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13th January 2011
Developer Diary by Alex Shargin, lead developer on Panzer Corps.

Welcome to the first issue of Panzer Corps development diary. The initial announcement of Panzer Corps aroused a lot of discussions throughout the Web. We are grateful for all the positive responses we’ve got, and we would like to thank everyone for sharing their opinions and giving us suggestions on various wargaming forums. This feedback is very important for us, so please keep it coming!

Also, we have received a lot of questions, and some of them pop up again and again. So, in this first instalment of dev diary we decided to answer the most frequently asked questions in a more detailed manner than is normally possible on a forum.
 

The Panzer Corps trailer
 
[Q] So, how is Panzer Corps related to Panzer General? Is it a new game, or PG remake or clone?

[A] While we are big fans of Panzer General (PG) and believe that it was one of the greatest strategy games of all time, there is no point in cloning it 15 years later. After all, if anyone wants to play PG, he can pick up a copy of the original game and play it under DOSBOX. So instead, our goal is to create a new game, which would fix most of PG problems/annoyances and add more new features and possibilities, not present in any games in the PG series.

At the same time, our top priority is to preserve the “spirit” of PG. This is something even PG sequels did not quite manage, and a lot of players have missed it ever since. So, we really want to bring back some “PG feeling” in a modern game. To achieve that, we check all design decisions against a list of basic principles which, in our opinion, made PG so great.
 
Here are some of these principles.
 
1. Simple but deep gameplay. “Easy to play – hard to master”.
Many wargames out there have a very steep learning curve. You are supposed to read a big manual and spend weeks practicing before you can start to really enjoy the game. Panzer Corps is completely different in this respect. A few minutes are enough to setup the game and start playing, and it is possible to play the campaign from beginning to end in a casual style.
 
At the same time, the game provides enough ground to explore for more hard-core players. Panzer Corps features hundreds of units, with more than 20 statistics assigned to each, and more than 40 special abilities. Many units are able to cooperate in order to further increase their effectiveness (the “combined arms” principle). Using the right units in the right situations and carefully coordinating their actions is the key to more successful gaming. There are a lot of aspects to learn: terrain, experience, weather, supply, entrenchment, suppression etc. A good player will use them all to his advantage. It is like chess: learning the rules is easy, but mastering the game takes years.
 
The good news is that you can learn everything you want about the game while playing, you won’t need to read the Manual or buy a separate “strategy guide” book for that. Thus, you can view a detailed log of every combat, which shows how all the stats work together to determine the combat outcome, what formulas are involved, how various effects from special abilities, experience, terrain, weather, ground state, supply situation etc. are applied, and what dice rolls are involved in the process. So you will learn all game concepts in practice, from immediate gaming experience. Or if you prefer you can just play the game and not worry about this fine detail!
 
2. Large-scale battles. Variable map scale.
It is always much more interesting to play full operations of WW2 than the little-known local conflicts that did not really effect the outcome of the war. People want to play the invasions of Poland and France, operation Barbarossa, operation Overlord and the Battle of the Bulge. So this is exactly what Panzer Corps provides. But there is no escape from the fact that WW2 operations differed in scale. Thus, Barbarossa was a huge operation, with millions of men involved and front line almost 3000 km long. The battle of Crete was approximately 10 times smaller. There is no way to show both conflicts using the same hex scale. You would end up with one map being too large, or the other one too small, but in neither case it would be playable. So, we sacrifice a bit of realism here to make sure all maps have a reasonable hex count, and all scenarios are fun to play.
 
3. Strong RPG component.
A big part of fun in RPG games is to bring up your characters, see them growing stronger and capable of doing things which they could not even dream about in the beginning. Panzer Corps incorporates this element too, especially in campaign mode. Your units go from one battle to another, gaining experience, awards and aces in the process, and become valuable tools for turning the course of a difficult battle in your favor. Each unit has a detailed statistics and battle history associated with it, so you can always see what battles it participated in, and what achievements it has in its record.
 
  
Unit info pages

[Q] Tell us more about campaign. Is it playable for both sides, or only Axis or Allies? Is it linear or branching?

[A] Panzer Corps only includes a German campaign. The reason is, the Germans fought in the vast majority of battles in the European Theatre of World War II, and all these battles can be combined into a single huge campaign tree. So the German campaign is ideal for a game like this. However, we consider Panzer Corps a beginning of a new game series, more games will follow the first one, and Allied campaigns and Pacific theatre campaigns are definitely on our TO DO list.

The question about campaign structure is an interesting one. Some players hate linear campaigns because they are predictable, boring and have little replay value. On the other hand, some other players hate branching campaigns because in such campaigns you skip a lot of content. You need to replay the campaign many times to see it all, and in some case you need to do non-obvious actions (e. g. intentionally lose a few battles) to get to certain scenarios.
So, our goal is to strike the right balance between these two extremes. In Panzer Corps the campaign branches, but each branch in the campaign flow is easy to understand (e. g. the choice between the eastern and western front), and the total number of branches remains reasonable. Some branches will depend on your past successes. For example, if you manage to take Moscow in 1941, you will no longer need to fight the soviets from 1942 on. In other cases you can choose the path you want at will, perhaps at the expense of losing some favour with High Command.
 
 
[Q] What multiplayer options are available?

[A] Primary multiplayer option in Panzer Corps is to play via Slitherine’s PBEM++ server. This approach combines the benefits of classical online and PBEM gaming. On one hand, all games are created and paired on a centralized web server which means it is really easy to find a good opponent for your next game. All the UI required to create or join online games is seamlessly integrated within the game itself, there is no need to use separate software, web browser, email client etc. in order to play. On the other hand, you don’t need to be online at the same time as your opponent from the other side of the globe; you don’t need to wait at your PC while he is playing his turn, and you can easily play several games in parallel (while you are waiting for your opponent to move, you play your turn in a different game). And of course, the server automatically tracks all played games, player’s statistics and rankings and has a tournament system in development.

In addition to this, Panzer Corps includes the old school hot seat mode.
 
 
The Battle of the Bulge
 
[Q] What kind of AI can we expect in Panzer Corps?

[A] AI in computer games is something you are rarely satisfied with. Even in chess, where AI is incredibly strong these days, it is not really fun to play with, and most players would still prefer a good human opponent. And you can never stop and say – ok, the AI is finished. There is always “something else” you can improve. So, our work on the AI will continue till the very release of the game, and at this point it is too early to say how good it will be.

However, we can already share a few details on the new AI.
1. Non-frustrating and fun to play.
Very often, while trying to make the AI as strong and challenging as possible, the developer falls into the trap of making the AI too frustrating to play with. There are a lot of ways to frustrate the player: spam him with hordes of weak units, use every opportunity to ambush and finish off his favourite veterans etc. In Panzer Corps we are trying to avoid such AI behaviour, even if it results in objectively weaker AI. After all, the purpose of the AI is not to beat the player (nobody wants to be beaten in the first scenario of the campaign again and again, and never see the rest of the game), but to offer enough resistance to present the player with interesting decisions.
On the other hand, it is boring when the AI uses the same tactics all the time. After a few battles it becomes predictable, you already know in advance how it will act. So, in Panzer Corps the AI chooses a slightly different tactics in each new battle, and even the same scenario will feel a bit different on each go.
2. Three playing levels.
In computer wargames it is easy to challenge yourself by giving the AI opponent more resources. But often it is more interesting to face a stronger opponent under the same material conditions as before. So, Panzer Corps includes three levels of AI (basic, intermediate and advanced) which differ only by their playing strength. Advanced AI makes better unit choices, builds stronger defences around its cities and can even make some good strategic decisions, for example, detect a favourable defensive spot on the line of enemy’s advance, move some units there and put up a defence.
3. No cheating.
The AI in Panzer Corps never cheats, and this is not just empty talk – as a player, you can easily check this statement. There is an option in the game to replay and watch any of your past battles, much like you watch a movie. You can choose from which perspective to watch the game (from Axis point of view or from Allied point of view), so you can see what exactly the AI was doing, move by move. If it does anything illegal according to game rules, you will definitely notice that.
4. Customizable.
In Panzer Corps scenario designers can adjust the behaviour of AI using a separate configuration file, and more advanced designers are free to experiment with AI settings in this file as well (it is a plain text file). We use these options to give a slightly different flavour to each scenario and especially to western and eastern fronts.
 
 
[Q] What is the modding story? Will a scenario editor be available?

[A] No matter how good our stock campaign will be, we understand that without user content created by the community the game will have a short life. So, it is one of our top goals to make Panzer Corps fully modifiable and customizable. You are free to change any aspects of the existing campaign and scenarios, and you are free to create new scenarios and campaigns as well.

Of course it is very difficult to edit maps, unit placement etc. without a specialized WYSIWYG editor. So, we will ship a dedicated scenario editor for Panzer Corps. It may not be available from day one, because we are working hard to release the game itself as soon as possible, but it will definitely appear shortly after the release. Internally we have been using the editor for several months already, so it is already feature-complete and quite stable. We only need to polish it a bit, make it more user-friendly, and then it will be ready.
Scenario making works like this. You take an existing map (from Wikipedia, Google maps etc.), load it into the editor as a “pad image” and draw tiles on top of it. You don’t need to care about matching the tiles seamlessly, choose the right coast, river and road tiles etc. You just assign the right terrain to each hex and draw roads and rivers as polylines. The editor handles all the rest. Finally, you specify some global scenario parameters (like turn count, weather settings etc.) and place the units on the map.
Other aspects of Panzer Corps will be modifiable directly in game’s data files. This includes: 
  • Campaign path (plain text file) 
  • Pre-scenario and post-scenario briefings in campaign (HTML files) 
  • Unit list and all unit stats (plain text file)
  • All graphics (PNG files) 
  • Layout of the UI (HTML files) 
  • Various game aspects like terrain types, movement methods, unit classes etc. (plain text files)
  • AI behaviour (plain text files)
[Q] What will be system requirements of Panzer Corps? Shall I plan an upgrade already?
 
[A] Panzer Corps works well on a broad range of hardware, including older machines, netbooks and low-end PCs. Thus, my primary development machine is almost ten years old, and I intentionally avoid upgrading it to make sure the game works on such hardware.
Officially we support all screen resolutions from 800×600 upwards. Instead of switching your PC to a predefined screen resolution, the UI will adapt to desktop resolution you already have. So, if you have a huge full HD screen, you will see more map at the same time. And if you have multiple monitors, you can stretch game window across them all. As for smaller screens found on some netbooks (less than 800×600), the game will still work on them, but you won’t see some controls in the UI. And since the UI layout is customizable, this problem can be easily solved by user-made mods.
 
Stay tuned for the next episode of the Panzer Corps' developer diary !
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