16 September 2014

Developer Feature: Developer Diary: War in the East

Gary Grigsby's War in the East began development in the fall of 2000, just as 2by3 Games was formed. Joel Billings and Gary Grigsby had worked on previous Russian Front titles in the past, with War in Russia (1984 and 1993) and Second Front (1994). Below is the developer diary Joel has written about the development of War in the East as Lead Developer.

Published on 26 NOV 2010 1:30pm by Scott Parrino

Gary Grigsbyís War in the East (WitE) development began as soon as 2by3 Games was formed in the fall of 2000, making this the longest development project that any of us have been a part of. Although Gary and I had previously worked together on several Russian Front games, War in Russia (1984 and 1993) and Second Front (1991), we wanted to make both a bigger, and a simpler game. WitE would be bigger by using 10-mile hexes and divisions as the basic unit of maneuver, and simpler by using an IGOUGO system that would provide players with immediate feedback on their moves and attacks. I wanted to achieve the relative simplicity of the SPI boardgame War in the East, and Gary wanted to appeal to the grognards that have come to love his attention to detail and realistic combat models. This was going to be no easy task.

The basic map and interface was created by 2001, along with some of the basic supply and combat algorithms. The air combat model and data was taken from Garyís earlier Bombing the Reich system and also ultimately modified portions of the Uncommon Valor system (which was being developed in 2000-2002). The combat model started with weapons data from the Steel Panthers series. Unlike Garyís previous Russian Front games, Gary wanted to have combat be resolved at the individual tank, gun tube and squad level. Due to other projects, including War in the Pacific and World at War, we had to stop WitE development several times, often for months or years at a time. We knew the allure of doing an east front game at this level of detail would keep bringing us back until it was done. It was only in the summer of 2008 when War Between the States was completed, that we were able to turn our full attention to WitE.

While we had been busy working on other games, Jim Wirth had been busy coming up with the system of unit OBs that became the heart of the game system. Gary had decided early on that he wanted the computer to handle all of the organization changes that the armies went through during the war, and the OB system was the answer for this. Some other early decisions were made like not allowing the players to make changes to their production. We also didnít want to include other fronts in the game, wanting to focus the player on just the Eastern Front. Adding the ability to change production and/or deal with the other fronts would have added additional design difficulties, extended development time, and possibly set up situations where very unrealistic strategies might be devised that could seriously impact the eastern front. We wanted this to be a grand operational game of the war in Russia, and decided it was not worth the time needed to add these elements and work on them sufficiently to make sure they didnít unbalance the game. Since we saw this as an Eastern Front game first and foremost, we felt we could do without these extraneous elements. When the issue of the fighting in the Murmansk area came up, we decided it wasnít worth adding the large number of additional hex rows to the map to cover the operations in the far north. Although many German players have dreamed of severing the Murmansk connection, in our opinion since historically it was a stalemated front, it would have added much time and overhead for little gain.

We had a functioning game working by the late summer of 2008. We thought things were looking good then. Little did we know just how much further we had to go. Jon Pyle started testing the game in the late summer of 2008, but it was hardly the game you see today. In late 2008 we were very lucky to have Pavel Zagzin join as an early alpha tester. Pavel turned out to be an amazing resource, with endless energy, command of English and Russian, able to find incredible information on the Internet, and also the ability to read and modify Garyís code. I donít like to think about what the game would have looked like without Pavelís efforts. He first turned his attention to our map. He struggled to get the most realistic map possible given that some basic items were already too far along to be changed. This alone was a 3-5 month process, and aside from the curvature of the map issues that one always faces, he did an excellent job. If you compare this map to any of our earlier efforts youíd think you were looking at a different country. Once the map data was set, it was time for Jason Barish under the direction of Marc von Martial (have you ever seen a better wargamer name that that?) to provide us with a beautiful map, and did they ever.

Once the map was set, some attention went into adding functionality to the editor, which had first been set up by Gary, but has since been greatly enhanced by Pavel. Our goal all along had been to provide an editor that would allow both modifying the campaigns and creating smaller scenarios. We felt that if we had done our job right with the basic game system, that smaller scenarios would be perfect for those not having the time to play out the full map campaigns. Once the editor was ready, there came many reviews of the scenarios and data. Somewhere along the way Trey Marshall joined as a tester and was conscripted into spending endless hours on the data. Working with Pavel and with the assistance of several of our testers, the accuracy of our campaign data files was continually improved. These became the basis of the smaller scenarios.  Walt Kunz volunteered to work on a batch of smaller scenarios that allowed us to make sure the game functioned properly in limited map settings. This scenario and data work continued right up to release, and we hope that the user community will be able to use the editor to continue creating additional scenarios.

A mention of the Admin point system is in order as in many ways it is the way Gary solved the issue of simplicity versus detail. Providing players with an endless number of items they could micromanage was easy, but trying to keep the more casual player from feeling he had to micromanage in order to be successful was more difficult. As testing continued it became clear that limits needed to be put on just what the player could do. Gary had always envisioned that the admin point system would be the limiting factor. Through development more items were tied to the admin system such as forming Soviet corps sized combat units and manually upgrading aircraft in air groups. By tying these to the admin system, players can decide how best to spend their limited command focus. For those players that wish to play with more micromanagement, we encourage them to increase the Admin Level Game Option. Itís simple to do and if you and your opponent want the additional control, itís there for you.

In mid to late 2009 the game was in decent shape and there were many testers testing away. It was time for me to get some help managing the testers. One of the testers, Andy Johnson, had shown an excellent grasp of the strategy and tactics of the game system and was continually beating the AI to a pulp. Andy devised the checkerboard tactic for the Soviet 41 defense. Much to my relief he agreed to be the projectís Test Coordinator, and became invaluable during the last year of development. A brain trust formed with Pavel, Trey, Andy and Jim. As with all successful projects it was the interaction of these people, and the constant discussion of game data and ideas from these people and the testers, that led to many of the rules in the game, and many of the modifications that have made it a more accurate simulation of the war. Itís still Garyís game and basic design, and he always had the last word (although soft-spoken as always he rarely used it), but WitE truly was a team effort. Iíve mentioned only a few of the scores of individuals who have contributed to this project, and we wish to thank them all (especially Allan Berke for his efforts documenting this beast). All of us hope you enjoy playing Garyís Grigsbyís War in the East, and we hope that a user community will develop that will help keep the game alive for many years to come.