Interview: Paul Bridge & Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations

By Joe Robinson 22 Nov 2016 1

Command LIVE isn’t the only DLCs currently in the pipeline – in an interview with The Wargamer Director Paul Bridge discussed some of the other content plans for CMANO in 2017 as well. Read all the details below and in case you missed it, you can check out our review of LIVE episodes 3 & 4 here.

Wargamer: Command is a very unique game, occupying a quasi-middle ground between videogames as entertainment and games as a training tool. What's that like?

Paul Bridge: It's very strange. It's a... as you know wargames are a niche market, and when you have something like Command that niche is even narrower. We've found though that we have large following on various forums, and since launching on Steam we've gathered a following from there too. It's fantastic.

We've found out – through forum requests and that kind of thing – that our users are very knowledgeable. Which is good. Quite a few people we've recognised as having ex-military backgrounds -which helps- and it's been great. The feedback has been constructive, some nit-picking, but people from all fields of life and work love detail. There was this one time where someone pointed out that a project number for a Russian destroyer was off by one digit. Doesn't affect the platform at all, but to that person it meant a lot. We changed that for him, and we're quite receptive to feedback like that.

We're one of the best supported games in the forums, and due to the feedback we get we're always updating the platform. We can usually get back to someone within 24 hours if they shoot us a request, and any changes are usually put into the next database update which would be a couple of weeks after that.

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Wargamer: A big piece of news for you guys recently is of course Slitherine's recent deal with the U.S. Military. How do you guys feel about that?

Paul Bridge: It's nice to be recognised by military organisations and have them take interest in the platform. The way things are going right now – it's expensive to have ships at sea doing certain kinds of exercises when you can do the same thing in something like Command without actually deploying any ships or aircraft. The commanders and war-fighters can just simulate what they want to do on CMANO before putting it into practice. It's a very good development training tool.

With Command, all of our assets are from the public domain. For me, if I was going to put anything new in there I'd need three different references from different sources. If someone makes a platform request I also ask for three sources, and not Wikipedia as that could be anything. It helps us be as accurate as possible.

Wargamer: When you first started making Command did you ever think it'd turn into something that would be used by real-world militaries?

Paul Bridge: We didn't even think of that... we just wanted a game for ourselves. It started off as a hobby really; four of us on our own for a few years and it's gotten bigger and bigger. When we first released it, we figured it was a niche product within a niche market; we're not going to get much back, probably no sales. We were shocked when it was first released how many people bought it and enjoyed it.

Wargamer: Tell us a bit about your own background in the UK military and how that's influenced the design of the game?

Paul Bridge: I served in the Royal Navy, as a Specialist in Warfare. Even though I've got a military background though what I do know hasn't been passed into the game because of rules, Official Secrets Act etc... It's been a tremendous help, working with the guys on ships, how to model things etc... The rest of the guys don't have any military background apart from Dimitrius who is ex-Greek Army, so I'm used as a font of knowledge for naval operations. The way Command is now, it near enough models real-world scenarios. Take the new CMANO Live DLC’s; they're being eaten up by the community.

Wargamer: What considerations go into making a LIVE DLC? How does it differ from a normal DLC?

Paul Bridge: When modelling a real-world scenario it goes into a place of 'What If'? It gets people thinking – the situation in Syria right now is pretty tense, you've got a Soviet Carrier battle-group out there, the Americans are there, NATO... it would take just one trigger happy pilot to set off something serious. We can mimic this in Command.

Take the recent election of Donald Trump, that could have some implications as well. We could do some LIVE DLC's that ask 'What If' in certain situations now that he's in charge, especially since he doesn't have a diplomatic background.

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Wargamer: In this Post-Cold War world, Rules of Engagement seems incredibly important for peacetime operations. How have you tried to model this in CAMNO? Put that pressure on the players?

Paul Bridge: What we can do in the simulation is that we can impose a restriction, for example, that you can't engage a target until you have a visual identification on it, or if something closes within 5 miles you can engage but you have to make sure it's hostile.

There are various triggers and back-stops that can prevent you from engaging friendly units, but in real-life.... things can be incredibly complicated. If two boats are against one ship, one decides to board and they come under-fire, they can defend themselves. But the other ship can't help because it's not under threat, even though their friends are.

Take the Vietnam War for as well, American pilots weren't allowed to engage without visually identifying the target, so an F4-Phantom pilot with long-range Sparrow missiles can't fire at a target 15 miles away, so he needs to get closer. Then let's say its 4 miles out, but now he's getting within the minimum envelope for his weapon system, he can't fire them anyway. He then has to go onto the defence and his life is put at risk due to Rules of Engagement.

Wargamer: CMANO has been out for a while now, and as you've said it's gone to a place you never expected it to go. What are the top features, fixes or other things you'd want to put into a 'CMANO 2'?

Paul Bridge: A new UI would be a definite – it's good, but there are a lot of buttons there, it's getting changed all the time. Even I can't keep up! Speaking with the professional guys, they're after modifications like better air-to-air refuelling. We're also looking at putting in realistic communications jamming, which will be in the next CMANO release. Cargo-handling is another one, we can do the Russian Doll thing where you have an amphibious ship, that ship can contain a Landing Craft within it, and that Landing Craft can have troops, tanks etc... That’ll be fantastic.

Other features we're looking at is 3D graphics, so you can click on something and summon up a 3D model of the ship or aircraft in question. There's more in the pipeline, but it depends how long development is going to take. It costs money, after all.

Wargamer:  Do you want to expand the land portion of the game? It's called Command: Air & Naval Operations, not Air, Land & Naval operations after all...

Paul Bridge: That's one of the things were looking more into. At the moment, Land facilities etc... Are mainly just there to be targets for weapons systems. Land units can move, but what we want to do is make it so that they can defend themselves correctly, use the correct armours and not be  abstract. That's going to be down the road at the moment though.

Wargamer: What's coming up in terms of DLC? Are you going to just be making LIVE add-ons or will you do historical ones as well?

Paul Bridge: As long as real-life keeps challenging us, we're going to keep pushing them out. We've done 4 so far, we're looking at doing a few more over the next year. Some of the guys are also bringing some of their own DLC's, I've got a few of my own in the pipeline for next year and the year after.

Mike's doing one in the China theatre of operations, another one is the Arab – Israeli Wars, I'm doing one that covers from 67' – 73'. The Six Day War, War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. I'm also working on one covering the Air Operations in Vietnam. Linebacker, the B-52 raids etc... Once we finalise things like cargo, we can have proper amphibious landings and cover things like the Falklands War as well.

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Wargamer: Let's end on a bit of a tough question. CMANO is in many ways a game with two identities – the 'PRO' version being developed for real-world militaries, and the original videogame as an entertainment product. If CMANO could only be one thing, which direction would you want to go?

Paul Bridge: Either Or? That's a hard one. I would abstain... but I'd like it to go PRO. The civilian version has been out for 3 years now, which is quite old in videogame terms. We're looking at pushing that version 2 out. With a small team, my preference would be to go PRO, but as the team gets bigger we can push more people onto the Civilian side to continue development.

The PRO version is completely separate from the civilian version, it's only for military organisations, defence contractors etc... Their specific needs will be catered for. With a lot of military contractors they won't want their data getting to the public domain. There could even be a specific version of PRO for a specific company, which won't be seen by other companies.

The Civilian side may get some trickle-down in terms of features, but it won't have the full functionality. Take Communications Jamming, for example. The PRO version will have the full spectrum of tools and options available to them, but the Civilian version will just be an on/off switch – you're either jamming them or you're not.

Many thanks to Paul for taking the time to speak to us, and we look forward to trying out the new Command content when it drops. Happy Wargaming!

This article covers a game published and/or developed by members of the Slitherine Group. For more information, please see the About Us page.

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