Developer Interview with Muzzy Lane Software

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Craig Handler has a chat with the Muzzy Lane crew about their upcoming release in the Making History series, The Great War.


muzzyLANEWe recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Parsons, the Product Manager at Muzzy Lane Software, to talk about their upcoming grand strategy game, Making History: The Great War.  As Muzzy Lane’s first departure from the battlefields of the Second Word War, this new title in the Making History series spans from 1910 through 1922, and will focus on the horrific trench warfare of World War I.  Making History: The Great War promises to permit players to experiment with revolutionary new armaments, technologies and strategies in an effort to rewrite history by leading one of the great powers during one of the most turbulent and pivotal times in modern world history.

With Making History: The Great War, Muzzy Lane hopes to appeal to serious historians and hardcore gamers, alike, by combining historical authenticity with a design system geared towards fostering education through strategic gaming.


GH: Thanks for agreeing to sit down with us to talk about Making History: The Great War. As you can see from our forums, there is a lot of excitement in the air over this upcoming early access release. Our readers, who consist of old fans of the Making History series, as well as new comers, are interested in learning about Muzzy Lane, the Making History series and importantly, Making History: The Great War.

Muzzy Lane games seem to be more focused toward education and the classroom, rather than the traditional commercial gaming market. What are the backgrounds of the individuals behind Muzzy Lane and is there professional experience as educators, teachers, professors, etc.?  If so, does any of this professional experience focus on either of the World Wars?

ML: At its core, Muzzy Lane is a technology company that focuses on game-based learning.  In addition to education, we also make games for business training and for healthcare, and of course, for strategy gamers!  Our underlying technology allows us to customize the learning for specific subjects and curriculums, and share the actions taken in the game with everyone involved.  This same engine drives our Making History games as well.  The founders include educators and engineers, and from the start we’ve always worked with subject matter experts.  For example, we worked closely with economic historian Niall Ferguson on Making History II, and the name of that game: “The War of the World” is taken from his book of the same name.  

GH: What are some of the challenges of developing a product that is geared towards both a student in the classroom, as well as the recreational commercial gamer?

ML: Making History: The Great War is not primarily aimed at classroom use, but as a commercial grand strategy game.  Naturally, any game that uses a world simulator like ours has an element of learning.  All games do to some extent.  Although created as a commercial game, we will create a set of materials for teachers who wish to use TGW in the classroom.  Due to the length of the game alone, it is perhaps better suited to after school use or as part of a history club.  This type of usage is referred to as “informal learning.”  


GH: When Muzzy Lane is designing a game with a primary purpose to educate, how do you incentivize the ‘good’ choices you want players to make without just putting the game on rails?  Are there varying degrees of ‘good’ choices you’re willing to accept to keep the gameplay engaging without forcing the ‘optimum’ choice?  Are there ‘poor’ choices you’re willing to let the player live with as a teaching point that doesn’t necessarily drive the game forward?

ML: Great question.  Every situation is different, but all games must be fun to maintain the interest of the player.  Almost all the games we make offer plenty of room for player choice.  Let’s take, for example, “Practice Marketing”, a game we created as part of a series for McGraw-Hill Education.  Aimed at college freshmen studying marketing, the game puts you in the role of marketing manager at a backpack company, where you get to actually apply all the lessons of the class.  Players are free to decide who to market to (children, outdoor enthusiasts, commuters, etc.), what the pack looks like, it’s price and where it will be sold.  Then they can compete against each other to become a backpack tycoon!  It’s really fun and even when you lose you learn a lot about means to have that job.


GH: The Making History series focused on WWII in its first couple of titles. Why was WWI selected as the next title in the series and what other conflicts, if any, were considered?

ML: We’ve considered a number of other ages, from the colonization of the Americas and the American revolution to the Civil War era and even a modern era game.  But we’ve been dying to do a WWI game for a long time.  It’s such an incredibly interesting time period, and the motivations of the Great Powers were far less ideological and more self-serving.  It was an era that rivals our own in terms of radical technological advancements in transportation, communications, and armaments.  Add to all that the emergence of new ideologies and rising nationalism and it’s really the perfect place to set a grand strategy game.


GH: In Making History II, alliances can be formed, but the issue of political pacts never seems to arise in the game. For example, there were no political events, such as occupying the Saar, Rhineland, Sudetenland, nor for the Anschluss with Austria. With TGW, will there be events reflecting historical realities?   

ML: There will be a lot more nuance in the Diplomacy in TGW.  For example, if an ally declares war you can chose to bail on them instead of being sucked in.  Of course, your credibility with other allies will take a serious hit!  There will also be more events, although they may or may not occur based on player actions.  For example, if player actions cause war to start between Austria-Hungary and Russia in 1913, then an event that might have triggered war later would no longer take place.


GH: Along the same lines, it has been stated that TGW will be much less of a “sandbox” game than the previous titles. Will players be able to alter history? If so, how dramatically?

ML: Absolutely!  Changing the course of history is at the heart of all Making History games.  And yes, that includes boneheaded moves if the player so chooses.  But you know, if you’re playing France and you decide to attack England, chances are things will not end well for France!  Truly though, it will be very difficult for players to act more illogically than the actual leaders of the time did.  The reason we see it as less of a sandbox game is that, as a player, you will be dumped into a world that has a lot going on.  Events will be taking place that have nothing to do with you, and as you take actions those events will unfold differently.


GH: The static combat tactics common of WWI trench warfare drastically differed from the more maneuver based combat of WWII.  How will combat be modeled in the TGW and what mechanics will be incorporated into the game to keep the action exciting?  For instance, will players have the opportunity to experiment with different tactics in order to possibly avoid the stalemate of the trenches?

ML: This is exactly why we see this era as a perfect setting for a true grand strategy game versus a tactical wargame.  The winner here will be the one who can keep his troops fed and supplied and in the right place long enough to develop an edge in technology without going broke.  Remember what they said in “The Right Stuff”: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers!”  So a major part of the success in battle will be who can maintain production and defenses to avoid breakthroughs.  That being said, it is possible to win with a decisive military victory.  A number of chances to do just that occurred during WWI and were squandered.  Artillery will play a key role, just as in the real war.  TGW will be the first Making History game where artillery can be used to bombard adjacent regions.


GH: Although WWI unavoidably conjures images of horrific combat in the trenches, WWI was undeniably a period of great technological advancement and change. New weapons such as airplanes, tanks and chemical agents were tested and developed in the hopes of gaining an advantage to break the stalemate.  Will players be able to research and experiment with new forms of technology in TGW?  If so, please expand on how technological advancement will manifest itself in a typical game of TGW.

ML: Yes, research will a key part of any victory, and everything you’ve mentioned will be a part of the research tree in TGW.  From a strategic point of view, the warfare in WWI was a slow evolution from overwhelmingly superior defenses at the start of the war to the introduction of new weapons and doctrines that gradually gave the edge to the offense.  The game will model this evolution through research.


GH: Although we may be putting the cart before the horse, what is next for Muzzy Lane? Are there any other titles planned for the Making History series? If so, start talking!

ML: Yes, indeed!  We see this game as the first in the next generation of the Making History series.  From here we plan to roll into another WWII game and then a Cold War game, ultimately creating a package that covers the entire 20th century.


Thanks for taking the time to with us Chris. It sounds like there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon for the Making History series, and thankfully, we do not have too long to wait.  Making History: The Great War will be available for Steam Early Access on April 4th.

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