty of a Perfect General / Panzer General type game based on World War II but designed for playability rather than historical.

We certainly listen to the forums about what people would like to be done but have to balance that on the work it would take. A game that takes two years to make would leave us all rather hungry so it is likely to be a process of evolution rather than revolution.
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Postby hank » Fri Aug 29, 2003 3:47 am

I was just curious about long term directions.

You may be able to tell I'm an old PzC player. PzC / Modern Battles series are my primary gaming experiences now (addiction may be a better term). But, I can see potential improvements in the PzC/MB engine and user interface which brought me to SSG and KP. I'm extremely anxious to get my package and hope to become at least a decent PBEM opponent for your customers.

I can see the KP/TAO series becoming as big a PBEM game as the others I've mentioned. Just keep new but well designed titles coming. However, sometimes I think HPS pushes games out the door too fast. So, don't sacrifice quality for quantity.

Just my $0.02.

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Postby Roger Keating » Fri Aug 29, 2003 8:04 am

While there is always pressure to get these things finished and 'out the door' everyone here. at SSG, plays the games and it is our desire to have as complete a product as possible before release.

The AI code was particularly difficult in KP and only towards the end of the project did I feel I was getting on top of it. The PBEM code was very well tested and many games completed so we were happy with that part of the job.

I now have a good understanding of how to re-write the AI to be more aggressive and easier to 'program' by the scenario designer.

The decision was made as well, to release the editor to the public. While we knew that it was going to be hard to use there would be a section of the gaming community who would welcome it and the suggestions coming from this area would only improve the product.

I also wish to thank Rob and Chris for taking the time to write up tutorials and explain the editor in the general forums.
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Now got KP, looking forward to commenting

Postby mcaryf » Thu Sep 18, 2003 8:51 pm

Hi Roger

Sorry for long period of silence - whilst I was waiting for KP (birthday present from a son) I got a bit hooked on Hearts of Iron. This does some of the strategic what if's that I enjoy but the actual battle resolution is somewhat stylised. I think I shall have to split myself into two (as per your cloning suggestion) so that one can play "what if" grand strategy and the other handle the guts of battalion level ground warfare as in KP!

I once rather thought I would like a game that combined both but I realise that would result in WW2 real-time ie a 6 year (or longer if you start with the Chinese) playing time!

I hope to give you some feedback on my experiences with KP in a week or so. I really prefer to fully understand a game before I play it properly for the first time. My feeling is that first time through you play yourself ie what would I do if I were the AI but subsequently you play the AI - I know the AI won't do such and such so I do not have to guard against it (a bit like the Allies with Ultra). My experience with games to date is that the greater challenge has been playing myself (ie the first time through) but only marred by screw ups due to not understanding the game rules. I hope that KP may prove the first of a new breed and provide a real challenge on multiple occasions. For me the opportunity to play TAO2 has been good because I hope I now know the interface and the terrain in TAO3 without knowing the AI.

There seems to be a fashion in Hollywood for remakes of classics some of which are actually better than the original hopefully this is true of TAO3 although I do already rather miss the historical background pop ups for each unit.

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