Gettysburg Unplugged: NorbSoftDev on How Scourge of War Gettysburg Thinks

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Scourge of War Gettysburg

GO: You have scripting dictates in some of the scenarios to establish a certain amount of historical authenticity. What kinds of choices is the A.I. considering when it's not on script?

JW: We tell it what it ought to do, and then Norb figures out how to write the code to make it happen, and that's part of his genius as a coder. We can tell him the troops need to do this, and he'll translate that into lines of code.

That said, the A.I. was really designed to react to some extent unpredictably, and to react dynamically to what's happening. That's part of why it's such a resource hog, because it's doing a lot of thinking about things and checking things and looking around. As we've worked on it, we've made it smarter and smarter, although as somebody pointed out, even when it's acting stupidly, that's historically accurate. You can find historical examples of real generals doing some remarkably boneheaded things.

GO: Like Burnside at Fredericksburg.

JW: Right. We designed it to read in the personality characteristics of the various generals, from the OOB [order of battle] files, so that this will tend to...if a given general was historically not very aggressive, that's the way we want him to act as sort of his base, around which behavior will oscillate with a degree of randomness. And if somebody else was really aggressive and you put him on defend, chances are he's still not going to stay there and he'll go out and attack anyway.

We're thinking to be really good at this game, you want to look at your generals and know who would be a better defender or attacker. I'm not sure how many people get into it at that level of detail, but the capability and functionality are in there.

GO: You'd think that would be the primary draw for Civil War buffs, to be able to go in and almost role-play the battle. You know, stick the game in grognard mode [which locks your visual and command ability to one person, including having to issue orders by courier dispatches].

JW: Yeah, from the player's perspective, that's the hardest mode to play in, that pure historical mode where everything goes out by courier. We're still pinging back and forth about that mode, because the interface wasn't originally designed with it in mind. It was designed for the general 200 feet up, who can see the ground from that privileged decidedly unhistorical aerial point of view. We're still feeling our way around what else we could do to tweak the interface to make it more practical to play when you're tethered to the level of the general's head.

GO: It actually threw me at first. I installed the game, loaded it up, saw the difficulty settings, you know, easy, normal, veteran, grognard, and thought "well grog, of course." So I click grog and launch a battle...bear in mind I haven't read the manual yet...and then I'm sitting there on the back of the horse, wondering if the camera's broken or I accidentally zoomed in or something. And then I pulled out the manual and read about the feature and thought that's brilliant, they've managed to make the game accessible to general players while solving the age old "desktop general" battlefield intelligence issue, all while folded into the same game engine.

JW: Yeah, it was actually a mod from Take Command Second Manassas that a guy on the forums made and the response was pretty positive. It's hard, yeah, but for people who really want to understand the challenges of the real Civil War command experience short of actually getting shot at, that's where we were aiming with that mode, to make it as completely realistic as possible.

It's one of the things Larry Tagg has been a strong advocate of, and there's a community that's already formed around playing in that mode.

In part four: Wargames versus real war, scenario design, and balancing fun against historical accuracy...

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