Just received this on my inbox… I think this is of interest to the punters here and pretty much every paragraph is eerily relevant to what we are discussing.
Yes, the whole gaming industry is replete with inefficiency and poor management. Wargame companies are just a subset of this, albeit one with even less in the way of resources.
As far as legacy stuff, screw it. You can’t build for the future while desperately trying to support people still running XP. It’s a non-starter. If your business model is build on ancient OS’s and antediluvian hardware, you’re toast anyhow.One big reason for zero growth is, well, hobbling games to be compatible with archaic standards. It won’t work in the long run.
And, sure, you can learn from exceptions, but I stand by my point–one I’ve been making for decades now, and a point that nothing that has happened in wargaming has seemed to contradict–that there is nearly zero room to expand traditional wargaming. By traditional, I mean heavy emphasis on history, technical accuracy, and simulation rather than shooter or RTS games with vaguely historical skins. It is a niche, it has always been a niche, it will always be a niche. I’m ok with that. I think chasing a chimerical “mass market historical wargame that will make us big bucks” is a recipe for financial ruin.
I know I simply will not play a game that isn’t at the very least up to Windows 10/2018 standards of UI and graphics and usability, not unless it’s very, very, very good in some essential and otherwise unavailable way.
It’s not like you can wake up one morning, look at the computer screen, take a deep breath, say loudly “Fck this sht, I’m done”, and then go to the forums to announce to whomever is still following you “Screw your clunky Windows 8 boxes, I’m done with you lot. See you in three or four years, which is the time it’s going to take me realistically to redo the UI working part time”.
But other than that, indeed, you’re totally right.
Big bucks lol, I don’t think anybody is playing the game with that outcome in mind. I would say that the aims of most is like make enough to work full time on something they love. Yet, at the same time, that inherently conservative attitude is going always to put a lid on it: it you don’t aim high, the only way for sure is down.
That’s why I said that someone with a reckless disdain for what conventional wisdom prescribes, deep pockets and a knack for self promotion could have a shot at producing the next big war game hit.
What I can’t take for granted, as I read you’re, is that there’s no point on keeping the dream alive or discouraging any dreamers out there. You say you have already moved on… I will still be rooting for Quixote, thank you.
I don’t think you’re alone, in that, on the contrary.
I’m quoting this because I want to address it but am at work and can’t get into a discussion right now. All I can say is that I have some things to say!
Here is a summary that someone wrote about the demise of Avalon Hill:
So the lawsuit seemed costly, but they were also losing money.
Thanks for digging that up @vyshka it was a very informative reading. I had to rely on Google cache though, for some reason I was getting a DNS error trying to access directly the site…
Grouchy, can’t you hear the 12 pound cannons?
Picture sourced for the occasion from http://florianmainguy.github.io/jekyll/update/2015/07/26/and-grouchy-was-eating-strawberries.html
Cogent comments, and well said. I think your key point is deep pockets. My dream–and I’m not totally jaded yet–is that someone with Bezos money (or even a fraction of that) and a bug in their ear for wargames would fund something like you’re talking about. An innovative, true to its roots, accessible, modern, wargame, a project all about the quality of the product without the pervasive fear of “how will I eat and pay the rent this month” that dogs most developers. I’m not holding my breath, but it would be cool.
I applaud your Quixotic quest, sir. I simply decline to be your Sancho Panza.
I’m sure @Brooski will have the ex cathedra comments, but I have to say I’m on the fence with stuff like this. On the one hand, I agree; why replicate the old simply because it is the tradition? We don’t have hand crank starters and manual chokes on cars any more for a reason. Yet, there’s something intellectually satisfying about looking at a clear, well thought-out chart or table that reduces complex considerations to simple yet elegant formulas, and then making decisions based on this considered reification. When done well, you get the beauty of, say, John Hill’s original Squad Leader, before all the chrome dragged it down.
Ditto with hexes. It’s an abstraction that, yes, is no longer needed in the era of GPS precision and Google Maps. But it’s also a very easy way for the gamer to visualize and conceptualize space and things in space relative to each other. Again, when done well, it poses provocative intellectual challenges to the player, by concentrating the information about terrain in such a way that they can focus on the essential elements of the situation, and not get distracted by superfluous detail.
Of course, when done poorly, or by rote, both of these abstractions can result in dull, overly formulaic, and uninteresting games. That’s more a design issue IMO than a systems issue.
The area I have the most conflicted feelings about though are counters. I love them, in one sense, and I am so used to thinking of a counter as a military unit that it’s second nature. But I hate shuffling through stacks of them on the screen, and moving scads of them one after the other.
An interesting read. I might quibble with the authors comment that their computer games had “little success”. Two friends and I designed and developed many of the original Avalon Hill computer games including Midway Campaign, North Atlantic Convoy Raider, B-1 Nuclear Bomber, Planet Miners, Empire of the Overmind and maybe one or two more I’ve forgotten. All together our games sold about 100K copes so we were quite happy with that. That and the fact that when we went to Baltimore to discuss projects with Eric Dott he always gave us his box seats right next to the Orioles dugout while we were in town. :)
/me takes exaggerated bow :)
I will say, to this end, that the Unity of Command games are an example of how you can make a wargame with better production values. It is where I have started when suggesting a turn based wargame to people, since it is very good and reasonably modern in approach.
That it has a novel mechanic and game thesis it uses to great effect is a bonus.
Ha! I really wasn’t trying to be ominous, I just really wanted to remind myself to reply. :)
Remember playing those on a TRS M.III and an Atari 800 in junior high. You sir, have some bright and shining grog credentials.
Thanks. I still have a copy of each game. They came on a cassette tape as you may recall. Those were the days… :)
If I only had a copy of ASL any more. Sold nearly all my games (400+) during my last stint in grad school back in the early '90s. Some game store in Oregon bought the lot of them.
But thanks for that link; I had no idea there were that many gaming things going on here.
So, all I wanted to say was that while I agree with you that nostalgia for hexes and chits isn’t going to keep wargames going into the next generation, there are plenty of new gamers who like actual hexes and chits. Because, c’mon - hexes and chits are a great way to represent historical battles.
I don’t see the computer as an “ultimate simulation box” because I don’t see the game’s purpose being a hyper-realistic simulation of real-life factors in the most quantitative way possible. Games exist as imaginative diversions in which – for many people – the explicit representation of historical factors actually enhances the experience when compared to burying them in “under the hood” detail and calculations. Sure, some people like hyperrelational sandboxes like CMANO because of how they create the illusion of a fully encapsulated reality, but others enjoy games in which mastery of explicitly depicted game elements (combat results tables with limited and clear possible outcomes, movement and combat values that are generally integers and which can be assessed in one’s head) can be achieved without having to leave unknown machinations to some invisible game engine.
“Model terrain” for what purpose? To assess the vulnerability of a NATO brigade group in the Baltics so I can make policy decisions? Maybe, or maybe not. In any case, that’s not what I’m trying to do. Very often, they are a reasonable and useful way of regularizing and integrating rules about spotting, movement, and combat in a way that allows people to satisfy their interest in history while also engaing their autism-spectrum level of interaction with physical objects or their digital representation. There is a group of people for whom seeing multicolored counters with numbers on them lined up on a hex grid map is a rapturous moment, and they were not all born between 1946 and 1972. I have seen plenty of younger gamers appreciate the classic tabletop representation of historical games, because that combination of historical interest and object-order obsession is not just the result of some post-war gaseous cloud of DNA-altering chemicals that sat low over the US and the UK in the latter half of the 20th century causing the birth defect “eventual wargamer.” It’s a personality type. Not as prevalent as some others, but it exists, and just like better “family” boardgames made it clear that there is something about picking up little pieces of wood and moving them around on a board that resonates with a lot of people, better wargames have shown that you can hook younger gamers on this archaic representational form called “chits and hexes” just by making the games better.
I think the biggest problem with computer wargames right now is that there are few good designers working, so what you get seems like “hex nostalgia” because that’s what it mimics: people who are software developers put some data together, make a map, assign values to counters, and that’s a “game.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Shenandoah Studio’s initial success was with a game designed by John Butterfield, one of the two or three best wargame designers to ever live. And look how much that cost to make! Since then, Butterfield has made one of the best solitaire wargames ever (Enemy Action: Ardennes) and is working on two separate solitaire wargame systems that are significantly better than most things that have gone before them. Cost to make? One one-thousandth of what it took to make Battle of the Bulge. Why invest in digital, then?
I started out in boardgames, got excited by the possibilities of computer wargames, and then swung back pretty hard to boardgames for various reasons, including that given how much I work, I would rather spend free time with friends over a board than with myself in front of a computer screen. Others would rather do the opposite, which is fine. But I suspect that the major obstacle to success in either realm is the presence of good design. Computer wargames just don’t have it right now. Board wargames do. I don’t know when that is going to change.
@Brooski 's post took me back. When I was a kid I purchased a couple of the classic Avalon Hill board games, e.g. Panzer Blitz. I set them up, read the rules, and played solitaire. I’ve always been a military history buff, and this ability to play out WWII battles and play “what if” enthralled me.
Fast forward years later, I’m in grad school, got this cool Apple ][, and SSI comes out with their first computer wargames, I was thrilled, because all I really wanted was a real fog of war, so I didn’t have to pretend I don’t know there’s an ambush set up at that crossroads ahead. That’s it: I just wanted my hex board game with an AI and fog of war.
The fog of war was there, but the AI was weak and too predictable. So now all I wanted was my great hex wargames with fog of war and a good, unpredictable AI.
Once I got into writing for the mags in the good ole days at CGS+/CGM and CGW (along with a number of others here, including @Brooski) I covered a LOT of wargames and observed the progress in graphics, in breakthrough gameplay (such as the original Combat Mission,) new mechanics, etc. Pretty amazing stuff.
But even today, all I really want is the best hex wargames with true fog of war and a good and unpredictable AI. The rest (graphics, etc.) I can do in my mind.
To this day, when I read about a battle, or a campaign, I have a strong urge to set up a game covering that event, simply to visualize stuff better and to get a better feel for what the book is talking about. Sadly, although when I had tons of board games I usually had at least one that would cover whatever I was reading about, today with just computer stuff it’s much harder.
For instance, I’m reading some Korean War stuff, and I have pretty much nothing on the computer that deals with an operational level look at the Korean War.