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About Bletchley_Geek

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  1. Three Moves Ahead 500: Origins

    Happy 500 guys! Thanks for the years of entertainment and thoughtful commentary on strategy and war games.
  2. Episode 424: Command Ops 2

    I enjoyed very much this podcast, and I think Panther Games will appreciate the attention. Thanks guys!
  3. Episode 388: Scourge of War: Waterloo

    Very bold it was, and still is. That happens remarkably often.
  4. Episode 388: Scourge of War: Waterloo

    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?
  5. Episode 388: Scourge of War: Waterloo

    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. 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.
  6. Episode 355: Stellaris

    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? 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"?
  7. Episode 355: Stellaris

    Was that Tom's review? 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.
  8. Episode 355: Stellaris

    Obviously Tom is going to love Master of Orion remake. To each his own, I guess.
  9. Episode 355: Stellaris

    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. 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
  10. Episode 355: Stellaris

    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. 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. 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.
  11. Episode 216: Lost in Space

    Well, the Stellaris podcast came pretty much at 1 minute past 00 hours of release day. I am listening again to this podcast, as I think it will be interesting to revisit it after listening (twice) to the Stellaris show.
  12. Episode 355: Stellaris

    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).
  13. Episode 330: Churchill

    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.
  14. Episode 328: King of Dragon Pass

    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.
  15. Episode 328: King of Dragon Pass

    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.