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Posted on Feb 17, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Forge of Freedom – Interview

By Larry Levandowski

ACG: The patch will introduce a new scenario called Southern Steel. How does this scenario differ from those already in the game?

ERIC: Many players expressed a desire to play the game with the historically imbalanced economic situation and weren’t satisfied with having to adjust the economic parameters of the North and South before they played. Southern Steel builds these parameters into the scenario itself so that players can play with an economy taken straight from the 1860 census data without having to make any adjustments before they play. Another change is that we’ve taken away a slight balance in favor of the C.S.A. in terms of the error range of its troop numbers: when we designed the Standard scenario we tended to give the C.S.A. the benefit of the doubt whenever our research found a range of troops in a region, so, for instance, if the West Point Atlas of the Civil War said that the C.S.A. had between 50,000 and 80,000 troops in a region for the sake of play balance we tended to err on the side of giving the C.S.A. nearer to the maximum of these ranges, whereas we tended to give the U.S.A. a little below the average of the ranges we found in our research. This practice, in my opinion, makes the Standard campaign more enjoyable since it makes the game a bit more balanced and makes it just a little harder for the U.S.A. to triumph in a predictable way. However, some players did not seem to like this, and based on player recommendations Southern Steel now gives orders of battle with force levels more commensurate with the midranges we found in our historical research.


GIL: I should add that I have been play-testing this scenario as the South, and it poses a real challenge. I’m in late 1862, and the North is by now starting to really churn out battlefield artillery and siege artillery units, not to mention infantry, cavalry, ships and so on. At some point I think I’ll be overwhelmed, but for now I’ve managed to lose only Knoxville and Chattanooga. I think that the ultimate FoF challenge would be to play Southern Steel as the Confederacy with all of the advanced options on and at the highest difficulty level: anyone who can win that way will have mastered the game.

ACG: Reports and history screens are also being updated. What kind of new information can players expect to see?

ERIC: One of the most frequently requested features was an after-battle report showing how well each unit did. We added this report and it shows how well each unit and military group as a whole did in the battle: how many casualties it suffered and inflicted in the battle, as well as its total history of casualties caused and inflicted. This report also includes data on the generals that participated in the battle, showing how much morale they restored, how many units they rallied, and so forth. We’ve added a version of this report to the Overview screen, so players can look at all the units under their control and see the history of each. Another feature players requested is a battle history, so we’ve added another feature to the Overview screen that allows the player to see all of the battles that were fought during the game and a summary of their outcomes; players can also watch a turn-by-turn replay presentation of these battles on the Overview map. We’ve also added a number of reports on events that previously hadn’t been reported before: for instance, when a generals’ hidden stat becomes revealed there is now a message reporting this in the Events Report.

GIL: I should add that now that we’re tracking the performance of individual units we’ve been able to add as a feature that some units gain special abilities as a result of their performance in battle.

ACG: PBEM capability is an important feature in today’s war game market. Can you give us some details on how PBEM will improve with the patch?

ERIC: The big PBEM feature we’ve added is support for a replay file. Players can load the replay file and watch all of the details of the Movement Phase, whereas previously players had to rely on the reports to find out what had happened during the resolution of the previous turn.

ACG: Are there any changes in store for game play at the strategic level?

ERIC: There are many play-balance adjustments we’re making based on player feedback. We’ve added new ways to manage disease, by making the Medical attribute more useful, for instance, and by making disease casualties proportional to a unit’s level of strategic supply. We’ve linked march attrition and a unit’s disposition, so that zealous units can march all over the map and suffer very few losses to attrition, whereas units with low disposition now suffer even more losses than they did previously. We’ve made European diplomacy now partly dependent on battlefield outcomes. We’ve reworked the rules for troop replacements from Camps, so that the number of replacements is proportional to the population of the city containing the Camp, but Camps now have a chance of lowering a city’s free population in the April turn each year – so there is now both an incentive to build Camps in high population areas and a disincentive. We’ve made the Espionage II upgrade now allow the U.S.A. player to see where the C.S.A. blockade runner goods are located, but this ability is negated if the C.S.A. also has this upgrade. We’ve made cities much easier to besiege, so that players will have to think harder about whether they need to build forts to protect their cities. We’ve reduced the cost of military groups and ships. We’ve added a data table generously compiled by “Artmiser” on our Matrix forum that will make the governors’ requests more likely to be based on historical developments within their respective states during the Civil War. As mentioned, brigades can now acquire special abilities and so become “legendary units” in their own right during the course of the game based on how much damage they’ve both dealt and received during combat. We’ve added a rule for amphibious withdrawals, so that units with nowhere else to retreat can head back onto their ships and be returned to the nearest friendly port. We’ve also changed a number of behaviors with the artificial intelligence in the hope of making the computer opponent a wilier opponent.

GIL: And I should add that we’ve added six new game options to further allow players to customize their games, such as “Greater Population” (cities start with double the normal population levels), “No European War” (European powers never declare war on the U.S.A.), “No Time Limit” (the C.S.A. does not get any victory points starting in 1865), and so forth.

ACG: What about detailed / tactical combat? Are there any changes there?

ERIC: In detailed combat we’ve added a cap to the amount by which a unit’s base level of quality can be adjusted, which tones down the contribution from such factors as disposition, the defensive bonus, and so forth. We’ve also limited the “special rally” so that a unit can not be rallied endlessly in any particular battle. We’ve put a cap on the amount of morale a unit can lose by entering the yellow/red threat zones, so that entering these areas becomes a risk but isn’t an eventual automatic rout as it had been previously. We’ve made the A.I. field fortification bonus tied to the difficulty level, so that at most levels the A.I. does not get bonus field fortifications in a majority of its battles. We’ve added some interface improvements: out-of-command units can now be shown with the blinking-star icon that had previously been used only with the chit-view of units, players’ combat preferences are now saved between games so they will not need to set up their detailed battle preferences every time they start a new game. Furthermore, we’ve done a lot of tweaking of the numbers based on player feedback.

For quick combat, we’ve made adjustments to try to bring quick combat results closer to the results that can be achieved by detailed combat; so, for instance, we’ve increased the defender rallying bonus and decreased the amount of damage that artillery can do. We’ve also added some new information to the quick combat tooltips, so that players can see how their attributes and special abilities are helping their units.

ACG: Finally, when are you planning to release this update?

ERIC: Just as soon as our beta testers are happy with it! We’ve stopped adding new features and are now just testing the features that we’ve already added, so hopefully the update will be ready in the coming weeks.

GIL: Yes, we’ hoping it will be ready soon. And we’ve already got some ideas for what might go into future patches, since we continue to get excellent suggestions, plus we come up with more than a few ourselves. But we’ll want to give people a lot of time to get to know this enhanced version of FoF, so that we’ll know where to focus our attention.

Thanks guys. We of course will be playing once the update hits the internet!


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