Thursday, 12 February 2015

It Is Done ! (almost)

Major Announcement & Teaser

For anyone that has been following this blog for a while ... you may have noticed that its been a long time between posts.

Not to worry ... :)
 
The last 12 months have been a pretty mad flurry of painting, modelling, photography, fund raising, rule writing, play testing and .... game development.  Albeit on the quiet.

I have managed to go through lots of paint bottles, knock a significant dent out of the ever growing LeadMountain, and drunk a tonne of coffee.

I am super pleased with the results of this, and I hope that you all might find some benefits in the finished product as well :)

Napoleonic Tabletop Miniature Gaming


A division level engagement in GrandTactical scale.

 So .....

In a nutshell, what I have been concentrating on is finishing off my vision of a Napoleonic era Tabletop Miniature Wargaming concept for the 21st century.

The original concept involved a computer moderated system of that uses familiar web technology to deliver a fast moving, multi-user system for tabletop battles. The 'rule mechanics' being based 99% on the Empire rules.


After almost 6 months of near continuous playtesting .. that vision has morphed somewhat, with a view to providing something with a broader appeal to all wargamers in general.




This includes :
  • A comprehensive multi player campaign system, where players manage their strategic operations using the online system, with the usual benefits of hidden movement, time delays, logistics, etc.
  • An intuitive campaign editor, so players can very easily design their own large scale campaigns, and invite their friends to play online.
  • Keep the campaign system general enough to be used for a broad range of periods. 
  • Platform independent. Runs the same on Windows, Mac, Linux.  All you need is a browser and an internet connection.
  • Native Android app, available from the GooglePlay store.
  • Native iOS app, available from the AppleStore.
  • De-couple the tabletop system from any specific ruleset. Tabletop engagements can use the built-in computer moderated approach if players want .... or they can fight out the battle using their existing favorite rules (GdB, BlackPowder, C&GII, DBN, GrandManoevre .... etc). There are way too many to choose from !   Fight your battle, your way, and then enter the results into the campaign system.
  • Provide a built-in ComputerModerated rules for tabletop games, tightly coupled to the campaign  system.  This is sort of like C&G-lite, but completely multi-user.
  • Publish the internal ComputerModerated rules as a standalone dice based ruleset for offline play. Complete Ruleset is 28 pages, plus 4 pages of QRS in very large and readable type.  (1 QRS for each of :  Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Command&Control)   If the system is fun to use and gives believable results ....  then people may also want to play "Just get the troops on the table and go for it" types of games, without all the tedious setup.

There is a lot of detail covered in the above overview, and I will use this blog space (as time permits), to expand on those details on a case by case basis.

 Multi-Player, Online Campaign System


Macro Strategic view of a 4-player campaign map set in Central Europe, 1813. Screenshot taken from an Android Tablet.

Quick overview of the campaign management system :

The whole campaign experience operates as an online application, using familiar web based tools.

Players login to a campaign over the internet, and take control of their forces.

The whole user interface for this approach is designed to be usable with just a touchscreen.

You can do everything you need to do by tapping on the screen (or just using a mouse, if using a laptop/desktop).  No typing needed to enter detailed orders for your units.

Maps for your campaign use real worldwide maps, but with each tile rendered in a beautiful watercolor interpretation. This 'in the Cloud' technology is provided by the fantastic guys and gals from Stamen in SanFran, CA. 
http://stamen.com


You can zoom in and out of the map, just like you can in GoogleMaps, which adds details such as woods and waterways.  The overall effect is generic enough to be perfect for Napoleonic era campaign maps .... heck, even wonderful Fantasy settings for a HoTT campaign would work well with this tool.

You can setup  your campaign anywhere ... in any time period. Run a SevenYearsWar immaginations campaign set in your own backyard if you like !

Each campaign is limited to having up to 8 different 'Nations', as represented by one of the 8 colors as seen above.

Each 'Nation' is limited to having up to 4 different players, each with their own separate forces within the campaign.

So that is a total of 32 players max for each campaign game.

Players can give only orders to units under their own command.

Players can see the location and status of other units from the same Nation/Colour from the campaign map, but cannot give orders to them.

Players can only see units from other Nations/Colours when they approach these units on the campaign map. Information is very limited on enemy units until engaged.

Campaign Movement



Campaign Map Editor - Objectives overlay, which adds important Objective Locations, road waypoints, and routes of march. Screenshot taken from a Linux laptop using Chrome Browser.
 Just like real armies, units in the campaign can move anywhere, in any direction, in any formation.

Such 'cross country' movement in deployed order is of course randomly slow.

For faster route marches, each campaign map includes a detailed network of major objective locations, and waypoints ... all connected by march routes. Ideally these march routes should mimic the road network on the underlaying map ... but that is entirely up to the scenario designer.

These campaign specific road networks are critical to the operation of the campaign game.

Larger forces using these march routes automatically form column of march as they use these fast routes, and automatically deploy back into their defined line of battle if/when they reach their destination.

Units that are unable to trace at least 1 march route back to a friendly waypoint .... are cutoff from supply, and face the consequences.

The result is simple to model, but offers a wide variety of horribly realistic choices for each player in their strategic operations.

Note that these strategic level maps shown above deal with Corps level units (or their equivalent forces, such as Wings). The game plays best when each player controls a small handful (3-4) Corps level forces.

But what happens with the detail below Corps level ?  Lets have a look.

Grand Tactical View & Tabletop Engagements


Grand Tactical view of a Russian Corps deploying for all round defense. Screenshot taken from an iPad.

Lets dive down now to look at what is happening with a Corps sized unit.

The screenshot above shows the Grand Tactical view for a small Russian Corps, which shows the deployment of each sub-unit. The sub-units are a collection of Division sized units, plus a number of supporting Brigades, Cavalry Bdes, and Artillery Batteries.

The maps at the Grand Tactical level use real topographical maps for the area, including all waterways, and full contour lines.

A full coverage of the entire earth is included, and is rendered 'In the Cloud' thanks to the excellent work of the ESRI !!
http://esri.com

When viewing the map in this full topographical mode, you can only scroll the map around an area about 15-20km within your Corps HQ location, which represents a realistic ability to assess the terrain in detail within your area of control.

As opposing forces meet for an engagement, the action heads from this GrandTactical view to the tabletop.

A (good) player can use this knowledge to complete their deployment making best use of the terrain for either attack or defense.

The tabletop layout is derived directly from this actual topographical map, at the location where the players decide to give battle.

On engagement with enemy forces, each player determines their deployment, sets up their reserve forces, and commits any Corps level assets to the engagement.  They then specify initial objectives and lines of advance for each sub-unit.

From there ... its straight to the tabletop, with a ready made scenario and a detailed context in which to fight it !!



Serious Infrastructure across the board


The campaign game runs on internet based servers, which have been configured to be able to handle LOTS of users, running LOTS of games at once, spread out across the globe.

This is a non-trivial enterprise, and so I have gone for using professionally managed servers, spread out in multiple locations.

Getting the infrastructure in place to support this has taken a little bit of time and energy, but doing so has been relatively cheap, thanks to advances in the server industry.

I currently have servers setup and ready to roll in :
  • Newark, NJ  (servicing Nth America, and real close to Connecticut!)
  • London, UK (servicing gamers in the EU)
  • Tokyo, Japan (to service the PacRim countries, incl Aus/NZ)


Highly recommend http://linode.com for providing these professionally managed services.

So basically ... the system is able to cope with a lot of growth, should that ever be needed.


Commercial Nitty Gritty

Development has gone well, and I am pleased with the results to date. That (should) be all the hard stuff out the way  :)

 But now it is crunch time to commercialise these results, and make it available for everyone to use. Taking that final step requires a remarkable amount of rigour and time.  (Just ask any successful game publisher)

On the other side of the coin ... is the typical wargamer, which at least in my limited experience means :

  • Having an obsessive need to collect and try every ruleset that ever comes out.
  • Has an extremely limited budget set aside for this obsession.
  • Has seemingly unlimited time to research and investigate options before pulling the trigger :)
  • Wants to constantly mod and enhance what they buy anyway.
  • Would love to publish their own rules, OOBs and scenarios for others to use (???)

With all that in mind, the commercial model that I will be offering is as follows :

Freebies and Cheapies :
  1. Free signup for an unlimited trial account.
  2. Free access to a small handful of scenarios.
  3. Free access to create and edit your own campaign, for up to 4 players.
  4. Free access to host 1 campaign game at a time, and invite up to 4 players to join the game for free.
  5. Free access to take part as a player in 1 campaign game at a time.
  6. Download PDF rules for the standalone dice based rules, plus QRS sheets (nominal fee)
The Scenario Library :
  1. A library of ready made, searchable campaign scenarios, available for purchase for a nominal fee. 
  2. A scenarios forum.

Premium Membership (annual subscription) :
  1. Edit and store up to 10 detailed campaigns, each with up to 32 player roles.
  2. Additional storage space to add more campaigns (nominal fee)
  3. Run 1 campaign game at a time.
  4. Run additional campaigns in parallel (nominal fee)
  5. Store and playback AARs for played campaigns.
  6. Offer your own campaign scenarios and OOBs through the Scenario Library, and get in-game credits for each sale.
  Premium Services :
  1. Implement any significant change to the campaign system to accommodate additional factors (railways ?  radio comms ? spies ? economics ? TV/Media/Public opinion ? nuclear weapons ? Fantasy & Magic ?).  Anything do-able is do-able given enough time and thought.
  2. Depending on how that goes, will run each enhancement as an internal mini-kickstarter operation.

Anyway, thats enough for now as a teaser.

I will get this out there as soon as I can ... I am expecting to go live by Anzac Day 2015   (25 April 2015 - 100th Anniversary)

Looking forward to hearing any feedback from potential users between now and then.

Cheers



18 comments:

  1. This sound very cool indeed, and I look forward to seeing what I can do with the campaign system when it goes live.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This looks to be an excellent system for those who want a computerised campaign. Personally, I prefer 'old school' wargaming without the electronic technology, but I would be very interested in the PDF dice based rules.
    You have obviously put a great deal of effort into this project and I wish you the success you deserve.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sweet, I will try and get the published PDF rules out ASAP, and would be eager to get your feedback on them. I have played them extensively, and I am very pleased with the way the game flows. Will let you know when its ready to go.

      Delete
  3. I would be very interested in the system. At present I mainly use C&GII and am eagerly awaiting the new campaign system, but I like your idea of allowing any set of rules to work with yours. I will watch with interest. Good luck and well done.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Steve - this sounds very, *very* cool - while I would prefer to fight out most battles on the tabletop, the option to have computer resolution is important, as it allows resolution of smaller battles, as well as default resolution of battles that flesh and blood players fail to complete within a designated time frame.

    Having the computer take over most/all of the GM's job and record keeping is a huge plus!

    ReplyDelete
  5. PS I note the "cloud server close to Connecticut", LOL!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha ... thats where a lot of serious napoleonic gamers are, it seems :)

      I am still experimenting with full-computer controlled resolution for contacts, where players fail to run the battle in time. I am yet to find the right balance of believable results though .... will keep working on it.

      Delete
  6. This looks really awesome! Can't wait :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am excited to see this in action...it will make campaign so much easier to run at the club and it looks nice and simple...cant wait!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Just commenting in support. Definitely interesting in purchasing this once its finalized. Posted some feedback in the TMP thread.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for all the excellent feedback. As Malefric points out, there is a thread at TMP, where I am (trying to) field any the questions :

    http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=374671

    Worth following if you are interested in following the feedback. Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is very interesting. I am in the process of starting a campaign, but I need more than 8 Nations to be supported as I have that many NPC nations, along with six human run natuons. Any chance of upping the nation tally?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thats a tough one, since changing the limit of 8 'Nations' means a relatively major change to the user interface. Can be done, but it may take more time than it seems. Will have a look.

      At the moment, you can run a campaign with 32 players .... so its definitely within the scope of what you have in mind, just structured a little differently.

      Can you give me more details on what those nations represent in your campaign, and how the NPCs are going to work ? More info on that, and I will see what I can do.

      Thanks.

      Delete
    2. The major NPC nations are "sponsors" of the players. They have borders, political actions (including wars between themselves) and will be contributing financially and militarily to the player nations (based on political actions). Minor NPC nations will be the primary opponents for the players, each having its own economy, military, and political system.

      If you want, I can write a more lengthy response via email. Perhaps you may gain some additional ideas from my doing so?

      Delete
  11. Needless to say I'm very interested in this. Seems you've really taken online campaigning seriously. Unfortunately for me I lost my code a year or so back and never really got the willingness to try and rewrite it. Even then it was not a patch on this.

    I'd love to get set up ASAP with this and try it out.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'd been keen to sign up for the advanced package. As you can see at my blog (link below) our gaming group is about to embark on refighting every campaign from 1792 to 1815.

    https://miniscampaign.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
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