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Posted on Jun 5, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

TOAW 3: Daniel McBride – Interview

By Brian King

This is the third and final piece in our interview series for the new incarnation of The Operational Art of War 3 by Matrix Games. In this interview, we sit down with Daniel McBride (Scenario Research and Design Manager) to get a look at what went into the scenario aspect of the game. He discusses some new features, as well as potential new directions for TOAW 3 after its initial release.

1. Hello Daniel, thanks for your time. Can you give a little background about yourself and how you became interested in creating scenarios for The Operational Art of War in the first place?

My pleasure Brian.

I was working in Egypt and went back there with a copy of TOAW. I was visiting the battlefield at El Alamein on my motorcycle and thought I might try out the scenario editor to see how well I could duplicate the map and battle. The rest is history. Before that I was a board gamer from the days of the original Drang nach Osten (which went on to become part of the Europa series®). I was involved in researching and designing variants for John Schettler’s Winterstorm board game series before I moved into TOAW.

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2. Starting at the beginning here, what were your first thoughts when you heard Matrix Games had acquired the rights to TOAW?

I was cautious as I knew the issue of whether Norm could work on it, or whether someone new could be found who could master the program, would be key, and would likely be very problematic. I admired Matrix taking the risk and in effect giving the game the vote of confidence it needed to finally get on track again developmentally. With Ralph Tricky arriving as head programmer my caution turned into pleasure and anticipation within a matter of weeks.

3. You are listed in the official credits as the Scenario Research and Design Manager; Can you share a little of how you came to be involved with the TOAW 3 project, and what was your primary mission for this release?

It was my initiative years ago when I was on staff at WHQ that got Norm Koger and Take-2 talking again, raising the hopes of TOAW again moving forward. I don’t mean to say I was some sort of dynamic negotiator—I just sparked things and got them moving a bit. I had to get back into other work and passed the project off to others; they did well in seeing it through to the patch, even though it had to be withdrawn finally. I was more or less always waiting in the wings to get involved with TOAW and scenario design is my proper area (not acting as a go-between for NK and a corporation!).

Our primary task was to cull the best scenarios available on the net, get permission from the designers to include them, and to upgrade them to TOAW 3, and this we accomplished. We had also hoped to assist designers to develop scenarios to also be included but, with limited exceptions, did not have the time for that finally.

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4. The wish lists of veterans of the TOAW series travels far and wide with things people want to see included in the new version of TOAW. What are some of wishes you have for the new game as a scenario designer and what (if any) of those are going to show up in this first release?

From my point of view this first release is a shakedown cruise that has everything working, with some key areas improved, all in preparation for some long-term development. Players that know my work will understand that I did not want to redo some of my larger scenarios until I see what improvements can be made down the road as it affects the whole play test equation. Certainly Ralph’s tweaking-up of the PO (Programmed Opponent) is key in this release. More available supply points, events, and other items noted, are all important improvements. I have a very long wish list and will spare you that now until we can see what is feasible and what is not. Obviously some sort of an improved naval dynamic is important to look at down the road…

5. People may be expecting a host of brand new scenarios for TOAW 3, utilizing the new editor features and options, but it appears the scenarios included in the first release of TOAW 3 are more of a sampling of the best community-made efforts. Can you explain this decision vs. paying designers to produce new material as has been done on past TOAW releases?

David Heath made that decision and I have to say I agree given the time constraints involved in this project. There was simply not time to set up a full-blown development group attempting to produce an array of “gold” scenarios, fully play tested. Equally important from my point of view is the issue that this should not be undertaken until the new release has demonstrated it has strong community support (which I personally believe will be forthcoming) and has had the program developed with some key changes that will profoundly affect scenario design. The short answer is that it would have been premature to attempt anything beyond what we accomplished which was, incidentally, a necessary foundation for TOAW 3 to be built upon, and a huge amount of work.

6. Can you explain the process of how you and your team pared down the list of 100′s of available scenarios out there to arrive at a list you could all be proud of?

Its important to stress that we did not have time to play test and formally vouchsafe “play balance and playability” for all of these scenarios. What we have done is to cull the scenarios that display no obvious flaws preventing them from being played properly, and which also exhibit superior research and design talent and have an inherent interest factor for gamers. Incidentally, this does not mean scenarios have to be fanatically historical—there is a broad array of designer approaches to historicity in this package, and a fair number of hypothetical or ‘what-if’ scenarios as well. What we really wanted to do was demonstrate how far design has evolved for TOAW since it first appeared. It’s about time these hard-working designers got some recognition.

7. Working with a team of people on the internet has often been categorized just behind “herding cats” as far as complexity. Did you face any special challenges working with your team or was it smooth sailing in the scenario department?

There are always problems in running groups, and online groups of volunteers present special challenges, but this group made it pretty easy given the amount of talent on the forum, from grognard ladder players, to designers, and a few programmers as well. I just orchestrated discussions on method, we arrived at the method democratically, and then went ahead and did it broken down into 4 teams, one of which was mine. Real life demands saw some of us (myself included) pull back a bit for awhile, and then dive back in. Everyone did extremely well.

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8. From where you sit you have a special perspective of the game, and where it may be going in the future. Knowing that this is just speculation and not an official statement, what do you think TOAW is capable of doing as a game engine which it is not doing now? In short, what is a perfect end-state where you would say the game does everything it should?

Before I list areas of development important to me, I’d like to say that TOAW in my view is still without competition as a flexible operational level war game also able to model the strategic sweep of things. The flexible scales and equipment database (not at all chrome in my view) are important here, but it is the event editor which makes this package very much an open-ended proposition. Since it has appeared, it has not been seriously challenged as an operational-strategic package, most of the new systems being developed opting for a tight focus upon the operational, even tactical. I therefore see the future for this game system as good as it ever was—better in fact, as TOAW scenario design is a mature art at this point and we have effective programming changes in the works.

I see development in the following areas as important:

–Improved combat system, more effective equipment database, enhanced naval and air dynamics.

–Dramatically improved Programmed Opponent (PO) capabilities.

–Enhanced designer control of game dynamics in editor; e.g. control over ZOC “stickiness,” combat round limitations more detailed national characteristics.

–Command Control rubric and leadership values.

–Enhanced supply stockpiling and assignment.

–3-d map zoom slider down to topo map style projections…. (Ok got carried away there.)

9. Many in the TOAW community know you are fond of monster-sized scenarios, and naturally one wonders whether you have plans for other scenarios that have yet to be done? In general, what is next for you?

The huge scenarios are all going to be redone, completely, and will be new games in and of themselves, never mind the changes Ralph will be putting through to the program itself in future. I am particularly looking forward to redoing my Braunschweig/Edelweiss German campaign in Caucasus 1942 scenario. As well, my proto-type Great War scenario which I put up for people to look at will likely be finished off.

Apart from that I have a completely new Winterstorm scenario (large) on the German counter-attack to free the 6th Army winter 1942 at 2 km per hex including ‘Operation Koltso’, the Russian attack to clear the pocket, complete Manstein in the Crimea scenario (large), and Voronezh scenario (Large) depicting a little known and near largest east front tank battle in 1942, in the works.

10. I’ve asked this question in my interview with James Mathews (also on the TOAW 3 team), and I’m dying to ask you as well; When all is said and done and this first release is out the door and you can relax and actually play the game – what scenario are you most anxious to play using the new features in TOAW 3?

I’m not going to single out individual designs in the group we selected but instead make the general point that I am keen to try a number of them. Over the past years I’ve put most of my playing time into play testing my own stuff as TOAW is very labour-intensive in this regard. It was great to discover some obvious gems I had no idea were out there. I’ll certainly make the time to try them out down the road.

Thanks for taking the time to speak about this game, and we wish you and the TOAW team the best of luck in the future with TOAW 3. We of course look forward to any new improvements you all can cook up for us!

Discuss TOAW 3 on the Armchair General forums.

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