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Posted on May 28, 2010 in Electronic Games

Achtung Panzer: Operation Star – Graviteam Interview

By Singleton Mosby

The AI is now more massive in its attacks and the AI visibility system is greatly improved.

In Achtung Panzer players find themselves commanding a company-sized combat force on either the German or Soviet side during the relentless battles around Kharkov in 1943. Achtung Panzer is comparable with the Close Combat and Combat Missions series with the added "edge" of a 3D-tactical battlefield instead of 2D. The Ukranian developers, Graviteam, were lauded and applauded for their first game in this series, Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943, and now are working on the next installment, aptly named Operation Star, the name of the Soviet offensive in January – February 1943 that allowed them to (temporarily) recapture the city of Kharkov. This time the operations take place a few weeks before the events depicted in AP: Kharkov 1943, and the Germans are on the defense instead of offense.

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Will we be impressed by immersive and tense combat situations, daunting night-ambushes and superb realism? Could such an impressive first release in a series be improved upon? Unfortunately, we will have to wait until autumn to find out for ourselves, but to get insight into what we can expect in the new release, I set up an Armchair General interview with Vladimir Zayarniy and Andrey Zuev of Graviteam.

Armchair General: Could you please tell us a bit about Graviteam and the team working on Operation Star?

Graviteam: Graviteam was founded in 2004 as a team of like-minded individuals. We are very much interested in WWII history, a war in which our relatives fought, and we all live in Kharkov, a city which is still not officially recognized as a hero-city, even though some of the greatest battles happened just outside it. A lot of information on these battles was kept secret for a long time!

Enjoying military games, we also have experience in developing complex military simulators for the Ukrainian army.

Our team is very small, 11 people max. Currently only four people are working on Achtung Panzer: Operation Star-two programmers, a level designer and an art director.

ACG: Achtung Panzer was very well received by the public and the press; did you expect this to happen and what was your reaction when it did?

Graviteam: Well, we really hoped for that. It’s very satisfying to see a lot of positive reaction in the press and among players about Achtung Panzer. Of course we continue developing the series and as you know, we are working on an expansion right now.

We constantly try to improve the quality of our games, add additional features (often ones requested by players), polish the gameplay, and enhance the physics engine among other countless things.

And we try to participate in the community, talking to players and discussing features and changes. That tremendously helps us make a better game in the end.

AGC: Will the original AP:K43 campaigns be available in Operation Star with the new interface and improvements?

Graviteam: One operation will be re-worked, changed a bit and included into the expansion. The rest of the original operations from Kharkov 1943 won’t be included in Operation Star, though there is a possibility that they will be available later on in a different way.

AGC: How many (new) campaigns are there in Operation Star?

Graviteam: Eight operations total: 5 for RKKA and 3 for the Wehrmacht. Three of those will be set in February 1943, one of which you’ll see in the demo version. One is a re-worked operation from the original game. And there are four completely new operations in a new battle region 140 square kilometers (54 square miles) in size.

AGC: There were a few problems with the AI in AP: K1943. Will there be AI improvements in Operation Star?

Graviteam: The initial placement system is improved. The AI is now more massive in its attacks, and when encountering heavy fire from the defensive side the AI will now try to flank the enemy. Tanks which are outfitted with smoke ammo will be able to set the smoke screens. Also, the AI visibility system is greatly improved.

AGC: What is your favorite new feature in Operation Star?

Graviteam: Smoke screens.

AGC: How long does it take to create an operational map? Will it be possible for the community to create and import maps of their own in the future?

Graviteam: That is a pretty long process, depending on the landscape type and region size. We’re always trying to reproduce the landscape as thoroughly as possible, which takes quite a while even with a special editor and utilities. We always need a field trip, sometimes more than one, to capture and study the landscape. The expansion will have an extended operations editor that will allow the player to create new operations in the existing battle regions.

Maybe, just maybe, one day the battle region editor will be available as well. But judging from our previous game (Steel Fury), which had such an editor, it wasn’t very popular with the fans. So it’s not a number-one priority for now.

AGC: Will you consider expanding the game to include other theatres of war after Operation Star, and if so, which theater would you favor?

Graviteam: The next expansion we’re planning after Operation Star will be a summer expansion, dedicated to the events that took place after the Battle for Kursk. We’ll stay on the Eastern Front for now, though other things attract us as well-Battles of Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan Incident), Soviet-Finnish Conflict of 1939 and some modern conflicts.

Mostly, the "focus shift" of the theater of operations depends on our development budget. For a significant switch we’ll need new sets of soldiers and vehicles, new landscapes, etc., which can be quite costly for our small team. But I can say that during the course of our series development there will definitely be other theaters of operation.

AGC: You mentioned modern conflicts. Since Graviteam designs software for the modern military, do you have campaigns based on modern scenarios with modern equipment? If so, will these be made available too in the future?

Graviteam: Military simulators focus on different aspects of warfare and usually there are no campaigns/operations, per se. However, modern conflicts simulations are in the long-term plans.

AGC: When can we expect Operation Star to be released?

Graviteam: It will be released in Russia in the fall 2010. We are looking at starting the digital sales in the rest of the world in the fall of 2010 as well and worldwide retail release also has a chance to happen this year.

On behalf of Graviteam, I would like to thank Armchair General for giving attention to our games!!!

AGC: And I would like to thank you for this interview. We are looking forward to the fall and our first play-through of a very promising title.

Be sure to check out Graviteam: http://graviteam.com/ and Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943: http://graviteam.com/games/kharkov-1943.html.

(Editor’s Note: Click here to read the Armchair General review of Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943.)

About the Author:

"Singleton Mosby" is the pseudonym of Mark Spierenburg, author of The Art of Armchair Warfare blog. He is a gamer, writer, wine lover and classic car enthusiast but perhaps foremost an amateur historian. His main fields of interest are the American Civil War and the Napleonic era, as well as near-Eastern and Mughal history. At college he spent more time reading history books than paying attention in class and, thus, soon left school on an uncertain path. He now works at the office during the day and plays and writes about historical wargames at night. A glass of great wine, fireplace blazing and Napoleon looking down. Life is a bliss.

2 Comments

  1. Is there anywhere I can purchase the box version of Operation Star? The only place I can find to purchase Op Star is a digital download from Graviteam and my computer’s security systems flag their site as dangerous.

    Is the original version of Kharkov 1943 required to play Operation Star?

  2. The battle region editor in Steel Fury was unpopular because:
    A. The docs were never translated from Russian to English.
    B. The editor was unintuitive and without the manual we couldnt figure out how it worked.

    This is the same editor they included in Steel Armor with the docs for the editors in Russian only so buyer beware.

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