Developer Diary 22 – Halted at Metz

September 1944. Hitler’s armies are retreating in disorder after their defeat in the Normandy hedgerows. The Allies keep up the chase across France, but General George Patton’s 3rd US Army is beset by supply difficulties. The Germans finally manage to re-establish a defensive line around the heavily fortified medieval city of Metz. According to orders issued by Hitler, fortress commanders are to hold this position at all costs…

Encouraged by good feedback from our previous post, we decided to start on a series of short trailers about our game mechanics, old and new. The story starts with the 3rd Army actions following the long and bloody stalemate at Metz. It is through a series of coincidences that we are again going on about stragglers (sorry!) but I hope the trailer is worth it for everybody. There is also a lengthy development update at the end of the post, as usual.

Halted at Metz

The Battle of Metz resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, and while the exact German losses remain uncertain, it is known that the 3rd US Army took at least 75.000 prisoners during the operation. For the US forces bogged down in the mud, this created a significant logistical problem, in addition to other hardships.

The scenario starts in November, after weeks of horrific stalemate. The Germans had a moment to regroup and now they’re dug-in. The confluence of rain-swollen rivers of Moselle and Seille creates a natural obstacle to frontal assault and the terrain has all turned to mud. There won’t be any grand sweeping maneuvers here. The battle of Metz will be a slugfest.

The city itself is protected by a deadly network of heavily armed forts with siege guns, some of them complete with medieval moats (that still work perfectly against tanks). The two US divisions shown in the video have the right idea as they go into the attack, trying to outflank the fortification.

Advancing US forces are taking prisoners along the way. If they take enough during one turn, they will provide valuable intel. In this case, the 6th Armored managed to gather that intel, but it’s just more bad news for the 3rd Army: the road to Saarbrücken is heavily guarded by German armor. Airpower could help with this threat, but the weather would need to improve first.

What would you do? Would you wait for air support to deal with the panzers? Order a full frontal attack on Metz? Bypass the city entirely, waiting for lack of supply to catch up with the defenders? With every passing day the industrial production of the Ruhr and the Saar continues contributing to enemy war effort or, in game terms, your prestige sinks lower and lower.

It’s the UI, Stupid

Realistically, most of our time is spent working on the UI. It is simply the most important aspect of a strategy game, period. However great you make the game mechanically, most of the good stuff will remain forever buried unless you make it accessible. With that in mind, we keep adding and streamlining stuff, so here it goes.

 (click for full size)

We have asked the 3rd Army HQ to highlight any bridges that can be blown in this turn. This removes all units from the map for clarity, highlights the bridges, and shows the orange banner in upper right. We’ve found that the banner is often needed. Sometimes via the hotkeys and UI buttons you’ll switch the game to some unknown state and be left wondering: where on earth have my units gone?!

The HQ itself is shown in a pretty basic configuration, with all of its branches at default levels, i.e. not upgraded. This HQ provides the following actions (left to right): bridge repair, bridge destruction, entrenchment, emergency re-supply, suppressive fire, no retreat, deploy and reorg. Actions are then grouped into branches: Force Pool, Intel, Operations, Logistics and Engineering.

The division into branches is inspired by the general staff system used in western militaries: G-1 for personel, G-2 for intel etc. Each HQ can be upgraded differently during the campaign, giving the player some interesting choices about how to adapt to the situation and his own play style. In general, upgrades will provide the HQ with new and advanced actions, such as recon-in-force, security units, etc.

Short Updates

The work continues on many fronts, and I’m never sure how useful are these short updates that I give at the end of my blog posts. Let me know in the comments if you think they are. But first, here is a screenshot of the Italian peninsula from way above. It’s pretty to look at, eh?

(click for full size)

We’ve kept adding more and more workflows of the “bridge destroy” type shown above (and mentioned in Developer Diary 20 to number around 36). To be honest, I’ve lost count of them, but now that we understand how to add them systematically, we just keep adding more wherever we feel it’s needed.

We also started working on a human-readable AI Playbook. To explain: our AI has always been a heuristic one, not the deep learning kind that’s getting all the media coverage lately. We’d translate some part of a player’s thought process into computer code, which we then call a tactic. The job of the AI is to look for tactics that are applicable in any given situation.

The playbook is the next step in our AI development: it’s a human-readable catalog of tactics that is accessible to team members who are not programmers. It took some time to nail the correct format, and I don’t think scenario designers and players will be able to contribute to the playbook directly just yet. It should be a great tool for this though: when the AI programmer and the scenario designer sit down to discuss, they will have a common language to describe what the AI is doing. Even better, they will be able to record any new tactical ideas in a way that’s understandable to both. I expect great things!

At the last minute Daniel has noticed there is a historical error in one of the images in this post. Can you spot it?

The work continues!

Cheers,

Tomislav

 

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24 Responses to Developer Diary 22 – Halted at Metz

  1. uran21 says:

    “At the last minute Daniel has noticed there is a historical error in one of the images in this post. Can you spot it?”

    You focused screenshot on Mainz in March 1945, not Metz in November 1944 but operation in 1945 started at March 22, not 24th.

  2. tom says:

    @uran: I don’t think that’s an error. The scenario starts on the 24th, but it has some US troops over the Rhine already on the first turn. I think Daniel is starting the scenario on the day when the bridgehead already existed, as you can see in the center.

  3. Daniel Mellbin says:

    @Uran – it’s very in your face once you know… But we are not spilling the beans 😜

    Regarding dates: Turns are 2-4 days depending on the scenario and as such not all things can take place on the exact date.

  4. Stian says:

    Re: Historical error – the buttons on those jackets are obviously wrong, every grog worth their salt knows the late ’42 production models had only five buttons! Sheesh.

    Really happy to see another post – Italy looks great, looking forward to the hard slog up the bloody boot!

    Very happy to hear you are also focusing on UI and accessibility. Too many war games tend to ignore this, and we are left with ugly UIs and clunky controls. Hope you are using WASD controls (or at least have it as an option), as well as enough hotkeys to reduce mouse strain.

  5. uran21 says:

    Second, guess. There are too many intact bridges across the Rhine for the event.

    What you said about AI development sounds intriguing. We could see some real improvements if algorithms are written by people who spend the most time playing the game and programmers do the technical stuff.

  6. Marko Hladnik says:

    Just wondering (impatient, I know) – is the frequency of updates going to increase from now on? 🙂

  7. tom says:

    @uran21: we are not entirely sure about the state of those bridges, so we are leaving them intact for game purposes. In many cases, the bridges are an abstraction anyway – they represent several road and rail bridges together.

    Glad you like the AI approach, we’ll see how it pans out 🤞

    @Marko: probably not 😀 Because we’re such a small team, each update means we effectively shut down development for about a day. Can’t have too much of that!

    Also, I feel that 6 weeks is about right in terms of how often people want to see the updates. Reading them is nice and all, but we also need to deliver the thing 😂

  8. Marko Hladnik says:

    You’re right to prioritize development! 🙂 Good luck, as always.

  9. Happy Daze says:

    I concur with Marko. Updates are definitely nice, but keep them brief. Once the game is out, you can go into its design in greater depth at your leisure.

    Happy

  10. BillyBobJoe says:

    Is the error the US third army participating in operation Plunder? They were already across the Rhine.

  11. General Brooks says:

    The 3rd Army is where it should be, the map seems fine, but Op. Plunder was crossing the Rhine north of the Ruhr area (near Wesel) by the 2nd British Army and the 9th US Army.
    The image shows crossing The Rhine river south.
    Maybe it is also about the order of symbols under the panel with objectives – it should be (viewed from the north): 2 (army), 9, 1 and 3

  12. Daniel Mellbin says:

    @Billy & Brooks. The scenario was called “Rhine Crossings North”. But I recently renamed it Plunder (the crossings by british 2nd and us 9th as you mention). Simply because the original name doesn’t fit size wise. We will either make the font scale to fit longer scenario names (plz pester Tom about this if you feel like it :D). Or come up with something shorter.

  13. General Brooks says:

    1. If scenario name is Plunder aka Rhine Crossings North, why do we see the operational area of Patton’s 3rd Army – Mainz, Wiesbaden or Frankfurt am Main?
    2. It seems to me that one important detail is missing – there is no city name with a very important bridge between Koblenz and Bonn…:)

  14. Daniel Mellbin says:

    @Brooks. Why the scenario is “cut” the way it is would be spoiling things 😉. Buuuuut – My own initial thought was indeed to cut the scenario so that Pattons forces near the town that shall not be mentioned would not be included. However “events” after the crossings are most fun when controlling both British 2nd, us 9th and us 3rd… wink wink.

  15. Daniel Mellbin says:

    Edit: us *1st* and 3rd ofc

  16. General Brooks says:

    I suppose you’re right, Daniel
    But not for everyone 🙂 It certainly wasn’t fun for Field Marshal Model, who shot himself in the head when he was encircled in the Ruhr region with 400 thousands of his soldiers 😉

  17. uran21 says:

    Since you are leaving us without error ideas I have to pull heavy artillery, stars on US flag are wrongly aligned. Yeah, yeah I know, there is some good reason why you have chose “flexible approach” to US flag as well 😉

  18. uran21 says:

    EDIT: Actually you are right. The new flag was adopted only in 1960.

  19. Daniel Mellbin says:

    Ok – we’ve decided to be nice and drop a hint…. It’s in the very top image (the German mountain troops).

  20. General Brooks says:

    Gebirgsjager are holding US M1 Garand instead of Kar 98K Mauser? 🙂
    BTW, the caps should be green 😉

  21. Daniel Mellbin says:

    Sadly readability will have to trump realism when it comes to uniform colours. We are staying “within” reason when it comes to that. But with 30’ish different types of infantry – having every unit some shade of olive-grey-brown would be… a challenge to play with 🙂

  22. Daniel Mellbin says:

    And yes – it was the garands – rest assured that they are placeholders!

  23. Stian says:

    > it was the garands

    Ah man, I knew that… my problem was knowing if those guys were US or not (LOL) 😀

  24. Billy Bob Joe says:

    Just wondering, will the base game come with Soviet units? And if so, could they be their own faction for some Unthinkable action? (wink wink). Also, could you add the possibility of all units being able to be deployed for both sides (i.e. Americans vs British scenario). Thanks!

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