Next Game Post 2: Pushing Noodles Uphill

Management, People and Possibilities

Ideas are starting to firm up and coalesce for the next game. Or games as now that DC Barbarossa is out (we are both still working on new features for it), Vic is free to focus once again on Shadow Empires.

What I’d like to talk about here is how the coming game will portray people and the management there-off.

There are three basic approaches. The player as the person in charge (the ‘God’ model), the player working within a hierarchy of command (the ‘Superiors and Subordinates’ model) and the player as the recipient of orders from above (the ‘I am a minion’ model).

We can safely discard the last approach. Who wants to be a tiny cog in a big wheel, constantly being told what to do? There would be ways of making this interesting such as by giving the player potential to rise up through the ranks with increasing levels of autonomy, but in general, it’s not an attractive proposition.

DC Barbarossa makes use of the other approaches so we’ve got a reasonable sense that they are both viable and doable. Playing the Germans and operating from within the chain of command was a fairly unique take on the traditional top down war game command model. It requires that there is a relationship system incorporated into the model so that your interaction with superiors and subordinates is dynamic rather than being one dimensional or scripted.

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Most potential military simulation topics would involve the player having people above and below him. It’s rare that even very senior historical figures found themselves in situations where they didn’t have to answer to someone, in some manner. Hitler and Stalin were the two notable exceptions in WW2. Arguably they both ultimately answered to a much higher authority but perhaps not while they had their boots on.

If the superior/subordinates model is the aiming point then all we need is a relationship system to bring it to life. On the other hand if we opted for the ‘player as God’ approach then you need to have a mechanic in place that brings people to the fore.

In DC Barbarossa, Stalin has to deal with recurrent episodes of paranoia. It wouldn’t be a big stretch to change this to ‘excessive drinking/black dog depressive’ episodes such as Churchill might suffer from. Provided you stuck with the basic idea of the people underneath being the catalyst, excessive stress could trigger an episode just as easily as constantly having to squint back over your shoulder in a paranoid funk could do.

But we are talking about iterative approaches to established mechanics. A case of taking the existing formula and improving it.

Nothing wrong with that but what other alternatives could there be?

One way would be to have the various characters that you’re dealing with squabbling amongst themselves. This is already part of the German side of DC Barbarossa (think General’s Gerkce and Wagner) but shining a stronger light on this aspect could reap dividends.

If you’ve ever been in the situation of managing people it’s the ongoing conflicts that require you to arbitrate, smooth over, or negotiate that tends to give you the grits. Replicating that in a game isn’t desirable (it wouldn’t be fun) but having to deal with a group of people that have shifting alliances might be.

DC Barbarossa plays heavily into this by requiring you to make resource allocation decisions of various kinds that, no matter which way you jump, are going to favour one character over others. It’s all expressed in your changing relationship levels with the various individuals but there’s scope to expand this further and have characters conspiring or conflicting with others, independent of their relationship with yourself.

The player being at the apex of whatever chain of command was in place would provide a larger canvas for these shifting factions to evolve than if he was constrained to working within the hierarchy.

By the way if anyone doubts the validity of the ‘dysfunction and internal squabbling’ that I’m inferring is a feature of command structures I’d refer you to any book on military history that covers higher levels of authority. There’s very little difference to what goes on in politics. It’s politics with uniforms instead of suits.

Which raises another issue – the fact that military command doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s instead responding to political imperatives. Politics and command are Siamese twins, sharing vital organs and visits to the bathroom. They have a close and intimate relationship.

I’d be quite happy to have a management model that brings the ‘squabbling cats and dogs’ more to the fore as it’s a nudge in the direction of realism and serves to make the people aspect of the game vivid and lively.

If we stepped out of the ‘Military Historical Simulation Institute’ building and ventured into the wider world our options broaden. Have to be careful, though.

Strategy Avenue, where the Institute resides, is safe ground. There are signs warning you that you’ll have to take ‘Tough Decisions on a Regular Basis’. Seats on the pavement with giant binoculars handy to let you take in the Big Picture. Sturdy Elms and mighty Oak trees where you can shelter from the rain while you ponder your next move.

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Wander a block either way and you’ll find yourself in the urban badlands – liable to run into people who are zombied out from too much RTS or drugged and twitchy from an overdose of FPS. Who knows what you might tread on? MMO poo. Best not to stray too far.

Provided we remain in the friendly neighbourhood running up and down Strategy Avenue the cast of characters that you’re responsible for could encompass both military and political individuals. Why restrict yourself to talking tank designs with the General when you could be discussing diplomatic overtures with your Foreign Minister?

With larger realms of responsibility come a new set of problems. How often would you be talking to each of your Commanders or Ministers? Are they liable to run out onto the nearby busy road like wayward puppies if you aren’t regularly checking up on them?

Would they do a better job if you were taking a closer interest? There is only one set of shoulders that you can stand behind and waft garlic infused breath over at a time? What are all the others getting up to while you’re delving into the intricacies of armament production?

What about subversive influences? A hidden fifth column, working to undermine you? Where I live we’ve had four prime ministers in five years due to internal party coups. Could we incorporate this into our management model? One of your ministers, or commanders, might be secretly undermining you.

People have a tendency to put the greater good to one side in preference to pursing personal power plays. Who can you trust? How could you smoke out the Judas? Or it might be a case of trying to rein in a powerful subordinate who is becoming overly high and mighty in their own right? Would this be fun?

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The Institute is known, familiar, territory. The Avenue opens up new possibilities and the urban badlands are a wild card. We’re taking a long hard look at all three.

Cheers,
Cameron

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2 Responses to Next Game Post 2: Pushing Noodles Uphill

  1. VA-Norm says:

    I have to admit, your creative descriptions of the neighborhoods you could work in are a little hard to translate into specific properties.

    I would personally applaud you reaching for new heights, but note your greatest achievements will probably be realized by building upon your proven strengths.

  2. Chris says:

    I admire your work but less verbiage. After 1941 German officers at the operational level were micro-managed by Hitler.

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