1 August 2014

Developer Feature: World War II General Commander

Games GI's Victor Perez explains the thinking behind the development of the award-winning World War II: General Commander strategy game.

Published on 2 JUL 2009 4:22pm by Scott Parrino
  1. GI Games
  2. GI Games

Developer’s Notes

Author: Victor Perez, Director of Public Relations for Games GI

I have played board games as far back as I can remember, including many created myself. I have mapped on grid A3 pages all of Western Europe and some parts of Eastern Europe, simulated the most popular campaigns and tested them with my long-suffering, loyal friends. Those home-made games were always bitter-sweet to me; they rarely reflected exactly what I read in books regarding WWII campaigns: how generals really thought, why they chose to do what they did. Later in the 90’s I remember the PC game Panzer General, it wasn’t the prettiest or even most accurate game but I loved playing it. WWII: General Commander pays homage to this game, even in the title. This game taught me a good lesson, do it easy, do it fun.

But while it is easy, do not expedt to find something simplistic in WWII: General Commander.  Our experience with players is that they do not have a problem  starting to play the game but they soon realize it is not without depth and nuance, and  is hard to master. They need to play in an operational real time context, something that is fairly new in wargames since most real-time games tend to be on “lighter” and less realistic subjects.

We have consulted many historical sources, but I recommend a book, the memories of Colonel Hans von Luck in Panzer Commander. It is not a classical detailed historical description; it is about a commander’s decision process on the battlefield. This is part of what we tried to simulate in our game, you’ll have to judge for yourselves as to how well we did..

Rather than describe in detail all the features and rules of the game like a manual, it’s better instead to delve into what makes this game different from many others both in context and gameplay.

Key Questions:

Click for full imageClick for full image

Click for full imageClick for full image

Battle Maps:

The first key component to reproduce any campaign is the battle map; with a medieval battle, one may need a battle map of several square kilometers. With WWII we decided we would need at least a continuous 100x100 km to have a minimum operational context. It’s been a key challenge to design a map area with so much space but without being overwhelming or losing the operational context.  One of the many elements of an operational campaign that a map highlights is the road network and the other terrain and the effect that had on shaping the movement of units and the course of the battle.

Real Time:

We decided to include a real time element to the game but it does not mean WWII: GC is a modern “clickfest”. We can agree that a US infantry battalion under 88 fire is in a tough spot and should take casualties... but how many and how quickly? That type of calculation and the resulting effects are key to understanding the decisions of both the US and German commanders. If the German commander orders his artillery to fire on the US defensive positions and it may save many German infantry casualties but the German commander will lose the element of surprise and use up valuable supplies. If he holds off on his artillery barrage, his infantry may suffer many additional losses. So what is the right decision? The US commander can mobilize his reserve armour units quickly to save his infantry units, but is the German attack really the main thrust of the offensive? How much time should the US commander wait before committing? Perhaps the best decision is to retreat to a rear defensive position when the US infantry units have taken too many losses and then leave the US armor in reserve until the German panzer units are located. All of these intense local battle decisions, we feel, are best simulated in a real time game rather than a turn based game, otherwise the sense of the critical nature of timing and certain pivotal moments in an operational battle is lost.

Time-Outs:

To help slow the gameplay down to allow for thinking (as I myself prefer) we have included the Time-Out feature; using this, you can almost stop the game for several seconds to reorganize your armies. In single player, you can also modify time however you like but it is my recommendation to use the Time-Out feature for a more enjoyable experience.

Unit Representation and Hierarchy:

Click for full image

The second most important question was unit representation. Indeed the question is: what is the border between a Tactical Game and an Operational Game. Most gamers have experience in tactical games since they dominate the WWII game universe. This is really a disadvantage for us as in most feedback we see, many people have the tendency to use battalions as platoons. 

WWII: GC has a defined army hierarchy down to the battalion level as we believe this is the smallest size unit an operational game can tolerate before it starts to lose its identity. For units lower than the battalion level we use the reasoning that the battalion commander knows how to place his companies and platoons the best way, so we do not need to mire the game with more detail.

In addition, we decided to include some unit type simplifications. We feel it is a distraction to command in a large battle scenario if the player needs to click on every single battalion to know its full composition before deciding how to use it. As a result, the makeup of every battalion of the same type is equivalent, even between different armies. Yes, I agree we are losing some accuracy here, but remember we are looking for a higher reward in terms of the command experience. The key hierarchy unit is the Regiment and above that the Division; the combination of different types of battalions used correctly and at the right time will be a key element gamers must master for success.  Orders can be issued on any of the levels of the hierarchy.

Fatigue, Morale and Efficiency:

Click for full image

The overall efficiency of a unit must be represented, indeed in WWII: GC it is an aggregation of many factors like morale, fatigue, supply level… we decided to aggregate several factors into a single parameter so the player can quickly see the battle readiness of a unit. Your unit efficiency in short indicates the % of the forces in that unit who are combat-ready.

Gamers will soon realize how difficult it is to destroy a unit in our game. In a classical RTS, units are destroyed quickly  and a “resource” system provides the player with new units, but this is not a classical RTS..  In a two week offensive we can not have units destroyed so easily as we do not have “battalion factories” or other “facilities buildings” as WWII: GC wants to remain as realistic as possible in modeling historical campaigns.

We need to attack enemy units, reduce their efficiency (and obviously inflict some real casualties in the process), and push them out of their defensive positions. Once the enemy is dislodged from their position - keep up the attacks and flank them. Eventually, this will force a surrender. When a unit’s efficiency is at 0% it will surrender very easily. And how do we go about forcing a unit’s efficiency to 0%? We must cut off its supplies!

The rule of supply vs. efficiency is the most important rule to keep in mind in WWII: GC. Efficiency is slowly recovered by all units over time.  More is recovered when a unit is in hold or fortify status. However, once a unit consumes its internal supply depot and the connected supply depots (cities) are empty, the unit no longer recuperates efficiency. With this critical factor now at play, enemy attacks can quickly whittle the unit’s efficiency down to zero.