Trailst thou the puissant pike?

By Nik Gaukroger 19 Sep 2014 0

As the preview piece we did on Slitherine?s game in development, Pike and Shot (read it here), proved so popular, we thought we?d follow it up with an interview with the man behind the project, Richard Bodley Scott.

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


1.    We know that you are the co-author of the successful Field of Glory: Renaissance rules for table top wargames, but what prompted you to branch out and produce a digital version?

I started wargames programming in a small way in 1979 on a 16K TRS-80. Over the years I have continue this interest, although my day-job took up most of my time. Having quit the day-job, I was ready to devote the time necessary to develop a full-scale digital wargame.

My principal periods of historical interest are the Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance eras. There have been plenty of computer games devoted to Ancient or Medieval themes, so I thought it would be nice to break new ground in a relatively untouched period for tactical games. Using the Field of Glory: Renaissance mechanisms as the basis of the tactical simulation was something of a no-brainer given my co-authorship of those tabletop rules, and the quality of the game they give.


2.    The ?pike and shot? period is a somewhat overlooked one, especially for computer wargames; why do you think that is?

I have no idea. For some reason ?Ancients?, ?Napoleonic? and ?WW2? have always been the most popular periods for wargamers. Yet the Renaissance period is not only colourful, but encompasses a series of major tactical revolutions. Like most periods of military transition, there is a diversity and richness which is absent from other periods where tactical doctrines were more stable.


3.    For potential players who know little about the period what would you say could attract them to Pike and Shot?

Musketeers blasting away at each other with unwieldy black powder firearms at ridiculously short ranges while protected from enemy horse by their doughty pikemen. Horsemen with an unfeasible number of single-shot pistols stuffed into their belts, saddles and boots, pursuing beaten enemy off the battlefield and possibly never returning. Unwieldy artillery being ridden over by enemy horsemen. Gustavus Adolphus declaring ?God is my Armour? shortly before riding into the fog and being fatally shot.

What is not to like?


4.    The game is based upon the Battle Academy engine. Why was that chosen? Did you consider writing a game engine from scratch or using a different one?

Other alternatives were considering, including writing an engine from scratch. However, the Battle Academy engine appealed because it uses a square grid, and I have a morbid dislike of hexagon grids. Hexagon grids may be all very well for bees to keep their honey in, but they are not otherwise seen in the human world. People simply don?t think in terms of 60 degree angles in their day-to-day lives. Hexagons are therefore more intrusive and less intuitive to play on except for those inured to them by years of hexagon grid board games. The original reason for the use of hexagon grids in wargames ? the fact that diagonal moves are longer than orthogonal ones on a square grid - is not a problem for computer games, where the computer automatically adjusts the move costs accordingly.

Although the Slitherine Turn-Based (STUB) engine was originally developed for Battle Academy, a squad-based WW2 game, it was carefully designed from the start so that it could in fact be used for any turn-based tactical wargame. Nevertheless, in Pike and Shot, with the assistance of the author of the engine, it has been taken in directions not originally envisaged. But that is the beauty of the engine; it does allow developers to do their own thing, as can be seen in the other forthcoming STUB engine based offering, Hell.


5.    Many developers when setting their game difficulty settings do this by changing the performance of the AI. However, as I understand it in Pike and Shot the AI always plays in the same way and the difficulty setting affects the troops available in any given scenario. Why did you adopt this approach?

The aim was to make the AI as clever as possible. Having done so, it would seem a shame to nobble it for the easier difficulty modes. And how would you make it cleverer than ?as clever as possible? for the harder difficulty modes? The difficulty levels also do not make combat favour the player or the AI. The combat rules are always exactly the same for player and AI.

In most scenarios the middle three difficulty levels are dealt with by allowing the player more or less points to purchase optional units. However, in some scenarios other things are affected, like the size of forces available to the AI side, or the state of demoralisation of the player forces. Whatever best fits the historical scenario. In addition, the lowest and hardest difficulty levels add a modest tweak to the quality of the opposing units.


6.    The scenario list covers a variety of battles, both well know and some that are less well known. What were the criteria in choosing the scenarios?

Obviously the aim was to include as many iconic battles as possible. However, the most important criterion was that the historical scenario should produce an interesting game, and a reasonable challenge for the player against the AI. This is the principal reason why some scenarios (in the English Civil War and Italian Wars campaigns) have the player as one side in the war, and some the other ? the player is usually on what was judged to be the disadvantaged side ? not necessarily the side which won or lost the historical battle. Also the availability of good historical sources was a factor.


7.    Which scenario do you think is the most challenging for the player to win against the AI? Also, which is your favourite?

There are several which are very challenging to win on Sergeant-Major General or higher difficulty levels. Examples would be White Mountain, Seminara, Bicocca and Gravelines. These were battles where historically the player side was pretty much doomed from the start, so we can?t make them too easy!

My favourite scenario is probably the 1st Battle of Breitenfeld, where the Swedes? Saxon allies leave them in the lurch early in the battle and they have to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.


8.    You have gone for a look for the game that is obviously based upon period woodcut illustrations. Personally I think this is a great idea, however, do you think there is a chance that it will be off-putting to those who are not familiar with the style?

Quite probably, but we are being true to our vision. I should note that it was suggested early in the design process to have the whole game in black and white, to emulate period woodcuts even more closely. We pulled back from that brink, but who knows, we may at some stage do a ?Director?s Cut? mod including it.


9.    What have been the biggest challenges faced in developing the game? And conversely, which were the easiest parts?

Programming a battalion-based pre-dispersed-tactics tactical simulation on the basis of an engine primarily designed for an entirely different tactical paradigm. I like a programming challenge. However, all that work is now done, which should make branching into (for example) the Ancient or Medieval periods a lot easier. I am not sure that any of it could be described as easy. J


10. Development inevitably involves compromise, are there any features that you wanted to include in Pike and Shot, but that didn?t make it to the release version?

Black-and-white graphics. 17th century style printing layout techniques with every other word in block capitals or a different font. J


11. Although Pike and Shot is only just about to be released, players are always wondering what the future for a game might hold ? are there any (tentative) ideas for the future?

There are plans for multiple expansions if the game is successful, covering the gap between the Italian Wars and the Thirty Years War, the rest of the 17th century after the end of the Thirty Years War, the Middle East and possibly the Far East.


12. Lastly, a chance for a name check for all those involved in producing Pike and Shot. So who has done what?

Game and Scenario Design: Richard Bodley Scott.

Game Design Mentor: Iain McNeil

Programming: Richard Bodley Scott, Philip Veale and Andrew Gardner

Graphics: Rob Graat and Mikel Olazabal

Music: Tilman Sillescu and Pierre Gerwig Langer

Media Facilitator: Tim van der Moer

Producer: Alex Stoikou

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