The View From the Bunker – Are wargamers really ready for change?

By Jeff Ward 29 Apr 2015 0

I thought it would be fun to engage in a little philosophical prognostication this round so buckle your seatbelts because here we go! 

The impetus for these mental meandering was the almost final transition from my 13 year-old Dell desktop to a brand spanking new Dell PC with a 500 GB solid state drive and a 1 TB standard hard drive. 

All I have to say to my friends Matrix and HPS is, you may have gotten the better of my previous hard drive, but, this time, I’m ready for you. I dare you fill up all that new space! 

But I digress.

 

Given the vagaries of various operating systems, I’ve never been one to blindly dive into new technological offerings. But this time, I have to say that I waited far too long to embark upon this upgrade because the vast difference in processing speed has convinced me that there really is merit to Moore’s Law

So since it would be folly to ignore Mr. Moore’s contention that computing power doubles every two years, the real question is, what does that mean for our beloved hobby? What might this accelerating warp PC power mean for wargaming in two, four, or even 10 years? 

More importantly, are we really ready for that kind of potential change? 

We’ve already considered some of these possibilities in my column on the ever increasing level of wargame complexity in which I suggested a more souped up AI could handle some of the menial tasks or even take control of a portion of your active forces. Perhaps designers could add dashes of realism like generals competing for assets and supplies, the inherent delay in orders being carried out, or, in grand strategic games, some fog of war issues involving your own forces. 

But shortly after putting that in print, I remembered that Panther Games had already taken that road less traveled tack via their original Command Ops series. As they put it, their games have “No hexes, no turns, no micromanagement – command like Commanders do.” 

(BTW, I made it through the Brother Against Brother manual in the process of writing this column and there are some of those elements there too.) 

I clearly remember talking to those Panther gentlemen back in their Battles From the Bulge days where they explained there was no full Bulge scenario because the vast majority of PCs lacked the power to perform those kinds of mathematical gymnastics. Panther has come out with more Command Ops titles since then, but their games continue to operate on a somewhat smaller scale. 

Still, I think that something approximating this innovative series may well be the next step in our wargamer evolutionary cycle. It will certainly be interesting to see what Panther does with all this exponentially expanding PC power. 

But then there’s this hilarious irony! Though I truly want to embrace that level of realism, whenever I see those Heroes of Stalingrad video dice rolls, I get kinda giddy. And if I come across one of those old hex pattern tile floors, I immediately morph into the human equivalent of a Cheshire cat. 

So in the end, with my perpetually limited time, I typically end up playing a Tiller title anyway because, not only do I know the system inside and out, with the exception of the fire phase, it’s not all that different from the board games we all grew up with. 

But then, as soon as I slip into that comfortable pair of old slippers, I get frustrated with the IGOUGO system which makes it very difficult to pull off an effective fighting withdrawal. But then I try to imagine playing a game like War in the East in real time. And then there’s my own strange proclivities. While I love the concept of simultaneous movement, but despite being able to stop that clock, the constant ticking always makes me very nervous. 

If I want to get that hyper I’ll watch a hockey game! 

Then there are times when I seriously consider whether something like Command Modern Naval Air/Naval Operation will be the impetus for the next big leap forward. But, while Warfare Sims continues to do a great job with that game, 360 invented that interface way back in 1989. I’m surprised it took someone so long to see its merit. 

Oh lord! I suddenly realized that I seem to be a lot better at waffling about wargaming future than I am at making any real predictions. 

But before you dismiss me, the one thing I can say with certainty is, despite Mr. Hawking’s ominous entreaties to the contrary, our ever increasing PC possibilities will soon allow for the kind of wargaming AI that truly will be a challenge. 

Right now, most game AI favors scripts which can severely limit their replay value. I love my Sicily ’43 endeavors, but you all damn well know that the Herman Goering Division is gonna head for Gela so, if you’re the Allies, you know you better quickly gather your naval assets and start digging in early. (You can choose alternate scenarios, but then you already know that too!) 

It may be a few years off, but I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to a wargame AI that can pass the Turing Test

I suppose, in the end, the ultimate question seems to be, are we, and thus, the developers who cater to us, stuck with a tried a true formula because it’s what we’re used to, or, like the fearsome Borg, are we ready, willing and able to assimilate new technologies? 

Because if you really think about it, today’s PC games don’t really look all that much different from those halcyon Avalon Hill early days. 

Could we really have hit on the right formula right out of the gate? 

But since I can’t seem to make up my mind, I’m tossing this one out to you, my esteemed readers. Where do see our PC hobby going in the next decade? Or better yet, where do you want it to go? 

 

 

Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up that copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1972. You can reach Jeff at jeffnward@comcast.net.

 

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