Close Combat Series Redux – Interview
With the recent news that Matrix Games has obtained the license to Atomic Games’ legendary Close Combat real-time strategy series (Matrix will be updating and enhancing the original games in the series), we immediately went to the source to learn what we could about how this will play out. David Heath of Matrix Games and Shaun Wallace of CSO Simtek had a briefing with Armchair General to share the following;
Armchair General: Let’s get right to it. Exactly what titles were picked up in this deal and can you share any details about how this happened?
[David Heath – Matrix Games] We licensed Close Combat 1 through 5. Really this came about through just Shaun Wallace and me getting together and playing a few games of Close Combat for fun. Shaun and I have been friends for years. After our games we would chat, and after we had acquired the Talonsoft game Shaun suggested the next series should be Close Combat. It was really that simple.
[Shaun Wallace - CSO Simtek] Yeah, poor Dave never seems to win, he’s great on the strategy games, but tactically… My company has worked on these titles for the military so it seemed natural to approach Destineer about releasing some new material and maybe about making some bundle packs. Once all was said and done, we worked out a deal where Simtek would do the development work and Matrix would publish the titles.
Armchair General: For those new to the series, can you explain a little about them, and what makes them special?
[David Heath – Matrix Games] The five original Close Combat games were two-player tactical wargames, taking place in real-time, with a top-down perspective. Each was set in a different part of the European theatre during the Second World War. Each game included a mixture of infantry and armored units, while the later games also included off-board artillery and air support. Although viewed from a top-down perspective, the later games modeled terrain elevation, and included buildings with multiple floors. The overall tone emphasized realism, and modeled the emotional state of the units under your command, including panic, desertion, and surrender. Close Combat was never an RTS in the classic sense since resource gathering and other typical factors played no part in the game. Close Combat was far more of a tactical simulation and would be better described as a RTTS (Real Time Tactical Simulation).
[Shaun Wallace - CSO Simtek] What makes the series so innovative is the computer AI, psych models, and morale. Your units are actually affected mentally by the things that surround them such as enemy fire, artillery blasts, and the environment. If you send a green unit into battle for the first time, they will most likely be very nervous and miss their targets. If one of your units is in the heat of battle too long, they’ll get stressed out. At times, it will seem like you’re controlling a unit of wimps because they are too afraid to go into battle or are so stressed out that they cannot do much of anything.
You have the option to turn off the realistic actions and behaviors. While it is much easier this way (your troops feel nothing and therefore can attack on command), you really acquire an immersive feeling with the AI turned on. As such, it is up to you to make the right decisions in management and protect your troops in battle. Also, the more a unit fights the more battle experience they will get. Each unit has a level of experience that increases through action and improves their morale and effectiveness as the battles rage on.
These factors above meant that the game required realistic military tactics, such as careful placement of troops in cover, ambushes, advancing by bounding overwatch and using terrain or smoke screens to cover advancing troops. Effective troop management, such as keeping teams near their officers, not sending green recruits on assaults and maintaining fire discipline so as not to run out of ammunition are also necessary for the player to prevail. This is one of the main reasons that the updated versions of the titles have been used and are still in use to train officers and NCO’s in the USMC and the British Military.
Armchair General: Given the age of the series, some may wonder about the age factor. Yet it seems this game continues to have a strong following, even this many years after they were last on store shelves. Did continued community activity play a part in showing you this series was still viable?
[Shaun Wallace - CSO Simtek] Given the huge popularity of the series, I feel that there is a large part of the gaming public that would very much like to see the series again. I think that the items we have added will make for very good gameplay and the large and very solid fan community already in existence (with over 4500 user made maps and mods) and the fact that the community continues to produce amazingly good mods for the various Close Combat versions with several full conversion mods coming out recently, such as DOF (Der Ost Front), Bloody Omaha, Meuse and many others, with several actually being worked on now. This shows without a doubt the viability of both the game and the engine.
[David Heath – Matrix Games] There is a large community still playing and modding the Close Combat series. There is a large modding community out there which will give a massive boost to the re-release of the games. With over 4000+ mods and maps available from full blown total game conversions to simple data or graphic mods, the series can cover almost every major conflict in recent history.
Armchair General: In the same vein, there are undoubtedly many die-hard fans out there who have dreamed of this day. Will you be putting out a call to these experts to help guide the development of the Matrix versions (such as tapping some of the makers of the hundreds of mods out there)?
[David Heath – Matrix Games] Matrix Games has always been about the community and letting them jump in with us and have some fun. To some point we are a little late to the party but the community was thrilled to hear that some new life was going to be put into the series.
[Shaun Wallace - CSO Simtek] Honestly the community really can’t wait to have us start placing new features and giving us input. SimTek and Matrix plan to continue working with the Close Combat mod making community to give the community what it wants.
Simtek has a lot of experience in building in major enhancements and changes to the Close Combat series through our work on Close Combat Marines (for the USMC) and the British Military (with CCRAF) as well as other upcoming military projects including a modern asymmetrical warfare anti-terrorism version. These have meant that we are in a unique position to build on the core of what was already an amazingly solid game.
As a company we are very lucky and have a huge pool of very talented guys (the ones that David has not already picked up lol) that we can call on to help progress at all stages. The community is a large part of the reason that all involved want to do as much as we can to give the series the new leaf of life and new players it deserves.
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