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Tacticular Cancer goes Historicon: Part 1

Tacticular Cancer goes Historicon: Part 1

Editorial - posted by Trash on Mon 5 August 2013, 15:13:34

Tags: Historicon; Matrix Games; Slitherine Ltd

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neckbeards frolick around in their natural environment

Recently there was a massive collection of warnerds and neckbeards at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Yup, it was once again time for the annual massive neckbeard wargaming conference Historicon. Wargames everywhere, legendary designers such as Gary Grigsby on a couch next to you, warnerds and more Civil War reenactors than you can shake a stick at. As the prestigious magazine that we are we simply couldn't pass this one up. Getting invited by Matrix Games also helped. We send our plucky fresh reporter Absalom into the fray. He rolled dices, he watched long press conferences and he mingled with some of the best wargaming designers in the business. Here's the first part of what he learned concerning the Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd new line-up.

This one is pure military porn. With 35 different types of sensors being the source of information, a database that is updated monthly with the latest military armaments and the sheer attention-to-detail, this is the Aurora of modern military operations. Heavily moddable, as well. This is very much a niche within a niche, but hey if you're into this sort of thing this is the game for you. The graphics look like Aurora too, but for this it doesn't really matter. Some minor quibbles: Don't let the intro blurb fool you, this is a scenario based game. No campaign set in the Falklands war or anything, though a scenario can have multiple and evolving objectives. They can change based how how you play the scenario. While the 3d Globe-thing is quite cool (They model terrain based on height all around the world) this is foremost an Air and Sea based game. As far as I know infantry isn't even modeled. Any prospective buyer needs to keep in mind this in an very dry but incredibly detailed simulation. Plus it got a scenario editor so you can expect the net to fill up with new scenarios.​

Wanna know what game he's talking about? Check out the article.



July 18th Matrix Games Press Conference


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What a Codexian meet would look like when the trannies don't show up and everyone forgot their laptop.


Tacticular Cancer was invited to go to Matrix Games new lineup presentation at Historicon, a wargaming convention in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Matrix Games, for those of you who aren't in the know, are one of the biggest publishers of wargames and have recently merged with Slitherine Ltd, a computer and tabletop wargaming company. These guys paid for the expenses, so obviously Tacticular Cancer is doing something right or something went horribly wrong somewhere.

I will add however that the Historicon Event was the last 5 hours of my trip. Before that it was just hotels, press conferences, and "entertainment.” And no, that weren't scantily clad women but a civil war re-enactor who also happened to be the official historian of Virginia or something like that. I was mostly focused on the tin cup he had full of beer.

One of the biggest messages at Matrix's press conference was that “Niche is Good.” In capticals indeed. Yet, and this will be all too familiar to us, “simple UI and better graphics are the future, our niche needs to meet up with the trends.” This is especially relevant to the future of the Close Combat series, and Matrix games big push into being a “multi platform” publisher. 18 months ago, Matrix even opened a Facebook account as part of this effort, because (and I'm paraphrasing here) “Facebook is a great place for statistics and tracking who is interested”. Here are a few relevant comments from Slitherine's development director Iain McNeil.

So you've recently entered the mobile gaming market. What are you goals and motivations for doing so?

There is a significant audience for these games on this tablets, Battle Academy was the first, hugely successful, later ports weren't as successful. Happy to serve them.

We're a niche but theres tens of millions using tablets. The type of people who like our games are generally educated, higher salaried, the same type who would own tablets. Our future is in multiplatform releases.

Will it become the primary market or will you always develop for the PC first in mind?

Some games will have the pc as the primary platform, tablet games will always have a PC version.​

No doubt you have your own opinion on all this, let us however move on to the games that were unveiled during the conference.


Warhammer 40K: Armageddon

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Red is the new brown


This was the big one on the conference. The Warhammer franchise has an enormous brand recognition and Matrix/Slitherine must've been quite happy to have landed this one in their basket.

Warhammer® 40,000®: Armageddon™ portrays the Second War for Armageddon™ in great detail, from the initial Ork landings to the final liberation of the planet. It contains a large branching campaign with 30 major scenarios, plus additional 5 tutorial scenarios that explore the story in detail.
Featuring complex plot, which can develop during a mission, right in the middle of battle, creating an engaging story line with unexpected twists, players will lead Imperial troops of the Armageddon™ Steel Legion, with supporting assets from a number of Space Marine chapters against the ferocious Orks.
Fight alongside Commissar Yarrik and Commander Dante against the cunning Ork Warboss Ghazghkull Thraka, carry over battle-hardened veterans from scenario to scenario, using their experience and upgrading their equipment.
The games offers also detailed combat model with terrain, weather and morale effects and extensive modding options delivered through a powerful and easy-to-use game editor.

Features:
1. Over 35 scenarios;
2. Over 100 unit types, with unique roles, stats and special abilities;
3. 20 different units stats;
4. A separate set of maps are designed and balanced specifically for multiplayer via Slitherine's PBEM++ system.​

The game will be released for Ipad, PC, mac and android. Not much else is known at the moment as it's still 2 years away. Here's what Iain McNeil had to say about it.

Games Workshop is the best license holder we've worked with, pretty much perfect. We were initially interested in space hulk, but someone had already gotten that license. There may be more projects in the future. In the game there will be smaller titans in scale with each other. We haven't looked at any previous games for inspiration, and didn't have a specific W40k ruleset in mind while designing this.​


Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager

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A nice render that still doesn't come close to the cool of the old real footage


Too bad Buzz Aldrin himself couldn't make it to Historicon. Still, the game itself feels very much alike to the Buzz Aldrin's Race into Space of yore. You run an international space agency in the 50's, skip the cold war and get to try and go to the moon with all the toys the NASA and Soviets played around with.

I'm worried about the lack of an opponent, honestly. While it does allow you to use any mission by the US, USSR, and the European space agencies, I'm wondering about how hard the game actually will be. It will supposedly be hard enough to warrant the addition of a “sandbox” mode. You will have a 20 year long term goal that, if failed, ends the game for you. There are short term 4 year goals, which are randomized and are meant to add replayability by shaping which general mission path in achieving your long term goal (Direct Ascent, Historical Moon landing) you take. I thought it was unfortunate that the renders used in the game to depict your missions aren't historical footage like in BARIS. While they're of a nice quality, they don't have the same “oomph” as the real thing.

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What I did like was the addition of personal management. Flight controllers, researchers, and engineers will all have stats (that you can optionally increase with training) and costs that directly influence how successful a mission may be. Also, while the base game will have the moon landing as the end goal, two expansions will add additional goals such as a permanent space station and a Mars landing. Fun tidbit; the Mars landing expansion will have a mission plan developed by Buzz Aldrin himself, a “cycler” that uses successive gravitational assists for the Trans Martian Injection. While I don't know how scientifically accurate this is, we can assume Buzz Aldrin knows what he's doing. since he wasn't just an astronaut but also a very accomplished engineer. I really like the direct contribution's Buzz is making.

BASPM is set to be released in 6-8 months. As a part of that, Matrix is offering early beta access to the game which will come with the full game when it's released (Minus any expansions.) While I can't speak of the pricing for the final product, the tiers for early beta access is as follows: Mercury 19.99$ gets you the base game and membership on their beta testers forums to express concerns and bugs, Gemini for 29.99 which has all of the above plus “feelies,” box, manual, etc and Apollo for a princely 199.99$ which gives you all of the above and your own face and description for one of the personal in the game. Beta access should be available.


Strategic Command III - WWII: War in Europe

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One of the big announcements was Matrix/Slitherine getting Hubert Cater (Lead Developer of StratCom) and his company Fury games into their stable. Fury's last publisher was Battlefront, another heavyweight in the wargaming scene so it comes as a bit of a surprise to see Fury join up with Matrix Games. One of Tacticular Cancer's first interviews was with Hubert Cater. It will be interesting to see how the game has grown over the years.

Strategic Command III is a turn based grand strategy war game set in the Western Theater of WWII. New to the series are revamped navy movement and logistics, the re-introduction of scorecards and other elements fans thought were missing from StratCom II, an event system a la Paradox, an overhaul of the graphics, and a redesign of the diplomacy system. For anyone jaded by StratCom II but wanting more from StratCom I, StratCom may reinterest you in the series.

Navy-wise, the developers got a lot of flak for restricting navies movement a-historically. This was done for gameplay reasons, as otherwise as soon as there is a minor engagement in the Balkans then every navy in the Atlantic could zoom in. In an attempt to have their cake and eat it too, in StratCom III you can now move navies much farther with the conceit that beyond a certain range they are incapable of engaging enemy targets. Also, navies have much more flexibility now with amphibious attacks with the addition of “mulberry” harbors, makeshift beachheads that provide supply. Troops can now easily transfer from the transport to the landing zone as well. Also new from the diplomatic model upgrade you now can have convoy lanes, representing supplies being sent from a neutral country such as the US to the UK. You can place escort ships along these convoy lanes in order to ensure the supplies get there, as well as interdict with not only submarines but all naval assets as well.

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Amazing graphics in wargaming


Instead of having a static game where the war has already started, StratCom III will use a more fluid system. Nations such as the USA could stay neutral the entire war and Germany never need invade Russia. Minor nations will be more detailed, as well. Germany and the UK could both compete to have Spain in their sphere of influence or even join the war on their side. Neutral nations also have more options in their arsenal. There's the funding another nation in war discussed earlier, as well as options to slowly mobilize in order to declare war. Neutral nations could also use research and development to catch up to the major powers before declaring war. Not only war, but peace. Armistices, peace treaties, partitioning nations, forming new nations from defeated nations, nothing is set in stone. The event system will be the primary motivator for these new actions. Events can be anything, partisans cropping up in France, unrestricted naval warfare (which you can set in the options) turning neutral countries against you, nuclear weapons becoming available and much more. Events can also happen in chains. For most events, there will be a decision present. Think about things like the choice to destroy the Molotov-Ribbentov pact and invade Russia anyway or one where you break Mussolini out of prison so Italy can continue the war. All events decisions have a chance to fail as well. Actual C&C!

The A.I is primary scripted to act in a historical fashion, though there's an option to disable the scripting. If left to their own devices, the A.I will most likely come up with the historical result (Allies winning over a defeated Germany.) At any time, you can also switch whichever nation you're playing, as well as leave the game in the hands of the A.I. The graphics will be overhauled, with a new 3d engine and 3d models for units, though you have the option to use counters instead. Overall StratCom III has a lot of new good features, reintroduction of old ones, and looks considerably nicer for those who care about graphics in their wargaming.


Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations

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Relive the brutal air struggle between Iran and Iraq. Wrestle the Falklands under your control. Hunt down rogue nukes in Pakistan. Go "Down Town" around Hanoi and spar with the deadly NV air defenses. Lead nuclear-powered sharks of steel against the masters of antisubmarine ops. Trade volleys of fire in close-quarters gun duels, or obliterate the enemy with sophisticated, heavy-hitting hypersonic missiles from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Escort vital convoys to their destination, or make a last stand against all odds. When things escalate out of control, step up to unconventional or even nuclear weapons. Play the most dangerous game of hide and seek - at sea, on land and in the air. Command is the next generation of air/naval wargaming.

Features:
• Powerful, intuitive 3D-globe (Google Earth-style) user interface with multiple map layers
• Aircraft, surface ships, submarines, land units, strategic & space forces are at your disposal
• Extensive, detailed simulation databases modeling faithfully the capabilities & limitations of each asset
• Plenty of scenarios covering multiple historic and hypothetical conflicts, plus an integrated scenario editor
• Tremendous flexibility of scale: From counter-piracy skirmishes to strategic nuclear war
• Detailed modeling of air (including near-space) and naval operations, both surface and underwater, supported by high-quality physics, sensor/EW, terrain and weather, weapon and damage models
• Good modeling of land-based forces (relevant to air/naval/space operations)
• Mine and mine-countermeasure operations
• Nuclear operations (possibly other special-weapon categories)
• Recorder & replay ability​

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This one is pure military porn. With 35 different types of sensors being the source of information, a database that is updated monthly with the latest military armaments and the sheer attention-to-detail, this is the Aurora of modern military operations. Heavily moddable, as well. This is very much a niche within a niche, but hey if you're into this sort of thing this is the game for you. The graphics look like Aurora too, but for this it doesn't really matter. Some minor quibbles: Don't let the intro blurb fool you, this is a scenario based game. No campaign set in the Falklands war or anything, though a scenario can have multiple and evolving objectives. They can change based how how you play the scenario. While the 3d Globe-thing is quite cool (They model terrain based on height all around the world) this is foremost an Air and Sea based game. As far as I know infantry isn't even modeled. Any prospective buyer needs to keep in mind this in an very dry but incredibly detailed simulation. Plus it got a scenario editor so you can expect the net to fill up with new scenarios.


Brother Against Brother

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“Brother Against Brother” is a two-player, “IgoUgo” series devoted to battles of the American Civil War, with the Union and Confederate armies represented at the regimental level. Each release will feature 3-5 thematically related battles. The first release, “Brother Against Brother: The Drawing of the Sword,” will be devoted to the opening battles of the war: the first major battles of 1861 in both the eastern and western theaters (1st Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek), and the first of 1862 in each theater (Mill Springs and Williamsburg).

“Brother Against Brother” will be noteworthy for the scrupulous attention to detail in the preparation of maps and orders of battles, both aspects of the project involving hundreds of hours of primary research; for an emphasis on command-and-control through a novel system that uses the historical abilities of generals and subordinate officers to determine the success of individual units, brigades, divisions, corps, and whole armies at engaging in particular movement-, attack-, or defense-related activities; for highly complex battlefields with two dozen terrain types and features, drawn at a superior level, and at scales as large as 50 square miles; for units that accurately reflect not only their strength, but degree of training, weapons, and in many cases the special qualities that made them famous; and, for numerous special features intended to enhance the game’s immersive nature, some not previously employed in any other computer game.

Providing a range of historical and alternative-history scenarios, “Brother Against Brother” will permit players to endlessly refight the major battles of the Civil War: hotseat, against the AI, or via PBEM.​

When they say “scrupulous attention to detail” they mean it. One of the 4 developers is a classically educated historian who cobbled together the map of Williamsburg from both publically available, private, and previously unknown resources. These maps will also have the most accurate terrain possible, as every battlefield featured has been exhaustively walked and combed over. For Wilson's Creek, they were able to find an vegetation guide written circa 19th century and the battlefield has been kept undisturbed for 160 years. Another aspect of the attention to detail is that every regiment will have two weapons, to represent the fact that units typically lost their armed cohesiveness over time. As I understand it, the system will work like thus: when a regiment fires, it calculates based on, for example, 10% having high quality rifles and 90% having a regular run of the mill musket. To find which regiment had what mix of arms, countless sources from diaries to officer reports are used. Another big feature they wanted to get across is the command structure and how it operated in the 19th century. Being able to command a regiment one mile away from the army is a-historical. Instead, regiments are in the chain of command if they are 20 minutes away by horse to simulate the officers on horseback taking commands to and from commanding officers. If a regiment is outside the chain of command, bad things start to happen. Commands may be lost, commands may be misinterpreted, or commands may be ignored entirely. Another factor in it is each officer's command Stat, which represents how well he interprets command and how willing he is. Suffice to say, historical accuracy is by far this game's strongest point.

I have reservations about the lack of a campaign mode and the fact that there's only 5-6 battles in each installment. Thankfully, the game is highly moddable, but still. The pricing on the expansions will be what seals the deal for me. Can't help but find myself wondering if the old 90's game Civil War Generals II is superior because of it's 100+ battle campaign and permanence. Still, it's about time that throne got toppled and for that Brother Against Brother is worth keeping tabs on.

Gil Renburg of Western Civilisation Software sat down with me. Here are some of his comments on Brother Against Brother.

Artillery will only have one type of shot, but that is because we assume that the gunner's know to know use grapeshot at close range. Artillery will subsequently do more damage at close range.

The reason we went with the chain of command system is that general need to have an impact and need to be differentiated. Bad generals need to be forced to make bad attacks, but a great general may make a good attack from a bad one.

We have faith in what we created, but its moddable for everyone who wants.

We have no definite plans for mobile devices.

Big plans for a night skirmish, to represent a “sleep state” for the troops movement points start of at 0 when they are encamped. Very vulnerable to attack, basically unable to be commanded. However, pickets may save the defenders if they last long enough for the encamped troops to wake up and form up.

Big combat penalties for mounted calvary, being able to quickly dismount and fire was more historical than ride around a horse with a sword.​


Close Combat: Gateway to Caen

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Well, what to say about this one. The series has gone from awesome to crap to inclined with the first remake to cashcow to better taken behind the shed. The plans for Close Combat is to upgrade the graphics from 16bit to 32bit, and the next game to revamp it with a 3d graphics engine. Also, tablet ports (oh excuse me, “going multiplatform”) of older games. At least that might mean further patching. Perhaps.

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Who cares about the graphics? Where is my AI?


The second part of our intrepid reporter's Historicon adventures will soon be released. Keep an eye out for it.

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