Rule the Waves 3: technology, warfare, and the ocean, but this one goes up to 1970!

If you know the Rule the Waves games, you know what excellent AARs they make. @Fishbreath’s thread isn’t just a magnum opus, it’s a testament to how these games spin out compelling narratives. Narratives not just about big ships punching each other until one sinks! That stuff is kind of dull, frankly. Instead, Rule the Waves narratives trace the development of technology, weaving them in with historical events and jostling nations, all in a slick and easy-to-manage shell around real-time battles. Basically, it’s Harpoon, but wrapped in history instead of just rolled out like a bag of snowglobes, each a discrete scenario. The scenario-less Rule the Waves is no less hardcore than Harpoon, but it’s also deeply invested in giving its real-time action context. Serious context. Long-term context. Sweep of history context.

Matrix hasn’t made any concrete announcements about Rules the Waves 3 yet, aside from putting up a store page with some basic info:

But they did begin a developer’s diary series a few days ago. The first entry is up, but it’s just an overview of the series instead of anything specific about the third game; in fact, scanning it, I don’t really see anything that isn’t also true of Rule the Waves 2. But it does imply that we’ll be hearing more in the near future about this third game, and I can say with confidence it’s going to need its own thread. So this is that, and I look forward to both reading it and posting in it.

Per the NWS forums it ought to be out this summer.

RTW3 on Steam. Still bizarre to see grog games being marketed properly.

Definitely a weird feeling, especially for those of us who started wargaming (paper) back in the '70s. Though the digital marketplace, with infinite space, means everything gets its fifteen minutes of discovery. The problem of course is that after that fifteen minutes, no one can ever find the game again.

May pick this up, but I wish they would upgrade the graphics and make it less of playing a spreadsheet.

Wow, I don’t believe I’ve heard of Rules the Waves before. Looking at the screenshots on Steam, it’s got to be the most spreadsheety game I’ve seen on Steam. Does its quality make up for the interface?

RtW are good games if you are a super detailed war gamer, which most grognards are.

I miss Tacops more than any other game I think. Been leaning Godot, maybe will work on a clone of that game.

Yeah, the major made a stab at updating Tacops at one point, but eventually just retired. I think the mailing list might have just died in the last couple years, or it is still going. There hasn’t been much traffic in years, just occasionally an email arrives every few years.

lol this is exactly what I meant. The only way you would have heard of it was if you went to an obscure forum and paid the guy who ran it to personally email you the download code.

It’s basically Ultimate Admiral Dreadnoughts - except with 2D graphics and lots more gameplay. Very spreadsheety, but it really captures the early 20thC naval technology curve - your ships are obsolete by the time they come off the slipway, but you can’t keep waiting to lay ships down or you won’t have a navy at all.

I hear the term “Spreadsheety / spreadsheet game” thrown around a lot about such games (CMO too sometimes), and I am genuinely curious as to what people actually mean when they use that term - and if they use it derogatively, what they would prefer to see instead.

If the meaning is “it uses a lot of numbers and calculations”, isn’t that true of most games? In many RPGs for example they actually show you straight-up the numerical damage (hit points) your avatar or an enemy character suffers from a hit, yet I haven’t ever seen such games called “spreadsheety”.

So what’s the deal?

For Rule the Waves it means you are looking at a spreadsheet.

Is there a better way to quickly go through a large amount of information, compare stats, sort as preferred etc. ?

@Dimitris raises a very good question for game and UI/UX design. Spreadsheets (ah, remember Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc of yore?) evolved as literal replacements for ledger books, which in turn evolved as a way to visually structure data to facilitate specific manipulations and make certain relationships easy to discern. Skeuomorphism at its best perhaps.

Early wargames tried to emulate, exactly, the hex-grid and counter style gameplay of tabletop games. Early home computer tech wasn’t always up to the task, but by the time people like Atomic Games were launching their stuff on the (color) Mac in the early 1990s, we had reached a point where increasingly you could, if you took the time and had the inclination, deliver on-screen displays that looked very much like physical games. Sometimes better, as board wargaming didn’t start to move more or less universally upstream in terms of quality for a decade or so.

In both cases, spreadsheets and wargames, people began to ask the question, “is our understanding of how these things are done shaped by what is actually the best approach, or is it shaped by the limits of the technology under which we operated initially?” In spreadsheets, the answer was pretty much “yeah, except for specific use cases,” and Excel became the standard spreadsheet app, retaining pretty much the same look as every other previous spreadsheet program, only with over the years a mind-numbing variety of options.

In the case of wargames though, on the computer and to some extent in physical games too, we began to see a lot of innovative ways to display information. Maps without grids, maps that were replicas of CIC displays, maps that were not maps at all. Unit display expanded from traditional chits to 3D models, photos, symbols, and different combinations of these. The traditional charts and matrices persisted, as they worked, but we also got things like one to one comparisons, pop-up odds calculations, all that.

In both cases, use cases determined the evolution of the applications. Spreadsheets are as they war because users use them to manipulate numbers. That’s pretty much all users want, though today spreadsheet is sort of a misnomer other than as a vague descriptor. These programs are powerful. And because they are, well, apps on a device, they are easily paired with other apps to do even more cool things (stats programs, for example, or modeling and visualization software) . The use case–apps on a computer–makes the use of multiple programs manipulating the same data easy to understand and fairly natural.

Wargames, though, have a more complex use case scenario in some ways. While some players will approach a wargame much as an accountant might a spreadsheet, others will approach the same game with a radically different mindset. Instead of needing to min/max all the things, they want a more impressionistic experience, where the fun comes from abstracting a lot of data and making more intuitive or at least more conceptual/doctrinal sorts of decisions. Many games have tried to bridge this gap by having relatively “clean” displays as a default with more data available “underneath” for players who want to dig down into the sausage making.

Other games have doubled down on highlighting the numbers at the core of the simulation. In some cases, like for example CMO, the use case (emulation of modern combat information system displays, a userbase known for being very data-hungry and not being number-averse) it works well. In CMO’s case, too, the fact that the visuals are emulating real-world systems that are designed to convey a lot of complex data quickly doesn’t hurt. For most products, though, you run into things like RtW. Here, you get a literal translation of rows and columns straight out of Excel (or 1-2-3 or VisiCalc, even). It’s a clear presentation of relevant information, from one point of view, sure.

But, it does nothing to help the user make sense of or use that data. Modern spreadsheet apps have many tools for reordering, representing, graphing, formatting, manipulating, and displaying information. Lacking those tools, reduced to rudimentary data sorting capabilities, and with an audience that is going to be split between the rivet-counters and the armchair admirals, a game like RtW sort of shoots itself in the foot.

A lot of the often-grumbled about increase in graphical quality and complexity of wargames on the computer may well be about prettying them up in the hopes of more sales, but I think most of this stuff comes from the realization that you have to make data accessible, even for grogs. The less you gamer has to work at finding and using the information in the game, the more they can focus on the game itself perhaps.

Cliff Harris recently posted an interesting take on the “show or hide info on complex games” dilemma, taking his own Democracy series as an example: Democracy 4’s overcomplexity is by design – Cliffski's Blog

I think he has a fair point in that overwhelming a player with info and choices (as Democracy, CMO and RTW all do) is part of the simulation of “the job”, and therefore not something to attempt to hide or abstract.

I remember an old-hand sim enthusiast in the 90s describing how at the end of a Flanker 1.x mission his palms were sweating - and it was a good thing. You could argue that this also applies to any game that attempts to place you at a high-stress position.

In theory, sure. In practice, the line between challenge and frustration is very fine. Depending on the game, you do want players to sweat a bit, but it’s how that sweat is generated that matters. Even if it would be realistic to have them struggle against obtuse interfaces and overwhelming displays of raw data, is that actually what you want in a game (vice an actual training sim)?

I agree that presenting a large amount of data and many choices can be part of many games, including a lot of wargames or war-themed games. In reality, most people tasked with a job like overseeing a nation’s naval program however are going to have tools (or people, depending on era) to collate, summarize, present, and interpret all of that data. Making a single player process what an entire staff or even bureau would do is silly.

Can you point to a (successful in your opinion) example where a large amount of information, which would “traditionally” be presented in tabular/“spreadsheet” format, is instead shown in an alternative manner that makes it easier / less intimidating to use?

(Note that I am talking about showing the same large amount of information in a “friendlier” format, NOT simplifying/abstracting the information in order to display less of it)

Some of the screenshots remind me of Steve Walmsley’s Aurora game…which I am way too unintelligent to be able to play.

Here is one example, a fleet display from Aurora4x vs a similar display in Sins of a Solar Empire

The Sins example is both easier to parse and has more information.

I think a lot of it has to do with UI/UX design. Modern infographics have come a long way, and when you have a computer right there there seems little reason to not build some of those concepts into your game displays. Even small things like using shading or fills on lines to break up masses of data, color-coding stuff, etc. can help.

One thing I do agree with is the idea that sometimes a simple list of data is more effective than fancier treatments. In Windows I usually default my Explorer windows to Details, for instance. But I’m able to quickly sort that by file type, date, size, etc. if I need to.

Yes and no. On that Sins screenshot, I can see the at-a-glance summary status of ships, which is useful, but I cannot see their names, which may be significant. In the Aurora screenshot I can instantly verify that DDE Umbriel 009 is part of the Cretacia Domination task Force (and if that specific ship has a unique weapon or other store/cargo that I am interested in, this information becomes critical). How can I quickly check this in Sins?

Perhaps a way to encapsulate this is: The more the units in your control are interchangeable cogs that you can churn out and re-stock by the bucketload (ie. typical RTS), the more appropriate a summary-focused UI is, because individual details don’t matter. OTOH, if your units are distinct, irreplaceable or hard-to-replace and their properties are tactically significant (e.g. CMO and other similar wargames) then a more drill-down-oriented UI offers better functionality.