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Ultimate General: Gettysburg has the immense potential to support an entire series of epic, blockbuster, Civil War battle games of unique realism, historical accuracy, and player engagement and enjoyment. But there is a problem or two that stands like a roadblock to that success: I have mentioned some of these problems in previous posts. But, now I have come to realize there is an absolute game stopper sitting right in front of us. This flaw is so impactful and over-powering, it drowns out the many good things in the UGG design. It can well keep this design from ever being accepted by the larger RTS community. Let me illustrate: Look what happens in every game: The situation reveals itself; forces arrive to the battlespace; they maneuver, they fight, they advance or withdraw; and victory is declared. And then the lights go out. When the curtain is raised on the next “act” of this play, we are faced with a whole new scene, set, and premise. It is like the first act never happened. From scenario to scenario, there is no AI “analysis” determining the starting positions for the next game. In fact, the absurdity of the non-historical historical scenarios is damningly demonstrated by the fact that when the next scenario starts, the two sides are not where we left them; they are not even in contact with each other. Hell, they not even in eyesight if each other on the entire battle field. Now, think of the three-day history of the battle, with fixed lines from flank to flank. Did that EVER occur in the real battle? Think about that for a minute, HARD: Here we have the main battle forces of both sides knocking each other silly, going toe-to-toe for hours. Then, the bell rings, the game is over, and the stage—literally—goes black. When the curtain rises again for Act Two, there is no enemy opposition of any size to be seen anywhere on the map. The enemy force that was deeply engaged with you on a seven-mile front is nowhere to be seen on the battlefield and there is no clue as to where they might have removed themselves. The entire enemy army has VANISHED! What is wrong with this picture? Everything! This throws any semblance of historical accuracy right out the window. Regardless of the tactical actions of the player or players, no matter how atypical or eccentric the maneuverings or battle outcomes, the opposition has magically disengaged, disentangled, and vaporized into thin air, into thin air! The arbitrariness and implausibility of this unavoidable start to every scenario is even more staggering when one considers (a) how difficult it was during the ACW to disengage from an enemy once combat had been joined by major forces; and, ( the absurd assumption thrust upon the players by the game’s designers that states that both sides would implicitly want to disengage and run away from each other regardless of the tactical situation. One of the primary duties of skirmishers (which, as I have previously reported, are not functionally represented in UGG) was to keep eyes on the enemy battle line opposite and report any critical movements, advances, withdrawals, or shifts that the enemy commander may attempt. To think that at 3:00 in the afternoon of July 1, Meade’s Army of the Potomac would simply vanish without leaving so much as a dust trail behind is just plain silly. What is equally as puzzling is why the Alpha playtesters, the Beta users, and the buying public have not screamed like stuck pigs at this artifice is equally amazing. It hits you in the face every time you start a subsequent scenario after Day 1, Scene 1. I do not think that the company, with its whole future at stake, has been well served by a group of testers who appear to be, as a whole, enthusiastic, well-read, erudite, experienced game players. And I do not know why they did not do a better job pointing out this fatal flaw. One of the critical duties of a good playtester, and I’ve managed hundreds of them in my career, is to think critically, respond skeptically, be the Devil’s Advocate, share honest opinions freely, and, most importantly, TELL THE TRUTH to the folks in charge without worrying that they will kick you off the team for being too negative. I have learned over the years that playtester feedback—good, bad, or indifferent—is worth its weight in gold and is absolutely critical to a design’s success. The UGG designers and developers are neck-deep in alligators trying to drain the proverbial swamp. They cannot see the forest for the trees. That is why they absolutely depend upon a group of well-briefed, well-directed, well-coached, testers--who know what their job is and how critical that job is to the success of the game--to show them the way and act as the acid test for their brain child. Something went off the tracks here. Maybe it was a new design team underestimating the time and effort required to playtest a new design. Maybe it was production deadlines truncating development schedules; maybe it was a belief that playtesters should be game virgins, naïfs, and innocents to be effective; I simply do not know. The UGG game design and game engine has SO MUCH potential, it makes my head ache. At this point, the guys in the back room need to realize that insight and brilliance is a wonderful thing, but it needs to be balanced with practical know-how and experience getting a viable game design out the door and into customer’s hands. Developing on the backs of your “early adopter” customers is an abuse of your best customer base. Paying customers do not like to be guinea pigs for poorly developed designs. Serious improvements need to occur that go well beyond the next “patch.” There are fixable, yet fundamental, flaws in the current design that cannot be repaired by patches. A Version 2.0 needs to be undertaken that address the suite of historical scenarios, a Campaign Game, real unit specialization, skirmishers, and features that enhance hardcore user aesthetics and AAR reflection. A true multi-player/multi-side function would be nice also. As it currently stands, UGG’s ability to even roughly simulate the real battle is nearly zero. And that is in fact due to deliberate, but wildly misguided, decisions by the developers to come up with a hokey, screwy, scenario system that can’t even loosely replicate the real battle situations as it unfolded. (One of the advantages of the old board wargames was that we could move units around the mapboard and step through the real historical campaign to demonstrate whether the real battle could be replicated by our simulation design in terms of space/time/resources. It was very useful. Apparently, that is a problem with computer games.) This is a game stopper. As it stands now, you cannot even broadly replicate the Battle of Gettysburg with this game design. Guys, you got a good thing here—potentially—but we need to talk. Can this game be saved? Yes, but the “not invented here” egos have to be put away and the designers on the other side of the world have to realize they have to tap into a wealth of game design and development experience here in the States who can help them make this game the winner it can be for the US market. If you haven’t walked the battlefield, then it’s like you are trying to perform brain surgery from 10,000 kilometers away. Possible, but not very likely to be successful. Enjoy!