Introducing Decisive Campaigns III

dc3I’m Cameron, the developer of the next game in the Decisive Campaigns series. Some of you may know me from the Matrix forums where I created the Enhanced Mod Suite for ATG.

This is the first of a series of blog posts about the forthcoming game that provide some background into its design and development. The game is not complete but there is enough of it there already to for me to begin a conversation, confident that it will turn up on your doorstep one day, dressed in it’s finest, sporting a cigar and a big silly grin.

Lock up your daughters.

I was given free reign by Vic as to what period/campaign/genre I would like as the basis for a new game with the Decisive Campaigns III engine. While I considered many alternatives, in the end I chose Barbarossa. Personal favourites such as the WW2 North Africa and a raft of other, more obscure conflicts, failed to pass muster because they either weren’t suited for the engine or were a niche within a niche.

In the end the deciding factor was the popularity and awareness amongst gamers of the Eastern front. The game has to sell.

Luckily there is a significant body of literature, war diaries and other source material covering the campaign and it was, fortuitously, one of the more fascinating ones. You could argue that the start of Barbarossa was also one of the 20th centuries great ‘roll of the dice’ moments, on par with Pearl Harbour.

Unfortunately it’s not all roses as there are sizable challenges that need to be overcome. One of those challenges is generic to historical wargames and the other is specific to the chosen campaign.

Challenge 1: How to make an historical game replayable?

Historical games, are by their very nature, games strapped firmly into straight jackets. People buy them to recreate a major military event and to gain an understanding of the various factors that were in play. Historical buffs love them for their attention to detail. Moving a game away from it’s historical roots is fraught with peril and protests.

These constraints are typically dealt with by providing a range of scenarios and the occasional ‘what if’. The replayability comes from providing multiple variations of the main theme. There may be some game mechanics that enable the player to ‘mix it up’ a touch, but generally this is only tweaking things on the margins as anything more risks losing the ‘historical’ description and having the game being forced to turn in it’s uniform and being gonged out of the army.

A title such as Decisive Campaigns III : Barbarossa is firmly in the historical camp. It can present arms and drill with the best of them. The amount of historical detail contained within is at a higher level than most. People who buy an historical game for the history will be pleased.

Does it contain the usual breadth of scenarios? No. It makes no pretense to do so. The focus is on the main campaign. Granted, it is playable from both sides but this is a case of smoke and mirrors as the nature of the campaign is such that the Soviets had a pretty miserable time of it. Taking command of the Red Army in the face of an overwhelming onslaught isn’t much fun other than for those who enjoy being beat up (a significant effort is underway to make the Soviet side enjoyable but even with this the majority of players will opt for the German side).

Which leaves a single campaign and a single, preferred, side awash with historical detail. Not a lot of variety here and limited scope for replayability.

If you’re the type of player, like myself, that enjoys a ‘build your own world’ type of game, for example Civilization or ATG, there isn’t much, if anything, in the above description to entice you.

Definitely a design challenge.

Challenge 2: How to bring something new to the table?

There are numerous games covering the same campaign at all levels of detail and scope. Each is different. There isn’t any point in making another also-ran. How many games are there that deal with the invasion of Russia in WW2? I did a quick web survey and came up with a list going on fifty.

That’s a lot. Each has their own theme. Many are different variations of the same theme.

Perhaps it’s like writing a novel in that there are only so many plots to choose from?

Maybe everything that could be done, has been done from detailed tactical combat simulations all the way up to monster strategic time sinks?

You could ask does the game even need a fancy new approach? What’s wrong with an well executed game using a proven engine (DC)? It might not be a ‘wow, look at that!’ car but there are plenty of people still buying and driving around in everyday commuter vehicles.

Well that’s certainly doable but it’s not going to get anyone excited. More likely it will have them nodding off with ‘not another game about…’

So there is a requirement for a new approach. A new angle.

This, in itself, isn’t hard. There are many things you could do which haven’t previously been done. Nobody else has tried them, however, for the very good reason that they don’t add anything to the gaming experience. In most cases they detract and distract. Who wants more micromanagement, more decisions that have little impact or excessive amounts of decorative chrome?

Once again, a challenge.

Summary

DC3: Barbarossa has taken on both challenges.

Will it end up triumphantly goose stepping across Red Square or is it destined to expire, crawling with lice, huddled fetal-like in a frozen ditch, in some nameless field?

Till next time…

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14 Responses to Introducing Decisive Campaigns III

  1. bearro says:

    Sounds very interesting, two questions:

    1. Do you think DC might come to Steam with DC3?
    2. How do you feel about playable minors? Personally I’d love to play a game about Barbarossa as e.g. Romania (with Germany run by the AI)
    3. What will be the time span? Will we be able to play until 1945?

  2. Jafele says:

    Good day Cameron! Happy to know you´re working on DC3.

    I´d like to know more details about the supply system and the AI. They are essential features to me in any wargame. On another note, will the Enhanced mod be updated after the next ATG patch? This is the best mod I´ve found for ATG, adds a new dimension to the game.

    Cheers

  3. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi bearro,

    Steam is out of my control. Playable minors probably wouldn’t be that interesting given the scale and their level of involvement in the campaign. The Romanians do, however, receive a special focus in various game mechanics.

    Hi Jafele,

    Supply and AI? Rest easy. The first is already taken care of and Vic has promised to give the second an extra polish.

    I’ll be discussing different aspects of the game later on.

    With regards to the Enhanced Mod Suite I’d have to see what’s involved once Vic releases his patch. Time is in short supply at present.

    Cheers

  4. Roy says:

    Good to see you at work again on another game Cameron! You have quite a challenge with DC3. I’m not much of an historical gamer but will keep an eye on the development of this new title. I have great admiration for your ATG Mod (please keep it updated) and for all Vic’s games even if I mostly play ATG.

    Roy
    Webizen (Matrix Games)
    Tac2i (Slitherine)

  5. TJD says:

    Great news that a new DC is in the works but I would suggest you post this information on the Matrix forums for Case Blue and DCWtP. They are very quiet and recent posts suggest that player morale is a bit low due to the perceived inattention of the game’s designer. News that the series is still being developed will be pretty encouraging. It certainly has been to me.

  6. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Roy

    “You have quite a challenge with DC3.”

    It had me scratching my head for while. A rough red helps.

    Hi TJD

    “I would suggest you post this information on the Matrix forums for Case Blue”

    A lapse on my part, I’ll take care of it.

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  7. Stonestriker says:

    Regarding the first challenge, is there any thoughts regarding having the player be in charge of a single army group? The other AGs could the either be controlled by other players (PBEM), or by the AI?

    I can´t remember if the scale of units for DCIII would be regiments as well, but even on a divisional scale the number of units could be intimidating for a new player, and this could serve well for introductory purposes.

    For more experienced players it could present a smaller scale campaign for some quick play, and/or additional challenge where a player-controlled AG attempt to help the other AGs

  8. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Stonestriker,

    Something along these lines is being considered.

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  9. Jeff says:

    I guess the ‘big ideas’ that I have been thinking about is a way to break the time scale dilemma of too short vs. too long. I think the going consensus over in a another set of forums is that 1 week turns in an IGO UGO format is too long.

    Can the DC engine be chopped up and formed into a somewhat variable turn length game ? I think it would be do able from what I’ve seen people do with the ATG mods.

    Of course the TOAW series has some mechanic for this, so I hear, but it isn’t universally hailed as a great thing.

    Drawback might be PBM games H2H where you wait a few days and play for a minimum amount of time then have to send it away for another few days without accomplishing anything.

    A huge advantage IMHO in replayability is to allow for variable production, the history book thumpers hate this but it does make for interesting gaming. The original WIR, (computer) as did the hex and counter WIR, (SPI) although for the Soviets only, IIRC.

    And at least one East front game I played did end the game at the gates of Moscow, (essentially time limit) and if the German didn’t take Moscow by a certain turn, it’s game over and Russians win.

    Which brings up another classic dilemma of East front games, particularly grand scale ones, that is establishing victory conditions that prove both challenging and attainable at the same time. Heck I’d settle for a new game that established clear VC’s for the Germans and Russians, but of course allowed for some variability as well.

    I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself, now that I think of it.

    :/

  10. Jafele says:

    IMO balancing scenarios and a flexible AI are important keys to replayability. Being realistic nobody is going to play by email unbalanced scenarios. Yes, I know it´s not very historical but after all it´s just a game, and games are for fun, aren´t they?

    Extremely detailed monster games never were my cup of tea, probably because I get tired of micromanagements that make me feel like an accountant.

    Cheers

  11. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Jeff & Jafele,

    Turns cover a time of 4 days only.

    Victory conditions and replayability have been given a lot of attention. There’ll be blog posts on both.

    Cheers

  12. Rasputitsa says:

    Looking forward eagerly to see how this progresses, 50 games on this subject and arguably none has got the balance quite right yet. Huge area, vast numbers of units, possibilities of too much micro-management a real danger. I know many players like a great depth of detail and maybe that is unavoidable, but please design an option for the player to set objectives and basic orders (at perhaps Axis Korps/Soviet Army level) to let the game system do the detail work. The Player can always intervene and make some moves manually, where adjustments are required and smaller scenarios could be played in greater detail, but not the Grand Campaign.

    Yes, the AI ADC is going to make mistakes, but this would add more realism, there will be more than enough to do in setting strategy and maintaining production and supply, without getting bogged down in every single minor move.

    I already have enough games which take forever to play and life is too short.

  13. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Rasputitsa,

    There’ll be a blog post that addresses this very topic, probably the one after next. The game is geared to being played over a two/three/four evening time span depending on how you choose to play it.

    You’ll be pleased with the weather report.

    Cheers

  14. Rasputitsa says:

    Thanks Cameron, nice to have the chance to comment, can’t wait to see how you progress with this one. Looking out for the blog.

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