Gary Grigsbys War in the West

By Nik Gaukroger 02 Dec 2014 0

With the latest Gary Grigsby game due for release this week we took time to interview the developers about the game and what has gone into it.

Firstly thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions; I?m sure our readers will appreciate it.


1.    OK, this is another massive Gary Grigsby game (is there another sort), how long has it been in development?

War in the West development started in early 2011 after the release of War in the East. During 2011 a lot of what we did to improve War in the East was going into War in the West. In early 2012 we had to make the decision to split the code base and move forward with both games separately. There were so many major new systems going into WitW that we could no longer have them share the same code. This allowed us to more easily add those new systems, but also meant that we could no longer make a change in WitE and have the change be in WitW. In the end we had about 2 years of part time development on WitW and 2 more years of near full time focus on WitW.


2.    What features of the Western War that were not present, or as important, on the Eastern Front have you had to implement in War in the West?

Two big factors were the heavy use of strategic bombing and the need for detailed rules for naval, primarily amphibious, operations. The former, along with the desire to improve the air system used in WitE caused a major redesign of the entire air system. The latter forced us to consider the issues of control of the sea and shipping losses. We also improved the logistics system considerably to reflect the historical challenges.


3.    What has been the new feature that has been the most difficult to implement?

Clearly the air system was the biggest and most difficult change. It was equivalent to creating a new game within a game. WitE has a weekly IGOUGO game system. We decided to build a new air system that would have a resolution phase with one day pulses. In order to make the air game more manageable, the design has players issuing air directives to air forces which are then translated into individual missions. Getting this working, adding the user interface, creating the AI for it, and balancing the combat results was a huge challenge. Pavel Zagzin took on almost all of the programming as well as the interface design, while Gary, Pavel and I had frequent development discussions as the system came together. Eventually Gary got involved to create the air AI, as well as setting up a way for the player to use the AI, if desired, to help create his air directives. A lot of the combat code descended from WitE, but many changes were made. In yet another major change, WitW has airfields on the map instead of the WitW system of movable HQs containing the airgroups. It was a huge undertaking which we only partially anticipated at the start of the project. In the end we?re very happy with how the system has turned out.


4.    Which of the new features are you most excited about? The one that will really impact on the player?s experience.

The air game is number 1. Whether it?s strategic bombing, interdiction, or naval patrol, it?s radically different from WitE and in our opinion much better. It?s clearly generates much more realistic results, and also gives the player a new area to explore. No doubt it will take some time for players to come up with new methods and strategies. The nice thing about it is that the Air Directive system makes it fairly easy to set up the basics, and then you can experiment by changing any number of variables to get the results you?re looking for.

I?ll add in a second item we?re excited about. Ever since 2000 when we first started work on WitE, we wanted to have a system that tracked usage of rail lines. This would allow real life choices of whether to send supply or units down critical rail lines, and impose limits on what could be supplied. By 2001 we realized that the computers of the day were not fast enough to be able to do this. When we started work on WitW Gary had some ideas for how this could be done and it seemed as though current computers could handle the workload. So in WitW we track tons of generic freight or units down rail lines. Freight is stored in depots, and that freight is converted into supplies and equipment when delivered to units. Limitations of port, rail line, and railyard capacities are all accounted for. The impact of air units on these capacities is also accounted for. These factors along with the use of depot and unit supply priorities makes for a much more realistic logistics model in WitW, and another area of the game for players to explore.


5.    One feature of War in the West that has caught my eye when reading about it is the Eastern Front Control Option. How will this work in practice?

In the three campaign scenarios, you can elect to play with the East Front Control Option on or off. When it?s off, you only get a portion of German production, you receive only reinforcement units that came west, and you are forced to withdraw units to the East based on historical troop movements. With the EF option on, you get all of the German production, and it?s up to you to decide when to move units east or when to move them back to the west. The player is shown information about his units on the Eastern Front (actually all other fronts, including Norway and the Balkans), as well as some basic information on the current Soviet potential. Each week there is combat that results in German casualties, and the front line may advance on the map. Eventually, the game ends when Berlin is taken (by either the player or the Soviets). Deciding when to pull units off the East Front and when to send units back adds another layer of options for the German player. It can be very tempting to pull units off the East Front to repel invasions in the west, but it can also lead to disaster if the Soviet steamroller starts to roll even faster toward Berlin.


6.    Is there anything that you initially wanted to include in the game but that has, for whatever reason, not proved to be possible?

We discussed having some German naval HQ units with attached U-boats and minor surface forces. Pavel started some work on this but it was decided that it was more detail than we needed so we decided to totally abstract German naval forces. We discussed adding some kind of restrictions on Allied airborne units based on shortages of gliders. We never had the time or felt a pressing need to add this to the game, although we occasionally talk about how such a rule could be structured in case we decide to add it into a future product.


7.    OK, so War in the West 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?

The plan is to use the War in the West/War in Europe map and game system for multiple products. We hope to produce products that cover the battle in North Africa in late 42-43, Poland 1939, France 1940 (and possibly a campaign that links the two). We?re also looking at earlier battles in North Africa. We also very much want to revisit War in the East using all of the new rules and the new map. Once all that?s done, it might be possible to put together an entire War in Europe product. There have also been some discussions with Matrix about revisiting tactical WWII warfare in a way similar to Gary?s Steel Panthers.


8.    These games get bigger and bigger, it begs the question as to whether there will be a complete World War 2 Gary Grigsby game of this sort in the future?

We can see a path towards a War in Europe game using the WitW system, but it?s hard to see a full WW2 game. Gary?s already published a complete WWII game, World at War, and it?s sequel A World Divided. That scale seems more appropriate for the entire war. The issues involved in trying to put together a full WWII game using the WitW game system are mind-boggling.


9.    Lastly, a chance for a name check for all those involved in producing War in the West. So who has done what?

First off Gary and Pavel did 99% of the programming, with Gary focused on the new logistics systems and AI, while Pavel was focused on the air game and the interface. There were many design discussions involving Gary, Pavel and Joel, and Erik Rutins got involved at times to provide important feedback and suggestions with regards to the interface. Jim Wirth with some assistance from Brad Hunter provided the OB and weapon data that are the building blocks of WitW. Dennis Schulz made a major contribution to upgrading the aircraft data. Trey Marshall created eight of the scenarios, doing a ton of research on what units were where and when. John Young with help from Rand Seger created two of the scenarios. John also wrote the 35 page Player?s Handbook which is a great place to start when you are first learning the game. And not having done enough, John also wrote the Editor Manual, provided some game artwork including all the unit insignia and weapon and aircraft icons, and provided invaluable feedback and suggestions on the logistics system. Speaking of manuals, Allan Berke managed to keep up with the tons of changes made during development in order to produce a comprehensive 300 page game manual. Axel Heicke provided the many leader and weapon pictures in the game, while Marc von Martial provided the new interface artwork.

The map was a major undertaking. It started when Jason Petho, the cartographer on the project, delivered the first map data file. Trey Marshall did a great review of the airfields on the map, and many testers contributed information to further improve the accuracy of the map. Erik managed the process of getting the map art completed, along with art director Richard Evans. Jeremy Simmons burned the midnight oil to make the map terrain art look the way it does in the final product. John Young added his layered ?living? map text on top of Jeremy?s map art.

Over at least two years of development, we had many people provide testing and feedback. At different times, John Young, Scott Koberstein and Michael McFarland helped manage the bug list and/or help decipher and investigate bug reports. Testers are very important for the development process, as a few good testers providing steady and timely feedback can help make a game a lot better. Testing can burn people out a bugs or rule changes can kill games in progress. We were fortunate to have different testers step up at different times during the two years of testing.

As you can see a lot of people were involved in making War in the West, many of these people from the Matrix community of gamers.



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