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Posted on Feb 1, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Battlefront (SSG) – Interview

By Larry Levandowski

With the imminent release of Battlefront through Matrix Games, we felt it was necessary to sit down with Gregor Whiley and get the up-to-the-minute scoop on this release.

ACG: Battlefront is a game of tactical WWII combat at the battalion level. The gameplay is traditional hex-map, turn based wargaming, and even uses virtual six-sided dice. Given all the possible ways to build a computer wargame, why did the design team stick to this traditional approach?

Gregor Whiley: I think it’s pretty much a given that wargame players are more interested in outcomes rather than just appearance. We use the design items you mention because we think they work best for the games that we are doing. Hexes give both the player and the AI an unambiguous idea of where the can maneuver their units. Turn based games allow meaningful email games and are popular with players. We could do combat calculations with a dice of any denomination, or using complicated, hidden equations. The six-sided dice gives the human player a clear and instantly comprehensible picture of the likely outcomes of his combat decisions. We see no point in shrouding this in mystery, quite the opposite, we want the player to know what happened and why.

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ACG: Looking only at screenshots, Battlefront seems to be an enhancement of the Decisive Battles series (Ardennes, Korsun, Normandy and Italy). But the battalion level scale of Battlefront is much more tactical than DB, so it is really a different game. For those familiar with the DB series, how is Battlefront different?

GW: Many of the Battlefront concepts will be familiar to fans of the DB series. However, there are some important differences. You directly control artillery and airstrikes, picking targets and causing casualties. However, you can’t attack indiscriminately. Battlefront introduces the concept of Attack Supply, which regulates the tempo of combat operations. Only units within command range of their own HQs get the extra materiel necessary for attacks and this will often not be enough to allow attacks every turn. So as well as picking your targets you have to think about properly co-coordinating offensive operations. The new OMA scheme, outlined below, introduces greater flexibility for the player and the scenario designer. The more tactical scale introduces the concepts of Direct Fire and Line of Sight and special combat modes, such as Banzai attacks, give a significant edge to different countries when attacking.

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ACG: Battlefront has a feature called the Off Map Area (OMA) system. What is this, and how will it be used in a typical scenario?

GW: Let’s look at the Market Garden scenario for an example. The Germans in the south have exit hexes on the map which link to OMAs. This means that German units can exit the map, rather than being corralled against the map edge and exterminated by XXX Corps. Once in the OMA system, these units can be moved to other OMA boxes and eventually back onto the map. Since the German player has a lot of choice on where they re-enter the map, the Allied player can never be certain where they will be redeployed. As well as that, German reinforcements don’t arrive directly on the map. Instead they arrive in OMAs where the German player can choose to send them to up to three on-map entry hexes or to move them to another OMA. Again, the Allied player simply can’t be certain where or when these units will turn up. The Allied player at Market Garden also gets reinforcements in OMAs, but as the Allied plan has only one entry point and one axis of advance, there’s no scope for fooling the German player. OMAs can also contain destroyed units which have been partially rebuilt and can be redeployed to the battlefield.

ACG: SSG stated on the Battlefront forums that the game has been fitted with the Warcard system for AI. What is Warcard? Why does it improve the quality of the computer opponent?

GW: The Warcard system was first used in Carriers at War and has been redesigned for Battlefront. In essence, it gives the scenario designer much finer control over formations, and much better information on which the formation can base its decision making. For instance, the British 1st Airborne at Arnhem is given a region, marked on the map in the AI editor, in which to operate. Key defensive hexes are designated to ensure that important hexes are not left undefended, and secure locations picked for HQ, Supply and Artillery units. 1st Airborne can be told to counter-attack any intruders within its region and if that fails and a specified number of key hexes fall to the enemy, then the Warcard will be discarded and a new card, with a smaller perimeter, chosen. Should they hold out long enough, other cards essentially tell the unit how to evacuate across the river. Another special card takes care of the vital task of ensuring that Frost’s battalion makes its historic dash to the bridge. The flexibility and feedback from the new system give the scenario designer much greater control over units and a much greater facility to have AI units react to different contingencies, making for a much smarter system.

ACG: The game features improved play by email security. This is important for players who are looking for a challenge beyond the AI. Please give us a few more details on what this feature is.

GW: Actually, I don’t want to go into details. Let’s just say that we now have more options for checking that everything that has happened in a PBEM game has been free of any interference.

ACG: One of the features eagerly awaited by everyone, is the ability to edit and create scenarios. Please describe what features the editing tools will provide, and how much freedom scenario designers will have.

GW: With Battlefront you are given exactly the same tools as we used to create the scenarios in the game. You can edit existing scenarios, including the AI or make entirely new scenarios with new maps and OBs. In other words, you can do whatever you like.

ACG: The game will come with four scenarios, Market Garden, Saipan, Gazala and Novorossisk. The first three are familiar to those who have been gaming for a while; but why Novorossisk?

GW: We wanted a Russian scenario, since they’re usually popular and having done some Eastern Front unit graphics will make it easier for the scenario creators to get started. Novorossisk is a medium sized battle with the interesting twist of being by far the Soviet’s largest amphibious operation. It’s also typical of Russian Front warfare. While both sides have some elite troops, they’re all short of men and supplies, and have to make do with what they have.

ACG: Supply and Command and Control are getting some emphasis in Battlefront. Please describe how these will affect gameplay.

GW: Every unit now belongs to a formation which has a HQ on the map. This HQ will only authorize attack supply to subordinate units within its command range, and can also give significant combat bonuses. If you have units outside command range they won’t be able to attack for long before they run out supplies and they will be at less than optimum strength. So while we don’t stop people from moving units anywhere on the map, they are strongly encouraged to keep them together and within Command Range.

Static HQs cannot authorize attack supply and give combat bonuses on the turn after they have moved, whereas Mobile HQs can still do so, though often at a reduced rate. This helps to regulate the tempo of battle and provides an important distinction between HQs of different abilities.

ACG: Beyond the initial release of Battlefront, how do you see the game growing over time? Add-ons, scenario packs, campaign support, other periods?

GW: We’re not entirely sure what we will do after Battlefront. Right now we are concentrating on completing Carriers at War. We are very confident that lots of people will take advantage of the power of the Battlefront system to create scenarios of their own.

ACG: Finally the question that everyone really wants to ask; when will the game be released?

GW: As I write this, we are in the very final stages of testing Release Candidates, so we are very close to being finished.

As always, thanks for giving us the opportunity to pose these questions on behalf of the Armchair General community.

Discuss Battlefront on the Armchair General forums.

Learn more about Battlefront.

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