Order of Battle: Pacific Wargamer.com interview23 Apr 2015 0
Last year we brought you advance info on a new game from Slitherine called Order of Battle: Pacific. Now that the release date is close we got in touch with the developers, The Artistocrats, for an interview and Lukas Nijsten kindly agreed to answer a few questions in his no doubt scarce free time in the run up to launch.
Many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions; I’m sure our readers will appreciate it.
- What was the inspiration for Order of Battle: Pacific?
The game has been inspired by many games – including RTSes such as Starcraft 2 and Company of Heroes – but its gameplay is mostly a mixture of 3 classic wargames: Battle Academy, Panzer/Pacific General and Commander Europe at War.
That said, it certainly didn't start with the idea to “remake” any past games but rather to create a mix of all the elements I personally enjoyed the most in my experience as a wargamer, augmented with various new ideas.
- How long have you been working on Order of Battle? Has this been a longer or shorter time than was initially expected?
Little over 2 years. I remember installing the Unity3D development kit on 4 December 2013, but I wasn't focusing solely on OoBP for the first months of development. It did take much longer than initially anticipated, but if there is one thing developers are good at it's misjudging deadlines! J
Still, delivering a big wargame in 2 years while learning Unity3D - and C# programming, since most of my past experience was limited to artwork, design and scripting - feels reasonable. And with the game engine and experience we have now obtained, it's looking very promising for the future!
- There will, inevitably, be comparisons drawn between Order of Battle and Panzer Corps (which you worked on I believe), so what would you say to people who do this? What is different about this game, its unique selling point(s)?
I was responsible for the majority of artwork in Panzer Corps so players will certainly recognize a similar style in OoB. While 3D rendering is often used to create 2D games, working on similar projects in the past always made me long for the chance to do a fully animated 3D game. I am a visual artist after all! J
Aside from the graphics the most obvious difference must be the addition of a supply system. This means positioning of units and keeping a solid front-line is very important. With supply sources capable of maintaining only limited amounts of units, digging a whole army in around a single victory point is a recipe for defeat. This seemingly simple feature has a profound impact of how the game is played.
OoB also has more detailed combat mechanics, with more different combat statistics and special rules for air and naval combat. This, combined with a large range of special abilities – such as mine-laying, sonar sweeps, bridge building, etc – make for a slightly more complex gameplay. The difficult terrain of most of the Pacific theater scenarios also lead to a generally slower paced game.
- What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of the gameplay; the thing that will really stretch the players ability?
As said before, the supply system plays a major role in the gameplay. Especially with the AI being very eager to cut off individual units or even entire attack groups with a swift counter-attack if you do not protect your flanks properly.
This mechanic means a sloppy advance may be punished hard. When units are cut from supply their efficiency drops each turn. If you can reconnect the supply quickly the damage can be minimized, but if unattended for several turns even the most powerful spearhead will be reduced to a defenseless mob.
While Stalingrad-style envelopments are unlikely to happen on Pacific islands, the system also comes into play during naval invasions. The initial beachhead requires the presence of supply ships until substantial supply sources have been captured. Picking the right beach and providing a strong naval and air support is paramount for success.
- What have been the biggest challenges faced so far in developing the game? And conversely, which have been the easiest parts?
The animation system is probably the most complex part of the game engine, requiring the most fixes and additions to handle all the different situations and combinations. From day one we decided we wanted a system that didn't freeze the game – forcing players to watch the same animations over and over again – but still allows richly animated combat that doesn't get cut off abruptly if the player chooses to skip it.
The result has made people wonder if it is a turn-based game or an RTS, since many things can happen simultaneously depending on how fast the player issues consecutive orders.
- Which were the most time consuming?
Probably the AI, considering we had an AI programmer working on this for the whole duration of the development period. Aside from the obvious challenge to develop a capable AI, it has to be constantly adapted and expanded to deal with gameplay changes and additions.
- 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?
We have collected a long “wishlist” by now, containing features that didn't make it or were too complex to introduce into the initial game.
One of these is a skirmish mode, which we intend to add in later stage. While the scenario editor already allows an infinite amount of new content, this mode would allow the player to choose a map, number of players (AI or human), starting date, resources etc. Combined with randomly generated maps, this would add a great way to add even more flexibility to both the single- and multiplayer experience.
- The Pacific theatre in World War 2 involved a huge variety of ships, aircraft, tanks, etc. How much research has been necessary to get the information required to develop a game that covers the whole period of the war in the Pacific?
Way too much! J
Obviously most of the research is limited to online sources (read: Wikipedia) because it's the only feasible way to get the information you need fairly quickly. But we took this job very seriously, even delving into national map archives to reconstruct complex maps such as Brisbane (Australia) and Tokyo as detailed as possible.
Each of the 500+ units has been balanced carefully by noting down weapon types and calibers, bomb-loads for aircraft, armor thickness for tanks etc. While the resulting stats may never be perfectly accurate, I think we managed to get a wide variety of uniquely behaving units closely representing their use in real history.
- OK, so Order of Battle: Pacific 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?
None of this is official yet, because we need to look at the options properly and discuss it with our publisher Slitherine first. But personally I'd love to cover the middle ages with the OoB engine.
Formations of archers, pikemen, knights … Catapults and trebuchets bombarding multi-hex castles... Wooden warships peppering the enemy with flaming arrows and primitive cannon fire, launching boarding parties... I need to restrain myself from not starting on it right away! J
That being said, many other themes are still on the table and we will continue to support and expand the WW2 theme started with Order of Battle – Pacific. More units, nations and campaigns will certainly be added in the near future.
- 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?
As with many small wargaming studios (at least the ones I worked with) the game is a result of an international collaboration of enthusiasts, each specialized in their own domain. The most important contributors however, deserve an extra credit:
Dave Forster has been responsible for the AI and has done a splendid job to make it very flexible and capable of using almost all the tricks and abilities a human player can use.
Bernd Brosing has created the majority of 3D unit models. Having an enthusiastic historical wargamer handle this job means he never needed many instructions, being familiar with all his creations.
Paulo Costa has created the sound effects and did a far better job than I ever could've hoped for. The fact that he tried to compare his options with those of the big-budget Company of Heroes 2 game says enough! J
Let me also use this opportunity to thank everyone involved in the production of the game – even the folks at Slitherine/Matrix J – for doing such an excellent job. You have all been essential in the creation of this monster!