Old School Tactical from Flying Pig Games

The JTS Interview

By Boggit, 8 November 2014

John Tiller and Ed ‘Volcano Man’ Williams take us on a tour of their new releases

 

German infantry advance though a ruined East Prussian Town ©Deutsches Bundesarchiv

German infantry advance though a ruined East Prussian Town ©Deutsches Bundesarchiv

John and Ed, thank you for agreeing to talk to Grogheads about your recent work. Both East Prussia ‘14, and Panzer Battles: Kursk, the Southern Flank are recent releases and show some interesting developments in John Tiller Software games

Ed, I know that you’ve put many years of research into the First World War Campaigns. What attracted you to the period in the first place, and do you have any favourite campaigns you’d like to explore?

Ed Williams: I have always been interested in World War One for as long as I can remember. I am not sure what initially attracted me to the subject, perhaps it was the movie Lawrence of Arabia, but I recall my desire to read and watch movies and documentaries about the war all the way back in grade school. About ten years ago I was attending college and I took a history class taught by an excellent professor (Dr. Robert Bruce) and the class covered the war, but not all the boring economic and political stuff, it was purely about the battles and the conflict itself.

I suppose it was that class that piqued my interest, but it did so at a perfect moment since I had just finished the HPS Korea ’85 game some years before and I was basically twiddling my thumbs with nothing to do.

So, I had the experience to develop a new title, the free time to do it, and a renewed spark of interest in the subject matter. I took the interest and came up with an idea of a World War One game using the Panzer Campaigns engine at its core, but of course it would need to be modified. I set about creating a list of modifications that were necessary and I presented them to John, and he was receptive to the idea, made the appropriate adjustments, and so I intentionally charged forward before I had time to think about how difficult of a task it would be.

As for my personal favourite campaigns, I am interested in all campaigns of the war but my personal favourites would have to be anything in Palestine and Mesopotamia, the Galicia campaign, and the 1918 battles.

The first bombardment at Tannenburg by I ArmeeKorps field artillery starts auspiciously with the disruption of a Russian unit - an assault will soon follow. New features like radio intercepts now add to the game experience in East Prussia 1914

The first bombardment at Tannenburg by I ArmeeKorps field artillery starts auspiciously with the disruption of a Russian unit – an assault will soon follow. New features like radio intercepts now add to the game experience in East Prussia 1914

Without disclosing any sensitive information, what are the current plans in the works for more WW1 campaigns?

Ed Williams: We do like to keep information about the next title a secret, just in case it never sees the light of day for one, but it is safe to say that the third title of the series is in development. The long term plan is to continue to create titles in this series for as long as there is consumer interest in them, and as long as I have the time to create them. Time would have to be the most influencing factor though, since these games take so much time and effort to make.

 

A snapshot from Ed’s first game on the First World War – France ’14. Here III ArmeeKorps attack across the Gette river line one of Boggit’s ongoing games

A snapshot from Ed’s first game on the First World War – France ’14. Here III ArmeeKorps attack across the Gette river line one of Boggit’s ongoing games

General von Francois who led the initial attack at Tannenburg, takes time out for a photo opportunity after the battle.

General von Francois who led the initial attack at Tannenburg, takes time out for a photo opportunity after the battle.

So far you’ve done early war campaigns at the 1km/2hr scale, which for the mobile nature of the warfare works very well. How would you deal with battles like the Somme, Verdun, Cambrai, Gallipoli, or Meuse-Argonne where breaking the trench deadlock meant advances were very small in comparison? What sort of impact would there be on the games if you tried the Panzer Battles system for campaigns later in the war?

Ed Williams: Good question. I do like to sit around and think about how the engine would cover the different stages of the war. For the period that I call the “siege warfare” period, which would be classified as 1915-1916 on the static fronts, I feel that the main game design issue would have more to do with time scale than anything else. I hypothesized that the hours per turn would have to doubled, the combat results would also need to be increased by the same magnitude, though the protection provided by fortifications would obviously increase significantly as well. The effect would essentially be quicker days, slower overall movement, but very bloody battles once the fortifications are cracked.

During that period artillery improvements reached a point where it was arguably at the height of its usefulness, being a war that directly suited its role: a static environment consisting primarily of soft targets. So, the other part of the equation would be that the artillery side of the game would have to be enhanced to the point that the player would effectively have more control so that it would become an additional layer above the usual ground combat. For example, rolling, interdicting, protective barrages would have to be modelled, allowing the player to plan specific artillery missions to help his forces grind forward, and wasteland/heavily cratered type terrain would have to be modelled as well which would exist to slow movement but also change the protection level of the original terrain.

The other key to this period would be that the longer turn length would allow for a much longer campaign, a campaign that should be full of strategic choices on where the commander wants to commit his main offensive, such as where his supply depots would be massed (explicit supply would probably have to be a default rule for such a title during this period) as well as where the main attacking forces would appear (as reinforcements). This would keep the other side guessing, so that an offensive might grind down if the enemy countered it properly, or could possibly gain some significant ground. So, a big part of such a campaign would be recognizing where the main offensive is, as opposed to feints or supporting attacks.

Also, the new political termination would be used in every such campaign, because it would represent a point where significant progress would have been enough to cause the other side to pull back a huge portion of the front line, thereby having a great effect on the rest of the war and resulting in a victory in the specific campaign. This would allow for some very open ended campaigns of 500 turns or more, because it could end at any moment, especially due to attrition type losses over a long period of time, and both sides could always decide to agree on a result and terminate the scenario early without having to play until the end. The point being that longer scenarios are now possible with the Political Termination feature, because you are not required to play the entire scenario to the final turn to achieve a Major Victory (Political Termination is triggered once one side achieves a Major Victory).

The Somme and Verdun campaigns are perfectly do-able like this and would be very interesting I think, but the Western Front battles of 1915 would be tricky to wargame, but not impossible. Very long 1915 grand campaign scenarios are also possible, and such a campaign would be represented in several parts covering the entire front line at different stages of the year which would allow for both sides to execute their own offensives, perhaps with a little bit of healthy a-historical freedom there as well.

Beyond that, additional features like mining and de-mining, observation balloon units and better aerial reconnaissance would all be necessary too, so at some point the question is whether there would be enough interest in the campaigns during this period to justify all the work needed for these changes. That said, my plan would have to be to introduce the new features slowly, over time, in new titles that require them until it would be possible to represent some of the 1915-1916 battles, because otherwise it just would not be practical.

As for representing World War I at an even smaller scale, I feel that I have done this in Squad Battles: First World War, but there is some merit for making battles at the 250m per hex scale of Panzer Battles. However, I am personally less interested in that scale for this particular conflict since I feel that the conflict is best suited for either the lowest scale, or the battalion and regiment level, or the strategic scale. In my opinion, the battalion and regiment level is a “just right” scale to represent an entire battle and not just parts of it, while at the same time retaining the feeling of tactics and manoeuvre. At 250m scale, scenarios would have to be snap shots of the entire battle which is not something I am a fan of, unless it is at the squad level. You never know though, some other designer may be interested in doing this one day though.

The Battle of Tannenburg covers a huge area, as can be seen from the zoomed out map and jump map. The underlying screenshot shows the southern part of the battle, but significant forces are in the north

The Battle of Tannenburg covers a huge area, as can be seen from the zoomed out map and jump map. The underlying screenshot shows the southern part of the battle, but significant forces are in the north

John, the artwork in John Tiller games has been the subject of some adverse comment for many years for the dated style. However, the recent artwork in Panzer Battles: Kursk and East Prussia ‘14 has received a very positive reception from the gaming community. What (if any) plans are there to refresh the artwork in the older games to your recent style? Maybe offset the cost of doing so by selling a retrofit artwork upgrade from your site?

John Tiller: We continually work to upgrade the graphics in our games. For example, you may have noticed a recent graphics upgrade for the Civil War and Napoleonic games. While some individual unit graphics can be upgraded, there are so many units in our games that upgrading the entire set to a new look wouldn’t be feasible. Our upgrades for the past 20 years have always been free so charging customers now for improvements would be counter to our support approach. But I should also mention that there are users out there that have done some great alternative graphics for some of the games which they share.

John Tiller Software’s artist Joe Amoral deserves praise for starting a fresh approach to the artwork presentation in Panzer Battles: Kursk. Maps and counters, and vehicle representation have all been revamped. Nice!

John Tiller Software’s artist Joe Amoral deserves praise for starting a fresh approach to the artwork presentation in Panzer Battles: Kursk. Maps and counters, and vehicle representation have all been revamped. Nice!

 

The unit cards, and counter art for Panzer Battles: Kursk are derived from photographs which were then coloured and integrated. Well done Joe Amoral! ©John Tiller Software

The unit cards, and counter art for Panzer Battles: Kursk are derived from photographs which were then coloured and integrated. Well done Joe Amoral! ©John Tiller Software

John, your style of game design has remained immensely popular with gamers over the years. What factors do you think are behind the success? The recent fresh approach to artwork appears a significant shift and has been very well received in the community. The additional zoom feature you added for higher resolution and widescreen monitors was another welcome addition to your games. Your titles across the board are very well supported, often with improvement updates to the gameplay. What are some other innovations we can look forward to in your game systems?

John Tiller: The approach my team and I have taken for the past 20 years is to develop games that we want to play ourselves. My philosophy is that if you develop a game you like yourself, and then others will like it too. I’ve seen the alternate approach, of developing a game that you think others would like but you don’t personally, fail… and so I’m convinced that you have to take this attitude in your development.

New development recently has ported some of our games to mobile devices such as iPad and Android. This effort is opening up new possibilities as it is based on C# programming. Once we have that game engine, then other ports are possible and other platform development becomes an option. For example, I have been experimenting with the Unity 3D platform in support of our game engines and there are some interesting possibilities associated with that.

Now you can see the new unit card art on counters as opposed to the old stick men style representations as real alternative to the NATO symbology on unit counters

Now you can see the new unit card art on counters as opposed to the old stick men style representations as real alternative to the NATO symbology on unit counters

Ed, I was reading on the forum that there is a way to link the results of France ‘14 and East Prussia ‘14 together. How does that work, and are we likely to see more examples of it in the future between released games?

Colonel (later General) Max Hoffman. The staff officer whose strategy jointly devised with General Ludendorff for the German Eighth Army resulted in the victories at Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes battles. Hindenburg and Ludendorff took all the credit.

Colonel (later General) Max Hoffman. The staff officer whose strategy jointly devised with General Ludendorff for the German Eighth Army resulted in the victories at Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes battles. Hindenburg and Ludendorff took all the credit.

Ed Williams: Basically, the “notes” document (a.k.a Designer’s Notes) included in both games have a section devoted to the “Grand Campaign”, which are special campaign scenarios that are designed to be played together. The basic idea is that the notes define which of these scenarios to play in what order, and then you take the result (Major Victory, Minor Victory, Draw, Minor Defeat, Major Defeat) and determine the amount of “Campaign Victory Points” (CVPs) you have gain or lost. You then carry that result forward and play the next campaign scenario, and the CVP total is adjusted accordingly. Once the CVP total reaches a certain level then that side has won the campaign.

The appealing factor in all of this is that it allows me to present historical linking context to the different campaigns, provide weight to show how some battles were more important than others, and it allows for the representation of several historical dilemmas to the player, in the form of strategic decisions he has to make.

For example, in the France ’14 Grand Campaign, both sides get to choose their initial war plan. For example, do the Germans choose to go with the historical 1914 plan of attack, which has been so derided by most armchair generals and historians, or do they go with a more aggressive plan that puts more forces in France, or arranges them differently? The choice would be obvious if you were only playing that scenario with no consequences to your choice, but knowing that you are going to have to play the East Prussia ’14 campaign and are required to make the matching war plan choice there, it might give you pause to consider the consequences. In other words, it makes it practical to actually represent these different strategic choices, because it does not make sense to do so outside of the context of a grand campaign (because the user has no incentive not to select anything other than the most ideal choice presented to him).

In the previous example, it may suddenly become obvious that von Moltke’s historical 1914 plan is actually quite attractive because it is the most conservative of the other choices, and although there might be less opportunity for victory in the west, at least it allows a safe probability of victory in both the east and west. This is an interesting bit of self-discovery that I like to provide the user so that it puts them in the shoes of their historical counterpart, which demonstrates these dilemmas far better than the subjective view of any historian will, and may also generate some respect for why the historical commanders made the choices they did.

I certainly intend to continue the grand campaign feature in future titles; they will all receive the same treatment and their grand campaign scenarios will be inserted into the “campaign tree” accordingly.

John, there has been very little information of late regarding your strategic WW2 series of games like Southern Front, and the First Blitzkrieg. What plans are in the works to further develop the series, and might we see the First World War depicted at that level?

John Tiller: We have three future games under development in this series. Our primary researcher, Wig Graves, is working on the extensive order of battle data right now. And yes, this scale, with some changes to the map and the rules for the period of World War I, would work well. And I have some other related development right now for other platforms, which I think is working out well.

John Tiller Software produces games at a wide range of scales. Here the Germans are about to descend on Greece in their War on the Southern Front strategic level game.

John Tiller Software produces games at a wide range of scales. Here the Germans are about to descend on Greece in their War on the Southern Front strategic level game.

John, you have been making games for many years now. What factors have influenced you towards making the games you design, and do you have any personal favourites?

John Tiller: I’m always looking for approaches to game design that give the player multiple options to consider and having to put together multiple factors to realize a good strategy. Like I said, these games are games I personally want to play and so I look for options that support an in-depth analysis of a situation rather than simple rock-paper-scissors rules that don’t require any thinking.

I think each series has appeal to me for the same reasons. The way our game development proceeds based on personal interest of the designer, my personal favourite at the time is probably the next game I’m working on. I can’t go into detail on those games right now, but you can be sure that each will turn out to be something fascinating to some group of players.

The battle at Stallupoenen is supposed to be a skirmish. With heavy casualties at the end of turn 2, tell that to my troops!

The battle at Stallupoenen is supposed to be a skirmish. With heavy casualties at the end of turn 2, tell that to my troops!

Ed, you are fast becoming an expert in WW1 military history, and have now been lead designer for two WW1 campaign games, and the tactical Squad Battles First World War, which is a great game illustrating the changes in military doctrine in tactical ground combat. When might we see the same sort of thing for the air war? John obviously has some excellent experience in designing modern air war campaigns, but is this something that interests you both enough to collaborate on in the future?

Ed Williams: Sure, I am interested in all things related to World War I, so a WW1 themed Modern Air War game might be interesting, perhaps covering Bloody April in 1917. The open question of course would be how practical the game engine would be for it, and also how fun would it would actually be, which I think John and I share as prerequisites before embarking on a new project. Also, I personally don’t have much experience in that game engine, but I think the possibilities are there, if not by me then at least by someone else.

 

Print of Hindenburg at the Tannenburg battle – according to General Hoffman, he slept through most of it! ©Deutsches Bundesarchiv

Print of Hindenburg at the Tannenburg battle – according to General Hoffman, he slept through most of it! ©Deutsches Bundesarchiv

Here’s one for both of you. If you had the time and resources to make any game you wanted, what would it be?

Ed Williams: If I could clone myself, I have always wanted to make a game about samurai, maybe utilizing a modified Renaissance game engine. Other than that, I have also always wanted to do a Franco-Prussian War and Russo-Japanese War game, where the latter’s campaign somehow takes Naval Campaigns: Tsushima results into account perhaps. Then of course there is the rest of the World War I battles. Also, a World War I version of the strategic series would be nice as well. So much to do, so little time!

John Tiller: I wish I had more time to spend on our existing series and a few in addition. In each of our series from Napoleonics up to modern day, there are implementations that I wish I had time to program and develop. I can’t talk about these since doing so raises the question of when they will be released ironically but suffice it to say that there are obvious developments in each of our current series plus new scales that we haven’t addressed yet that are great opportunities.

The design notes are worthy of mention – here is just a part of the table of contents. The research put into the game by Ed Williams is phenomenal, and a good read in itself.

The design notes are worthy of mention – here is just a part of the table of contents. The research put into the game by Ed Williams is phenomenal, and a good read in itself.


 Discuss this interview below, or in our forums >>

12 Responses to The JTS Interview

  1. Ron Wilson says:

    Things I would like to se are:
    1. resizable dialog boxes (such as for the OOB)
    2. User annotation tools (like the ability to add textual notes to units).
    3. For SB games 2 above could be in the form of dialog bubbles ala comic books… and embedded Sgt Rock so to speak). These could capture orders, reports, communications (e.g. radio messages, or for WWI written messages wrapped around a rock and dropped out of those pre radio aircraft to tell a commander the Russians are on the way) allowing leaders to speak… so to speak. The game player. These of course would be only viewable by the owning player. I think they would add immersive value and could provide new ways to interact with the game.
    4. Better planning aids (like phase lines, Gant charts, cumulative loss charts, etc.
    5. Better automation/ ways of interfacing with units … to reduce mouse use… playing these games defiantly affect my carpal tunnel syndrome
    6. A Panzer Battles Normandy ’44 would be great… I’d buy that right away.

  2. Ron Wilson says:

    BTW, my carpal tunnel syndrome is the biggest limiting factor in playing JT games. I can only play so long before the pain causing me to go play a board game instead. If I could just define a route and have the pieces move along that route by one single mouse click even if it just was for road movement) that would help a lot! The current automation provides too little control, but not using it causes too many mouse click, i.e. pain from my carpal. Something in between that provide more control but fewer mouse clicks would be great!

  3. Mike Dundas says:

    What about using the 250m/hex scale for a WW1 game set in Mesopotamia?

  4. Xaver says:

    Interesting… i like to see a WWI title covering the middle east front… maybe i think is better use “dinamic” scales, i refer that minor actions can use 250-500m hexes and platoon scale (like PzB) but bigger scens (like Meggido battle) uses regular 1km hexes and company level (the number of divisions is small enough to give both sides the option to split battalions) the point is for me in PDTs and how scale range and firepower of units in diferent scales but my if was posible do it in Nap serie i dont see why not in WWI serie (i remember Tobruk 41 has some scens with platoon company but with same PDT and scale like regular scens).

    In PzB i prefer not a Normandy title… i am more for desert scenarios… or why not the Pacific??? Malaya campaign for example.

    PzC… when we are going to see the fanatic nation rule working in a title??? i remember the japanese company image in the manual hehehe.

    I think to that more titles covering the “missing gaps” in XIX and XVIII offer a good range for new titles, if i dont remember bad a 1776 mod was removed for this because was a title of 7 years war on work.

    Lets see what we can see next year, i am really happy with the Peninsular war title and cant wait the 2nd title to complete it (Coruña, Arapiles/Salamanca, Vitoria…).

    PD: maybe now after release of peninsular title, one of the “most wanted” and cool title in nap serie… we can see for PzC Berlin45???.

  5. Red says:

    I echo the comment about graphics. The JTS graphics were servicable in the days of 17 inch monitors at low resolution. When I now have a 27″ monitor with exceptional resolution, not only are the graphics simply ugly, they fail to exploit the opportunity afforded by such now-commonplace resolution to incorporate more useful player information. LONG gone are the days where a simple “X” infantry NATO counter or terribly muddled 3D sprite with two or three limited zoom options was remotely the industry standard.

    I’m not a graphics hound, and hex games will never be drop-dead gorgeous, but there’s been so much room for improvement in these games for so long, any improvements at all are overdue (and welcome).

  6. Chris says:

    I agree about the outdated graphics. There needs to be 2 more 2D map views. The 2D magnified view is mediocre. I hope all new games going forward will have enhanced map views including the units displayed on the map.

  7. Xaver says:

    For me other importat area that needs improvements is the game speed… lose some valuable seconds waiting resolution of an attack order is frustrating specially in a game like this with a lot of attacks… you notice it less in the series with unit facing but here with ilimited defensive fire…

    And of course provide a much better support for team games, only in TCP/IP you can divide troops between players but you cant do the same in PBEM and well, for me apart support with this PBEM team games the other point is reduce turn resolution replay to WHAT your troops see, a way to have some fog of war in team games between team players.

  8. Over all I am very happy with JTS Games and while their always can be improvements. As one of three founding members of The Wargaming Society I can say we support JTS Games… Their Games are primary focus of our organization..

    We look forward to the new releases and the different formats coming online..things are always changing and you must keep looking forward…

  9. wade carlson says:

    I would love to see a Panzer campaign Berlin 1945 The fall of Germany

  10. Hudson says:

    I really hate that they always show Panzer Campaigns in that lame 2 D zoomed outmode. 3D normal or DIE

  11. Ashantai says:

    The one biggest thing I’d like to see changed is the AI.
    I know most people PBEM but the single player option should be there and should be workable.

    As it is the Civil War and Napoleonic/Musket&Pike series are unusable as the AI is utterly incapable, especially in the latter two where it has no concept of formations and moves infantry in with cavalry and line in with column.
    You can’t tell me that it’s not possible to fix that, but it’s the required investment in time and money that’s lacking. So this is more a wish than a hope it’ll ever happen.

  12. Jason says:

    A WW1 Air War agme or one using Panzer Battles engine would be superb!

    Plus please make a squad Battles Version 2 with multi level buildings and take alook at effectiveness and have actual ammo counts and rof settings.

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