Developer Diary 11 – Summer of Systems

In other news, we’ve started working on vehicle models, and they’re already looking sweet…

If we are victorious in one more battle, we shall be utterly ruined — Pyrrhus of Epirus

I’m writing this on the back of three weeks spent entirely on scaling our mod-friendly map system to work with the huge map sizes required. Frustration abounds! While I’m sure the community will appreciate the new modding possibilities (see more below), I’m starting to worry that we’re over-engineering the whole thing.

To this end, we’re doing a Summer of Systems — in short, any low-level system that isn’t in by the end of August, we’ll just have to do without. A lot of what’s left is various 3D magic and similar nice-to-haves, so if we prioritize properly this is perfectly doable and the core of the game won’t be affected at all.
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Developer Diary 10 – Performance

Nice, eh? Since this is now in proper 3D, you can zoom and rotate the map as you like.

I assure you we’re open! — Dante Hicks

It’s been a few months since the last diary entry, so frankly you’d be excused to think we’ve all gone AWOL or something. BUT! – we were in fact cheerfully working on various low level systems, and actually managed to get a lot of work done. The screenshots below show you approximately where we are with the rendering engine, that is, almost everything works now.

I was happy enough to load the game onto a laptop and start showing it, somewhat gingerly, to other developers at the Reboot Develop conference last week in Dubrovnik. We got a lot of positive feedback, which may or may not be down to devs being a supportive bunch and all. It did feel good to have a working game again.

Since we were showing the game on a proper gaming laptop (cheers to Admir from Croteam for providing it), this was a chance to compare laptop performance to our desktops (both the laptop and the desktops are running the game at about HD resolution).

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Developer Diary 9 – Map Making

We used a well known coastline to test our mapping code.

We got an offer we couldn’t refuse… to use this well known coastline for our mapping code tests.

“Hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way” 

— Søren Kierkegaard

Work on the new game is continuing apace, and the time has come to confront our old nemesis – map making. If you’ve been following us long enough, you may remember my protestations about the amount of map making in the original Unity of Command as well. This time around, the mapping situation is both better and worse, depending what you’re looking at. So let me show you what’s new.

The Sheer Size

The good thing about moving away from Russia (at least for the moment) is that there’s much less terrain to cover. No seriously, if you haven’t had to manually assign a terrain value to every hex from Lake Ladoga to the Caspian – you may have missed how ginormous Russia really is. If you have, go look at the map now, it’s huge.

So, less terrain to work on – yay! In fact, the theater is so miniature, by comparison, that we’ve actually had to zoom in a little. The map scale is now 15km/hex, down from 20km/hex. Incidentally, this shortens the duration of the turn from 4 days to 3. It’s easy to work out why – so that distances covered by units in each turn stay the same. Continue reading

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Developer Diary 8 – Campaign

Yes, this is what you think it is. Find a few more details about the new look at bottom of this post.

“I do not intend to send any more evening situation reports until the war becomes more exciting”

— Field Marshal Montgomery, one day prior to Battle of the Bulge.

A full update on the campaign game will take more than one post, but you need to start somewhere, so here it goes: an introduction. Check out the pretty pic to your left (you’re welcome!) and relax – it won’t be too long.

At its very core, the campaign game stays the same: you play at the operational level, meaning you don’t control production, politics, and diplomacy. Furthermore, since you’re playing all the battles, you are not playing as any one commander individually. In fact, you’re standing in for the entire operational-level stratum of your faction’s military, literally all of the three- and four star generals commanding at army and theater level. Continue reading

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Developer Diary 7 – Move it, Soldier!

Top to bottom: Cameron Highlanders and Indian troops march past the Great Pyramid (1940); Finnish soldiers on skis with reindeers, near Jäniskoski, Finland (1940); A squadron of Bren gun carriers, manned by the Australian Light Cavalry (1941); German horse-drawn cart stuck in rasputitsa near Kursk, Russia (1942).

Top to bottom: Cameron Highlanders and Indian troops march past the Great Pyramid (1940); Finnish soldiers on skis with reindeers, near Jäniskoski, Finland (1940); A squadron of Bren gun carriers, manned by the Australian Light Cavalry (1941); German horse-drawn cart stuck in rasputitsa near Kursk, Russia (1942).

If you are forward of your position, your artillery will fall short.  — Murphy’s Laws of Combat

World War II was, more than any war since Napoleon, a war of movement. Whereas World War I was characterized by grinding offensives, stalemates, and endless artillery barrages, the sequel sent the infantry out of their trenches and swept them up in grand encirclements and breakthroughs. It is that spirit of maneuver that we strived to bring to Unity of Command, and that we now seek to refine further. So let’s talk about how units will actually move around the map.

As before, there are two main types of movement – infantry and mobile. Infantry includes anything that moves around on legs, including cavalry. Mobile units are the various flavors of motorized, mechanized, and armored units. The difficulty of moving a unit through some terrain is expressed as movement points (MPs): it costs 1 MP for an infantry unit to move through a light forest, but 2 MP for an armored division to do the same. This way, armored units are best kept to the open terrain that is their forte, while the infantry slogs through the mud and brush.

On top of this basic distinction, we now introduce cavalry, ski, mountain and perhaps other specialized movement types. A Soviet Cavalry Corps, well known from UoC, moves as infantry (good in rough terrain), while having more MPs per turn (bigger range). This is exactly as intended, however being classified as infantry also meant that it was able to enter mountain hexes which is not realistic. So, the new cavalry classification will simply mean: same as infantry, but mountains are forbidden. In the same vein, Finnish ski units are infantry whose movements are unaffected by snow.

Speaking of snow, we are tweaking several different systems in order to improve winter scenarios. The snow movement penalty is changed so that each unit gets a 1 MP reduction (infantry) or 2 MP (mobile). For veterans, this comes out of their extended movement, while for others it comes from the regular part (clever, eh?). The net result is that, while everyone’s movement is slightly impeded, veteran units are noticeably better at maneuvering in the snow. This way, the game will organically model things like the Soviet ability to conduct deep operations, which improved markedly over the course of the war.

We also removed the snow combat shift (it punished attacking in the snow), because it discouraged offensive combat in the winter (wrongly!). This turned out to be a systemic nerf for the Soviets who, historically, are the attacking side in most of the winter scenarios. Finally, the winter season will now feature supply disruptions in a big way – previously, only mud interfered seriously with the supply situation. The overall idea is that we create an intensity of combat that is similar to what we get during the summer, but with less fluid maneuvers and pronounced supply difficulties. Think of a couple of tired, punch drunk boxers desperately duking it out in the final rounds, and you’ll get what I mean.  Continue reading

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Developer Diary 6 – Fight Fight Fight Fight!!!

Completely unrelated to this post, I'm pleased to inform you that production has finally started on the shiny pics side of things. I can't show any of that right now, but here's the planning sketch of the "Unity of Command Test Range".

Completely unrelated to the rest of this post, I’m pleased to inform you that production has finally started on the “shiny pics” side of things. I can’t show you those just yet, but here’s a planning sketch for the “UoC Test Range” instead. Cheers!

Mehr sein als scheinen.

— Moltke the Elder, referring to combat system tweaks in Unity of Command

Unity of Command is a game that emphasizes maneuver, supply, and logistics over brutal grinding, but even the most daring dash and encirclement will still involve a fair amount of fighting. In the new game, we are not changing the combat system in a big way, more like ironing a few wrinkles, plus some changes to bring it into line with the rest of the new systems.

From a designer’s point of view, combat in the game actually unfolds on two distinct levels. The first level, which is the main topic of this post, is the immediate combat between two units on the map. We try to make this “single combat” as realistic as possible, but there are limits. The most obvious ones are the one-unit-per-hex representation (no stacking) and the IGOUGO system (each player gets to move all his units during a turn).

The other level happens over a full turn for both players, or even 2-3 turns. When all the individual battles are put together and the scenario flows together nicely, we try to achieve a higher level of realism. Single, division level combats come together to form larger offensives – and the maneuvers come back around and make individual battles easier to win. Executed correctly, a good plan is a virtuous cycle. Continue reading

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Development Diary 5 – The Supply Network

AMMO-5I don’t know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it.

— Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

One of our goals in the design of the original Unity of Command was to make supply and logistics as important and easy to grasp as front lines and battle tactics. We want to keep supply front and center in the next game, but there’s some room to improve the system to make it better reflect historical realities.

In UoC1, we traced supply by using supply movement. Supply sources had a number of MPs (movement points) that determined how far supply can reach, similar to how a unit moves. In bad weather, the costs for this movemement got bigger and so hexes that are far away from supply sources became unsupplied. Another way of looking at it is, that the supplied area on the map shrinks during bad weather. Continue reading

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Development Diary 4 – Report to HQ, ASAP!

HQsWe are introducing Headquarters into the new game (please clap!). The HQs bring together functions that were previously abstracted like unit reorganization and bridging, plus many others that are completely new to the system. With very few exceptions, HQs represent historical Allied or German Armies, or Soviet Fronts. The new abilities they bring to the game are in Operations, Intel and Logistics, which is what you’d expect from that command level. The HQs may even have named, historical commanders like Rommel and Patton but don’t tell that to anyone just yet.

An HQ commands its subordinate units within a command radius (depending on the scenario, there can be more than one friendly HQ present). This means you will want to keep your HQs reasonably close to the front line while trying not to risk them being attacked – HQs should defend themselves only as a desperate last measure. Headquarters are able deploy special abilities such as Emergency Supply (this simulates using their transport assets to supply a unit – broadly how Air Supply worked in the original). Deploying these abilities costs Command Points (CPs), which are available in limited supply for each turn. In general, command points abstract things like staff work and shared HQ assets, and force the player to prioritize – a single HQ cannot do everything on every turn.

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Development Diary 3 – Are You Experienced?

I’m restarting the dev diary series. Note that the game is a work in progress. This dev diary reflects current thinking and any features may be subject to change. Not every system is fleshed out yet – please forgive any hand-waving.

In the original Unity of Command, units were expendable resources and pieces. You used up your men and units to reach your objectives on time and, even in Campaign games, losses didn’t matter. You’d always start the next scenario with the same (historical) units. It didn’t matter if you got Großdeutschland crippled in one scenario, it would be right back in your OOB for the next offensive.

In the new game, we want losses to matter in the course of both a scenario and a campaign. Your overall force strength will carry over between scenarios (more about the specifics of this in future posts), but so will the experience, which becomes an important element of the campaign game. To that end, we’ve revamped the unit experience system to enhance some old mechanics and add a few new twists.

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Sound and Fury: A Review of Armored Thunderbolt by Steven Zaloga

Sound and Fury:

A review of Armored Thunderbolt: The U.S. Army Sherman in World War II, by Steven Zaloga

 

armored thunderbolt amazonFury, the 2014 Brad Pitt war movie, opens with some grim statistics. According to the movie, something like 10 Shermans were destroyed for every German tank and American tankers were grossly outmatched in equipment. As happens so often, here pop culture oversimplified and exaggerated history for the sake of drama. The truth, as portrayed in Steven Zaloga’s excellent Armored Thunderbolt, is a lot more complex. True, the Sherman was totally outmatched in a one on one fight against a Tiger or Panther, but those battles were so rare as to be negligible. Zalog’s thesis is that the Sherman, while flawed and somewhat outdated by Normandy, was a solid design whose flaws outshone its virtues in the larger perspective. Through painstaking analyses, Zaloga shows that casualty figures, individual anecdotes, and popular culture are misleading and show the Sherman as far more vulnerable than it was in real life. Understanding the true history of armored warfare is important to make future installments of Unity of Command more realistic. Continue reading

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