Lock’n’Load Heroes of Stalingrad – The Grogheads Interview

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Mark H Walker takes a few minutes to talk with us about the new Heroes of Stalingrad game – the first digital entry in the Lock’n’Load line.

9 March 2014

Grogheads: OK, first things first: It’s been, what? – 6 years!  What’s taken so long to get this game out?

Mark H Walker. First off, making a computer game is difficult. Damn difficult. I’ve written novels, designed board games, and raised three daughters. Creating Heroes of Stalingrad ranks right up there. If both Tom (the programmer) and I had been full time on the game, it might have been easier. However, I work full weeks designing board games as well as keeping the company that publishes them moving forward. By the same token, Tom also has several other irons in the fire. Hence the game took longer than we would have liked.

Secondly, nothing beats experience. I consider myself video and computer game fluent. I wrote full time in the industry for ten years before I founded Lock ‘n Load Publishing, but nothing prepares you for creating a computer game better than creating a computer game. We were lucky to have Matrix’s Erik Rutens join the team as producer, and bring the game home. His experience was invaluable.

GH: As computer games go, this one is clearly “playing a board game on the computer”.  How hard was it to maintain the feel of the board game as you worked on the computer game?  What were some of the particular challenges of keeping the soul of the game as you digitized it?

W. Not hard at all. Basically the design document centered on making this a PC board game.

GH: For someone who has never seen the board games, what’s the pitch for picking up this game over a comparable-scale WWII computer game?

W. It’s much better. LOL. Taking into consideration that this is a hex and counter game and no threat to the Titanfall crowd… it’s pretty, it’s immersive, it’s easy to get into, it doesn’t take itself seriously, and it has a cute Russian nurse. 

GH: For the boardgamers out there, why should this be the game that causes them to boot up the computer instead of cracking a beer and taking over the dining room table with a map and counters?

W. They shouldn’t. If you have a chance to down a Parkway Get Bent IPA  with friends as you play a great board game you should always do it. If you don’t have that chance HoS is a great substitute. The AI is pretty sharp, and the clean up is easy.

GH: Where are some places that the digital game clearly diverges from its board game predecessor?  What caused those changes?

W. Not so much. HoS includes Flanking Fire, which is always something that I wanted in the board game, but its just a little to hard to track on the table top. We also eliminated height as a factor in the computer game. If I could, I think I would do that in the board game also. Multi-level buildings and hills add more complexity that they are worth. 

GH: Why Stalingrad?  Haven’t we seen enough Stalingrad games?!?  Seriously, though – the board games never made it that far east.  Why build the first computer version of Lock’n’Load for a scenario that’s yet to be covered on the tabletop?

W. Well, people just seem to like the East Front games.

GH: How was the campaign envisioned and scripted?  What was the narrative it was based on?  How about the other scenarios?  Do they try to recreate historical situations, or just compelling stories for players to sling digital dice over a good game?

W. I would have liked to do more with the campaign narrative, but we only had so much time. As it is, I feel the panels add flavor, but don’t really tell a complete story. I’ll do better next time.

GH: The scenario editor describes itself in fairly terrifying terms. Was that your sense of humour? Realistically, how easy is it for community scenario designers to create new scenarios?

W. Yep, that is Tom and I kidding around. Not sure how to answer the second part. If you mess around with it, you can figure it out, I guess.

GH: Why did you limit each unit turn to basically one action like shooting, moving etc? In 2-4 minutes (a turn) surely a squad could both move and fire – even if the fire would have a negative modifier to account for time spent moving, less target acquisition etc.

W. Because that’s the way the game design panned out.

GH: What kind of  wiki page are you planning for the game?

W. Uh, I’m not sure what a wiki page is. Should I plan one?

GH: No werewolves?

W. None. We’re saving them for the Ardennes. 😉

GH: Seriously, though, the Lock’n’Load series has one of the broadest range of available games for a tactical system, from the Falklands to Somalia to Vietnam, plus all the WWII games.  When are we going to start seeing some of the non-WWII Lock’n’Load games on-screen?  Please say it won’t be another 6 years!

W. Gee, I hope not. I love the modern stuff. Tom tells me that the squares in The Mog are a bit of a problem. Heroes of the Gap is certainly doable, and something we are considering, but there are just so many possibilities. The time is the problem. Always the time. 

GH: What’s the plan for engaging the community in creating new scenarios, maps, campaigns, and modules?

W. It isn’t a plan, per se. We are both very active on the Matrix forums, and I believe Matrix has a method to host user made scenarios. 

GH: What should we have asked you, if we were coherent enough to think of everything we could’ve possibly asked?

W. I don’t know. I can say that Tom and I are glad everyone seems to be enjoying the game. We felt it was a fun title, but really didn’t expect the great reception. We’re very grateful.

GH: Thanks for taking the time to chat!

Mark H. Walker is a retired U.S. Navy Commander, game designer, and author of over 40 books, including the WW3 novel, World at War: Revelation. Heroes of Stalingrad was designed by Mark and coded by Tom Proudfoot.


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