It’s Hardcore History.
I imagine given the subject matter
that I talk about on this program,
that there are quite a few people in the audience
that have played strategy and tactic wargaming type, um,
games on their computer or video console
or what have you over the years.
If that’s a subject that interests you,
gonna have an interview on this program
where we talk to one of the founders of a company
who makes the most up-to-date, modern types of games,
um, you know, with a historical theme and all that.
I found by having the conversation with him
that a lot of the same sorts of, uh, decisions
and trade-offs and questions and quandaries
came up in their development meetings
that we had in the development meetings
for War Remains, the virtual reality project I worked on.
Um, and that’s at the World War I Museum
in Kansas City, by the way, if you want to see that.
So, if you like that kind of stuff,
a fascinating interview with Maximilian Rhea,
who’s, um, uh, game is Hell Let Loose.
And, um, it’s a fascinating concept.
So, we’ll talk to him a little bit later.
Uh, it was, if there is a Ben, Ben’s idea that we talk about,
we sort of set up the context of that
with a little personal stuff, which I don’t like to do.
Uh, and I told Ben, I said,
uh, who cares, it’s not very interesting.
And, you know, just me talking about my life,
and Ben said, well, it’s not very interesting.
Whose fault is that?
That’s a hard one to have a pithy comeback for, isn’t it?
But the reason he brought it up is he said,
you know, you talk about war games
on the program all the time.
You’re gonna be talking about something like that
later in the program, why don’t you talk about,
you know, war games as you knew them, kind of, or war games.
Now, if this sounds like Grandpa Carlin
on the front porch in the rocking chair,
whittling, telling stories to the young’uns,
and falling asleep about every ten minutes,
The good old days, right?
But, um, it might be worth just bringing it up,
because there’s little things about war gaming
that your general member of the general public doesn’t know.
I mean, one of the really seminal early rule sets
for the war gaming genre that people played
when I was growing up was written by H.G. Wells,
the War of the Worlds author.
Another thing a lot of people don’t know is Wells actually wrote a…
I think, I know the modern version is in two volumes.
I don’t remember if the original was.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the original.
He wrote a history of the world, too,
from, like, caveman times to his era,
which, um, no matter how it turns out,
think about what a task you set yourself there, right?
My two-volume history of everything that’s ever happened.
You know how many podcasts we would have
in that podcast series, given my long-windedness?
But Robert Louis Stevenson, I guess, had an early set of rules.
Um, if you don’t know the long history of war games,
some of it has to be sort of imagined,
because you can kind of infer that general staffs
from militaries, you know, of the long lost past,
I mean, the Assyrians had a general staff, right?
Just like the German army had a general staff
in the Second World War, with all the generals
who would, you know, go over.
They would war game by then, certainly.
And one can imagine the great general staffs of all time
trying to figure out, you know, tactics and strategy,
maybe a little sand pit, maybe on a map,
or what passed for a map.
Then there are games that people argue about
whether or not they should be classified as war games.
Games like chess, which is, of course, very old.
The Chinese game of Go, which is also very old.
But without different battlefields
and different terrain and random factors
and all these kinds of things, people sometimes argue,
although they’re usually lumped in with the war,
general war gaming sort of genre.
I was reading something just for this discussion just now,
and it was talking about the German version of this,
because the modern history is always thought to begin,
people will talk about Kriegsspiele,
the German name for war game,
because in the late 19th century,
they were clearly playing a sort of mock battle,
setting up battles that they were planning to have,
and then working out all sorts of contingencies
and approaches and trying stuff out.
And I read, and I hadn’t heard this before,
maybe it’s not true, how about that for a disclaimer?
But that the French, there was an element in France
that blamed that as a factor that led to their loss
in the Franco-Prussian War.
I would think maybe railroad timetables
and mobilization and all that might have had more to do with it,
but it was an interesting thing to read, right?
The secret weapon of the 19th century,
you know, Prussians or early German state, war gaming.
I first was, um, exposed to this, I guess you could say.
My mom was doing some work, and we had to live,
had to live, I mean, I have great memories of this,
but I mean, I had to live in London for several months.
And I had my toy soldiers with me,
because I’m about, what, 1972, so I’m gonna be six or seven.
Um, always had the toy soldiers,
because for some reason from birth, I’m into that stuff,
and I have no explanation for why that might be.
My mother’s been trying to figure that out forever,
and her theories border on the fantastic, right?
Bermuda Triangle type stuff.
But, uh, always had the toy soldiers with me.
And in London, I remember having them out on the floor one day,
and a guy arrived, he may have been the son
of one of my mom’s guests or something, college student age.
And he brought his soldiers, because my mom had said,
oh, you know, Dan’s really into soldiers.
And so he brought his own, went up to see me playing with mine,
and, uh, and sat down and said, you know,
basically sat down and showed me his soldiers,
and I was blown away, because you know the difference
between what you could have bought in a store.
Although what they sold in the store in those days
was pretty damn fantastic.
Uh, you didn’t paint them yourself,
they were called, um, Britons.
Uh, Britons Limited, I think.
And they were so fantastic, that I looked them up
and they still make them today, they’re hand-painted.
In those days, he had basically a whole army
of hundreds of these things.
Each single figure today sells for like $40 U.S.
And you just sit there and go, holy cow,
you gotta be Elon Musk to have an army of these things today.
Fifty-four millimeters tall.
Um, but he pulls out these troops,
and then he pulls out rules.
And that was the part I’d never seen.
That’s the part that makes it a war game, right?
Otherwise, you’re playing toy soldiers.
And he sat down, he started talking to the six
or seven-year-old version of me,
and I didn’t like this one bit, I can tell you right now.
Because for me, it was all imagination,
and anything I wanted, and I didn’t have time
to worry about anything, and this guy was basically
giving me stuff like math to do.
And lots of calculations and figuring out,
and I mean, it ruined the spontaneity
and the creativity of it all for me.
But as you get older, you see the value
in something like that, right?
So, fast forward to right around the era
where Dungeons and Dragons started.
So about 1976, I’m going from memory here.
A rule set comes out called Chainmail.
Chainmail actually came out in the very early 70s,
I want to say like 1971.
And I discovered all this stuff later,
so when I say 1976, that’s when I got into it.
It happened to be written by two people,
one of whom was Gary Gyjax,
who’s probably the lead figure in Dungeons and Dragons.
I think of other guys like Dave Arneson and whatnot,
but Gary Gyjax is sort of the lead D&D guy.
And Dungeons and Dragons, I think, came out in 1974.
Again, I discovered all this stuff in about 1976.
Now, in the early Dungeons and Dragons rule sets,
they didn’t even tell you how to do certain things
like how you would handle, you know, groups of people
fighting other groups of people if there were large numbers.
They would simply refer you in the rule set to Chainmail.
So you had to go pick up Chainmail
if you wanted to do those sorts of calculations.
So I went out and got Chainmail,
which was my first exposure since London in the early 1970s
to war games rules, right?
Meant to be played with miniature figures.
And I was older then and could appreciate
and understand and all this sort of stuff.
And so I started experimenting with that.
So then what you do is you realize,
oh, I need to build an army,
which was not that easy to do in the middle 1970s.
You gotta go find a place that sells this stuff.
And the funny thing about it is this was a place, I believe,
that Britain was way ahead of the United States.
It was hard in the United States.
There was a guy named Jack Scrooby
who’s famous in the American war game circles
who became one of these early people
that started to just crank out figures for people,
not because he wanted to make a lot of money,
but because everybody needed figures
or there was not gonna be a hobby, right?
But you would gravitate towards places
and I don’t know what you would do
if you lived in some small town,
but this is like New York and Seattle,
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston,
places where these, they’re almost like clubs.
The people that ran these stores
could not have been in it to get rich.
But not only would they sell the materials,
oftentimes they would have big tables in the back
where people could come and fight battles and have,
I mean, it became, these were little communities.
I mean, if you were where I was from,
in the San Fernando Valley, 1970s, 1980s,
you would have remembered places like Competitor’s Castle
with Skip Gardella, and I wonder what Skip’s doing today.
Hope he’s okay.
The Last Grenadier, Les Misérables de Guerre,
every community of large size had these places.
And you didn’t do a lot of cross-pollinating.
I mean, I felt like it was almost a school
or a fraternity or something like that
where, you know, you had your place
and then you’d meet up with all these other people
at some convention down by the airport,
you know, a couple of times a year,
have big battles, competitions.
The thing about wargaming with miniature figures,
which is how I did it,
that’s different from what we have today,
is there was a lot of elements to the hobby
that you don’t need with a computer game,
but that I find that I like more than I thought I did.
I mean, the painting of the figures.
There’s a railroad, you know, a model railroad side of this too,
where people are building terrain
and laying out battlefields.
And, I mean, there’s many different creative elements
involved in this before you even get to fighting it all out.
Now, fighting it all out, I have to say,
I don’t miss that stuff at all.
Let the computer handle the calculations.
Let it automatically just take away
what was a huge aspect of wargaming and miniatures
back in the day, which is arguing.
Fighting over what a rule interpretation meant,
or did you really move this way,
or is this unit gonna hit the forest and be disordered?
I mean, nobody really liked that
unless you were what was known as a rules lawyer,
where part of the way you won
was not your great tactical expertise, right?
And you outthink the other guy.
No, you just have these little rule things that you noticed,
or maybe you know it backwards or forwards.
You have ways of basically arguing
that you should get some sort of benefit
that ends up leading to, well, if not a victory
for the rules lawyer, then a less drastic defeat.
I pulled out a bunch of my old books on the hobby.
And some of them date from before my era.
I went back and picked up some classics
by people like Donald Featherstone,
Joseph Morshauser, lots of stuff from Phil Barker,
even in the modern era.
Phil’s still involved. I’m not sure, but I think he is.
Tony Bath, people like that with the classics
on the other side of the pond.
And it was so clubby even then
that when you would buy a set of rules,
in the back, it would be like,
hey, if you want to get a hold of us, here’s our address.
You can call us at this hour, but we might be gone during…
I mean, it was so informal and clubbish
that you felt like the guys that wrote this
were just your buddy down the street.
But that’s how insular and small some of these things were.
If you think about it, there’s quite an entry-level amount
of stuff that’s required to get into it.
There’s a barrier, right?
I mean, this is not easy stuff to do.
The time commitment alone is onerous.
You have to be a bit of a fanatic.
But I certainly was one of those people.
And so when computer games first showed up,
I was so excited because, I mean,
you didn’t need an opponent, you didn’t need to spend all day
if you didn’t have a whole day.
There were a lot of things that were very attractive about it.
And even in the very early games,
you could see without being any kind of a technology expert,
oh, my God, give this ten years,
it’s gonna be in fabulously interesting places.
Now, what’s funny about me is the game
that I play the most these days
is a game that simply tries to replicate
the miniatures version of the games
that I played in the 1970s on a computer screen.
I mean, graphically speaking, it’s Stone Age.
And everything moves, just, I mean, it’s hilarious
because instead of having their more modern games
where everyone moves sort of like individually
and takes advantage of all the computer’s power
and yet something in my, you know,
maybe this is an elderly thing, you know,
when you get nostalgic and you’d rather have
the computer game play like Pong for you
because you grew up with Pong.
It brings back memories.
One thing I should mention,
and I only thought about this
in preparation for this conversation,
there was no blood.
There was no violence,
unless it was between two players arguing with each other.
I mean, these games had miniature figures,
whether it was in the pre-Gunpowder era,
which I often played,
or the Second World War era, which I also played.
And if somebody died, when you had casualties,
you wrote it down on a piece of paper.
You know, you do the math, you come up with your figures,
you say, okay, you suffered 17 casualties in that charge.
Okay, that doesn’t even tell you how many are wounded
versus how many are dead.
You write it down on a piece of paper.
Every time we got 20 or 25 casualties,
you took a miniature figure off.
That is the extent, though,
of the connection between what you’re doing
and the violence that you’re basically abstracting
on the ground that would be there in the real-time situation.
In the Second World War games we used to play,
it was mostly vehicles.
A tank would be hit, you’d say, that tank is destroyed.
Maybe somebody creative puts a little puff of black cotton
on it to represent smoke, and there you go.
A little bit different, though,
from some of the things you see nowadays,
and that brings up interesting questions all its own, right?
I mean, all of these developments,
just like Dungeons & Dragons back in the old days,
by the way, people forget how controversial that was
for a time, always come with societal sort of quandaries
that one can talk about.
The difference between the violence involved
in the wargaming I grew up with
and some of the games today is significant.
We’ll talk a little about that in the upcoming conversation.
In any case, I’ve had a long history
with these sorts of games.
I’ve never been the sort of guy, I think in my head,
whatever Bermuda Triangle my mother thinks I sprang from,
interested in this stuff from birth.
I always wanted to be at like the Napoleon level of things,
you know, in control of the battlefield.
Or like Hearts of Iron, the Hearts of Iron franchise
basically makes you the head of the government,
and you get to decide what sort of scientific experiments
you want to take part in to develop, you know, things along.
I mean, you get to be like a demigod.
I like those levels, you know, surprise, surprise,
rather than the Sergeant York, you know, on the battlefield
with the squad sort of level.
But the guest that I’m gonna speak to in just a minute,
Maximilian Rhea, he’s developed the kind of game
where when I was playing the Pong version of wargames
on the very early personal computers,
you could see in your mind’s eye coming.
And it’s fascinating.
The game in question is called Hell Let Loose,
but it’s part of a genre that many of you
will have a lot of experience with.
And there are all sorts of interesting questions
that these games sort of prompt and have connected to them.
And those are the sorts of things
we’re gonna talk about right now.
With me right now is Maximilian Rhea.
He is one of the founders and also the project director
and art director over at Black Matter Studios,
the developers of Hell Let Loose.
Tell me a little bit about your game here,
so that the public understands just how far things have gone
in terms of development in the wargaming space.
Sure thing. So, our game, Hell Let Loose,
pits 50 players versus 50 other human players.
So, 100 human players in total against each other
in combat on a World War II battlefield
that we’ve sort of recreated from lots of satellite imagery
to map out the landscape and then copious amounts
of reference photography and aerial photography.
And basically, these two forces,
so initially it’s US forces versus German forces,
fight over this piece of land much like they did in World War II
using the iconic weaponry of the day and the vehicles of the day.
And we’ve kind of tried to match that as much as possible
to the historical record with some flex where we need it,
just due to the nature of games as a medium.
But that’s kind of where we’re at now
in so much as video games are concerned as a digital art form.
So, in terms of what people’s expectations are, right?
So, everything is built on top of what came before.
Is this a new level?
Because, you know, you had sent me a screenshot
of a particular defensive position,
Pavlov’s house at the Battle of Stalingrad.
And we’re talking to me about how,
until you actually saw it portrayed and rendered
in a form that made it visual and three-dimensional,
you didn’t even realize how tough a position this was.
I can remember first-person shooter games.
I didn’t play them, but I remember the graphics and stuff
way back in the mid-1990s.
How much of a step up is this in terms of a faithful rendering
of what people at the time would have seen
in that place and in that sphere?
So, I think something that kind of modern computing power
is enabling us to do is, I mean, first of all,
video games are always representative.
They’re always symbolic of, obviously, something that’s happening.
We can never quite capture the full historical reality
of any conflict, I mean, mainly because it might not be
something that players would be willing to put their time into playing.
You know, a lot of combat, as we both know,
was huge amounts of waiting around or doing very, very menial, difficult tasks.
However, where we are able to symbolize things,
what modern computing power lets us do is represent them at a larger scale.
So, for instance, as you said, Dan, Pavlov’s House,
this famous Soviet apartment building in Stalingrad,
previously, when it’s been portrayed in games,
it’s been being portrayed at a compressed size,
almost everything at half or a third scale.
And something that we’ve done in our particular game
is just modern computing power has enabled us
to render this at the actual real scale that it is in real life,
including sort of measurements for the apartment building and the square.
So, I think what modern computing power is enabling us to do
is increase the size of our representation of these historic conflicts.
And obviously, something else that’s quite novel
and is growing by really the year is the player count.
Modern networking power,
the amount of information you can send over the internet,
is increasing as players get better access to better internet,
and the systems also become more sophisticated.
And so, something we were quite quick on was doing 100 players.
Now, that doesn’t seem like a lot of players,
a lot of soldiers on a battlefield, and it isn’t.
But it’s a step up from 64, and 64 is a step up from 32,
and 32 is a step up from 16,
and 16 was obviously a step up from only being single player,
that is, not playing with other players around the world.
And so, what we’re kind of looking into the future at
is the scale just getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.
And obviously, then the mind starts to wonder about how big could you go,
and what would that representation be like of these different battles
and just broader experiences generally.
So, other than the increasing number of players
that can be incorporated into a game,
what sort of feedback are you getting from users
in terms of what they like and what they’d like to see more of?
In other words, when they give you a wish list for the next version,
what are they asking for?
I think it’s always a mixture.
It always depends on the player.
But I think for our title, or at least any title
trying to capture historical reality
or what people’s idea of historical reality is,
it’s always to expand it to offer more fronts, more battlefields.
But then it’s obviously also to deepen the fidelity.
And what that can mean is it could mean having realistic flamethrowers
that project liquid fuel in the same way they did on the battlefield.
Or it might mean very, very complex simulations of armor penetration
and the way that different rounds and projectiles
struck different armor platings and thicknesses.
That’s sort of where we’re being pushed within our kind of subgenre
of this sort of hardcore military historical shooter.
But obviously across gaming,
we’re expanding out in many, many different ways.
And obviously, you know, very exciting
and obviously also with some trepidation as well.
Well, let’s talk about that part of it,
because as a guy who’s been wargaming since the early 1970s,
there’s an abstraction to the traditional wargaming
that sort of does away with the very thing
that is the focus of the fidelity first-person shooter games.
I mean, when I’m playing a tank battle in the 1970s,
I might have 30 or 40 figures representing tanks,
but there’s no real human beings there.
There’s no one burning up.
When a tank destroys another tank,
it’s almost as though it’s an inanimate object.
You’re playing a form of chess, kind of, that divorces you from…
You know, it’s strategy and tactics
more than there’s any sense of realism.
It seems to me that it is both the attraction
and also, like you said, sort of the dicey,
interesting moral quandary area
where the fidelity of the game,
especially at the ground level, creates challenges.
And listen, this has nothing to do specifically with your game.
I mean, this goes… Since first-person shooters started,
it’s been a question of how much of this is…
is all of the fun and adrenaline and action
with none of the consequences.
But, for example, I…
Here’s the problem I have with this,
and that’s that I don’t do this personally,
so it’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes
of what people get out of this.
But this is a hugely and fabulously lucrative area
of video games. People love doing this,
whether they’re shooting at zombies or trolls
or vampires or other people.
How do you, as a designer, walk this fine line
between something that is intended to be both fun
and potentially teach people about history
and make them understand better
what people were dealing with historically
versus simply the enjoyment that comes
with shooting another human being in a virtual world
and watching their head explode?
Look, I think it’s a…
That’s a very… I’m sorry to make the question
so damn long.
No, no, no. I know.
And I think it’s a fantastic question.
And I think it needs, you know…
And in return, it needs a relatively detailed answer.
And I think…
Look, I think for better or worse,
what we’re doing with video games
is largely what we’ve done with war gaming
insomuch as, as I sort of touched on,
we know that everything is representative,
everything is symbolic.
Now, obviously, we are getting far closer
within our symbolism,
insomuch as within our game, for instance,
and many other games, obviously,
first-person shooters, the entire game loop
which is sort of what we call the experience
that you’re repeating in the game
over and over and over again.
So, sort of dribbling the ball
and putting it in the goal
and in football and in soccer
would be the gameplay loop of soccer.
In our gameplay loop, you are using a gun,
depending on what role you play,
to shoot another, you know, another represented human
with the aim of taking a position
in order to win the game.
Taking a trench network
or taking an artillery position.
The thing is, though, it is representative
insomuch as all the players within the game know
that failure means that they are to respawn,
so come back into the game
further back from the front line.
The way that we sort of represent this
is that the player over the course of the game
is representing many, many a weight of number
than just themselves.
And fundamentally, the kind of endgame conversations
that you have in a game like ours
and other first-person shooters
doesn’t actually touch on the idea of
or the joy of the actual shooting another person.
And what it largely focuses on,
and I would almost say in the majority,
is the tactics and the strategy,
much like wargaming,
in achieving a success over the enemy
in the broader context of the battle.
So in the same way that with wargaming
you might move a panzer unit into position
in a way that your opponent didn’t expect
and you’re able to defeat the opposing formation
or the opposing unit,
we’re doing a very, very similar thing.
That’s sort of the hook to the player
on the ground level in the game.
So I think, look,
I don’t want to give a mealy-mouthed answer,
but I think that the more that I’ve thought about it,
the more we’re trying to set up
these sort of strategic and tactical questions
in the game.
And obviously in doing so at an infantry level
and within an individualistic way
for players who choose to play
as kind of frontline infantry roles,
that does involve, obviously, firing a weapon
and firing it in anger at an enemy human target.
However, I would say that it is,
and it sounds funny to say this,
but a very small part of,
and I’d almost argue almost an insignificant part
of what makes this genre tick.
And I think you can kind of see that
in other first-person shooter genres
where you may not even, you know,
shooting a player may not even result in their death.
The way it’s represented on screen won’t be
them blood pouring out and shot and falling over.
It’ll just be their removal from the battlefield
for them to come back later.
So much more of a sort of a very obviously gamified version.
So I think that’s kind of the thing
in so much as players don’t have much of an attention span
if the sole object, the sole pleasure, the sole purpose
is just to try and experience
that visceral idea of killing someone.
I think it’s far more about
the strategical and tactical maneuvering
that sees sort of long-term victory.
I mean, I think that’s the best sort of explanation
I can give of the genre
because I understand from the outset looking at it,
it is, you know, it seems like that is the sole object.
Whereas I think the thing that hooks most players
is that greater strategic and tactical layer.
And that’s certainly what we see
in sort of the communities of people who follow these games.
A lot of the conversation does drill down
to very, very, very esoteric topics,
like, you know, the gear speed of particular vehicles,
enabling them to get to a certain point
of the battlefield faster than the other people,
that sort of thing,
and less on the designed experience
of simulated killing of the enemy,
if that makes sense.
It does, because a lot of that follows
from the earlier war games we used to play
where you would talk about tank specifications
and speeds and turning radiuses
and how quickly the turret would move, things like…
So I totally get all that.
I can’t decide,
and I’d like to get your opinion on it,
because I’ve been swaying back and forth,
and I’ve certainly not thought about it
for one bazillionth of the amount of time
I’m sure you’ve thought about it.
I can’t decide how I feel about the fidelity
of the human damage, right?
So when a gun or a grenade or anything
does damage to a human being in the game,
a virtual human being,
I can’t decide if you want to make it more graphic
because that actually helps bring a reality into this
that makes people think.
In other words, the more graphic you make it,
the more you go,
oh, this is a really nasty thing to get hit with.
I wouldn’t want to be involved with this in real life.
Or I sometimes go to the other extreme
where I’m thinking, okay,
the bigger the splat of red ink
that layers on the ground,
the more I’m getting a kick out of that.
How do we deal with the fidelity question
and the way that that impacts the player?
I mean, one could argue, I think,
that the more brutal you make it,
the more you help compensate
for some of these other things we’ve been talking about.
The other side of it is the more brutal you make it,
maybe more of a kick to people
who like that are getting out of it.
How do you guys measure that
when you’re trying to design this thing
and they’re talking about representations,
for example, of what a grenade does
if it explodes in your midsection and whatnot?
I mean, it’s got to be an interesting
fly-on-the-wall sort of moment in the room
when you guys are designing these things.
It definitely is.
I mean, I think, and interestingly,
I think it actually comes down to sort of your philosophy
about the preservation of history,
which I don’t want to give a sort of politician’s answer,
but for us, the way that we’ve approached this
is that we’re trying to, as best as possible,
display to you, to the best of our knowledge,
what would happen in real life
in kind of nearly every instance
of what you encounter in the game.
When you’re making any piece of media,
and video games obviously being no exception,
you’re always making decisions about what you include
because sort of nothing’s there existing before you start.
So we have to build all the systems,
we have to create all the character models,
all of our soldiers,
we have to create even the look of the dirt on the ground
and the way the trees sway and everything like that.
And I think you reach this really interesting conundrum,
as you have touched on, where historically,
and I think depiction of the German forces,
Nazism, things like that,
very, very contentious and extremely difficult topics
can be approached in many different ways.
And I think something we’ve tried to do
is to present the recorded history
without softening or doing anyone any favours
by deciding to curate in a particular way,
one way or another.
And what I mean by that is
we don’t want to soften the violence of war,
because we feel that it would do a disrespect
to the memories of those people who fought and died.
And we obviously don’t want to encourage killing either.
But we felt that it’s very important to depict here
what happened when these people were given this weaponry
and they fought each other.
As a way, I think, of preserving this.
And you see this done in films,
which obviously have a much stronger narrative presence
and have a much greater ability
to inform your moral take on the events that are unfolding.
And obviously, video games have a harder time with that,
because if you’re making a multiplayer game, as we are,
it becomes extremely difficult to have any narrative voice.
There’s simply no part in the game.
Just as you would be watching a game of football,
really, you would need a commentator to give colour
and story to the actions unfolding on the screen
in a way that lets you morally connect with it
and not just understand the plays as they were happening.
So it’s extremely fraught.
And the way that we’ve approached this attempt
at preserving history is to do justice
to the violence of war, the violence of this conflict,
to not reward it.
But then also, we do know that there is some element
of people’s reaction that is out of our control.
I mean, that’s a caveat.
But what we’ve found with our community
and the people who play the game
is that conversations about the violence within the game
are actually almost the last thing they comment on
and more what takes centre stage
is an appreciation of the minutia and the detail
on different weapons and different uniforms, on vehicles,
the layout of maps and things like that.
So it’s an extremely fraught topic.
It’s extremely difficult.
But I think for us, our perspective of the history
is to present it as it was and then let the players decide
whether this is horrendous or whatever
and not try and soften it for them
because we feel that the violence of this
needs to be understood.
I think in the same way that someone like Spielberg
made very, very concerted decisions
within his portrayal in Saving Private Ryan
of the violence of war to show the human impact,
the impact of the violence on the civilian population of France
and that really heartbreaking scene
where Vin Diesel’s character is shot by the German sniper.
And then we also see the returning fire
on the German sniper as well.
And I think that it was interesting
that Spielberg decided to show the horrendousness of that
to the audience.
So that’s sort of our approach to this.
It may not be a perfect one,
but we are really approaching it in good faith
from a historical perspective
and trying not to, you know,
trying not to curate away from the nastier side of it.
Well, it’s interesting you went right where I was going to go
to the Spielberg type stuff because I was…
See, and that’s a perfect example of the artistic trade-offs
because it was always my contention
because that movie garnered such attention
when it first came out for being so realistic
and my critique was that it wasn’t realistic enough
and the fact that the media thought
that that was what war looked like
when it was realistic was an example right there
that it didn’t have a real idea of what real war was like.
And so I thought it should have been more vicious,
more graphic and the whole thing.
And yet Spielberg, in the same way, you know,
we did a virtual reality First World War exhibit.
I did it with a bunch of other people
and we had these meetings where we had the same kinds
of questions coming up, which is,
do you really want to make it as graphic and horrible as it was?
And if you did, would anybody go to take part in it?
If Spielberg shows you what war really looks like,
does anybody go to the movie, right?
Or does it get an X rating so nobody can go to the movie?
I also want to point out that your game
is part of a long history of a genre
that people are very comfortable with right now,
so you shouldn’t have to answer all these basic questions
about first-person shooter things.
I’m interested in the idea, though,
of taking this to the next level
and one of the things that your game does
is push the boundaries of realism,
the feeling of a three-dimensional space
where you’re cooperating with other people.
I mean, there’s elements in this which are new, I would think.
Am I right in saying that?
Would you say that this game pushes certain boundaries
in terms of directions in the genre?
Yeah, I think it does, definitely.
But I’d say, you know, like everyone,
we’re always standing on the shoulders of giants
and the people who came before us.
And I think in the context of video gaming,
I mean, video games,
to blow the trumpet of the video game industry for a moment,
is an art form.
Yeah, and it’s a very young art form as well.
I mean, it’s only really existed, you could argue,
sort of for 40 or 50 years, at best, at a big stretch,
and only really becoming popular
to a sort of majoritarian context,
I think, in the last 10 to 15 years.
It certainly changed hugely from when I was young to now,
the number of people who play them and engage with them.
And like all art forms,
I think that it’s always evolving on itself.
It’s always trying to develop on itself.
And I think we’re one in a long line of people
who have been doing that.
But you’re definitely right in so much as,
I think, we’re evolving towards teamwork.
I think our game, in particular,
is appealing more towards an older player base,
one who’s not just interested in being very, very good at aiming,
but is also really interested in communication,
in community itself,
in working with larger and larger groups of players
and coordinating and finding success in that coordination.
And I think we’re kind of seeing this across
the whole video game genre.
Games that, you know, 10, 15 years ago,
you would think were completely commercially non-viable,
I would argue we would be in that category as well,
have started to take a greater portion of the market,
you know, an ever-growing market.
And it’s been very, very interesting
to kind of see that happen.
And it’s very, very interesting also
to think about the future and where it might go.
And I think the best guess anyone has
is to look at what we have now
and just to imagine what happens
if it gets bigger and pushes further in that direction,
pushes further in the direction of teamwork,
pushes further in the direction of scale, strategy, planning.
And that’s just for our genre.
You know, I think that the same can be said
of every genre within video gaming,
that it will find new ways to iterate on itself.
I mean, virtual reality alone,
I think is going to have an extremely significant impact
I mean, dare I say it, on humanity
once they solve sort of the issues
around getting one into every household.
I think that’s going to be extremely interesting
to see where it goes.
So, yeah, the video game genre
just seems to continue to iterate
at an absolutely breakneck pace.
And so something, I guess, that we were doing that was new,
you know, now may no longer be new
as of, you know, a year ago, a week ago, a day ago.
So I brought up some of the traditional
and maybe almost stereotypical downsides of the genre.
But let’s talk about some of the upsides.
Wargaming was something that helped deepen
and amplified and accelerated my enjoyment
and interest in history.
I can only imagine,
and you’re going to know so much more about this than I,
I can only imagine the same effect
that this is having with young people coming up today
who might never think of cracking a book
or going down and doing any research themselves on history
until something like this prompted
the spark in them of interest.
Do you see this as, I mean,
if old-fashioned wargaming with miniature figures
that you hand-painted yourself could have that effect on me,
do you think that this is something
that becomes an introductory path
for people to become more interested
in the period being displayed
and that they’re learning about as they go through these things?
I mean, this is actually something extremely close to home for me.
So during the 90s,
the early 90s when I was growing up,
my father would spend nights relaxing
after he got home from work
by painting little figurines
of the Scots Grey Cavalry at Waterloo.
And he had basically a tabletop of Waterloo set up.
And I would watch him paint these small figurines
and I don’t think he ever got around to actually wargaming them.
He just really enjoyed the catharsis
of painting these tiny miniatures.
And from there, he then, you know, sort of Age of Empires,
I think, came out in 1997 or 1998.
Age of Empires was really one of the first
sort of very accessible historical games.
It was an extremely vibrant game.
It told the story of Genghis Khan,
of Joan of Arc,
His name escapes me, the Holy Roman Emperor.
I’m not doing a very good job of it right now, but…
Charlemagne, Charlemagne, excuse me.
But this game, my dad showed me this game
and he took an interest in it, obviously,
because of his love of history.
And he introduced me to this game
and this game introduced me
to the stories of these extremely iconic,
but very dispersed historical figures.
And I would have been only kind of 8, 9 or 10.
And it just gripped me entirely.
And so it’s an interesting microcosm of my dad
going from wargaming,
or at least painting and appreciating all the miniatures,
to video games,
and then that being directly given to me.
And I also should say that, you know,
he still paints these figurines to this day
and I love working with him on them.
And I myself have done some wargaming.
I was a big sort of Warhammer fan as well.
And so it is interesting how that sort of transmitted through.
And then from Age of Empires,
I learned the stories of these key figures,
some better than others, as we both know,
with regards to Charlemagne.
But I then started playing other historical games
and that’s actually the first first-person shooter game
I started playing.
It was a game called Battlefield 1942,
obviously a World War II game,
not dissimilar to our own.
And then Call of Duty, which was a World War II game as well.
And in those games,
I just picked up this extreme interest in World War II
as a period, as an historical period,
and all the interesting things that took place within it,
obviously, and all the tragedy within it as well.
But it was this direct transmission
from wargaming to video gaming.
And then a lot of that has then shaped
and directly inspired what we’ve done
at my company with our game.
And it’s also inspired the way
that we try and capture these events as well.
Because just as I learned something,
approximating the historical record
through the games that came before,
I’d like to kind of pay that service
to the people who end up engaging with our game.
So I definitely think there’s a direct transmission through there.
And I think as well, you know,
we’re seeing war movies and historical movies
particularly take a backseat to other genres of films.
I think the superhero genre
has sort of become the new war movie genre, if you like.
And there’s obviously exceptions to that rule.
But I think more and more so now,
young people especially are engaging
with history through games.
And so we see ourselves in a small way
able to contribute to some kind of understanding
of these conflicts.
Well, first of all, I must be closer to your dad’s age
because I also have thousands of those miniature figures
that I painted myself from the old days that I still have.
I also remember the very first computer I ever bought,
I bought for only one reason,
and that was there was a game called
The Ancient Art of War that I had to play.
And we’re talking about the mid-1980s here.
So as a guy who had been in the,
let’s call it the analog world of war gaming,
the potential to take that into the realm of computer games
was absolutely, I mean,
probably the first 15 computer games I ever owned
were all war games or variations of war games.
And in fact, one of my favorite ones to play right now,
the Field of Glory games,
are all nothing more than an attempt
by somebody who certainly played those same games
with miniature figures like I did to take that game
and turn it into an actual computer game
where you don’t need to worry about finding opponents.
As you know from your dad’s experience,
the hobby itself is an, it’s a hardcore hobby
in the sense that there’s almost an obsession to it.
And if you’re a young person,
it’s an extremely expensive hobby to break into.
The entry level requirements are huge.
Whereas with a computer game,
it is, you know, maybe under the Christmas tree,
you can have it there and then all of a sudden
without any more investment than that,
you can become somebody who’s learning about the past
through an immersive sort of an experience.
So, I mean, I definitely do see the similarities.
Can you talk to me a little bit, not shifting gears here,
but I’m interested in the game
and trying to figure out how you deal with,
you know, the Second World War
is famously more of a good guy, bad guy war.
If you go to the First World War,
you can do a much better, I think, example
where anybody could potentially be the good guys
depending on the point of view you have.
How does one incorporate, especially since, as you said,
you lack the ability to incorporate
a heavy-duty narrative to the whole thing?
I mean, I guess I’m just thinking
I would not be the kind of guy to play the German forces
just because of my own inherent biases.
How does that… I mean, and if you’re doing Stalingrad,
some might make a case, and I think we did in a podcast once,
that from the American or the British point of view,
both those sides are necessarily fraught with…
What’s the word I’m looking for here?
Moral quandaries might be a good way to put it.
And I know that in Germany,
you can’t show things like swastikas and all that.
How does one navigate the difficult terrain
of the morality in a war
that is so dominated by the moral questions?
You know, look, that’s the key question
in so much as us coming to this subject matter.
It is certainly difficult,
and it’s certainly one that we constantly think deeply about.
And obviously, I mean, so at a baseline,
we have removed all of the Nazi iconography within the game.
That means obscuring swastikas
and other imagery like that on uniforms and things.
So we have this incredibly difficult balance
of trying to give these soldiers the actual uniform they fought in,
which often is not what you would think it would look like.
I think everyone has an opinion of German soldiers
as wearing a red armband, obviously,
almost like a ceremonial outfit.
But a lot of them were wearing
sort of the equivalent of a wool jacket,
some pretty rough boots and obviously wool pants.
But nevertheless, we’re trying to portray them
as they were ideally within the theatre that they were fighting
and as accurately as possible,
while also making sure that we don’t…
You know, obviously, we abide by German law.
And then just out of sensitivity,
also obscure the swastika more generally.
We’ve also currently made the decision
that we won’t be including the ability to dress as the SS in the game,
which you would think would be a very easy decision to make.
But for a lot of sort of the historical purists,
people get into all sorts of difficult conversations about,
well, what do you do about the NKVD?
You know, obviously, Stalin’s secret police.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
As you said, they themselves did not have clean hands.
And then obviously, you then have another portion of people
who might say, okay, they agree that both the Nazis
and some elements of the Soviet forces engaged in this stuff,
but what about the British in this location
or the Americans in this location or so on and so forth?
So it does become an extremely, again,
a very difficult kind of landscape to manoeuvre through.
We try to do it with sensitivity
by obviously removing specific imagery
alongside also wanting to do that to comply with German law.
We try, I think we’ve avoided thus far,
including other types of imagery, the hammer and sickle and things like that.
When it comes to the actual in-field,
the on-the-battlefield type experience,
I mean, no part of the game is set up
to enable you to do anything other
than just sort of play the game against another force.
We don’t have any civilians on the battlefield.
We don’t have anything that could add or give players an opportunity
to have questionable elements, let’s just say.
We’re just very keen to focus you
on the frontline combat experience of those soldiers.
And I think the kind of conundrum we’ve had
is that if you didn’t want to portray any morally questionable people,
I mean, morally questionable people within war,
you really can’t portray it at all.
And I don’t want to give a sort of cop-out answer there, but I mean…
No, no, I actually agree. I agree with that, actually.
Yeah. And so obviously, well, okay,
so if we either can’t portray it at all or we can portray it,
then how sensitively do we try to portray it?
And for us, as I kind of touched on earlier,
it’s really about the strategic and tactical competitive elements of this
rather than any of the ideology associated with it.
It’s not present anywhere in the game.
I think the strongest thing that we’ve got in the game
is some of the writing on the wall,
the graffiti that some of the Soviet soldiers wrote in Stalingrad
that was sort of denouncing fascists.
I think that’s about as political as we’ve got in the game.
And that was largely as set dressing
because it was so iconic within Stalingrad
you just saw tonnes of posters everywhere
and tonnes of graffiti everywhere
of these soldiers trading insults back and forth.
And I think that’s kind of as close as we’ve got to depicting anything,
especially ideological, within the game.
Obviously, one could argue that depicting them at all is ideological,
but as we’ve said, you know, we would really…
You would then create a situation
where you really could never depict historical events to some degree.
I think it becomes very difficult.
I’m of two minds about this, though,
and it’s the same thing with the violence.
And I haven’t thought about it anywhere near as long as you have,
but the same side of me that suggests that maybe uber-violence
and treating this as realistic as possible
helps eliminate some of the downside.
I feel the same way about, like,
when we would have World War II…
Second World War is always the way I…
When we were having Second World War tank battles back in the 1970s,
I guarantee you people painted swastikas on the top of their tanks
for aircraft recognition, as was done.
And so there’s a part of me that thinks that…
And I understand from a corporate standpoint
and German law and all those other things, you have really no choice.
But there’s a part of me that thinks that perhaps…
And I can go both ways, because most people, you could say,
would not be affected negatively
by incorporating hammer and sickles or swastikas or all those things.
But the same small group of people
that might be negatively affected by being able to go around
shooting other virtual human beings
might be affected by having swastikas and playing the SS.
But I don’t know if you can create whole game systems
based on what two or three or four percent of the users might react,
you know, in opposition to the way everybody else reacts.
I think most people would be fine with all those other things.
And I think it might be a more faithful example of history
I mean, to incorporate a Nazi German army
and not show swastikas seems weird, right?
I mean, I understand why it doesn’t happen,
but there’s a part of you that goes,
well, if we’re trying to teach about the war
and if we’re trying to make this an introduction
to a fascinating period in human history,
which involves some of these extreme ideologies,
if you take the extreme ideologies out,
haven’t you left this giant black hole
that is a huge part of the reason
that this fighting is happening to begin with?
I mean, it is a really tough thing.
I’ve seen similar discussions when it came to the immersive
virtual reality experience connected to realism,
whereas as a certain point it becomes
how do you create a faithful reproduction
of a negative human experience,
but not so much that it turns people off
from wanting to participate in it?
And so I think there’s this fine line you guys have to walk
and then you add the corporate thing
and then you add the German law kind of thing.
But it does seem like there would be something inherently missing
in an ideological war if you take out the ideology.
It seems like you guys would have to design around…
I guess I’m having a real admiration
for your ability to design around those issues.
Yeah, it is.
You’re 100% correct, though,
in so much as if we are trying to portray things
as best we can according to the historical record.
I mean, I come at it in two minds
and I’m sure you do the same.
I mean, you’ve already just said that you do.
The swastika is, I would argue,
one of the most powerful icons in human history,
at least modern human history.
Nearly everyone in the world knows what that symbol means
and the suffering it caused
and the suffering that it continues to cause
and the echoes of it through history.
And so to show it is…
To show it will evoke a response either way
and I’d be concerned if someone didn’t have a response to seeing it.
And the same can be said for other symbols, of course,
but the swastika is a uniquely…
or a near uniquely powerful one
within the time and history that we find ourselves.
From our perspective,
the way that we’ve sort of felt about it
is that our purpose as the type of game that we are,
we’re not a single-player game, we’re unable to tell a story,
we’re unable to guide the player through narrative,
means that we don’t have the ability
to kind of give it the proper context that we think it needs.
And as a result, we are happy to slightly obscure it within our game
because we are focused, at the end of the day,
the object of the game is to manoeuvre across the battlefield
using all the weaponry in the same uniforms,
both Allied and Axis forces,
in order to achieve a tactical strategic victory over the other force.
And so we felt that, you know, look, this isn’t…
If we’re not going to attempt to tell the story at all,
then we’re best to err on the side of caution.
And maybe we might be wrong in that, you know.
And I’m sure as well that many people will know
that there’s always a line where you can draw that.
I mean, you could say, well, why have them dressed up as German soldiers at all?
Or, you know, there’s always a line,
and that is 100%, I think, subjective.
There’s no objective rule to this, and that’s extremely tough for us
because, boy, would life be easier if there was an objective rule?
But, yeah, it is subjective,
and it’s kind of the approach that we’ve taken,
is that if our object is not to tell the full story of this,
you know, of this conflict ideologically,
then, you know, I think we’re better to err on the side of caution with this.
How does the user base feel?
I mean, it’s one thing for the people in the corporate side of things
to worry about all these things, because that’s your job.
But the people who are only concerned with either the fun element
or the competitive element or the historical element
or all of those wrapped up together
who give you the feedback on things you can change
or things they’re not happy with or what should be in the next version,
do they have an opinion one way or the other?
I’m sure swastikas and hammers and sickles
and all those kinds of things have been raised before.
Is there an opinion out there one way or the other from them?
There’s no, I wouldn’t say there’s a majority opinion.
I would actually say that the historical, the more historical,
or more historically oriented people, I should say,
or the purists within our particular community
tend to focus much more on battlefield history
rather than ideological history.
There are some people, I would say it’s probably less than 1%,
who would really like to see it.
It’s very important to them that you capture the full picture
with the inclusion of swastikas or the SS.
But I would say, actually, that more of the historical feedback
that we get is more around some of the concessions
we’ve had to make due to it being a video game
rather than any kind of ideological censorship.
So the things that they’re concerned with are more like,
exactly as you said, the turret rotation speed on particular tanks.
They’re concerned about, within our game,
we’ve had a preponderance of automatic weapons.
Sorry, we’ve had probably a few too many automatic weapons
on the side of the Germans at the unit level,
which they would love us to kind of dial back,
and we’re going to make a move to dial back
and keep it more focused around the Kar98k,
which is the German bolt-action rifle,
which was the weapon the majority of soldiers used.
So a lot of the sort of historical-oriented criticism,
I think, comes down to more of the battlefield
and the strategic and the tactical elements
rather than anything kind of ideological,
which is interesting, but I suppose,
now that I think about it,
it’s suiting to what we’re actually trying to capture as an end outcome.
What’s interesting is you wouldn’t have any of these problems
in the majority of conflicts in human history.
It’s the nature of the Second World War
and maybe some of the conflicts during the Cold War
that happened after that.
Those are the only ones I can think of
that would give you any trouble at all.
I mean, if you’re going back to Genghis Khan’s conquest,
none of this enters into the equation at all.
So you’re actually getting trapped in the creases
of the leftover ideological and moral fumes
of that conflict itself, aren’t you?
Yeah, exactly right.
And I never want to be insensitive,
I mean, in so much as you’re right,
like there aren’t a lot of sort of,
I think it was ancient Mesopotamia
or the location of modern-day Iraq
that Genghis Khan sacked.
He sacked a lot of places.
He sacked a lot of places.
If there was one thing he was very good at,
it was death and destruction.
But no, I think you’re right.
I think it’s the proximity to this.
And I think also, I mean,
even just in diving so much into the history,
we’ve really been so saturated in World War II history,
there is something unique about the forces at play.
I mean, all of them are ideologically very different,
roughly sort of capitalist, communist, fascist.
And, I mean, there’s just something
extremely, not outlandish,
but eccentric about them,
and particularly the German forces,
naming their vehicles after sort of predatory animals.
It just, the fact that this terrifying tank
was called the Tiger Tank,
whereas sort of the Americans obviously
named them after generals.
There were these decisions
that heightened that ideological difference.
And then obviously, you know,
the extremity of the Nazi ideology,
and the extremity, obviously,
you look at sort of Holodomor
and the famines within Soviet Russia,
and it’s just such a huge scale of human suffering,
and it’s such a recent event, really,
relative, obviously, to Khan,
that I think, yeah, we are,
there’s still, you know,
sensitivity is required to handle these issues.
But you’re right, I mean,
I think obviously people have political differences
about the US involvement in Vietnam,
and depicting a Vietnam War conflict,
but far, far, far less fraught,
and far, far, far less clear-cut on the surface
than obviously World War II.
It’s a tough one.
It’s an extremely tough one.
And obviously all war to some degree,
you know, and the way that we view them
is written by the victors.
But I think it’s very difficult to say that,
yeah, it’s very difficult to inject more nuance
into a conversation about World War II.
I think some people might say
that those very questions are what makes it so compelling.
So I think that it’s all wrapped up
I think that it’s all wrapped up into this package
that is the Second World War,
and the fact that I had somebody say to me
that they thought that the Second World War
was more interesting than the First World War,
specifically because of the ideological questions
that we were just discussing.
So before I let you go,
what I’d like to know,
just as a guy who’s an expert in the field,
I remember playing the ancient art of war in the 1980s,
and the difference between that
and what you’re putting out is,
it’s not one generation, it’s multi-generations.
Where do you see this going in like 10 years,
Any clues on what lies around the development bend?
Look, this is, I wouldn’t say it’s a million dollar question,
it’s probably a trillion dollar question for the industry.
And I think that depending on your outlook,
it’s either utopian or dystopian to some degree.
And obviously the truth nearly always lies
somewhere in the middle.
I think that we’ll start to see virtual reality
come into play, as I said earlier,
if they solve sort of the delivery issue,
the ability for people to play it
without having to pay a huge amount of money.
We will very quickly start to see
people playing our type of game in VR space,
in 3D, moving your body around,
actually having to hold a weapon up.
I mean, I think more generally and more broadly,
video games is in an explosion of growth at the moment
because we’re seeing a generation
that grew up with them age through the population.
So obviously, many generations currently
never ever had games when they were younger.
And we’re seeing this,
we’re seeing what it looks like for the first time,
for instance, for people of all ages,
for instance, to read books.
And so much as there was a time a long time ago
where books were the new thing,
or television was a new thing,
or film was the new thing.
And what we’re seeing with video games
is an advancing generation of people
who grew up with them.
And so I think that it’s only going to get bigger.
But I also think that it places huge burden
of responsibility on people making
these sort of digital environments
to safeguard or try and build systems
that people enjoy, that don’t exploit them,
that don’t, you know,
trying to present the best form of entertainment that we can
in as ethical a way as we can
and try and figure out what that looks like
when more and more people’s time is spent
in these digital environments.
So I know that sounds sort of very kind of doomsaying
if you think about it from the perspective
of everyone spending tons and tons of hours
playing video games.
But I also think that, you know,
video games have amazing potential
to connect people who might be struggling,
you know, perhaps to make friends
in their physical surroundings.
People connect with each other online.
They share great memories online.
They get to know each other more and more and more.
We’re seeing virtual reality experiences
enable people to exercise within VR.
You know, it’s not uncommon now
for people to meet their future husband
and wife or partner online in games.
So it is extremely varied.
And I think it’s all moving faster
than anyone can really keep up with.
But I definitely think that VR is probably
the place to watch because as soon as,
if anyone’s ever tried that,
it’s quite an experience.
And it can often trick you psychologically.
Your eyes can kind of deceive you, obviously.
And it’ll be very, very interesting
to see what kind of experiences move into VR,
whether, you know, it’s shooting games
or whether it’s strategy games.
I mean, it’ll be all of them,
but which really pick up with the players.
So, look, it’s, yeah, it’s a big road ahead.
And I just, you know, I’ll be working
and I think many people will to try
and make it the best experience possible,
whatever that looks like.
I think this blends nicely into the overall question
of the development of war games in the modern era.
And if you could have told me in the mid 1970s
that someday this would be,
I mean, like I said, I went and bought a computer
just so I could play a game
that looks like it’s tic-tac-toe
compared to the games out there now.
So, I appreciate you taking the time
to answer these really tough questions
and to bring us sort of into the development room
a little bit and help us understand
the kinds of things that you guys were talking over.
And I can speak from experience
that that was exact same kinds of conversations
we had designing the first World War game
is these trade-offs, these morally ambiguous areas,
how you portray negative things
and how faithful you have to be to stuff
so that you’re not giving a fake or imprecise
or something that’s a fantasy of a reality,
if that makes sense,
showing something that’s actually a fantasy game
portraying itself as history.
And I think trying to get it right
is actually the key to the whole thing.
The one thing we didn’t talk about,
and that’s worth just bringing up here at the very end,
is the interplay between all of the other people.
One of the things you’d mentioned to me
was the fact that a lot of people in this game
are actually not tip-of-the-spear people,
but you’re actually showing how many people are involved
in keeping the logistics going.
You’d mentioned teamwork,
and I think that conjures up this idea of,
okay, I’ll go around this hill,
you go around this other side,
but you’ve actually got people
sort of operating in the supply chain, too, don’t you?
Yeah, that’s right.
That’s exactly right.
I think, as I sort of said a little bit earlier
about this sort of ageing generation of gamers,
myself being right there,
when you’re younger,
you’re extremely good at the twitch mechanics
of your twitch fibers, the muscles,
enable you to track things
with your hand-to-eye coordination
at incredible rates.
And so a lot of video games
were thought to be sort of the fare of young people,
and then you sort of grow out of them.
And what we’ve kind of seen
is that as gamers have aged,
the types of things that stimulate us
and interest us sort of age with us, obviously,
which seems obvious now,
but I don’t think it has been, really.
And so as a result of this,
you’ve started to see an uptick in games like ours
in so much as we move the experience away
from just the hand-to-eye coordination,
the success of that,
to sort of strategy, planning,
talking to one another, communicating,
and really weighting success more towards that.
So, yeah, for instance, in our game,
you can sort of drive supplies around.
Most of the game drops supplies off.
People can build infrastructure.
And as we know, all wars are fought
by the people in the rear echelon,
by the supply chain.
The Red Bull Express, I think, was the famous
U.S. supply chain with the GMC trucks.
And so, I mean, also, I mean,
it ties nicely into sort of where we think this will go.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see these systems expand.
So you may end up, you know,
delivering ammunition or driving supplies
or giving ranges to the artillery
and never even firing your weapon.
You might use a binoculars to spot targets for the artillery.
And so this is sort of the way
the genre is expanding as well.
In so much as people really using
sort of their gray matter instead of just
sort of muscle and reflex and reaction.
Which I think is, you know, I think is really exciting.
I mean, as you know, so few people in war
actually proportionally fired their weapon
in anger at the enemy.
And so I think it’s kind of interesting
from a historical perspective to…
It’s certainly a far more realistic picture
to show that people actually had to deliver the ammo
to the frontline troops.
I can’t remember what the stat was.
I think it was something like 15% of frontline…
of troops made up the frontline.
It’s different in every army.
Yeah, 17 to one in the US in the Second World War,
I think it was.
It’s funny, though.
You got me thinking of things I never thought about,
which is, for example, that my generation probably,
that’s probably a good age, I’m 55.
We’re the first generation who ever grew up with video games.
And so how do you write video games
to intrigue 55-year-olds, you know?
It’s a whole different thing
than anyone had to worry about in the old days
when nobody over a certain age played computer games.
So, well, fascinating future in the offing for that.
For the design for geriatric video game fun.
Well, you say that, but I mean,
that’s really what I’m thinking about.
I mean, I think it could be…
I don’t want to say it too soon,
but it could be a very bright future for people, you know?
I think, you know, you look at sort of elderly people
and obviously isolation is tragic
and is really difficult for elderly people.
I mean, it’s difficult for everyone
and obviously even more so for elderly people.
And I do wonder what the experience
of being an elderly person would be like
if I was in constant communication with a group of friends.
A buddy of mine once said,
we’re never going to be the isolated older people
in the rest home.
We’re going to have much more to do
than people who just stared out the window all day.
I don’t know if that’s true,
but certainly with things like this,
you could see that this doesn’t have to be anything
that you ever have to give up entirely, necessarily.
If your health will let you do it.
Max, thank you so much for coming on the program.
I wish you continued success with this.
It’s a heck of an achievement just to see visually
what you’re talking about here
and certainly to work through all of the ins and outs
of the questions we’ve been discussing here.
Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Oh, thanks so much, Dan.
And I mean, just a huge, huge fan.
So this is just a wonderful, wonderful chance
and fantastic questions and a great chat.
Thank you so much for having me on.
Anytime. Take care, buddy.
That was a fun trip sort of down wargaming memory lane for me.
If you were interested, by the way, in Hell Let Loose,
want to know more about it,
you can go to hellletloose.com.
And I said when we started the Hardcore History Addendum feed
that we were going to be able to use it as a way
to try to explore some more of these history-related tangents
at times or very sort of niche history.
For example, I am going to do a boxing show someday.
I’m going to do a punk rock show someday.
And I realize that’s not sort of an appeal
to the entire audience,
but I’m hoping that when we someday have an archive,
I don’t know how old I’ll have to be given my release pace,
but an archive of a bunch of Hardcore History Addendum shows,
some will be crowd-pleasers across the board
and others will be these ones where,
you know, you probably would skip by,
but a person who’s really interested in that subject
would be really jacked to have a conversation.
You know, we always used to joke
that there’s no place in broadcasting
for people who are interested in 1950s Spanish language
science fiction comic books.
But if somebody did a podcast or a show about that,
you know how jacked they’d be to have something
so narrowly targeted to their interest.
So, I kind of feel like I want to throw some of those shows
into the addendum feed.
In any case,
if you want to stay on top of
whenever we manage to get something out,
make sure you follow us on Twitter at AtHardcoreHistory,
and I hope to be talking to you all again soon.
Stay safe, everyone.
Don’t forget, you can buy and instantly download
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right from the website.
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