Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: Addendum - The Game of War

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,

I apologize.

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.

Oh, absolutely.

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?

That is…

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,

15 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.

Exactly. Yeah.

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

past episodes of classic Hardcore History

right from the website.

Go to dancarland.com to get the shows.

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