Gettysburg Unplugged: NorbSoftDev on How Scourge of War Gettysburg Thinks

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Scourge of War Gettysburg

Gettysburg: Scourge of War isn't a real-time strategy game for the masses. It has a perfectly functional interface, but you'd never call it "slick." It's more study-intensive than the comparably simplistic Total War real-time strategy games but yields commensurately higher returns. It tackles the mother of all Civil War battles with aplomb and occasionally startling historical verisimilitude, offering control of blues and grays from army scale down to regimental level. It's wargaming without apologies, designed by hardcore history buffs for hardcore history gamers.

This spring I spoke with the Scourge of War's creators, Jim Weaver and Norb Timpko. In part one, we talked about Gettysburg maps, canonical books, and how they got from Waterloo to Little Round Top. In part two, we discussed the design process.

In part three, we dig into the game itself.

Game On: Do you know The Southern Grays? The living historians?

Jim Weaver: Not familiar with them, no.

GO: They ran a demonstration of artillery canon fire at Second Manassas, over by Brawner's Farm, and one of the things they talked about was that Jackson had a sort of philosophy where if he ever caught any of the guys riding on the limbers, he'd have them shot.

So I was playing around with the artillery in Scourge of War, and I see three guys get up and sit on the limber as I'm moving it around, and was wondering if the Jackson story was apocryphal, or is that a level of detail you're not as concerned with modeling here?

JW: Well, it would depend...on the battlefield, riding on the limbers, they could get where they were going in a hurry. But on the march, they would walk, because it reduced the load on the horses. And the Confederates, being short of horses, had to take care of them to the greatest extent that they could. The Confederate artillery teams almost exclusively had four horse hitches, whereas the Union artillery had six, which gave them a little better mobility and speed over the ground. But they had the horses to spare where the Confederates didn't. So I can understand where Jackson would be saying, on the march, you know, get down and walk. Although he was probably less polite than that.

GO: When you're modeling the different regiments and their how they interact, how do you model and calculate the formation physics? Does the computer see big blocky rows of guys, or discrete bodies? Are the gun ballistics modeled individually, or is it more of an abstract firepower aggregate?

JW: The formations are actually set by sprite. We have a whole file that's nothing but laying out all the different formations and subsets that we've included in the game. There's a lot we left out, of course, because we don't want everyone to have to learn a 300 page drill manual just to play the game.

GO: You mean those little pocket-sized drill guides I saw in all the battlefield museums? The 1863 U.S. Infantry Tactics guide?

JW: Yeah.

GO: I picked one up at First Manassas and thumbed through it. It's kind of flooring. I mean, you've got three hundred pages devoted exclusively to complex formation drilling. Did these guys back in the day really have all that stuff down pat?

JW: The average infantry unit would drill, weather permitting, four hours a day, every day, because the drill was so complex. It had to be learned to the point of being spinal reflex, because you had to do it on the battlefield when all hell's breaking loose around you and artillery's going off and people are getting shot and there's noise and smoke and chaos. When the colonel says wheel left, the feet need to do it without thinking.

That's how you win battles, being drilled to that level of being able to do it without thinking about it, because you've got enough to do with loading and firing and filling in the gaps as casualties are taken. You had to know how to go from one formation to any other formation, and how to get there without ending up in a big rugby scrum in the middle of the field, which certainly happened a lot with green units.

GO: How cohesive were these formations under fire?

JW: It depended on...there's a famous quote from I forget which southern general who basically said Confederate units were never in straight lines, that every soldier aligned on himself and marched at his own speed. So the formations were general approximations, but they were never as pretty as the drill manuals made them out to be.

The Union troops tended to be a little better, but it wasn't like on the parade ground, because you were marching across some farmer's field with rocks and woodchuck holes and places where an artillery shell had just landed, so the ability to keep even reasonably close formations was a trick. Keeping your formation organized and lined up allowed you to concentrate firepower down range, and that's what...being able to put rounds on the target won the battle.

Next: Artificial intelligence and historical stupidity

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