Information Flow – A Torrent or a Trickle?

Decisive Campaigns III design blog #6

Before we return to the Wehrmacht’s continued advance through a deserted Russia, as a way of seeing how far we can stretch the logistical systems, we need to talk about information.

Nobody likes to play a game where the underlying mechanics are opaque. You make a decision and something happens but the game won’t tell you what or why. It’s frustrating to find yourself poking around in the dark.

The cornerstone of any decently designed game is that it provides ample feedback to the player. If you are going to provide a decision space you need to also provide the necessary information that enables players to make those decisions in an informed, educated manner.

Decisive Campaigns 3, as already mentioned, is striving to be micromanagement free as possible. It also has a fairly high level approach – divisions, 30 km hexes – to it’s chosen subject. Does this mean it there will be straightforward and simple game mechanics?

Half right. Straightforward yes, simple no. The underlying mechanics are involved and detailed.

Which creates a dilemma. In order to provide the player with adequate feedback there are all manner of reports. Squillions of them. Add to this a variable number of decisions that need resolving each turn. The end result is the player having to wade through an awful lot of reading each turn to find out what’s happening.

Clearly that isn’t workable. Who wants to spend twenty minutes each turn reading endless reports on this or that? Some of us, perhaps, but not all.

To bring some order to the raging torrent of information flowing through the game there are a series of ‘Daily Logs’. These act as summaries. There is one for each theatre, one for staff matters and one for game related items, making a total of five.

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The daily logs are dynamic. Sections within the reports will only show if there is anything of interest. Your staff know you are a busy man and won’t bother you with trivialities

The intent of the designer, that’s me, is for the player to imagine themselves pacing up and down their headquarters, staring at the latest updates on the operational map. Before them on the desk are a big pile of reports compiled by their staff from information provided by the various components of the forces under their command. There’s another pile of reports that are decisions needing the player’s input.

The headquarters staff have put together summaries, daily logs, that highlight everything they consider important. Everything they think the player should know in a concise, short form.

The player can scan these each turn and has the option, if he wants, to then delve deeper into the big pile of reports to get further information on a particular item.

None of the matters highlighted in the daily logs will resolve themselves. It’s up to the player to deal with any problems. Which isn’t easy as there will be, as time progresses, more and more of them. He has tools and resources at his disposal to resolve various issues but these don’t include the ability to handball the important stuff over to a minion.

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The other pile on this desk, all those decisions needing his approval, or otherwise, can however, be delegated. The player’s Chief of Staff is on hand to deal with any decision that are sitting in the pile. But that’s all he’ll do. He won’t run the war for you and his judgment isn’t always going to coincide with yours.

The game presents the player with a few, key, pop-up messages at the start of each turn. Need to know stuff – Weather, Panzergruppe status, pending decisions.

Once the turn begins the player can click on the report tab and have everything available to him in the one spot. Right at the top is the ‘Decisions’ pile. Followed by the Daily Logs. Below this are all the detailed reports.

A typical turn would have the player scanning the list of pending decisions, dealing with some, delegating others. He’d also look at his Daily Logs. Doesn’t have to, but he can expect a short command if he chooses to remain ignorant of what’s happening. The detailed reports are there to be dipped into at his convenience. The player can choose to be a ‘big picture’ or a ‘tell me everything’ commander.

The information flow is layered. You can play the game by interacting with the outer layer only or you can start peeling away, Shrek-like, and go deeper. It’s up to you.

An additional aspect of the games approach to information management is how it deals with individual units. Each division can have a wide range of factors influencing it (ammunition shortages, command problems, fatigue, counter battery artillery support, cold weather preparations, postures, interference from the Führer are some examples to give you an idea of the scope of these) and there are multiple ways of accessing this. But that’s a topic for another blog.

Cheers,
Cameron

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15 Responses to Information Flow – A Torrent or a Trickle?

  1. Roy says:

    Very interesting details about this upcoming game. Putting the player in role of decision maker in an effective manner yet keeping it fun is such a crucial aspect of a good wargame. It’s one the reasons ATG has had such longevity. Any idea when this DC3 project will get to the beta stage?

  2. Jafele says:

    Fascinating! This is the wargame I was waiting for. Logistic is in command; tactics and strategy are useless to win the war without an adequate supply system. Pure realism and innovation. Thanks for your work, Cameron.

    Cheers

  3. Jafele says:

    Fascinating! This is the wargame I was waiting for. Logistic is in command; tactics and strategy are useless to win the war without an adequate supply system. Pure realism and innovation. Thanks for your work, Cameron.

    Cheers

  4. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Roy,

    Timing of the Beta is variable but it’s not too far away.

    Hi Jafele,

    Your enthusiasm is appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  5. bt says:

    DC 3 looks very interesting. However I’m a bit annoyed when I read the non-historical appelation “Armegruppen Zentrum” in the report. AGN, AGC and AGS were translations of the german Heeresgruppe Nord, Heeresgruppe Mitte and Heeresgruppe Süd.

    Cheers

  6. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi bt,

    Yep, “Heersegruppe Mitte” is the correct terminology.

    I’ve used a reasonable amount of German phraseology in the various reports and decisions and, where appropriate, I’ve tweaked it to accommodate the majority of players who won’t be familiar with the language.

    “Armegruppen Zentrum” is used as a native English speaker can figure out what it is, more or less, without recourse to a German dictionary whereas “Heersgruppe Mitte” would have them scratching their heads.

    One of those occasions where playability trumps historical accuracy.

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  7. Rasputitsa says:

    Thanks for another interesting installment of the DC III story, I like the layered approach to presenting information. There are too many huge micromanagement games which real life means that you will never play, but it is nice to have access to deeper layers of detail when, and if, you want to look further into particular items. As long as you know what the critical decisions are (the game breakers) and have the information to make those decisions, the rest is up to the player as to how far into the guts of the game you want to go.

    When you have to plough through tons of detail and actions only to keep a game going, it just becomes a chore. When you chose to delve into the detail, it adds to the immersion and enjoyment.

  8. bob. says:

    I have to agree with bt here. Why use German “words” that are completely wrong and sound wrong to a German native speaker?
    If you do that, you can as well go for the English words.

    “Armeegruppen Zentrum” is not only wrong but also makes no sense at all, for example. First of all, as bt says that is just not what it was called. Completely destroys any sense of immersion if I have to read wrong names for very well known formations. Secondly, “Armeegruppen” is the plural of “Armeegruppe”. That also makes no sense, because it was not a collection of groups of armies, it was a group of armies…

    And basically all of the German words I can read are completely wrong or out of place. “Mechanischer Status”, “Bestimmungswörter”(what is that even supposed to mean?), and my favourite “Östfront Meteorologischen-Bericht”. Can’t hurt to have an “Ö” there , or what was the thought behind that?

    So please, reconsider.
    Choosing to have the German words wrong, instead of just accidentally getting them wrong… I am going to be frank here, that has to be the weirdest wargame design choice I have gotten across, ever.

  9. Chris says:

    I hope the combat results display numbers and not icons which have to be counted. I never could understand why numbers where not used. Will the unit graphics improve? The DC unit graphics have a cartoon look to them.

  10. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Bob,

    You may have caught me out here. I’m going to have to take a step back from my previous comments above.

    I’m not a German speaker and my German phraseology comes direct from Mr. Google’s translation service for Gentlemen. The only ‘choosing’ that’s been done is me deciding, unscientifically, that a particular phrase looked more understandable than another.

    Most of the German words were thrown in there quickly in the early days of development without much thought. ‘Zentrum’ was there because it sounded like ‘Centre’ to me more than ‘Mitte’ did. The difference between ‘Armeegruppen’ and ‘Armeegruppe’ went right over my head.

    The intention was to have a native German speaker take a pass at it before release. It wasn’t something that I’ve been too fussed about up until now but you, and bt , have raised a valid point and it’ll have to be addressed.

    If you, or anybody else who speaks fluent German, felt like having some input and helping turn my mangled, googlised, German into something coherent that’d be appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  11. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Chris,

    These are matters that haven’t yet been decided upon.

    Your views have been noted.

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  12. Jafele says:

    Hey Cameron, I´d like to know if all units are initially located in fixed hexes in scenarios/campaigns. I think a bit of randomness (at least in a few units) would add replayability.

    Thanks

  13. bob. says:

    Hi Cameron,

    that clears things up! I thought you wanted to leave German pseudo-words in the game so English speakers could more easily “read” them.

    I don’t think I would be fit to take a look at the German words. Someone who knows a lot about German terminology in WW2 would propably be the best choice. Unfortunately, that person is not me!

  14. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Jafele,

    I’m working on random dispositions at the moment. There’s a game option for ‘Historical’ set up which does what you’d expect.

    With it toggled ‘off’ the aim is to provide a enough variability to keep you guessing and anxiously checking your intelligence reports.

    That’s the plan.

    Cheers,
    Cameron

  15. Joe Kundlak says:

    I agree with the “grammar nazis” above :) Best would be to use the true english equivalents, when you do not want to use the original german names. So “Army Group Center” etc.

    But I still think that this game counts to those grognardy ones, which the players, who choose to play it, will already understand with all its german/russian namings, specifics etc. And those few who do not, will use Mr. Google’s services to find more about – and dive deeper into the WW2 universe, as we all did back in our day, whenever it was…

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