Interview: The Tactical Art of Combat

By Alex Connolly 06 Sep 2016 4

We've covered TACKOM's The Tactical Art of Combat in the past, but as release draws ever nearer, we felt it perfect time to put boots on the ground for a closer look. Hoping to ignite and invigorate passion for the wargame genre, the makers of the game talked to Alex Connolly about their upcoming title.

Wargamer: Please introduce yourself, role, team and studio experience

Francisco Arias: Currently, I juggle design and production roles.

Shaun Wallace: Manager / Designer - Many will know me from other titles, or from when I worked at Matrix or Elsewhere. I have worked as producer on many titles, Korsun Pocket, Alexander, Starshatter and many others. I brought the Close Combat Rebuilds into being with my own company Simtek Ltd. I have also working on several military simulations for the US military including the USMC and in the UK the RAF Regiment.

Wargamer: What's The Tactical Art of Combat in a nutshell?

Francisco Arias: A tactical wargame focused on infantry combat.

Wargamer: What is the project setting out to do? How do you see it either separating itself from the competition - the Combat Missions, the Close Combats and Theatres of War etc. - or bettering the experience in a niche field?

Francisco Arias: We are focusing heavily on mating solid and realistic tactical gameplay to a robust soldier psychological model all of which is wrapped in an intuitive GUI.

Shaun Wallace: We are aiming to build a game that is in many ways its own genre. With all the experience of working with the military, both in the UK and US, we are looking as making a wargame that captures and appeals to both hard-core wargamers as well as casual gamers. We are aiming for very high production standards, with both an operational layer which is vital to your gameplay and a tactical battle layer which allows for real time tactical play. In many way we are fusing several different games into one. We are aiming to break out and not just appeal to a niche.

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Wargamer: What are some specific examples of how What TAoC is doing things differently?

Francisco Arias: I'll give one example. Many wargames have a GUI that is both large and complicated, forcing the actual gameplay to be reduced to a small part of the screen while simultaneously forcing players to overcome a steep learning curve.

We've spent a considerable amount of time working to develop a GUI that is minimalist yet packed with easy to read information, there by allowing the screen to be dedicated to actually showing what is happening while keeping game controls easy and intuitive.

Shaun Wallace: Fran is correct, that is a good place to make a definition, just using the GUI as an example. I gave the art team the brief to come up with something intuitive, elegant, easy to use and above all easy to learn, a GUI that must be almost invisible in terms of gameplay as a GUI should be there, but never hinder play and never in the way. The art team have delivered! The GUI is everything and more that I imagined and wanted in the game.

Wargamer: Explain the strategic layer and its interconnections/relationship with the tactical layer.

Francisco Arias: This probably sounds like I'm arguing over semantics but we have an operational layer instead of a strategic layer. We felt that using the name operational map more accurately reflects the size and scale while preventing players from possibly getting the wrong expectations. Simply put, the operational map acts as a stage on which tactical battles take place, giving each tactical battle added meaning and importance.

Wargamer: Wargamers are no stranger to abstracted depictions of units and terrain. How will the realistic/lavish production values improve the experience for veteran grognards? Is it primarily a push to remove the impersonal or staid facade of the genre, hopefully to attract new or curious gamers? Are you guys looking to introduce a new generation of potential wargamers to the genre?

Francisco Arias: We are definitely looking to reach out to a new generation of potential wargamers in addition to established wargamers.

Shaun Wallace: We are aiming to bring back to wargaming the excitement of the early days of wargaming, when SSI and Talonsoft were about and many other great publishers and developers. While not cutting edge in terms of modern games graphics such as any FPS etc, we are aiming to look very good, given the size of the maps and battles, our graphics will be very good! We are also pushing the envelope in several other areas, which your readers will have to wait to hear about. We are aiming to bring a level of realism to wargames as well as great graphics and gameplay. We are aiming ultimately to make a game that the player fits to themselves not that we force onto the player.

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Wargamer: What's the rationale behind going real-time over wholly turn-based in the tactical mode? Does it feature pause-and-plan?

Francisco Arias: At the tactical level we wanted to keep everything as accurate as possible. Time was not something we wanted to abstract at the tactical level, so turn-based was a no go for us.

Shaun Wallace: War is not pausable, we have essentially a turn based operational layer, but for realism, we have no choice but to go for real time. As a squad based infantry game, we have armour, AT, mortars, all you would expect at this level. But having worked with the military and designed many games, war is not pausable, you cannot stop when things get tough, that’s what makes great commanders. Being able to make the right choice when needed.

The military found that using games like Close Combat were actually more effective at building memory and reactions than actual in the field exercises. Several big names in psychology did numerous surveys to find what was most effective, the answer was simulations are more effective. To be effective and work they must be realistic. This is the core of AoC. We are building a real time Simulation that is both realistic, but also with gameplay and psychological modelling that makes the game fun.

Wargamer: How malleable or customisable are the options? Are there various difficulty modes; entry-level to realistic?

Francisco Arias: There will be a number of options that modify both historical accuracy (troop strength and unit type) and how realistic the game plays (disabling fog of war for example). Less experienced players will have the ability to make the game more forgiving if they so choose.

Shaun Wallace: We are aiming to build a game that both hardcore wargames fans will be able to enjoy as well as casual gamers. Options and modding are 2 of the biggest criteria we set ourselves when designing the game. We will be producing tools to allow modders to do much more than is usual in wargames as well as within the game allow for many things to be changed. Players will be able to customise as much of the game as possible via options and an interface allowing for skins and units to be changed, insignia etc.

The flexibility we are building in will allow for both types of players to enjoy the game as they will be able to play as they want to not as we think they should. The last game to achieve the breakout from serious wargame to casual gamers, was Close Combat. We are aiming to be able to do the same. This doesn’t mean any compromise, it simply means allowing the player to choose how they want to play.

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Wargamer: Explain the morale system and what factors into it.

Francisco Arias: That's a huge question. I'll try my best to explain it. For starters the soldier's morale is closely tied to the soldier's psychological model. We take into account both the soldier's previous combat experience and training, and the current situation the soldier is in.

By current situation we mean things like is the soldier rested? Is he wounded? How much ammunition does he have? Is he suppressed by enemy fire? Does he have friendly teams nearby? Are there friendly wounded nearby? Is there a commander in charge? Will the commander's orders get the soldier killed? How many enemy soldiers are present? How close is the enemy? 80 meters? 5 meters? Are they even visible? If enemy tanks are approaching, are there friendly Anti Tank units ready to counter them?

Based on this plus other information, the morale system has to then decide upon a morale state for each soldier and in conjunction with the psychological model an action is assigned to the soldier. There is more to the morale system than what I just mentioned but I hope it gives a basic idea of how it works. It's a complicated system that will take time to get perfected, but it's time we feel will be well spent.

Shaun Wallace: The morale system is based on a solid psych model, designed around real human psychological values. As Fran stated many things such as experience, fanatics, bravery, suppression, strength, health, fear and many more are being built into the game AI. We are using several methods to achieve this but the goal is that the game will present soldiers and units performing and behaving in a totally realistic way. Give them stupid orders and they will break and run, they will cower or go berserk etc. Again this will be down to options; the player will be able to set the game to total realism, which is what wargamers want or a much more casual mode via the game options.

Wargamer: How detailed does the combat system itself go? Bullet/armour penetration? Ammunition logistics? FFE, AoE support, air power etc.? 

Francisco Arias: At the tactical level we are doing everything we can to not abstract details. So bullet and armour penetration is a big yes. On the other hand the operational level will have some abstractions. So while there is a logistics and supply system, the player has no direct control over it. 

Shaun Wallace: As Fran has said this will be abstracted to a certain degree, but there will be surprises in store for players on the operational layer.

Wargamer: How will you support modding? Will it take advantage of things like Steam Workshop? How expansive will the toolset be? 

Francisco Arias: Supporting modders is something we are keen on. We are planning to provide both a map and unit editor so that players can create their own custom scenarios. As for Steam Workshop, its something we are looking at. 

Shaun Wallace: As stated, modding is very high on the list of what the game is offering.

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Wargamer: Once you're done with the base game, will you remain in the WW2 setting for expansions in the immediate future, or look to expand into later eras/theatres? How well/easily do you think the base game will translate to, say, an Angola or Vietnam? Or even modern day?

Francisco Arias: The basic game mechanics will translate over well to most conflicts in the last century, though changes would be required to simulate more modern weapons technology. Their is a multitude of potential conflicts that few war games have yet to cover, which in time we would love to cover. We picked Anzio in part because it is one of those moments in WWII that got overshadowed by events both preceding and following it.

Shaun Wallace: The game lends itself to many conflicts that have been neglected from the early twentieth century to modern warfare. The game engine is being built to be very flexible and we will also have asymmetrical warfare in other titles where civilians are in the game that can become combatants. Expect many varied titles in the future.

Wargamer: At the end of the day, what do you hope to achieve with TAoC?

Shaun Wallace: At the end of the day we want to provide a new type of wargame, in fact we are looking to allow the player to play as they wish as much as possible without being constrained by the game itself. As I have said there are many things that were of major importance in the design of AoC, Realism, Options, AI, A Great GUI that is intuitive and elegant that helps the player rather than hinders them, ease of modding and much more, but the key is a game that is fun and has huge replayability and that will create its own niche.

Thanks for your time!

Shaun Wallace: I would like to take the time to thank the amazing team we have who are working on AoC and to thank Wargamer for their continued dedication to Grogs of all types! Thank you!

Keep an eye on Wargamer for more information on The Tactical Art of Combat as release draws closer. You can also follow development via the developer's Twitter.

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