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uran21
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Details Details Details

Unread postby uran21 » Fri Apr 12, 2019 12:57 pm

Historicity, reality, accuracy are the terms that very often pop up in wargaming circles. All of those terms are related to a share of their own problems in game design.
Various perceptions are dependent on knowledge of an observer. In order to appreciate history one has to know the facts. Popular misconceptions or generalizations can play a role as well. For example, there was always more Soviets than Germans. But is it true for the border battles in opening stages of Barbarossa? Or even in selected Schwerpunkt? Or the fact about Soviet manpower relates to something else?
Realism is not fun and that is why the game design doesn’t love it. Finding an abstract representation of reality with a focus on gameplay is the way to go. But still, various people would point various realistic details as the most important (to them obviously). Accuracy becomes a problem when we try to measure something abstract or averaged out. The biggest offender is when people pull historical accuracy as an argument. History is not a science, it cannot be empirically proven. It is a scholarly discipline where our knowledge depends on what others told us. When someone pulls historical accuracy as an argument it usually means he doesn’t like something and while doing so he is giving higher meaning to his own words by anchoring it to something chiseled in stone like historical accuracy is supposed to be. I am fine if people are using the term to denote close attention to historical detail as long as they know the limitations of it. Which brings us to an interesting questions: how much attention to detail is enough and which details are important?

I am not talking about most relevant stuff like UI, interactivity in an interactive medium or gameplay itself. I am talking about those details marginal to gameplay but important for immersion. Stuff like geography, an order of battle and scenario objectives.

Some time ago in some other game, I fired up custom made scenario about Invasion of Norway. German ships had custom names and I said juuuhuu someone made attention to historical detail but the point was those ships had to be deployed on the map by the player. From a gameplay point of view sound decision, combine it as you like. But what if someone wants to enjoy in recreating historical setting? Well in order to enjoy in historical details one has to know mentioned details. Have I heard about Invasion of Norway? More than that, I read about it several times. But as anyone interested in history knows there is just too much of it. So we remember the main points and tend to forget details with time. Any activity which involves argument with details usually means referencing your sources first. Of course, some things stand out more than others. For example, out of my head, I could pull how German Cavalry Division was on the right flank of AGC at Barbarossa or how Sola airfield is to the south of Stavanger.

So how much players who know less about history can actually appreciate historical detail?
Custom names are something with which you could rub the nose of a player and it creates perception how the effort was made but in order to validate it, the player should make the effort to check its accuracy. And this isn’t going to happen often. Am I implying players should be fooled about actual attention to detail? Certainly not! Games can have educational character and like all things relating to education it will be put to good use only by a minority, but a quality minority. Also, historical research before scenario production can be compared as ...taunting before a battle. So while referencing your details why not to use it anyway. What I am saying is that some details stand out more than others. Some details have to be sacrificed for gameplay. And some details take too much time to resolve and resources invested in it will not be proportional to the appreciation of it. It is just a question of measure, knowing what is important and not being crude about it. For example how about resolving state boundary between Romania, Slovakia and Poland in 1939?

Recently I was researching geography of Byelorussia and switched to neighboring Lithuania as well. I was interested in the size of settlements in 1941 and their importance to major combat events. I also read an article about Army Group North and said to myself ...it is Unity of Command time.

First thing I noticed on Campaign Map is river Niemen going through Vilnius which is wrong.
Niemen west of Minsk actually forms recognizable bulge where Soviet armies at Novogrudek (Navahrudak) were encircled. Dvina is a toponym often used but this river is actually Zapadnaya Dvina because there were two Dvina rivers in USSR.

When playing AGN scenario I got this feeling of infantry lagging behind armor as mentioned in the article. When Panzer Group crossed Zapadnaya Dvina their units were ordered to halt and wait for infantry support which was not very well depicted due to rush for Pskov. Crossing at Jekabpils of one of Panzer Corps was not depicted at all. Yes, the bridge was actually blown up before Germans captured it which bring us to an idea to include the capture of intact bridges in the game. If this is not done in time they would be blown up by a script and not present objective anymore. Gameplay effect is also to slow down advance due to the need to build another bridge. Tip at Daugavpils objective how this crossing is the fastest way to reach Pskov is misleading because units would outrun their supply if there is no connection to railroad further North. Also, Panzer Corps at Daugavpils was employed at bypassing Stalin Line which is not the shortest route. Railroad net on the map simply doesn’t reinforce the historical setting in this case. While infantry fell behind while reaching Daugavpils it was meaningless to move them on the map to reach Pskov. They lost gameplay purpose which was immersion breaking. The only way to solve this is to separate setting in two scenarios.

Just look at AGC scenario was complete immersion breaking experience. Brest fortress held for longest. Bialystok was bypassed and pocket reduced latter. Both towns are set for early capture in-game. AGC performed double pincer envelopment where army elements made the first pincer. Grodno, which is not objective at all is a good location to depict it as well as Boldin launched a counteroffensive in the direction of Grodno. The second pincer closed at Minsk. Providing objectives on route to Minsk is fine like Baranovichi and Vilnius should be a good candidate on the north. Speaking of varied objectives destruction of enemy formations is a valid objective on an operational scale. Early stages of Barbarossa can be described as wipeouts.

Is this a rant about missing historical details in Unity of Command? Well not really. I am capable to appreciate other people's interpretations of it. Certainly, enough research went into this game and it shows. But it doesn’t maximize it, or to say it differently, some details are not over engineered which is fine in the end.

Purpose of this writing is to express the debate I had with myself how much historical and geographical detail is enough in game design. And the answer is the main points should be covered but the focus should be on gameplay. Dwelling to deep into historical/geographical details will result either in people not being able to appreciate it due to ignorance or knowledgable people will find some missing link which will spoil their pleasure for a seemingly insignificant reason.

In gameplay sense of the word what I would like this game to develop to is to provide replay value based on different approaches to scenario rather than exercise dominant strategy until full efficiency is achieved. How interactivity in an interactive medium can influence level design? Well, that is a good question to think about.

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uran21
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Re: Details Details Details

Unread postby uran21 » Fri Apr 19, 2019 10:49 am

The best approach towards immersion is by NOT being overly specific about details. With such an approach everything gets back to normal and the game has its old charm. Looking at the setting in broad strokes and just enjoying the gameplay.

In the first playthrough, I wasn’t even bothered by the timetable for some objectives and it provided a lot of fun to me. Still looking at timetable I also noticed improvements in comparison to Stalingrad Campaign. In many cases timetable was not so tight which reduced the influence of randomness to the play and this is much welcomed. Also, last scenarios on all axis of attack provided for a much harder and climatic experience which is good for the end of the campaign. The last scenario really gave me a relief when I finished it with Decisive Victory. Objectives changed hands and I could barely pull it, a real climax.

Now since I was interested in historical research of my own about the path of Army Group North I decided to give some kind of stress test to OoB used in AGN scenario. It was a pleasant experience. When I searched for 5th Tank Division of 3rd Mechanized Corps its position was claimed at Alytus bridge and indeed it is placed behind the bridge in AGC scenario since the 11th Army was engaged by both Army Groups. KV-1 attachment facing 1st and 6th PzDivision was also a nice touch although AT brigade would be in order as well. I could not find any info about some divisions directly under Army control but I would say the initial deployment is very well done. Things get changed in the second part of the offensive. Four divisions of 27th Army are placed where they initially were, in front of Pskov but they were used to set defense at Zapadnaya Dvina with 21st Mechanized Corps attached to it (from STAVKA Reserves). Although 21st was understrength when it comes to tanks so it could be hard to depict it with a meaningful number of steps. Soviet bombers were also used to bomb bridge at Daugavpils so bomber as Theater Asset would be fine but the goal was probably to depict the state of German air supremacy with a limited number of Bomber strikes for Germans because Luftwaffe was busy bombing airfields. Although there was no lack of bomber attacks on Soviet Tanks. 27th Army gave way and positioned itself on the right flank of advancing Germans, behind Velikaya river. Pskov was defended by reinforcements, 1st Mechanized Corps less one Tank Division came from Leningrad area and this is depicted in game. 41st Corps came from the Moscow area and it is not in the game at all. Originally it consisted of 2 Rifle Divisions but some sources claimed it had 3 and others it had 4 divisions at Pskov. I could validate 3 divisions and one was sent in direction of Pskov after it fell. That fourth division could as well be a survivor from 8th Army on the border. 41st Rifle Corps made a stand in front of Pskov and when the town fell it was already in retreat. If all this was in the game it could as well mess the tight timetable to fit historical events according to dates. Yes, games are fragile when they try to represent reality. Not sure what was the real reason for missing things but I always welcome departure from certain ideas for better balance. People in game development should not get married to ideas.

Accurate Orders of Battle mean little to the majority of players, famous main points can be an exception. Still researching history and wargaming always went hand in hand. There is some number of people interested in reenacting the history but creating scenarios with accurate OoB helps memorize certain points, it forces one to resolve missing links and most of all it provides VISUALISATION of the battlefield. Understanding is always better with a visual image in front of you.

And while details fade away with the passage of time they do have an important place in all this. They bring the subject matter closer to our individual perspective which helps immersing oneself in the setting. The point is not in providing all the details but to pull those ones that can have higher visibility. And visibility can be increased by contrasting special points with more common ones.




Happy Easter everyone! Here is an Easter Egg for history lovers.


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