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Posts posted by Bletchley_Geek

  1. Very bold it was, and still is.


    On 14/03/2017 at 8:46 PM, panzeh said:




    A lot of it also comes down to scenario design- because you have to traverse a 3d space to go around parts on the map, you can't really have a geographically huge scenario be manageable for a single player.  The earlier games were a lot better about that.  I've seen so many games come out with interesting premises and scenarios that did a poor job of showing off what the game was all about.

    That happens remarkably often. 

  2. 51 minutes ago, panzeh said:

    I think, to be quite honest, the 'on the field' camera perspective is disadvantageous to the gameplay of strategy games in general.  One of the reasons Sid Meier's Gettysburg was more managable than Scourge of War is that the perspective is based on old maps that were made to inform.  There's also more abstraction in that game but I think there's a very good reason strategy games tend toward a higher perspective than SoW typically allows.


    Also, I think automation is a very poor solution to dealing with the problems of the player not being able to manage the forces at his disposal- the perspective, interface, and level of abstraction can all be adjusted to make units more manageable and I think that the further they got away from Gettysburg's qualities(from TC Bull Run to Waterloo) the less manageable the game gets and the more it leans on the gimmicks.


    That being said, if you're looking for a battle with a sense of scale, it's hard to match Scourge of War, and it's a testament to how much better it is to work with real military units rather than Total War's generic approximations.


    Also interesting to me is that the experience of watching the number on a brigade go down very quickly with a devastating volley in Ultimate General is almost more satisfying to me than seeing a cavalry charge hit its mark in Total War.


    Well, the "on the field" or, rather, "in the saddle" is meant to be part of a immersive experience, which has way more to do with what Mount & Blade does when you go in the battlefield next to your men, than what more traditional war games do. I do think that the original concept of this series (and followed on by the Mad Minute Games titles) has a lot of merit: you are dropped in the middle of a "critical point" of the battlefield, and you need to handle whatever the game throws at you. One gets to appreciate generalship better.


    Obviously, this concept totally breaks down when you move anywhere past the Division level - there was a reason historically Corps and Army commanders had (and still have!) an entourage of officers around him at all times. It is just too much detail for a human to comprenhend. Automation can go a long way in having those "virtual troops" animated and acting in a concerted fashion. That is, it helps with the mechanical aspects of "pushing counters" forward or backwards. But it does not come for free, as it requires a great deal of technical effort and if you get it "totally right". That is unlikely since you can program as many "clever" reactions in your AI to specific contingencies arising in the battlefield as you have time to actually 1) understand the problem posed by that contingency in the context of whatever the AI was supposed to be doing, 2) work out an algorithm or heuristic to deal with it, 3) test it for "correctness" and 4) get feedback from your beta testers/co designers advising to iron out possible kinks. The amount of time you can devote to that will easily eat out any other time you could devote to improve the presentation (and actually deal with the cognitive overload), work out a useable user interface, develop workable multiplayer modes to nurture a sense of community around your game, and so on.


    That's why SOW feels "unpolished" or even "unfinished". Because, quite simply, there weren't the resources to do so.


    The sad truth is that there isn't just enough of an audience out there to support several programmers working on parallel (leaving aside beautiful 3D models or animations). Unless you outsource that to countries were labour is cheap and cheerful, like UGCW does, partnering with a Belarus (?) based development team. If you don't plan to outsource that programming work, and you are not moving to Thailand (as Total War's original designer R.T. Smith has done) or Indonesia, then certainly the only option to work on a war game like these is to do it part time (almost in homeopatic quantities) and have a real job that pays the bills. Because if your audience is, say, about 10,000 people, of which 90% expect your game to be priced at a similar level as other games in the store - e.g. 25 USD - the revenue you will get is capped at about 170,000 USD (after discounting the 30% fee from fulfillment via some established online store). That sounds like a lot of money but it isn't. Since from that you need to cover:


     - Salaries for the Art and Graphic Design 

     - Expenses in Hardware or Software Licenses or Royalties paid to engine makers

     - Taxes and Administrative Expenses

     - Salaries for programmers

     - A monthly salary for yourself


    So actually viable development cycles for this kind of games are measured in years not months. This is an issue in the current state of things, where people expect developers to engage in a hourly basis through various social networks, expecting if not fixes for issues on a really short notice, feedback on everything they post, be it an insightful, constructive critique, or an outrageously ludicrous rant. It's just too much to anyone to handle by themselves.


    That's pretty much why I haven't got involved in this business, other than as a volunteer putting some odd hours during nights and weekends on a project that inspires me. Is that a viable development model for this genre? I don't think so either... If the price of software is what it is for good, then, what is the model that can work for the developers?


  3. The story of this "franchise" or rather, line of games, is truly fraught. Starting with what Polygon called the "The Public Death of Mad Minute Games"



    and eventually, what we can scoop from the rumour mill on the "Matrix" branded forums of SOW publisher, Slitherine



    which I quote here with typos and all.




    Your taking this a bit personal. I am not affiliated with nor have I ever been a member of Norbsoft, but from what I have seen and heard(if you can believe 2nd and 3rd hand accounts) this is what happened. 

    Norbsoft has a good American Civil War title. Matrix picked them up and immediately wanted new titles that they could market. Norbsoft made a expansion for current users and a stand alone game for new users called Chancellorsville. After that, Norbsoft decided to move its concepts into Napoleonics. The Waterloo anniverserary was coming up and it would be good for sales and Matrix wanted it. Matrix will deny the following, but it is all very true. Matrix wanted Norbsoft to design a new interface in the game and have the game out by the anniverserary. Matrix was very involved in telling Norbsoft what THEY wanted. Norbsoft spent vast ammounts of time on the new GUI and other things that they didn't have to. When it came to things that they really needed to look at and work out for Napoleonics warefare very little was done. Yes there is squares and cavalry and the like, but tracking in any Napoleonic game is crucial was left not seriously addressed. Formations and movements again was not looked at. Changing the AI for sub commanders didn't change much from the Civil War series. 

    My point is is that Norbsoft was directed and pressured by Matrix and a very lacking product was put out. Again, Matrix will deny, but it was Matrix's idea to change the GUI (so the game could be marketed to younger players???????? Even though younger players who play Gettysburg don't like the new GUI) and it was Matrix's date that Norbsoft felt compelled to hit. I mean when the game came out there wasn't even a final combat information screen showing casualties. Just read the acknowledgments written by Norb himself with the release of the game and you can get the feel of the pressure that they were under. 

    This is Matrix's disaster and for the ones of us who support Norbsoft it may be over. There is no talk of new titles or expansions beyond what was already planned. Matrix may have killed Norbsoft. They will say sales are good and this is all rubbish and sales are good, but the future doesn't look so good or we would hear about more titles etc. Nothing. 

    Personally, out of the players that I know, lets say around 25, all but a few have put the game down. It is a shame really, but the games potential was lost. 

    Now please do not knock the players who are enjoying the game. It does have flashes of greatness and where else can you put out the types of battles that the game engine does? The Kriegspiel mod makes the game more playable and the online experience is good (if you can get past the new GUI) 

    When I say new GUI, the pop up commands are optional and do work okay. What I am talking about is that they changed everything else from the Gettysburg game. Once clear and easy to navigate is now clumsy and covered with smoke. 


    This post f I think illustrates some of the themes in the podcast. With a player base which probably can be counted to be in the hundreds, stuff like the "conga lines" or "cartwheels" we get in this installment (and which have been present to a lesser degree in the Civil War titles in my experience) going unadressed just kill the game for good. The UI I think was an improvement in some departments with respect to the "legacy" Civil War games ones, as I find it "cleaner", but there was a distinct feel of it not being "finished" or major features from the ACW games just being cut out. From posts like the above what I read between the lines is that an overhaul of the existing UI wasn't properly supported by a revision of long standing complaints about the AI, neither by revisions to existing systems to please the most discerning - when it comes to historicity of tactics etc. - customers.


    Anyways, probably it's too late for SOW (and also to HistWar, a title with similar ambitions of scope, but less well thought-out in my opinion). Looking forward to the next iteration of the concept, even if I don't think there's an audience to justify the effort, to be very honest.


  4. I feel a little bit like I'm reading Orwellian Newspeak here. Tom complains that the system of randomization for creating alien races produces arbitrary and interchangeable outcomes. Instead, he references the alien races of previous space 4X games for having set traits, many of them asymmetrical in gameplay, that make them distinctive. Your argument is that having those set traits ultimately makes them familiar, rather than strange, which I concede, but Stellaris hasn't exactly solved that problem either. I don't know how many games of the latter you've played, but let me tell you: I would rather have the pre-baked "weirdness" of the Klackons than have the militant spiritualists be parrots in one game and sloths in the next. Because there are a limited number of combinations that produce an even more limited number of personalities, all of which are shared with the player, it still becomes familiar over multiple playthroughs and you still cease to see the races themselves in place of their specific combination of ethics. For me, it has the additional downside of weakening first contact when I encounter an empire of fungi who love me because we believe exactly the same things.


    Orwellian Newspeak LOL. Thanks for confirming my reading. For me it means that I am presented with aliens that challenge anthropocentric preconceptions, for instance "insectoids" = "hive mind" = "inflexible". Or that every Space 4X game needs to a sandbox to re-enact for the umpteenth time the same tired space opera tropes with planets blowing up, great galactic evils being vanquished, and so on. 


    Limited combinations? Would you please run some numbers to see how many different combinations you can generate with Stellaris sets of ethics, traits and FLT propulsion methods? There's 4 ethics dimensions and 4 possible levels, that's 256 different "personalities" for you. If you multiply that by the number of FTL propulsion methods, then there's 768 possible different races. If one starts counting possible combinations of traits, positive and negative, that number goes into several thousand (here I am assuming 2 traits max per race). If all your games have 32 empires, I wouldn't be surprised that your neighbours look pretty similar, after 6 or 7 games. 


    I am playing two Ironman games, about 16 hours in total so far, and I have barely reached the "mid game" on any of them. How many games have you played already to the bitter end? 100? 


    As for your other question, I'd recommend the scramblers from Peter Watts' Blindsight, the T'ca and Knnn from C.J. Cherryh's Chanur novels, the Presger from Ann Leckie's Ancillary novels, the titular character from John Carpenter's The Thing, and the Weavers from China Miéville's Perdido Street Station. That's off the top of my head, if I were to hit up TV Tropes' "Starfish Aliens" page, I could probably do even better. Even if some of these depictions have small traces of human thought processes, courtesy of being written by human beings, all of them share a fundamental and (ah) inalienable strangeness that makes Stellaris' "rubber forehead" aliens, after Star Trek, something of a letdown.


    Thanks, that obviously took a fair bit of research. But sorry, of that list only China Mieville's and the scramblers would fit in the same category as Solaris' Planet (or Ray Bradbury's martians). T'ca, Knnn and the Presger could totally be represented by some of Stellaris Fallen Empires - which are not playable though. Have you tried to converse with those? It's quite like talking to a wall. And The Thing from The Thing was a sentient being at all? The movie is deliberately and very effective at remaining ambiguous about that.


    Now, how does very alien feeling species compare with the Master of Orion "crew of characters"?

  5. I am interested in reading a review that asks why a game about exploration and discovery builds "alien" races out of precisely the same ideological building blocks as humanity. 


    Was that Tom's review? 


     Every faction you encounter in Stellaris is a randomly rolled set of values. Not procedural. It’s not as if the bird people are better at flying, the reptile people are better at mining minerals, or the people people are better at diplomacy. It’s completely random. The picture on their diplomacy screen is of no relevance whatsoever. There is nothing inherent in the slimy octopus people, the mushroom people, the bug people, or even the vanilla people people. No one eats rocks, or lives in caves, or doesn’t need farms, or uses special rules. All that matters is their ethos, their traits, and how they move across the map. X, Y, and Z. This is where Paradox’s spreadsheet approach to gameplay, which serves them well when they breathe gameplay data into history, undermines a fundamental tenet of sci-fi. Aliens should be alien. Not just rolled dice with a bunch of babytalk names slapped onto them. Im-do. Quasvalyvia. Jouvon. Pouz-dok. Lagun-chuzz. Faffosan. You will always remember the Klackon in Master of Orion. You will never remember the Oogie-Nollocks Union in Stellaris.


    There's nothing of the sort in Tom's critique, on the contrary. I find it to cry for familiarity, rather than personality. Of course you remember the Klackons, very much as you remember which is the letter between I and U - you come across the letter 'O' pretty much every five words in English or so. Special rules - both in board games and computer games - are a crutch in order to create asymmetry between sides. In Stellaris asymmetry comes just from the FTL methods, something which I think it is much more meaningful gameplay wise than substituting food for minerals. Other asymmetries come from the randomised research paths and randomised starts (remember that in MOO, every race starts with a very specific type of homeworld) - something that Tom ignores completely. Do those mechanisms introduce a lot of asymmetry? I think that depending on the conditions, there may be playthroughs where everything looks quite samey.


    You've got a point regarding the ethics in Stellaris being something humans can relate to. That's hardly surprising, since it is a game made by humans, for humans (very much like science fiction is written by humans and read by humans. Please name five different works of science fiction where you cannot find in the aliens some human attitude, value or emotion eventually "leaking" into them (Stanislav Lem's planet Solaris may be one of the very few truly alien beings ever in Science Fiction, but funnily enough, we know about it because how it mirrors and amplifies human emotions, values and attitudes for reasons the author chooses to keep away from us).  Whether or not such ethics are universals for sentient life, in a Kantian sense, it is an interesting philosophical discussion to be had.

  6. This was hardcore episode all around. I've only played Stellaris a little but I already see 2 things that make this game very different from other Paradox game. 


    1) You are forced to roleplay. In CK and EU there was roleplay too, but it was somewhat problematic. Due to historical limits you couldn't be whatever you want (even with nation designer), due to mechanics you couldn't play fully historical things. It's also a first game after Victoria 2 with decent flavor text and pictures. I bet this roleplaying will make the game very popular. Even less strategy-oriented letsplayers try Stellaris for roleplaying reasons. As an example look at

     - famous for his Kill Everything and YOLO playthroughs of Fallout 3 and NV. This part is where I expect most expansions to go. More portraits, more events, more text reactions.


    2) This game is more demanding of the player by being more casual. Paradoxically, I know, but hear me out. Rob mentioned you can't be Dutch and maybe that's what he meant but it's not quite suits the idea cause Dutch were pretty active. In other Paradox games you are often supposed to be passive. It is, after all, historical: many countries didn't have any significant developments for a long periods of time (this is probably why we are not getting Cold War game). Passiveness is even often forced on you, this is why you have cores, primitives unable to do anything, regency councils and so on. You can play reactively when you're not feeling like making Ulm the world power. Just start as Papal States and see how the game unfolds. No pressure.


    Not so in Stellaris. You can't be passive. All systems cry out for you to expand. You have to build new stations. You have to manage energy balance. You need more living space for your race. Doing nothing is not just sub-optimal, it's a clear mistake in Stellaris. Maybe it isn't so later in the game, but it creates a very different feel, and it's more challenging even if it's more casual, closer to traditional Civ/MoO game, even if it's a freedom player expects. I personally think this will rise some problems. This phase feels interesting for the first time but I wonder if the next time I'll become good at it and will know the order of doing things and how to deal with those flying crystals and world guardians. Events also may become uninteresting.


    I epect later for them to add "classic Paradox mode". So that you start with most of the galaxy being claimed and familiar. There are still unexplored places and unknown sides, but you instantly see balance of powers. They can also integrate existing relations, alliances or federations, give different techs to different races creating some interesting situations. Basically let them instantly drop you into a Star Trek Next Generation, not that prequel stuff.


    That was very interesting to read, thanks. Something that strikes me of Stellaris is that there's a curiously "organic" feel to how empires grow and develop. When I say organic I mean that there's a clear pressure to increase the "carrying capacity" for your species/empire by colonising, and the lack of growth in one direction is usually due to "astographic" features - a gap preventing a warp drive using race from expanding, a lack of inhabitable worlds, or lackluster resource distribution. Sooner or later, all the "easily reached" space is occupied and empires become "boxed in", having reached some sort of "equilibrium" where the empires have maximised greedily their potential to growth. We see this kind of "mid game" on pretty much every 4X game out there, yet in Stellaris the process is more apparent for whatever the reason, and kind of mesmerizing to watch.


    I am reading through the Paradox forums and I see that the sleepy stasis Rowan complained about is common... but it is also common to have starts where players have neighbours which are less accomodating, or just plain xenocidal crazies. In the latter, the mid game seems to be quite a game of life and death - either you prevail over those competing species, or you're gone for good.


    Certainly I may be over-analyzing the dynamics of Stellaris' design, but this looks to me a lot like the Lotka - Volterra models for studying population dynamics in Ecology, where one can account for direct and indirect positive or negative interactions. In the context of Stellaris,  indirect negative interactions between empires do happen when one snatches prime real state by establishing colonies or frontier outposts, and direct negative interactions follow from the friction between anti-ethic empires. Very much as the lion doesn't choose the tofu laksa soup over the gazelle, the interactions between zebras and giraffes do not really set the scene for high drama.


    EDIT: That is not to say that one could do with some more interesting "interesting" pressure or "self-competition", see my previous posts.


    They're doing exactly this in CK2 in the next patch so you can expect it to appear in EU4 soon.


    Also, every time Rowan asked why do all this stuff like expansion this had played in my head: 


    Thanks for the heads up on that, I think it was something very easy to do that for whatever the reason they weren't bothering doing. And LOL @ the video! Hilarious :)

  7. By "salted earth" with CK2, I mean that, shortly after the first cycle of DLC for the game was complete, all the parts of the game that were obviously and easily extensible had been extended, so Paradox made the choice to continue releasing DLC by i) broadening the scope of the game and ii) simulating previously abstract systems. I have less to say about the former, except that CK2 just doesn't work at the 769 AD start and it's a shame that people think of it as the "default" start now, but the latter is almost certainly a blind alley up which Paradox chased fun and got lost. In the game's current state, the number of gameplay systems (almost always the pretext for their respective DLCs, rather than the result) that are accessible to large amounts of player agency (insofar as players have agency in CK2) but are i) hidden three or more mouse-clicks away from the main and ii) are largely irrelevant to the normal experience of gameplay are honestly immense. Just off the top of my head, with it being almost a year since I played CK2 with any intensity, there's the trading post/fort system, the new education mechanic, the life-focus system, the College of Cardinals, the tributaries mechanic, the viceroy system...


    Thanks for the clarification @Gormongous. I does have to do with the proliferation of intricate paths through the user interface after all. 


    Again, I think I am pretty much of the same mind as you. The last CK2 game I remember I walked into the shoes of King Alfred (just not yet The Great) and I basically spent a few decades setting up the bases of a feudal system. That was a cool game, since it felt like I was playing a weird socio-economic Minecraft, half of the systems in the game were just not working as designed or just inert, coming into life as my dynasty survived the wrath of the Danes and my carefully engineered feudal hierachy of dukes, counts and whatnots started to interact with each other. I am not entirely sure my experience was an intended result of the "design". But certainly I enjoyed doing that.


    I don't even know about the stuff you mention in your last sentence, I tuned off for good after The Old Gods.



    At a certain point, you're just not gaining anything by adding complexity to an existing design. I think, if Paradox had stopped expanding and adding systems after The Old Gods and just released event packs, the state of the game would be virtually the same for the vast majority of players. I have yet to meet anyone, on the internet or in real life, who's played a nomadic or subcontinental lord except that one time after they bought the relevant DLC. That doesn't fill me with confidence that Paradox knows the different between a fully-fleshed game and unconscious aspirations to be a crappy version of Dwarf Fortress in space. We'll have to see, I guess.


    Tell that to Dwarf Fortress' designer and programmer :)


    Certainly, one of the reasons I tuned out of CK2 was that I wasn't really channeling an inner Rajah or Horse Lord. Some of the "secondary" features though, may be interesting (yet minor). This did indeed happen to me with EU 4 The Cossacks expansions. I couldn't care less for the leaping horsemen in the steppes between the Don and the Volga, but the Estates addition I find was a very good one. Fiddly, yes, but it has changed the way I relate to EU 4.


    I also remember the state of EU4 at release and the fan reactions, that's why I brought it up! I'm not surprised that Paradox chose discretion over valor, but I do think that the problem in both cases is that there's just not that much to do to prevent (or to spark) rebellions. With Stellaris, especially, unhappy pops in a sector naturally join factions, but the only factions are separatist factions and, barring an extremely heterodox population, there will never be enough unhappy pops at one time to cause a faction to revolt out of nowhere. If there were options beyond "bribe them to stay quiet," or if certain governors had an amplifying effect to happiness or unhappiness, there'd be a reason for revolts to be more regular (if Paradox ever concedes that some people want to play games with internal politics, multiplayer or not), but I can't really fault them for quashing it as it is. The system's just not where it should be.


    One thing that Paradox does need to do is to start adding sub-menus to the "Gameplay" tab, so people can switch on or off, or modulate the effects of certain mechanics. They seem to leave this to modding... On the other hand, the original EU 4 systems were harsh, and when they complied to the outrage EU 4 became SO much easier. It took a while until they got that more balanced. 


    In the setting of Stellaris, rather than outright military rebellion, which is a somewhat lazy and cheap way to deal with "internal pressure" as Rowan put it, I'd love to see events/event chains such as strikes in mining stations (production shutdowns or reduction in efficiency), terrorist acts (escalating from damaging/destroying structures), piracy, widespread smuggling (syphoning energy out of the system), and other acts of more or less overt subversion motivated by disaffected POPs. That would go a long way to remedy the "revolution out of the blue" thing you mention: there is an escalation, and if the player has chosen to ignore it or came in too heavy handed... well, then there's a price to pay for that.


    Regarding options of dealing with this, I think that there's a great majority of players that do like the idea of liberty and freedom as an abstract concept to guide themselves in the real world, but start channeling the ghost of Pol Pot when some virtual characters in video game tell them "No Taxation Without Representation" or "Don't Tread on Me" or start waving "Appeal to Heaven" flags when they turn the screws hard on their subjects. I am not sure that lavish simulations, offering all kinds of feedback on what is pissing off your POPs is ever to content those people who have trouble managing their expectations of absolute control when playing a Video game.

  8. Yeah, it was a very odd episode to listen to, although overall enjoyable to hear a lot of diverse opinions about the game.

    It sometimes seemed like Stellaris was losing at both ends: where it fell short of CK2, it was criticized (even in contexts where EU4 also falls short of CK2) and where it fell short of EU4, it was criticized (even in contexts where CK2 also falls short of EU4). Unrest and rebellion have always been underwhelming in EU4 ("press a button before a number gets too high" eventually became "press a button to lower a number that lets you press a button before a number gets too high," to Paradox's credit) but Stellaris is faulted for not being more like CK2 in that regard, for example. Occasionally, Stellaris was even criticized for falling short of the general expectations of science fiction as a genre of artistic endeavor, like when Rowan gripes that Stellaris doesn't make him care about the technology of his ground troops even though both EU4 and CK2 have always had abysmal "army management" systems (Do you want whitecoats, redcoats, or bluecoats in EU4? That one-pip difference could matter a lot! Do you build barracks or militia training grounds first in your holdings in CK2? Light infantry provides a better cost-to-power ratio but only past a certain threshold!). Without history to act as a glue and a filler, a lot of Paradox's foundational design decisions in their games do feel weaker, but they're still the exact same decisions!

    I think a lot of criticism, justifiably, is focusing on the fact that Stellaris is a shallow grand-strategy game but a dense space-4X game. Turns out, in a lot of cases, the blending of the two genres is less a chocolate-and-peanut-butter situation and more of a broccoli-and-cottage-cheese situation: tasty, but not instant magic. I think that Paradox's way forward is clearly threefold: add a more robust interface that doesn't hide basic information three screens down out of embarrassment of being a high-complexity game; build out and complicate systems, especially peacetime ones, if war is going to be mostly a late-game concern; and keep adding events and event chains to the game. Knowing Paradox, we'll see a lot of the second, some of the third, and none whatsoever of the first. Hopefully that'll be enough in this case: it was for CK2 until the run of DLC between Rajas and Conclave totally salted the earth there.

    Oh! Also, Rowan, it's clear from Paradox's Blorg stream that factions used to be much more prone to revolting, but once late-stage multiplayer testing had ramped up, the design team apparently decided that sector revolts were too much of a distraction from wartime maneuvering, as well as too much of a drain on influence and energy, and flattened the chance into the dirt. If I recall, EU4 was the same way, immediately pre- and post-launch. With luck, they'll build something out there, too.

    I mostly agree with the above, just a few observations.

    - Indeed, Paradoxian design "patterns" are all over the place. Yet I think they have done a great job blending stuff that has worked greatly for them in the past - the Division designer from HOI3 is in the Ship Designer in spirit, even if most of the design itself is a bow to Sword of the Stars I, the memorable POP system from Victoria I and II, to deliver novel mechanics that fit well within the Science Fiction setting. The latter especially can be the thing that delivers a killing blow to the MOO-clone crowd: I was playing this weekend the remake of MOO and while I was getting bored out of my mind checking out the 16 colonies I have plonked by turn 180 I couldn't help thinking "these little ragdolls loook lovely, but other than sometimes sitting down with a placard they seem quite lifeless". Even if it is just because of the animations, I do find that Stellaris makes a great job of making me care about those guys... just not too often :)

    - I stopped following CK2 a few years ago, so I don't get the "salted earth" comment, but I guess has to do with Rob's distaste of the proliferation of "context menus" in CK2. I think that if you are adding new mechanics, and those mechanics are intertwined with already existing mechanics either you 1) re-design the whole interface to accomodate comfortably every control exposed to the player or 2) take an incremental approach using tooltips, context menus and pop-ups, basically extending the existing metaphor. I don't think that 1) is something you want to do for a mature game every 6 months, really. And 2) works as well as flexible and extensible was the initial design. For all the criticism of Stellaris UI, I think that the relative "blandness" of it, is basically because I find to be easily extensible, and that requires some degree of "genericity" in order to happen.

    - Regarding the pre-emptive balancing of rebellions, I think that solo players wouldn't appreciate either wayward Sector Rebels assaulting virtual Winter Palaces whenever one decides to incomodate the POPs for the sake of the war effort. At EU IV launch I do remember very well that having a war that goes on for more than a few years or where your fleet/armies get the crap beaten out of them was a very scary thought: I remember a game with Spain where the BBB totally overran my field armies, only to be stopped by the massive, massive rebel armies that popped up all over the Peninsula. They actually defeated the French, and I could ask for a White Peace (and then caved in to these rebels demands, of course). That was kind of cool, but I can also see that about 90% of Paradox games' solo players wouldn't like that one tiny bit (and they didn't, the forums went up in flames).

  9. Very interesting. For The People is one of my favourite strategic American Civil War games... and Mark Herman is indeed a designer that isn't afraid of contradicting players that come with baggage to his games.


    Makes me wonder how off the mark diplomacy is in all the strategic WW2 games I have played, from Clash of Steel to Hearts of Iron III. Herman's concept is amazing, and I am not surprised it is controversial.

  10. There was some discussion on the podcast as well about to what degree it made sense to insert storytelling elements in strategy games, or how well KODP heavy storytelling elements would work on other strategy games. I am not sure I followed the discussion (I am ESL) and I was left with the sensation that, for the majority of the panel :), storytelling in strategy games is "nice to have" but not essential or too hard.


    Actually, that could totally be the topic of a future podcast. Besides Jon on-going project there are a few games out there where it has been attempted - with varying degrees of success to do so:


    • Gaslamp Games' Clockworld Empires: they're using Twine to work out the story arcs followed by their random event generator, still early days, though. If events were to be triggered by the state of the game as influenced by player actions, it could be a very interesting system.
    • Civilization Beyond Earth: the Quest system in Civ BE didn't really  go beyond the "explore the map, bump onto the goody hut" paradigm of Civilization (you could say it was streamlining it, doing away with the busy work of having the explorer unit to frolic around the map). It could have been so much more than that. Another poster requested a podcast con Rising Tide... and I humbly propose a topic to discuss in that show :)
    • Crusader Kings / Europa Universalis / Hearts of Iron event engines. In the former one can see actual story arcs, in the latter we see event chains mimicking long term processes of social, economic or religious transformation. Also, in the latter, there are 'faction-based' mechanics to model the inertia of governments 

    If anyone knows (or has a readily available memory)  of other  attempts at integrating storytelling (or rather, interactive fiction) into strategy gaming, I'd love to hear about them.

  11. King of Dragon Pass is amazing game - I too agree a lot with how the game does manage to convey that you need a different mind set to play it and the Hero Quest remind me of the saying "the ritual keep the myth alive" (no sure if I am saying this right).


    I do feel that overall the randomness aspect o KODP does work fine, because thing appear to happen in context which make sense, sure you still might got funny results like trying to raid someone clan and find out that they did the same to you at the very same time. However, during the Hero Quest part I feel this show some issues, mostly due the lack of feedback due the fact that know the right answer isn´t enough sometimes, it depend on the character abilities, but you might not know that and get stuck failling in Hero Quest, even knowing the right answer because the guy you send fail in a hidden test somewhere.


    The setting - Glorantha - is unique in many respects. One of them is that the diverse cultures and civilizations in there make "sense" given their setting. Greg Stafford development of Glorantha was informed by studies on religion and it shows. 


    I do agree with your position regarding KODP "randomness", yet for different reasons:


    * In a game like KODP, do we really need to prop with a "simulation" the tale the player weaves as it interacts with the game? I'd say that an uber-detailed simulation - say, using Chaosium's percentile-based RPG system - would be overkill and not all that interesting. With the exception of people who approach strategy games as an adversarial search problem to be solved with the minimax algorithm.


    * There are indeed "hidden" tests, as in "not obvious unless you're roleplaying", but I have never felt those in the Hero Quests. If you use a follower of a particular God to do his/her hero quests, and you don't fumble with the questions, you'll get through. Exploration, trading and combat are indeed subject to randomness. But in all cases, the player has obvious instruments to influence possible outcomes. For instance, when setting up a caravan, the number of weaponthanes, size, etc. influence strongly the chances of coming across bandits and how the encounter plays out. The size of exploration parties is another example: the smaller the party the higher the chances it finds something interesting, but also higher the chances that you never get to hear back from them. I write this with the Android version of KODP - I do remember that in the original PC version there were a few bugs affecting this and other aspects of the game.

  12. Bruce, you got into the proverbial minefield when discussing the revision of World War 2 Eastern Front hisotry. Since I heard you're looking forward to read more on the Eastern Front I can't help recommending this book here



    Yes, one of the authors of the above is Jack Radey's   :). He's a very funny man. And his Korsun board wargame is THE best covering that episode. I know from very good sources that Ian Trout played that one quite a few times  :)


     I personally don't see him being unfair to the Germans... he's giving very fair treatment to both sides (in contrast with 'classical' accounts such as the one by Earl Ziemke, for instance). If you've read the two first books by Glantz on Stalingrad, you'll see as well a fair treatment being given. German blunders are well-documented, along with Soviet blunders  :) Another difference with Ziemke's account (or derivations) is that rather than resorting to the post-war German generals blame game (it was all the fault of the Austrian corporal, if we had been allowed to do our jobs, etc.), here we see that the blame for German's failures wasn't such a clear-cut deal. German commanders also fell into self-delusion and wishful thinking (both are very human qualities, by the way).


    Another one I can't help by recommend - and kind of complements the above - is the (first) book by David Stahel on Operation Typhoon



    Stahel discusses Typhoon from a mainly German perspective, going to the bottom of German archives, and his work gives an unprecedented insight into the minds of German generals and soldiers, as well as the parlous logistics of the German Army. And his narrative doesn't really disagree with Radey's at all.

  13. Terrific podcast - I thoroughly enjoyed it.


    I must say I was quite surprised when I made the connection between one of Twilight Struggle authors - even my girlfriend loves it, yet I must say she's got a degree in Political Science - and the guy who was taking the interviews for the upcoming X-COM Enemy Within. My bad: in this day and age I should have checked on LinkedIn or something, and the mention in the Designer's Notes to Twilight Struggle to Chris Crawford's classic Balance of Power should have rang a bell :-) Couldn't help smiling while listening to the comments regarding Terror of the Deep - I think it's a vastly overrated game. Yet I wouldn't mind seeing an expansion to Firaxis' X-COM featuring very restricted environments.


    Really looking forward to both Enemy Within and Imperial Struggle. The latter totally sounds like A Few Acres of Snow brought to a world-sized stage :)

  14. It's really, really unfortunate that there's nothing like Gettysburg, today. I find RTS games to be too fast for me, and I can never quite emotionally invest myself in the goings on of a grand-strategy game, they're just too big, too abstract.

    Well, I've always thought that the Take Command / Scourge of War games are indeed the closest thing to Sid Meier's masterpiece. I'd suggest you to try one of their demos, although be advised that the production values on the user interface might put you off.

  15. Rome II has a lot of flaws, both from an implementation and design perspective. While I appreciated very much podcasts like #229, this one was a bit hard on the ears. Listening to people trying to come forward with the most - in their opinion - funny remark or pun about Rome II shortcomings, obscured what could have been an stimulating discussion about what they got wrong, and what got right. To be fair, Rob tried to keep the discussion on track, but I was left with the lingering sensation that there quite a few of the members of the panel contributions can be summarized into phrases like "it's f*cking stupid" as a surrogate for an explanation that was "too complex", or just because "it's f*cking stupid" (which is a quite circular line of reasoning). Or the remarks about the "French accent" thing. C'mon guys, not talking about the graphics - not the art direction, which I particularly like in its realism and grittiness - is fine (even if positive), yet it's not Okay to gloss over a mostly irrelevant aspect for an strategy game such as the voice acting.


    This was too much of a rant. Going beyond the rant, I do indeed agree with most of the issues being pointed out: the meaningless of the political game (for the Roman faction) is perhaps the worst thing and the shallow connection between the different systems in place (economy - military - political - diplomacy). Even if the the latter - in Ancient times - weren't by any measure sophisticated affairs like the Spanish Succession War of 1701-14 or the preamble to First World War. 


    I'll just point out one thing they got right and yet Paradox hasn't: limiting the number of field armies the player can control, putting into place stronger garrisons (which can be buffed by further development) and allowing to recruit outside of the "cities". Getting rid of that micro-management is perhaps one of the best things of Rome II (and it's sad that there are so few good things to note about it, than this relatively minor and subtle change). 


    Micro-management aside, this makes a lot of historical sense. Let's remind that Republican Rome never fielded more than 2 armies before the Second Punic War: one for each of the consuls. And that way of waging war (a few field armies seeking enemy field armies to do battle or lay siege to enemy cities and fortresses, many mostly static detachments guarding cities and fortresses) goes all the way from the Romans to the Seven Years War in the 18th century. Not even AGEOD, with its very well researched orders of battle, unit ratings and battle resolution mechanics in their exquisite wargames, has got this right.

  16. I have no information, I used the phrase flippantly and without backing, other than being part of the wargaming community and purchasing a bucketload of titles from Matrix. Essentially Matrix price to the market they know and sell to.

    Perhaps I sounded a bit too harsh, but I think we tend - in general - to think too little about the underlying economic constraints and complain about prices too quickly. I assume you're British spelk, and depending on where do you live, you'll probably know well what mass distribution companies aggressive pricing policies - like Tesco - mean for owners of small farms. When you see a 10% rebate on one item, it's more likely that most of that rebate means less income for the producer, rather than the distributor.

    There was quite a ruckus on forums regarding the pricing of the engine upgrade for Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy. They were asking 10$ for it. Compared with similarly priced DLC's - like that of X-Com: Enemy Unknown - I think it 10$ is a lot of value for money, even if in easier times, a similar thing would have come for free in a patch.

    They've recently just released an expansion for UoC, Red Turn, that is also available on Steam. I don't really know how well UoC has done on Steam, but it's the global exposure, more than purely the revenue stream that raises the profile. I'd imagine with a title like UoC it is expandable into the Western Theatre of operations fairly easily. If the heightened exposure and sales on Steam back it up, I can't really see them cooling off if theres a market there, but who knows.

    Indeed, exposure and ease of access are the two angles Steam uses to attract developers willing to publish their stuff on their marketplace. It's also true that in the event of Steam losing the rights to publish the game, as far as I can understand the Legal English in the EULA, the game will be gone from your library. This means that Steam games, even the AAA games selling at 50+ $ prices aren't really yours. You can't back them up in the cloud (as I do with Matrix's titles) since you don't own a copy, rather, you owe the right to use a copy of the game. For many practical purposes, it's the same thing, but not for all of them.

    But I don't want to go into bashing Steam, they're quite decent folks and they lay openly the rules of the game for us to inspect before engaging in it.

    Regarding the Red Turn DLC. That's far too cheap for the amount of content you're providing (even if all the scenarios are due to the volunteer work of ComradeP), guys. 20$ would have been a fairer price, in my humble opinion.

  17. I'd like to see more wargames opened up to the bigger gaming public, I'd like to see them get more attention on distribution platforms such as Steam, at affordable prices - and not just exorbitant prices to milk the captivated audience! It is happening little by little, UoC on Steam, Wastelands Interactive games on Desura, Battle Academy and Battle of the Bulge on iPad. But the likes of WiTE (and most of Matrix Games catalogue) are still well out of reach of such channels.

    Regarding pricing strategy at Matrix being "milking the captivated audience". I'm not entirely sure what is the information you have that makes you so positive about that, spelk. Sales numbers are one of the best kept secret in the hardcore computer wargaming industry, but one would say they're not really nothing to write home about.

    While everyone appreciates that enjoyable cheap stuff is readily available, I'd like to note that these kind of electronic marketplaces - such as Apple iStore or Steam - are only benefitting one entity, and that's Steam. Let's say that UoC sells 10,000 units on Steam (and that's probably 5 times more than WitE has already sold since release). Then what's Steam cut? 20%? 40% of that? At 20$ per unit, that makes 200,000$. A competent programmer salary in a country with decent salaries is at about 70,000 to 90,000 $. After paying the cut to the publisher, that leaves very little money (if any) to pay for artists, historical research and design.

    The thing is that wargames - very much like their boardgame counterparts - are usually developed by very small teams, spending relatively little in art or user interface design - more expensive, in a per hour basis than programming - and relying mostly on volunteers to do the research and Q&A.

    Will that change? Perhaps titles like UoC are genuinely something that will become more common in the future. But I wonder whether UoC devs will want to wade again into these waters.

  18. Nice podcast, but I think you guys missed a big point about the scenarios in WitE Don to the Danube: most of them are there because somebody requested them in some way or another on the forums. People seconded Zac's (?) feelings about the limited selection of scenarios available at release, some were requesting scenarios with an scope similar or higher than that of the tutorial.

    The rationale for these - as far as I can remember - was that they'd became good 'entry level' scenarios, somewhat more complex and interesting than the tutorial, covering well known episodes of the struggle on the eastern front (the Korsun pocket, the 1942 Kharkov foiled Soviet offensive, the struggle at Demjansk, etc.). John (bcgames) added to these requests some small scenarios covering a number of post-Uranus Soviet offensive operations, which would lead to the infamous Manstein's "backhand blow". You can see that John focused on these small to mid scale scenarios. And since these are small, there's quite a number of them. Last, but not least important, John started just as another player, learning the ropes with WitE editor. But he distinguished himself by devoting much more time and perseverance in his interest about making scenarios, and produced tutorials and manuals which were valuable 'WitE scenario making primers'.

    There weren't many others like John because the imagination of a great majority of WitE player base is captured by Grand Campaigns. Joel Billings posted some stats about what scenarios were being played over Slitherine PBEM server


    obviously, these figures don't account for on-going PBEM games which don't use Slitherine infrastructure as an umpire, but I'd be very surprised to see that those deviated significantly from the proportions quoted by Joel.

    On the other hand, the larger scale scenarios in the expansion are there also because having been requested by the community. Red Army Resurgent, covering from Uranus to Manstein's backhand blow, Disaster in the Ukraine, covering the battles from the Dnepr all the way to the Carpathian Mountains, and another very nice scenario covering the massive encirclement of Army Group North in the Baltic, right at the same time Bagration was just steamrolling Army Group Center. These are made by Trey Marshall, and there are less of them because they obviously take more time to get done and playtest.

    The expansion came up as a second thought, and some of these scenarios - such as Korsun Pocket, Red Army Resurgent - were available for free download for most of 2011. Threads discussing these scenarios have been heavily edited by the end of Summer 2011, possibly at the time 2by3 and Matrix had decided to go ahead with the idea of bundling these scenarios for WitE


    You can still find the original versions of some of the scenarios bundled with Don to the Danube



    others were deleted by the end of Summer 2011 (if my memory serves me well).

    In any case, great podcast, guys. And about your question about what kind of games are good to introduce people into wargaming... certainly not War In The East, nor Battlefront's Combat Mission Battle For Normandy games. I'd say that good entry level games would be stuff such as Unity of Command - very neat design, very little chrome - for the same subject matter, Panzer Corps - basically because it's just Panzer General 21st Century Edition, and Panzer General was probably the first computer wargame for a bunch of dudes out there - and Battle Academy, which has always have this flair of being a quite light introduction to WW2 tactical-level wargaming.