Digging around behind the scenes of Scourge of War: Waterloo04 Jun 2015 0
On Monday we brought you our first impressions of Matrix Games soon to be released Napoleonic game, Scourge of War: Waterloo, and now we bring you more information on the game courtesy of the development team at NorbSoft.
Like the game this is a team effort with the following Dramatis personae:
Tim = Tim Catherall, Art Lead
Conor = Conor Cahalane, QA Team Lead
Matt = Matt Clyburn, Maps & Scenario Lead
Jim = Jim Weaver, Design Lead & Chief Cat Herder
Norb = Norb Timpko, Producer & Programmer
Many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions; I’m sure our readers will appreciate it.
- OK, let’s start with a really obvious question: to date the Scourge of War series has been all about the American Civil War, so what prompted the development of a Napoleonics version? Was it just that the allure of the bicentennial anniversary of The Battle of Waterloo was too much?
[Tim] As an Englishman Waterloo has always held a fascination for me. I have visited the battlefield a number of times and in my youth constantly played with the Airfix Waterloo set.
[Conor] The Napoleonic wars just offer so many new possibilities. Quite a few of the guys had already worked on Nap games before and the 200 year anniversary of arguably Napoleon’s most famous battle was the icing on the cake.
[Jim] The combat in the Napoleonic era requires a more balanced combined arms approach as compared to ACW. Having this out for the 200th anniversary was a nice plum but not a deciding factor. Mostly Waterloo is one of the greatest battles of the black powder era and full of the ‘what-if’ situations that wargamers really love.
[Matt] We’ve been talking about doing it for years. The timing couldn’t have been better, and we were fortunate to have the staff and resources to do it right.
- How long have you been working on the game?
[Tim] Since 2007 (Gettysburg) and Waterloo for the last two years.
[Conor] I have been working on Scourge of War since 2011, just before work on the Antietam expansion started. Since 2013 on Waterloo but things really ramped up in late 2014 to hit the anniversary release – it was close to full-time!
[Jim] I started during the development of Civil War: Bull Run about 2004.
[Matt] I joined NSD in January of 2009. I started out a tester but moved to scenarios, and eventually map design.
[Norb] We’ve been working on the conversion since the last patch of GB. It was very slow going for a long time as we made some major upgrades. Since Sept 2014 we’ve been going 24/7 to make the dates.
- What changes have you had to make to Scourge of War to represent the way war was fought in 1815 compared to the Civil War over 50 years later?
[Tim] One for the designers but from an art point of view we needed to make overlay sprites so that we can have more uniform variation – i.e. horses and cavalry troops are separate sprites.
[Conor] Too many to name. Off the top of my head the main ones would be the new Nap AI, skirmishers, squares, cavalry, and fortifications.
[Jim] The AI had to be completely rebuilt and expanded to handle the complexities of combined arms combat. The cavalry has a totally different battlefield role in NW combat as compared to ACW. This led to changes in how the infantry AI responds as well.
[Matt] The biggest change for me from a map making perspective is the addition of fortifications. The style of farms in those days were basically fortresses—with high brick walls, stone houses, and other structures that made them great places for troops to take cover.
- Have you made any changes to the game interface or look and feel (other than the obvious one about how the troops look in 1815 compared to the Civil War)?
[Tim] Lots of changes to controls (others can describe the changes better) and the whole look and feel.
[Conor] The interface has been reworked entirely. We have new menus, in-game menus, tree structure OOBs, status windows. The biggest new addition is probably the ‘context’ menus for controlling your troops. This will help de-clutter your interface by minimising the number of options presented to you if they are not relevant, for example – you won’t want to charge if there are no enemy nearby.
[Jim] The GUI system has been changed to a newer and more flexible system. The context menu is a total departure from GB and the rest of the in-game GUI has been rebuilt from the ground up to work with the new system.
[Matt] The terrain in 19th century Europe was significantly different than the terrain in 19th century North America. I already mentioned the farms/fortifications, but the landscape was more flat than the hilly Civil War battlefields our players are used to. There was more open space void of forests, and little to no fences which have been replaced by hedgerows. All of these factors combine for a considerably different tactical experience.
[Norb] We talked to a lot of people about our GUI. We wanted the game to be more accessible to a wider audience. So we worked very closely with Matrix and their team in order to present a GUI that more closely followed today’s standards. Previously we had developed the system in house. But for this release we used an open source system that really provided more advanced features and a lot of flexibility.
- In fact, are there any other nice new features that Scourge of War enthusiasts will be able to look forward to?
[Tim] Campaigns, the in game controls, forts, squares!
[Conor] The sandbox campaign. It is hands-down my favourite new feature, I keep going back to it. The community have been asking for a way to string battles together for years and this will make them very happy.
[Jim] The Sandbox Campaign is actually the biggest new feature. It amounts to a new operational level game integrated with the tactical combat game.
[Matt] From the map perspective, the graphics have been improved with shading on the buildings, and higher res textures for the ground and sky. Also of course the fortifications are the biggest change the player will see. Both the player and AI will recognize their defensive advantage. There have been a few tweaks to the scenario system as well to enhance gameplay, such as a command to script a force to attack another force, and not just a location like in the old system.
[Norb] I love the campaign map! We worked a long time to get the right look and feel. We’ve seen some games that do it this way and really wanted to capture that in SOW. Another major change was the uniform sprites. We were hitting memory limits and we wanted to get all the uniforms in there. So Tim and I spent quite a bit of time working with shaders so we could combine sprites and therefore have more uniforms taking less memory. We also moved all the of AI code into a moddable format. When we later release the SDK, modders will be able to change the behaviour of the units.
- What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of the gameplay; the thing that will really stretch the players’ ability, especially for gamers already experienced with the Scourge of War system?
[Tim] Really need to use combination operations – cavalry have more of an impact too.
[Conor] Combined arms – definitely. If you are weak in cavalry, artillery or infantry and your enemy has the advantage you better call for reinforcements quickly otherwise he can pin you down and carve you up.
[Jim] Combined arms, hands down. Even with many hours of playing Austerlitz (ANGV) as a training ground proper coordination of the three arms is still a challenge for me.
[Matt] Trying to take a fort is no easy task!
- What have been the biggest challenges faced so far in developing the game? And conversely, which have been the easiest parts?
[Tim] Getting the overlay correct on the sprites and also the research fo the buildings. Also the new GUI program was a steep learning curve.
[Conor] I don’t think any of it has been easy – getting used to the new interface design tool was slow at first and it was all hands on deck getting that working properly. We have the scars, but you can just enjoy it J
[Jim] The GUI conversion and the creation of the campaign game were the most difficult. Add in the complete rebuild of the AI and you have a real challenge trying to produce a working game in the time we had before the hard deadline of the 200th anniversary of the battle. The weapons conversion was the least difficult, the state of the art weapons of 1815 were the back of the armoury junk that was issued in the early days of the war to give the new recruits something to shoot. So we had the parameters for most of the weapons already in the files.
[Matt] I think the other members answered the challenge question well. However if there was any easy part, it was having the peace of mind that we had the largest team we’ve ever had, made up of hard working professionals that all share the same passion for history and gaming.
[Norb] I’ll go with what everyone else said, but the overall thing to me was getting it done on time with the same quality that our players expect. Meeting our dates, getting in the features, and providing the required SOW experience was a huge challenge. The easiest … the team. Everyone worked so hard, everyone stepped up where ever they could. Without such a dedicated group we would have never finished.
- Which were the most time consuming?
[Tim] Sprite making!
[Conor] All of alpha-testing is time-consuming, we are checking every feature right up to the end to make sure a new feature or fix does not compromise something else. The early stages of the UI and AI testing were intense, I was very glad to get through those with a working product and on to the campaign and scenarios.
[Jim] The GUI conversion and the campaign game development probably ate up the most hours.
[Matt] Scenario creation is time consuming in itself, but the testing and tweaking is what takes the longest. Each scenario never plays out the same on each attempt, so they have to be tested, tweaked, tested again, and again, etc. As you can imagine, creating historic maps of this detail is extremely time consuming. This is not Total War where the map of Waterloo is a loose representation. We create a virtual battlefield that as close to the real thing as possible...
[Norb] I’m with Jim, the GUI conversion. Trying to keep our old SDK and force feeding it into a new system. I was ready the throw the entire thing away a few times. I put in a lot of hours ripping out the AI code and moving it into a DLL, but that was totally worth it because I rarely had to touch it again. By moving it out of the main engine, one of the new guys and Waterloo enthusiasts was able to take over the coding of the AI.
- Development inevitably involves compromise, are there any features that you wanted to include in the game, but that didn’t make it to the release version?
[Tim] More uniforms J
[Conor] We all love playing these games and have a list a mile long of things we want to do, but it is all very diplomatic. Everyone understood their pet feature might not make it. The priority for Waterloo was a new engine and adding things that were essential for a Nap game. I still get blown away by all the new things we added.
[Jim] We have a separate section of our issue tracking system for items to consider for the future. It already has over 100 entries from the dev team members even before we get input from the players.
[Norb] We have a ton of features, enough to keep us busy for many years to come. It’s the toughest part of the job for me, trying to fit everything in the schedule and having to say no to great features. It’s hard to stick with your base message, making sure it gets done right, when everyone working on the game has their own ideas. Great ideas, ideas that would make the game ever more awesome, but you just cannot do everything. You always have to draw a line, and unfortunately I have to play the hand of death. I just could not catch a break, even though I complained about it loudly and often J
- OK, so Scourge of War: Waterloo is only just about to be released but gamers always want to know what’s next. Have you had any thoughts about this? Anything you can divulge at this point?
[Tim] Lots of ideas but nothing concrete.
[Conor] Nothing definite, but having made the jump over to Nap there is approximately 20 years of fighting to choose from involving most of the major European powers at the time. That means loads of different protagonists and plenty of famous battles to look at.
[Jim] After we get the game out, we have to write up the SDK so that the very impatient modding community can start making their own versions of the game. We will definitely release DLC to cover the other major battles in the Waterloo campaign: Ligny, Quatre Bras and Wavre. When and how and in what groupings are still TBD. Beyond that the schedule is too indefinite to state anything firmly.
[Norb] This team always has more. There’s already significant work done on the battles surrounding Waterloo. As Jim said, we want to get the SDK in the hands of the modders. They always seem to find a way to do cooler stuff than us. But as a small team we don’t plan too far ahead. This is our baby, we worked very hard on it, so we want to support it. Make sure the questions are answered, the modders have what they need, and everyone gets a chance to celebrate the bicentennial on the best recreation of that battleground in Waterloo.
- Lastly, now is a chance for a name check for all those involved in producing the game. So who are they and who has done what?
Norb Software Development
Producer & Programmer
Norb Timpko Jr.
Scourge of War Waterloo – Design and Development Team
Conor Cahalane – QA Team Lead, UI
Tim Catherall – Art Lead, Unit Sprites, Buildings, UI
Matt Clyburn – Maps & Scenario Lead, Maps, Scenarios, Tutorial,
Davide Dall’Angelo – AI Coding, Research, OOBs, QA
David Driver – Art, UI, Maps, Buildings, Terrain Sprites
David DuRant – QA, IT
Matthew Flanigan – QA, Marketing
Randy Keen – Scenarios, Flags, Bugler
Paul Lewis – QA
Andrew Martin – OOBs, Manual, Editing
Alberto Merlino – QA, OOBs, Research, Translation
Tim Speltz – UI, Shaders, SDK Coding, Maps
Larry Tagg – OOBs, Manual, Editing, Help, Maps, Research, QA
Norb Timpko – Producer, Coding, UI, Design, SDK
Jim Weaver – Lead Designer, Scenarios, Game Manual, CSV Files
Chuck Wood – QA
Steve Woods – QA
Stefan Zangger – QA, UI
Mandy Clyburn – La Belle Alliance
Riccardo Viecca – QA
John Campanaro – QA
Mike Hager aka Grog – Commander Portraits