Battlefield Academy

By Scott Parrino 12 Aug 2010 0

The Wargamer's Editor-in-Chief, Jim Zabek had an oppotunity to discuss Battlefield Academy with Slitherine Software's Development Director, Iain McNeil. 


The Wargamer (WG): Battlefield Academy was inspired by an invention by the BBC.  It seems a bit unusual for TV animation to evolve into a game.  Can you tell us how Battlefield Academy made that journey?

Iain McNeil (IM):The original BBC Battlefield Academy game was an online flash game created to support the TV series Battlefield Britain. It was a simple 2D flash game but very popular and had hundreds of thousands of players when first launched. What we?ve done with Battlefield Academy is take the game to a completely new level in all areas. At heart it is still a turn based strategy game, but pretty much everything else is new and improved. The graphics are 3D, the user interface is streamlined making it much easier to pick up and play, the gameplay is much more realistic giving far more options and replayability.


WG: One of the first things gamers notice about the graphics is their ?cartoon-like? nature.  Again, this seems an unusual approach to a wargame.  What brought it about?

IM: One of our aims set very early in the design process with the BBC was to bring new gamers to the strategy genre. We didn?t want to do this at the expense of the traditional strategy gamers, so we had to be very clever how we approached it and the visual style was an important part of that. The visual style for the UI screens is very comic book in nature, which is designed to appeal to a younger audience. However we?ve gone for a style reminiscent of the old Combat comics that many of us read in our childhood. This way the existing gamers, who tend to be older, are still familiar with the style and it does not put anyone off so we get the best of both worlds. Personally I love the way the game looks and we are really pleased with the way it?s all worked out. It wont work for everyone but from all the feedback we?ve seen I?ve only seen one negative comment and the person involved still wanted to play the game so it had not pout them off.


WG: In general can you tell us about where you drew a balance between fun and realism, and why?

IM: The BBC have a responsibility and reputation so they were very keen for historical accuracy whenever possible. We worked closely with them and Professor John Buckley, our military history advisor and specialist in WW2 tank warfare, to design a game model that gave us all what we wanted. The compromise we came up with was that the gameplay comes first, but sometimes we?ve had to do things in a more complicated way to make it fun and historically accurate. There are some places where gameplay just had to come first and in these situations we?ve got reasonable justifications for why we had to do them in case people ask the BBC.


WG: More specifically can you tell us about how armor values and penetration were calculated?

IM: Every vehicle has an armour rating on each facing and from above. These are not armour thickness, but a combination of armour and slope to give an overall rating for the armour?s effectiveness. Every weapon has an accuracy & penetration rating at different ranges. We do not model things like different types of ammo, but take them in to account in the weapons rating. E.g. a late war L48 would be assumed to be firing more effective ammo than a mid war L48. We did not want that level of micro management for the player as it adds very little and usually there is very little decision making ? use the best ammo you have available or you could soon be dead! To calculate if the weapon hits the target we use the base accuracy and model environmental effects. E.g. size of target, speed of target, cover of target, is firer stationary, additional shot bonus (each time you shoot at a target you have a higher chance to hit next time) etc. Once a hit has been determined we take the armour penetration value and modify it for range and then calculate a chance to knock out the target based on that. 


WG: It seems like most units limited to firing twice per turn.  How did you arrive at the design decision to limit rate of fire? 

IM: This was for game balance reasons. One shot didn?t feel like enough as there is a significant chance of a miss and it meant one strong unit could be overwhelmed too easily by 2-3 weaker units. 3 shots started to feel like a lot of clicking. It is very simple to change by editing a few cells in an excel file so anyone who wants to experiment can easily change it to anything they like. We have excellent modding support.


WG: What about limits on ammo or ammo type; are there any?

IM: As mentioned above we didn?t want to get in to ammo. We felt it was a level of micro management not needed on the scale we were looking at. As above, it would be very easy for someone to add ammo limits if they wanted by changing some script files. The modding possibilities are almost endless.  


WG: I have noticed that in some instances some units are offered different types of attacks.  For instance some infantry units have a general attack and possibly a ?sniper shot? as well.  Can you tell us about how these different types of attacks work and when a player might wish to use them?

IM: All units have some basic skills. Most units can direct fire and suppress areas they suspect enemy units to occupy. Most infantry can assault adjacent tiles. Assaulting is only recommended against suppressed opponents and is really for capturing fortifications as units in these are very hard to remove otherwise. Some units such as mortars have indirect bombardment capabilities. As units gain experience they also gain new skills. Tanks can learn an overrun attack, which lets them assault an adjacent infantry unit in the open and unless the infantry can disable the tank with one shot the infantry are destroyed. Elite units can gain bonus shots, sniper skills and more but I?ll let you discover them for yourself J  


WG: BattlefieldAcademy will include a Scenario Editor.  Can you tell us about the tools players will be able to use and how robustly they may modify or create their own scenarios?

IM: I?ve mentioned this before but the game is designed from the ground up to be moddable. Everything we used to create the game is in the game. You can create single player and multiplayer scenarios. You can create entire campaigns. If you have a 3D modeling package you can create new units and stats for them. You can modify the UI files to completely re-skin the games look and feel. All of the game model is written in a simple text script and this is all accessible to modders. Someone could decide to add a paratrooper unit. They could create the graphics and drop in the unit date to have the unit appear in game. They could create a special new script file letting the paratroopers deploy by air. They could an aircraft fly on and drop the paratroopers anywhere on the map. Alternatively you could decide to create a factory. Each turn this could produce a new unit. Basically anything you can think of you can do. As long as you want to do something that is turn based and tile based you can do it in this engine. The possibilities are endless. We?re expecting some people will create completely new games in different settings. 


WG: I understand that more games in under the BattlefieldAcademy franchise are being planned.  Can you share any info about what you?re planning next?

IM: Sorry, not right now J If I told you I?d have to?you know the rest!


WG: Is there anything else you?d like to add?

IM: One area not to overlook is multiplayer. The multiplayer system is really innovative. It is what we used for Field of Glory and have expanded it for Battlefield Academy. We call the system PBEM++. It takes the traditional PBEM system and brings it to the 21st century. All you have to do to play multiplayer is click the button to go online. If you have not logged in before you?ll be asked to set a username and password. Then you can see any challenges from other players or create one of your own. You don?t need to find someone to play, all challenges are listed in game. Once you choose a game you want to play, accept the challenge and the game immediately moves to your active games list. Select it and click play to automatically download the turn from the server all in the games interface. Play your turn, add a message for you opponent and click end turn. It automatically gets sent back to the server and your opponent is notified by e-mail that it is their turn. All they do is login and click play to see your message and play their turn. You do not have to be online at the same time to find an opponent or play them. You don?t have to send any e-mails or attach any files. In addition you can start the game on your laptop while on a business trip and continue it on your home desktop without copying any files over. The system handles it all for you. It has been a huge success in Field of Glory and currently there are over 600 active multiplayer games in progress. It?s hard to describe how good the system is without trying it so give it a try!



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