Combat Mission: Afrika Korps12 Sep 2003 0
Known for its unique gameplay that allows players to command troops in a turn-based fashion but resolve combat simultaneously, the award-winning Combat Mission series gives gamers the best of both turn-based and real-time gaming. The first two titles, Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord and Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin, respectively covered the Western and Eastern European theaters of World War II. The Wargamer's Jim Zabek recently sat down with Martin van Balkom of Battlefront.com to discuss their highly anticipated capstone to the Combat Mission trilogy, Combat Mission: Afrika Korps.
The Wargamer: What inspired you to create a game in North Africa, Sicily, and Crete as opposed to some other theater?
Martin van Balkom: We felt that after doing the Western and Eastern Fronts, choosing North Africa, Italy (all of it, not only Sicily) and Crete offers the most variety to Combat Mission fans. Those theaters allow armchair generals to fight all the way from the hot and dusty deserts in some early war campaigns to the rocky and mountainous terrain of southern and northern Italy during the mid and late war years. Combat Mission: Afrika Korps is going to be the "biggest" game of the three Combat Mission titles in this way, allowing players to take command of the most nations (nine - US, British, Australian, Canadian, French, New Zealand, South African, Polish, German, and Italian), fight on the biggest variety of terrain with a huge choice (more than 500) of vehicles, guns and other equipment. Since CMAK is going to be the last Combat Mission title, we felt that, like every good trilogy, it had to end with a bang. The Mediterranean Theater does that with its mobile armored thrusts in Africa, the breaching of the famous fortified Gothic or Gustay lines in Italy by US and other allied troops, and the German airborne operations on Crete. And with some creativity people will be able to adapt the game to encompass even other theaters - from France to the Pacific. The main elements for that are all in CMAK. In a way, you get three or four games in one.
WG: Would you describe some of the new terrain that will be implemented?
MB: Like I said, CMAK has by far the most variety in terrain from all Combat Mission titles. We have sand, arid rocks, mountains, grassy plains, snow, marshes, palms? just to name a few of the options. In order to make this possible, a lot of tweaks and additions were needed to the game engine. We have raised the maximum height difference from 100m to 160m (available in steps of 1.25m, 2.50, 5m and 8m per elevation change, allowing us to make low rolling hills as well as steep cliffs). Rocks, sandbags, different sets of styles and types of houses typical for Africa as well as Italy, vineyards, different types of trees, and many other features complete what the game offers. Which "terrain set" is loaded depends on the theater set for a battle. And obviously everything is available for map and scenario makers in the full featured editor.
Besides terrain, atmospheric conditions, wind, daylight, and ground conditions can be altered as well for each theater, giving a full set of realistic options to fight from January through to December, from sunny dry days to rainy foggy nights. Or how about a windy cold morning in the desert? A little snowstorm during dusk hours in Italy? It's all there.
WG: What kinds of game effects will extreme heat have on play?
MB: Essentially the same effects that are already coded in CMBB - optics are affected by extreme heat, weapons jam easier, soldiers tire quicker. Additional to that, we're hoping to simulate the specific effects of "heat haze" in more detail, but are not sure if the engine can handle what we want it to do just yet.
WG: Will there be any weather or environmental effects such as sandstorms or dust clouds? If so, could you describe how they are modeled and might affect Line of Sight?
MB: Real bad sandstorms won't be simulated. Combat didn't take place under such harsh conditions, people would usually just hunker down and wait until it was over. If you can't see the hand in front of your face and breathe more sand than air, combat is the last thing on your mind. But light sandstorms are not all that much different from fog conditions in that they mainly restrict lines of sight and sound detection, so we'll allow them as an option.
Dust clouds are one of the major additions to the CM engine that we are introducing with CMAK. It was an absolute must to make for a realistic gameplay in the desert, but after Charles made the necessary changes, obviously dust will also have an effect on combat in other theaters (like Italy). Dust is raised by moving vehicles, impacts of various projectiles (like artillery, tank gun shots etc.), and is of course also affected by the wind conditions (dust clouds move with the wind, dissipate quicker under more windy conditions and so on). Dust obstructs lines of sight, and if there is enough of it in the air, blocks it completely as well. Dust also depends on the terrain and ground conditions - moving down a sandtrack with very dry ground conditions will generate a lot of dust; moving on a paved road during rain and fog won't. And lastly, dust can be spotted independently of enemy units - i.e. you might see a huge dust cloud in a distance during a battle, but won't know what it is until you get a line of sight.
WG: Can you give us some insight into what makes your AI so good and any changes being made to it?
MB: The AI is able to handle pretty much any non-scripted situation you throw at it. Some situations are handled better (usually defensive missions), some aren't handled as well as a human player would. This flexibility with which Charles has coded the AI is unique for any wargame I know, considering the "open ended" and non-scripted design of CM - and the fact that the AI is not cheating.
We had to make a number of changes to the AI for CMAK (and are still tweaking it in beta testing), in order to code some "behaviour" unique for the terrain and environments encountered in Africa and Italy (i.e. deserts and mountains). This is both true for the Operational AI (for the computer opponent) as well as the Tactical AI (that applies to both computer and human led forces, as it determines the behaviour during the real-time action phase).