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Developer Interview: Slitherine/Firepower

September 11th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Interview, Slitherine

Commander – Europe At War will add yet another title to an already long list of World War II games. Firepower Games is doing the lead programming work with Slitherine adding their experience in development and publicity. Iain McNeil of Slitherine and John Persson from Firepower agreed to answer a few questions about the upcoming grand strategy game and the challenge of making something fresh from a familiar setting.


Commander is Slitherine’s first game not based on ancient warfare. Why the switch?

Iain: Commander was already in development by Johan Persson, at Firepower Entertainment, before we got involved. At the time it had no graphics at all, just blue/green hexes for land and sea, with icons from a mod for another game as placeholders. Even at that stage we could see the potential that the game had, and by working closely with Johan we think we’ve created something really special. So in answer to your question, this is not a switch for us, it is an additional project and the experiment is working well. Expect more collaborations like this from us in the future.

Some gamers think that the WW2 grand strategy genre has already been perfected, either by Paradox (Hearts of Iron) or Grigsy (World at War). Why make another grand strategy game?

Johan: HOI is an RTS so it plays very differently to a turn-based game. World At War has a lot of abstraction and lacks the tactical depth that hex to hex control offers. We wanted to create a game where the player had more control but ensure that micromanagement did not get in the way. We wanted terrain to have a larger impact, as it did in WW2. We also wanted to offer the chance to break through and envelop enemy positions, and cut supply lines.

You are using a hex based map instead of a province/region based one. What does the hex add to your design?

Iain: We feel the hexes offera level of strategy missing from a region based system. There are far more options where to place your troops and where to attack, and those options mean there is potential for more interesting manoeuvres.

Will the grand campaign start before the war or with the conflict already raging?

Johan: The scenario start dates range from 1939-1944, but we are planning to release a Map/Scenario editor sometime in the future which will be fully customizable. However, even in the initial release we are including scripts that control general gameplay, leaders, units, technologies and terrain. In the initial release you will not be able to change the sides, so Germany will start at war with Poland and Italy will always be Axis controlled.

How much flexibility will the player have in drawing other nations into the war on its side? Can Germany delay the inevitable by getting the Turks to sign up?

Johan: We will have a simple system to avoid the most serious exploitations, so you will be encouraged to make realistic decisions, but not prevented from declaring war on Spain if you really want to! You cannot declare war on nations that lean to your side so Axis cannot attack Italy for instance. We have seriously considered a more developed diplomacy system, but we felt there were too many factors that needed to be balanced, and it was important to get the combat engine working first. Currently the game is mostly about military decisions, with some economics and a little politics. We may adjust this balance in the future.

WW2 was won on the seas. The failure of Germany to break the trans-Atlantic supply line was decisive. But naval combat has proven difficult for gamer designers to fit into a land combat model. Have you cracked this nut?

Johan: Yes, and this is one of the most exciting and unique features of this game! Atlantic convoys contain production points which are unloaded in UK Ports. Atlantic convoys actually move around the map, they are not abstracted, and the enemy can attack them. The convoys move automatically and allied player must attempt to defend them, while the Axis player is trying to sink them. Convoys follow routes which vary slightly each time. The Allied player will be trying to cover as much of the Atlantic as possible, but also need to keep concentrations of ships around the busiest convoy routes, so it’s a balancing act for both sides. As ships take a long time to construct, it’s important to plan ahead as far as the war at sea is concerned.

What role will historic leaders play in the game?

Johan: Commanders are built in from the ground up. Commanders are not units themselves, but are assigned to units. They boost the performance of the unit they are with and those nearby in various ways. The commanders can also get injured if the unit they are with retreats or is destroyed. Naturally, some nations have better commanders than others. We’re planning to include a variety of famous names with pictures.

Commander, on the surface, reminds me of an updated Clash of Steel. Have you looked at WW2 games from the past (either board or computer) for inspiration about what or what not to do?

Johan: Iain and I played different games and we have felt there was something missing in all of them. We felt there was a gap in the market and we have taken inspiration from old games and added new twists on them to create what we think is the best WW2 grand strategy game to date.

Commander and Legion: Arena both boast cooperation with Osprey Publishing. How did this partnership come about?

Iain: For a long time Slitherine have been using Osprey books as source material when researching the background on our games. We also had direct contact with Osprey through the wargaming hobby, which some members of the Slitherine are involved in. We felt there had to be some synergy between Slitherine and Osprey and after some discussion we decided to cross promote our games and their books. We’re also looking for ways to work more closely together in the future, so watch this space!

Slitherine has said that this will be “the first in a series of high level turn based strategy games.” Any hints about future settings?

Iain: We haven’t really set our minds on anything yet. There are so many possible periods and settings that we could do this for ever and never run out! We need to find a period that interests the gamers and fits well with the systems we’ve developed. We also need to pick a period that we like and are familiar with so that we can do it justice.


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