17 September 2014

Developer Feature: Close Combat - The Longest Day

The latest conversion of Close Combat, The Longest Day is hitting store shelves, and it's more than just a port to a new OS. Jim Martin, lead developer for the game, shares some insight into what's new.

Published on 26 APR 2009 10:56am by Scott Parrino
  1. Strategy 3 Tactics
  2. Matrix Games
  3. world war ii, ground combat, real-time, western front, tactical, online or multi-player, single-player, simulation

Author:  Jim Martin

Game Historical Context

Desperate to secure a major victory in World War II, the Allies, under the command of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, devised a daring plan to open a second front in the war to further stretch Hitler’s already dwindling resources.  The invasion code named Operation Overlord sought to secure a beachhead on the northern coast of France on the Contentin peninsula.  Made up of combined forces from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Free French the plan was to begin with airborne drops behind the beaches to cut supply and secure bridges vital to expansion of the initial beachhead then land the worlds largest invasion force ever assembled.  Several major towns were identified as the goal for the first 24 hours of the invasion or D-Day+1.

In the dark morning hours of June 6th, 1944 shortly after midnight the invasion began with Allied airborne landings being scattered in and around the intended drop zones due to heavy anti-aircraft fire.  Despite the set-back they managed to assemble effective fighting forces and lay claim to the first town liberated in the invasion St. Mere Eglise.  The British and Canadian airborne landings went far smoother but no less costly.  Despite heavy resistance from German forces they held on to their objectives laying the groundwork for a successful invasion.

At 6:30AM the naval bombardment of the beachheads began.  More than 1,200 Allied warships opened fire on key German strongholds to weaken the defenses before the landing craft made it to the beaches.  The Allied assault commenced on beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.  The U.S. Forces landed on Utah and Omaha and Commonwealth forces on Gold, Juno, and Sword.  Overall the Allies suffered over 10,000 casualties with the majority being suffered on Omaha beach otherwise known as “Bloody Omaha”.

When initial invasion had finished the Allies had fallen short of their intended objectives and would not secure them until four days after the initial invasion.   However despite that shortcoming they did achieve a foothold from which the rest of Europe would eventually be liberated.  As the German General Erwin Rommel noted   "...the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive...the fate of Germany depends on the outcome...for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day.”  And that it was.

Now in this classic top-down real-time tactical simulation, players can take command of either US or German forces and choose to command the forces of the Allied Expeditionary Force or German forces to either successfully execute  the world’s largest invasion to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation or defend Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.    In this highly enhanced rebuild based on the critically acclaimed and award winning Atomic Games Close Combat series of games, you are in command!

NEW Game Features

The Grand Campaign design

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Small preview picture of the game's strategic map and battlegroup icons with added historical content showing the full operational area of Close Combat: The Longest Day.

We've intentionally designed a strategic layer that allows simultaneous play of all three Normandy landing areas in one large campaign.  The overall size of the operational area covers that territory the Allies historically intended to occupy at the end of “The Longest Day”.  The shallower design suited the Close Combat engine and strategic layer map’s maximum of 64 tactical maps well, because it allowed us to represent most of the areas in which major fighting took place.  The comprehensive design allows linking up of all three beach areas once a given area has been secured.  This entire design offers a challenging possibility for both single player and multi-player play to see if you can occupy the Allied D-Day+1 goals or if you find yourself repeating history.

You're a Close Combat 5 purist you say? Hey, we've got you covered too!  We've recreated the stock Close Combat 5 Grand Campaign in as close to the original format as possible.  All the same graphics, unit types and data, sounds.  It's got it all just like the original game.

Nighttime effects

To properly simulate the airborne landings and battles that took place at Normandy we've included nighttime effects to simulate the conditions you'd expect to find during night battles.  Besides the visual effect of a darkened map environment we've enhanced the Line Of Sight (LOS) model to affect what your units are capable of seeing during night battles. 

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Deployed flare over Amfreville as airborne forces attack the town center.

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Explosions during nighttime battle. Tank on fire giving off halo of light next to illumination round halo.

To take that one step further we've added the ability to deploy illumination flares to improve LOS in those areas of the map illuminated by those deployed flares.  As a realistic looking depiction of real flares the size of the lit area fluctuates in size to simulate how real flares fall through the air, flickering and swinging back and forth as they fall to the ground.   Each player receives approximately two flares every 15 minute of battle and more for longer battles.

Simulation of airborne battlegroup deployment drop zones

This feature simulates realistic deployment conditions of airborne drops.  Older versions of Close Combat only allowed battlegroups entering a tactical map to be deployed by the map edge. In addition to allowing airborne battlegroups to be deployed to the map’s interior rather than forced to deploy on the edge airborne deployment is now random on the first turn or multiple turns of a campaign.  When a battlegroup deploys on a tactical map prior to battle you may find you're in control of the center of town, two opposite corners of a map, in the middle of a field or any combination or number of Victory Locations possible.  Prior to battle during the deployment phase you may move any of your units around in any of those lighter colored areas or to take the realistic simulation a step further you could opt to not move any of your units prior to battle so that the initial minutes of the start of the battle are spent organizing your units and defense on the map while under enemy fire.

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A cropped screenshot of the overview map showing an airborne's battlegroup
deployment zones on St. Mere Eglise. Note: the lighter colored areas containing unit markers are the
airborne pre-battle deploy zones.

Resting of  battlegroups

Most previous versions of Close Combat did not take into account the cost of doing battle and the effects of constant activity on a battlegroup on the strategic layer.  Similar to the Close Combat: Cross of Iron feature of being able to rest and refit units, we've added the ability to rest battlegroups on the strategic screen to reduce a battlegroups units fatigue as well as restore cohesion to those units.  Players will find that resting a battlegroup for a turn will see improvements to the fatigue and cohesion levels as well as enhanced performance the next time that battlegroup encounters battle.

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Screenshot of strategic screen showing the location of the "rest battlegroup"
check box.

Battlegroups of varying size

This feature allows for the simulation of battlegroups of varying size as they pertain to military organizational structures.  For example previous versions of Close Combat only allowed for battlegroups to consist of 15 units in size, no less, unless the forcepool file was set up to do so.  With this new feature an extra level of control is available to restrict a battlegroups size to 14, 13, 12, or fewer units.  

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Screenshots of various battlegroup screens showing used and unused slots. Controlled in the
Bgroups.txt entering a -1 for any team type will result in that team slot being restricted from being filled with a
team.

In the context of Close Combat: The Longest Day a regimental size battlegroup has between 12 and 15 units available to it on the battlegroup screen.  A brigade size battlegroup will have approximately 12 to 15 units available to it with a shallower force pool to draw from than regimental sized brigades do.  Battalion size battlegroups will have between up to 12 units available to it on the battlegroup screen.  And Company size battlegroups have up to 12 units available to it; often less.  It really depends on the historical strength of each battlegroup and if the units portrayed are combinations of multiple historical battlegroups or not.  The bottom line here is that there is far more flexibility in the portrayal of historical events than offered previously.

Extended Forcepool List

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Extended forcepool list on the battlegroup screen.

Although previous versions of Close Combat had 25 slots available in the Force Pool files only the first 20 of them were utilized in the game at any given time.  We've added the ability to not only utilize all 25 slots but to see them on the battlegroup screen when selecting units.  More depth and variety of unit types can be portrayed in the game as a result.

Force morale/cohesion and Victory Location control report

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The Force
Morale, Overall Cohesion and VL
reports on the battle results and
campaign results tabs.

The original Close Combat: Invasion Normandy contains an end of battle loss report which is nicely detailed but only vaguely indicated the changes that occurred during the recently completed battle. 

We've added a report on that screen that shows you exactly how many Victory Locations changed hands as well as the effect that battle has on your Force Morale and Overall Cohesion for the game just played, displayed in a graphical format that is easy to understand at a glance.  It aids each player in understanding the changes his battlegroups are undergoing and allows him to make better decisions on the next strategic turn.

Display of battlegroup cohesion and fatigue status

A graphical report of your battlegroup’s current cohesion and fatigue is now displayed on the battlegroup screen so the player can make proper decisions about his battlegroup composition on the battlegroup screen.

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Location of the fatigue and cohesion meters on the battlegroup
screen.

These graphical meters give him realtime info on how cohesively he should expect his battlegroup to react in the next battle and how well he should expect them to carry out the orders given to them.

Usage of 4800pixel x 4800pixel maps

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Preview of Carentan Causeway map. Game dimensional width is 4800pixels in horizontal length.

Previous versions of Close Combat (versions 3 through 5) only allowed for the use of map images 3600pixels x 3600pixels and was a limitation on the amount of area possible to depict on one map.  In game scale the maps are now capable of depicting an area 960 meters square which is an increase in overall map area of nearly 1.77x the original.  That's 0.59 miles in either direction.  One very effective use of this particular feature in Close Combat: The Longest Day is the Carentan Causeway map.  Historically it was a raised roadway through flooded fields that stretched between Ct. Come du Mont and Carentan on which U.S. Airborne forces needed to fight their way through crushing MG42, sniper, mortar, and AT gun fire to reach their objective.  A long stretch of roadway across approximately a half mile long of open ground on a raised road under heavy fire.  With stock Close Combat 5 map allowances this would not have been doable with any semblance of accuracy.

Game operation in windowed mode

This handy enhancement allows the user to play the game in windowed mode without the game automatically pausing or being interrupted like it used to in stock Close Combat 5.  With windowed mode activated in the user options menu, upon restart the game will display in a window that allows simultaneous use of chat programs, or any other app running at the same time.  Also windowed mode allows players connecting for a multiplayer game to monitor the connection process via a text chat program without risk of interrupting or causing the connection to process to fail.

Off-board or off-map support quantities now tied to difficulty level

This feature allows the support quantities to be tied to difficulty level so that if desired, support levels can increase with the easier levels of difficulty or vice versa or any combination therein.  In Close Combat: The Longest Day players will find that the easier difficulty levels give each player more support while more difficult levels yield less support.

Improved graphical communication of strategic map connections

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Map connections shown by hitting the space
bar on the strategic screen and bottom picture shows traditional
Close Combat map connecitons display method still part of Close
Combat: The Longest Day.

Stock Close Combat 5's only method of communicating to the player what directions he could move his battlegroups on the strategic layer was that any map area a given battlegroup could move to would be outlined with a yellow outline if the said battlegroup is left-clicked+hold.  Now if you hit the space bar ALL strategic map movement arrows will appear showing all possible connections.  So in combination with this new feature players will be able see all available map connections on which a battlegroup may move if a given tactical maps victory location is controlled.