NorbSoft (Scourge of War) interviewed for The Wargamer19 Sep 2013 0
Jean Marciniak ? for The Wargamer
Jim Weaver ? Lead Designer of the Scourge of War Series
Norb Timpko ? Lead Programmer of the Scourge of War Series
Let?s start by taking a look back at the beginning of Scourge of War and how it came to be.
When did you first start making Scourge of War: Gettysburg?
[Jim] SOW:GB grew out of the two Take Command games; Civil War: Bull Run, released in January of 2005 and Take Command: 2nd Manassas, which was released in April 2006. Both games were developed by MadMinute Games which formally dissolved in 2008. Scourge of War: Gettysburg was built on the bones of TC2M but was significantly improved in most parts of the game.
[Norb] I started working on it unofficially soon after releasing the last patch for TC2M. There were lots of changes we wanted to make and a complete redesign of the entire architecture geared towards multiplayer, so myself and the lead scenario designer from TC2M, John Duquette, started evaluating and experimenting with different 3D engines. We then started approaching other guys we had worked with and the team slowly grew.
What was your inspiration to do Scourge of War?
[Jim] I have two direct line and three other relatives who were combat soldiers in various Vermont infantry regiments in the Army of the Potomac. They all survived the war but 4 of them were wounded. These games are a way to give 21st century people some idea of what these 19th century people experienced on those famous battlefields. Also it is a really cool thing to start with a blinking cursor and end up with a really accurate depiction of important parts of history.
[Norb] For me it was Multiplayer. I had been thinking about it for years. It was like having unfinished business.
Do you consider Scourge of War: Gettysburg to be the unofficial sequel to Sid Meir?s Gettysburg?
[Norb] It?s an honor that many consider our games at that level.
How big was your staff team when you began development of the game?
[Jim] The total team for SOW:GB was 21. Not everyone was part of the team at the same time, but everyone made significant contributions over the course of development.
[Norb] Two at first, but soon after 6 of us created most of the first game working together those first couple of years. We grew quickly after, as Jim said, as we heavily test our games so we needed lots of experienced players.
Was it difficult to develop Scourge of War: Gettysburg? What kind of challenges did you face?
[Jim] It was a lot of hard work, but after having done it twice already with CWBR and TC2M we had a pretty good idea of the work needed. The big new feature for GB was the multiplayer. That ended up taking the better part of a year of testing, 2-3 evenings a week.
[Norb] Multiplayer was crazy to test. We wanted the player count to be limited only by bandwidth and computer speed, not the game. We would play until we saw a problem, then I would go over Megs of logs, fix something, and we did it again. And again, and again, until we got it right.
After developing Scourge of War: Gettysburg did you find making Scourge of War: Antietam and Scourge of War: Chancellorsville any easier?
[Jim] Yes, as expansions the major work was the maps, history (OOBs etc) and making and testing all of the scenarios. We also put in all of the bug fixes we had and added some other features like replay that did not make the original release of Gettysburg. By the time we got to Brandy Station we had a relatively well developed process for ?next battle?.
What kind of obstacles did you run into making these expansion packs?
[Jim] Because these battles are not as well documented as Gettysburg we had to use more historical judgment and creative estimation where the historical record does not have the needed level of detail.
[Norb] From a dev point of view I hadn?t really thought out the design of how we were going to do expansions. So we had lots of hurdles and restrictions in order to make it more than a mod, but work with the base game. The design team is always pushing the envelope and I?m the sour grapes trying to rein them in.
Do you plan to add any future additions to your already released Scourge of War games?
[Jim] We do not plan to release any future battles using the existing Gettysburg generation game engine.
Now let?s talk about the future ?
What do you have in mind for the future of the Scourge of War series?
[Jim] At this point we are in the process of making what we call a ?generational upgrade? to the game engine. These are a variety of upgrades that require significant changes to core parts of the game engine and to major game files. A major objective is to make additional parts of the AI and the user interface open to modders.
[Norb] As Jim said, it?s all about the modders. We?ve got guys on our forums doing some amazing things and we want to support them. So we are working to open up the game for modding in every way possible. There are so many things you just can?t do in an expansion so, although it was a hard decision, we had to stop with the expansions and do a major engine upgrade.
Do you plan a graphical upgrade to the next installment in the Scourge of War series?
[Jim] We have some graphical upgrades but we put way too many sprites on the battlefield to use models. The first battle of our next generation engine is expected to have 10 times as many soldier sprites on the battlefield at once as the largest army allowed in model-based wargames like the Total War series. We also have some improvements to the maps that are impressive, even at this early stage of development.
[Norb] We haven?t been able to find a graphics engine that can do what we want. SOW allows you to pan back and watch thousands of sprites fighting it out on the battlefield. We have no camera restrictions. Every time we?ve evaluated new engines and tried doing what we do now, we just haven?t had much luck, at least not with the ones within our budget.
Do you plan to add in a sandbox mode to your future games so players can play the whole battle in full from start to finish?
[Jim] That can be done with the Gettysburg engine now. We have full battle scenarios for Antietam and Brandy Station which were both single day fights. For Chancellorsville and Gettysburg the battles were too spread out in time and space to do the entire battle as a unified single player scenario. An additional complication is that the AI is quite creative and can, and does, go off in directions quite at variance with how the historical battle played out. So it is really hard to have historical events scripted into the scenario that may be totally obsolete. For full battle scenarios, your best bet is to do it in multiplayer at the army level.
Any hints on what battle you will focus on next for the Scourge of War series?
[Jim] Not useful hints, but we do sarcastic hints really well. For example: it will be a battle on the third planet in this solar system and will include firearms.
[Norb] Jim doesn?t like to let me in on it until the end J
Do you plan on increasing your staff for your future projects?
[Jim] Not significantly above our usual levels.
[Norb] It takes a ton of dedication to do what we do. Most of your free time is given up for the game. It?s something that?s hard to find mixed with being a team player. We are always looking out for new blood, many have come and gone. We?d love to get another experienced programmer on the project, but we just haven?t had any luck finding one that will work within our constraints. We have a forum post about joining the team and we talk to everyone interested, but it?s like having a second job without the paycheck.
Any Surprise Features your planning to add in the next Scourge of War?
[Jim] Possibly, but if we told you then it would not be a surprise. We have some ideas for really cool stuff, but we don?t like to raise hopes and then find out that it is too complex to include in the next release. We have all been burned by vaporware companies that promise the moon and deliver a pebble, or never release a game at all.
[Jean] Thank you for your time and for making such awesome games!