Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm a Wargamer.com interview

By Wargamer Staff 30 Sep 2013 0

Firstly thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions; I?m sure our readers will appreciate it.

(RC) = Rob Crandall, (JS) = Jim Snyder, (CB) = Charles Belva, (SO) = Steve Overton

It would probably be good if we start by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself and the people involved in the development of Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm.

(RC) -  I used to develop games on the side for Simulations Canada a long time ago.  When Matrix licensed all their titles I ended up contacting David Heath (Matrix?s founder and CEO) in May 2002 and offering my services.  He asked me to look at SimCan?s Main Battle Tank as a starting point and the rest is history.  I developed Flashpoint Germany, releasing January 2005 (yes, I missed the Christmas deadline ? the first of many as it turned out).  I kept developing FPG actively and soon met up with Jim Snyder who was one of the most active posters and contributors on the forums.  I attended Origins in Columbus, Ohio to promote the game with Matrix and as it happened he lived quite close to there.  We took an instant liking to each other and made a partnership on the spot.  He has been doing the heavy lifting for all aspects of the research and advanced combat mechanics ever since.  He has also done a ton of graphics and documentation. 

We switched to doing Flashpoint Middle East as what we assumed was the next logical game in the series in Feb 2006 and continued on that until utter exhaustion set in in March 2012.  There are so many hats to wear and so many roles to fill in a proper wargame development and depending on your own innate skills this may be easy or hard to do.   Typically all the ?fun? stuff gets done quickly and easily and then its trench warfare trying to get the rest completed.  Depending on how things go your to-do list can grow faster than you are able to complete items and you find yourself locked in an endless cycle of misery.  In March 2012 it became obvious that we needed more help in the areas we were struggling with ? namely scenario research, design and creation.  We were also fed up with the Middle East.  Matrix graciously introduced us to a crack scenario designer ? Steve Overton ? and acquiesced to a switch back to NATO?s central front as a way to get the game done and out the door.  Steve brought incredible energy to the task and it quickly became apparent that he ought to be a partner as well.  At around the same time one of the more perceptive posters on the original FPG game?s boards ? Charles Belva ? wrangled his way into the current playtest group and start producing a stream of outstanding reports, comments and suggestions.  They were reasonable, evidence-based and wonderfully diplomatic.  A person like that being worth his weight in gold, we signed him up too.  He is the most fiendishly thorough playtester I have seen and has done a wonderful job getting the other testers organized and in the loop.  At this point nearly all the hard jobs were now covered by someone who enjoyed doing them and progress was rapid again.  The last 14 months in particular felt like a death march at times but we hung together and kept each other motivated and productive.  It has been a tremendous journey.

There were, of course, dozens of other people who have given generously of their time and talents in various ways over the years.  We appreciate them all and know that they were just as essential to the final game as the four of us in the middle.  Thank you everyone!

 

For those readers who have not yet read the pre-release information on the game could you give them an overview of what style of game this is, and at what sort of level of command they will be playing.

(JS) - Flashpoint Campaigns is what they call a grand tactical wargame, with small platoons and companies of squads and vehicles set in 500 meter hexes. You assume the commander?s role and issue orders and coordinate the battle with roughly a brigade/regiment level force. Forces could be bigger or smaller depending on scenario design.

(RC) - Combined arms focus.  A real emphasis on the difficulty of combining the inherent timing cycles of each branch of service to get synchronized results. 

 

How long did it take to develop the game? Was this longer or shorter than you initially expected?

(RC) - I think my long run average is about 20 hours a week or 1,000 hours a year.  There are highs and lows of course but that has been the long run average.  I develop corporate software as my day job and sometimes that squeezed my game time and sometimes I had lots available.  Measuring from Feb 2006 until Sep 2013 is approximately 7,500 hours of work.  Other people helped along the way, of course, so the grand total would be much higher yet.

It wasn?t so much a project as it was a lifestyle choice.  This was one of my things and it is what I did with my time when I wasn?t do other things like earning a living or taking care of the family.  A friend of mine called it my ?boat in the basement? in reference to the TV show NCIS and how Agent Gibbs spent years building a boat with no apparent purpose other than to build it.  That might be an exaggeration but not by much I think. 

(JS) - A trick question of sorts. By definition it is always longer then you expected when dealing with a computer game as a free time project. We all have day jobs and families to tend to. Red Storm started close to eight years ago as the ill-fated Flashpoint Middle East project (something we may get back to down the road). About two years ago we got a message from Erik Rutins at Matrix Games asking if we could do a new Flashpoint Germany. We said yes. The rest is almost history.

 

The pre-release information mentions that there is a new game engine. Can you give use some idea of the changes made and the improvements we can expect? Which change do you think is the most important, if you can single out just one.

(JS) - Wow. I?ll go with Steve?s answer to a similar question on the forums. Everything. This is not Flashpoint Germany with some new art slapped on. Flashpoint Campaigns changes pretty much every aspect of the original game except for the name ?Flashpoint?. The game is bigger, deeper, smarter and mod friendly.  It has been built on the metaphorical ashes of the ME codebase and expanded well beyond even our vision for that game engine. If you can think of any given function in Flashpoint Germany I?m 99.99% sure it has evolved, grown and changed into a deeper more detailed existence. Because of that, there is no ?one? single standout. Everyone will have a different answer to that question.

(RC) - We methodically took every sub-system in the old game, analyzed it and then rewrote it completely one at a time.  While some individual lines of code might have survived the process, and the internal shape of the program is much the same, everything else about it has changed.

The most important upgrade was to the AI in the game.  That is the part that is most interesting to me and I spent an awful amount of time thinking about how to take it to the next level.  In terms of actual hours I would have spent the most time fiddling with the UI in various ways but that, the combat mechanics, the research, the game play code, and everything else is less important to me than the AI.

 

What were the biggest challenges faced in developing the game?

(RC) - Staying focused and committed.  A bit like the fighting in Italy or Korea, there was always ?one more hill? to take and then when that was done a new hill came into sight.  It was an endless treadmill to get the game ?right? and something we could be proud of.  I must say that Matrix was wonderful as a publisher and understood these issues and was always there for us with an encouraging word or a useful suggestion, when needed, on something that had worked for another team.

Related to that was being able to decide that some mechanic or feature was ?done? once and for all.  If I had a dollar for every time we proclaimed that we finished something and then decided a year or two later that it just needed one more tweak that reopened that whole subsystem all over again, I would likely have $25 or more now.  Developers will smile and think ?scope creep? and yes we had genuine scope creep problems with this game.  It wasn?t until about six months ago that I got fed up and said ?no more changes? and pushed (nearly) all further changes off to a new list that will be in the next version of the game.   At that point we could finally start to say that various parts of the game were done.

(JS) - Time. As I pointed out earlier, the entire team has a regular day job, families, and the additional obligations that entails.  We steal time in the evening and weekends to work on the game. Our friends and families lose time with us as we do it. By far that is the biggest challenge for everyone. Scope is another challenge.  If you try to cover too much material projects drag out and fade away (take the Mid-East game). Changes in scope, like adding new features, introduce added time to the development cycle or create new bugs. Usually both and then they break other things that were working yesterday. Getting the balance right between these two is critical.

 

What is the geographical scope of the game? Are there plans to expand this in future releases?

(JS) - The initial scope is central Europe and we have maps based on Google earth images of the areas of the fighting. Steve has done a brilliant job of using the map system and really making the maps match to the real terrain. Assuming this game does well and the gamers out there want more, we have plans to expand the European Theater and then move on to other areas of the globe.

 

The game includes 20+ scenarios, how long on average do you expect players to spend playing each one?

(CB) ? Small and medium sized scenarios can take you two to four hours in an evening. The larger scenarios can take up to six or more hours over a couple evenings.

 

Which is your favorite scenario?

(RC) ? I like small scenarios that are meeting engagements and offer a variety of force types.  A Time to Dance fits that bill and I enjoy it every time I fire it up.  The tension as NATO forces become available in a desperate race to block the advancing Soviets gets me every time.

(CB) ? I really can?t say I have one single favorite scenario. Steve has done a great job of designing every scenario unique in its own way. No two scenario play the same way and each nationality plays different based on its hardware and doctrine.

 

In the campaign setting how does your ?core force? progress through the battles of the campaign? Can damaged or destroyed units be repaired or rebuilt in any way?

(RC) ? Forces can either be core or scenario specific. Core forces can be recovered between scenarios either through the expenditure of time which is in short supply or through the use of a limited amount of victory points. You can?t purchase brand new units, so you really need to preserve your forces battle to battle to finish a campaign successfully.

 

As befits a game set in the recent past use of nukes and chemical weapons are options. What will be the in game implications of using them be?

(RC) ? If your order of battle includes nuclear or chemical weapons, then you are pre-cleared to use them as the situation dictates. Be aware that there are steep victory points cost after use (1000 VPs for a nuke and 500 VPs for Chemical). So you are well advised to kill at least that much in enemy units. They also make excellent area denial weapons do to persistent on map contamination zones. Some scenarios may contain contaminated zones from the start.

 

Game development inevitably involves compromise, are there any features that you wanted to include in Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm, but that didn?t make it to the release version?

(RC) - Combat engineering, helicopter infantry assaults, pregame staff planning and visualization to name a few. All good game developers consider anything done to be obsolete and ripe for revision.  That means basically everything could be improved upon but these three things are at the top of the list.

 

Modding is clearly built into the game, are you hoping that players will create and share new scenarios and the like?

(JS) ? Modding was a focus item from the outset on Red Storm. Flashpoint Germany was a great game but almost impossible to add content to in any way. I think that hurt the game in some respects. Only a handful of scenarios were made. With that in mind we wanted to make everything we could open to modification and additional content. Red Storm allows players to edit data, add data, change art and sounds, and create maps, map art, map markers, scenarios and campaigns. Making a map is probably the most difficult of the list since you need to have a couple third party tools, but the rest is straight forward.

If you think we messed up on the values on a platform or weapon system you can fix that and make new scenarios with your changes. Want to add or remove a certain unit go ahead. The idea is to give the players the power to create the content they want within the limits of what the game engine can handle.

We expect a fair amount of 3rd party content to get generated across the board. I don?t think it will take long for scenarios and artwork to pop up post release and I would bet on new maps and even whole new nations within a handful of weeks as folks play and settle in.

I think we have undersold the construction kit capabilities of the game engine. I hope the players will find value in it and support it for years to come.

 

As the developer, what are your favorite units in the game, and which do you think the players will enjoy using the most?

(RC) - The helicopter units in the game have an awesome combination of speed and fragility that make them an awesome amount of fun to play with.  They are unlike any other unit in any other game I?ve played.  They?re the icing on the cake!

(CB) ? As a former chemical weapons officer, it?s good to see chemical and nuclear weapons included in the game.  They add a new dimension, and increase the dilemmas that the player faces in the game. 

Tanks are what the game is about.  Each nationality?s tanks bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the game.  You have to adjust your style of play accordingly.

(JS) ? Tanks.  High tech, long range gunnery at its finest.  It?s the jousting of the 20th century.

 

Lastly, although the game is not yet released players are always wondering what the future for a game might hold ? are there any (tentative) ideas for the future, any planned additions you can tell us about?

(RC) - Add more nations, scenarios and campaigns to the existing game. Take another crack at the Middle East from 1948 to 1973 to take advantage of all the research we did for that. Consider Viet Nam as we have a lot of research already on that too. Pay close attention to what the public asks for next.  We might go more modern (1990 to 2020) or back in time to WW2.

For all its disadvantages, being a small development group allows us to listen directly to our customers, and to adapt our current and long-range plans fairly quickly in response.  We honestly love to hear from folks playing our games, and take questions, criticisms and suggestions seriously. 

 

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