continued from developer notes #6
Stalin provides a diametrically opposite command experience. This time it is the Player who dominates the command structure. There is no need to play politics when you are the alpha male, the top dog.
Which creates a new set of design challenges. How do you provide a sense of hierarchy in this situation? Where is the necessity to cooperate with other people when you can have any one of them executed at will? Does placing the Player at the top of the hierarchy completely negate the people element that we have previously identified as crucial to any model of Operational Command?
It’s tricky. Take away the people and you end up with the typical God-like approach of many other war games. But if those people have no direct impact on the Player’s actions they quickly morph into window decorations.
The game has taken a different approach. The people are there and they do indeed exert a strong influence but it is an internal one. Before looking at this in detail it’s worth taking a step back and contrasting the two different command experiences on offer.
The German Player is part of a hierarchy. He is required to be a political player just as much as a military one. He has at his command arguably the, at the time, world’s best army. The Wehrmacht was the arch typical well-oiled machine that conquered all before it. The martial tools available to the German Player are honed to a sharp edge. They are proven and are interchangeable. Everything meshes together into a synchronised whole. A world class symphonic orchestra in full flight at the peak of it’s power.
The Soviet Player, on the other hand, is in possession of a smartly attired but discordant, back alley rabble where half the musicians are asleep and the other half have rarely held an instrument, let alone had to play in harmony with others. The conductor is way off in the cheaps seats, well to the rear of the auditorium. The musicians have to squint to see the movement of his baton.
This has come about because the owner of the Orchestral company had, a few years previously, rounded up all the competent musicians and taken them out the back where they were summarily shot. Others he locked up in the basements of notorious prisons and threw away the key. To fill the gaps and maintain a full orchestral roster he collected a bunch of hanger’s on and flunkies and told them that, henceforth, they were to be a violin player. Everybody got a shiny new uniform.
Anyone can pick up a violin and create sound. Just like anybody can command an Army. On a good day, when the sun is shining and the biggest potential problem is the lack of decent refreshment.
Stalin’s Great Officer Purge of ‘37 and ‘38 was aimed at eliminating the last remaining threat to his power. In doing so he eviscerated the Red Army. A consistent historical motif of Dictators is the need to clear the decks of any competition once they themselves have clawed their way to the top by fair means or foul.
We are being too kind to Dictators here. None of them used fair means. A ruthless, take no prisoners, climb over the bodies, style was the norm. Anyone who had assumed power on this basis would be paranoid about others doing the same to them. He who trades in knives spends a lot of time with his back to the wall.
Stalin was no different to any of history’s police line-up of successful, brutal, dictators. Paranoia be thy name.
It was the reason he instigated the purge. It was the reason he remained highly sensitive to any threat emanating from his Officer Corps. It is also a great solution to our design conundrum.
The people in the Soviet hierarchy aren’t important in the sense that Stalin needs their help. It will be given, regardless, as they are ruled by fear. They are, however, important in how they affect Stalin’s state of mind. His level of paranoia.
At no point did the Red Army Officer Corps have any realistic prospects of mounting a successful coup. What mattered more was Stalin’s perception of the threat of this occurring. He was genuinely paranoid at the prospect of being terminally removed from his post by those beneath him.
Every subordinate presented as a potential threat. The cumulative tally of these individual threats, along with a few other factors such as the loss of politically important cities all contribute to Stalin’s level of paranoia.
At certain points the pressure cooker inside his head will blow and he will suffer a Paranoid Episode. There are consequences. Army Commanders will be shot, the wheels of command will stutter and seize. The Player’s freedom of action will be temporarily constrained.
Here we have a workable mechanic that allows for a top down command experience while elevating the subordinates within the hierarchy as people who have an impact on the Player’s experience and who need to be taken into consideration.
It also aligns with reality of Stalin. Yes he did have Army Commanders shot for no other reason than he perceived them to be a threat. Whether he suffered paranoid episodes in the manner and frequency depicted by the game is debatable but we’ve already decided that game play trumps strict adherence to historical fidelity.