Red Pill – Interview with Warfare Sims
If you think Red Pill is a simulation game of the pharmaceutical market, think again. Red Pill is the working title of a highly detailed wargame of air/naval operations that is being developed by Warfare Sims. Imagine a cross between Harpoon and the Modern Air Power series and you are close. In an exclusive ArmchairGeneral.com interview, Dimitris Dranidis of Warfare Sims explains some of the concepts behind the game.
ArmchairGeneral.com: Let’s talk about the working name you’re using for this game, Red Pill. That’s a reference from the Matrix movies, isn’t it? How does it tie in to a wargame?
Dimitris Dranidis: Indeed it is. One of the core themes of the first Matrix movie was, when confronted with an ugly reality, the choice between quietly accepting the status quo (blue pill) and attempting to change it (red pill). We found ourselves in this position some time ago, in relation to the status of the air/naval wargaming market and community. Our choice was for change; hence the working title.
ACG: What is the scope of this game? What time period or periods does it cover?
DD: The game is primarily tactical/operational, with units being simulated down to individual aircraft, ships, buildings/installations and personnel squads or vehicle platoons. You can take direct control of the forces under your command—go this fast and this high, use this or that sensor, employ this weapon against that target etc.—or assign them to missions, sit back and intervene only as desired.
However, the absence of a hard ceiling to the number of units possible, combined with the full global map used for the user interface, means that you can even simulate global-scale strategic operations. For example there is nothing stopping you from trying out a global thermonuclear war scenario with thousands of ballistic missiles and bombers arching over the globe, or having multiple massive conflicts raging in different theaters distant from each other; e.g. trans-Atlantic convoys, European central front, Norwegian Sea / Kola, Mediterranean, Middle East, India-Pakistan, Korea and Far East / Japan concurrently.
The limiting factor in this case is primarily the available CPU and RAM resources. We have successfully run test cases with thousands of units interacting in accelerated time, and the sim engine is structured to take advantage of multiple CPU cores. So now you have the perfect excuse for getting a 256-core behemoth—or begging the sysadmin at work to let you run Red Pill on the company’s big iron.
Time-wise, our included databases at the moment span the entire period from post–WW2 up to the near future (2015–2020). We are considering possible future expansion in either direction—some guys have expressed strong interest in the Dreadnought era, for instance—but before any firm commitment we will have to consider the changes in the simulation mechanics necessary to faithfully model military operations in such eras.
ACG: Books are often written by people who said, "Hey, I can write a better book than that." Similarly, game designs frequently come from players who want to see certain elements of history emphasized or better represented than they are in existing games, even if those games are good overall. Was any of that involved in the decision to create Red Pill?
DD: Absolutely. We have been into this genre for a good two decades now, and we felt we had reached a point of accumulated experience and expertise where we could undertake such an endeavor with a good chance of success. Part of our preparation was to study existing games and observe what worked and what did not. Old-timers of the genre are likely to recognize this or that cool feature from some of their favorite games/sims in Red Pill, mixed with new ideas and concepts of our own.
One of the crucial differences in the philosophy of Red Pill compared to existing offerings is that airpower, with all its strengths and limitations, is now a first-class participant in operations. In far too many games—both land and sea-based—air assets are treated abstractly as expendable "airborne artillery;" you call them up and they arrive shortly afterwards to do your bidding. There is little consideration as to their true flexibility or the limitations in their employment or their continued availability. Air forces in general are easy to overmodel (making them omnipotent and rendering the rest of the ORBAT largely irrelevant) or undermodel (the reverse). Much like in G.C. Morgan’s classic Tac Air, in Red Pill aircraft can be immensely powerful but only if you manage them carefully. Factors like detailed air ops modeling, including land/shipboard traffic—you can actually "shut down" an airbase by hitting just a few critical facilities, just like in real life—detailed weapon kinematics including computed-on-the-fly DLZ (Dynamic Launch Zone) and NEZ (No Escape Zone), hyper-detailed radar/ESM/ECM modeling, refined aircraft kinematics (no more instant climb/dives, instant accelerations or instant turns) and other aspects combine to make air operations a handful—and a blast.
Another major improvement is in scenario editing. Ideally a scenario author should spend as much time as possible thinking about the scenario story and forces and as little as possible in fighting with the editor UI, watching out for mismatched details, searching for sources, undoing mistakes etc. To this end, we have incorporated some major time-saving features, an example being the ability to mass-import entire complex installations or even entire national IADS (Integrated Air Defense System) networks with literally a couple mouse-clicks. That should drastically cut down on the time needed to put together even a complex scenario and refine it prior to release. As in the past, we are certain that the best scenario works will come from the community, and we want to help the creators by equipping them with the finest tools possible.
There are lots of other examples as well.
ACG: So what are some of the aspects of air/naval warfare that this game will emphasize?
DD: A list would include:
- Detailed modeling of air, including near-space, and naval operations, both surface and underwater, supported by high-quality physics, sensor/EW, terrain and weather, weapon and damage models
- Good modeling of land-based forces (combined-arms land battles are possible and quite spectacular to watch)
- Anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine and amphibious operations
- Mine and mine-countermeasure operations
- Nuclear operations (we are still considering chemical operations)
One of our high priorities is to include some areas that have been poorly covered by similar offerings so far. You should expect to see things like littoral operations (amphibious landings, piracy, blockades, etc.) and near-space items such as satellites and anti-ballistic missile defenses.
ACG: Tell us a little about the designers and developers behind Warfare Sims.
DD: Red Pill is being developed by a truly multi-national group. We have people from the US, UK, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Greece, Norway—and who knows where else in the future. Each of us brings different specialties, experience and knowledge to the group. What binds us together is a shared vision of a warfare simulation that is as comprehensive in scope & detail and honest to reality as practically achievable, yet still playable and enjoyable to the general public. Some of the individuals involved you may know from Warfare Sims; others are not as visible, as they prefer to remain out of the public limelight.
The initial internal testing group is comprised of the developers and long-standing community members and will be expanded to include more community members as we go through successive beta phases.
ACG: The information on Warfare Sims Website says a ground unit such as a tank platoon will be comprised of its individual parts, i.e., each tank within the platoon has to be neutralized individually unless you’re employing area weapons. Would you talk about that, how it works and why you incorporated it into the game?
DD: In most other games and simulations the damage model for land facilities revolves around a scaled, cumulative pool of hit/damage points, which for the most part are subtracted as successful hits are scored. Variances might appear in the form of modifiers such as critical or component hits, but for the most part it is a simple transaction.
This type of system works great for simple "point" targets such as structures but gets weird when you have a target that might actually be distributed, such as a tank platoon or SAM battery. The sub-units usually have some physical distance between them, as well as unique armor properties or components such as a tank turret or SAM radar. So when a weapon hits using the old system you might have a tank platoon damaged 75% but all four turrets still remain operational, or worse you might actually score 100% damage on a four-tank platoon with three Hellfire missiles or a single bomb.
Our solution was to create a damage system that incorporates damage points and individual aimpoints. This avoids both of the cases I just described, and forces the players to make sound decisions about the weapons they’ll use against certain targets. Together with our improved warhead and damage modeling, it gives the game a deeper understanding of the choices involved while still allowing us room to explore some other ideas with weapons effects. In some other games when you attack a vehicle group it doesn’t make much of a difference whether you will drop Mk82s or cluster bombs on it, as the cumulative damage is the same; in Red Pill it can mean the difference between killing maybe one vehicle at best and wiping out the whole group.
ACG: The screenshots make it appear the graphics are more map-based than the up-close-and-personal views common in computer games today. Is that an accurate assessment?
DD: Yes, although our inside joke is that "at least our world is round."
This design decision was driven by our desire to model global-scale warfare and provide users with a familiar interface. If you have used Google Earth you can easily navigate on Red Pill‘s map. This way we also avoid a common problem of flat maps, artificial distortions. If you have ever seen a "squat" range ring, then you were looking at a distorted flat map. Modern Windows and GUI standards are adhered to as a rule, including context-sensitive right-click menus, and we are constantly making sure nothing feels awkward or requires too many mouse clicks.
ACG: Do you have a planned release date yet?
DD: Not at the moment. We all have day jobs and real-life priorities that have to come first. Some members of the dev group have had new jobs, a few births and some other good stuff that has already pushed the date quite a bit. The plus side of this is there are currently no other demands that might force us to release a buggy or unfinished product. It literally flies when we feel it is ready—an increasingly rare luxury these days.
That being said, we feel that the players of the game will be the foundation with which we will stand, and we’ll need their help to test this game and make this project a success. We have already started bringing in people we know and trust to get us through the earlier stages and give us their honest opinion. In the future we are going to open up to a greater testing pool for people who want to make a positive contribution to building a game they would like to play.
ACG: Thanks for talking with us. Is there anything you’d like to add?
DD: Games like Red Pill and the equally impressive GCB2 (Global Conflict Blue 2) are true community efforts. We have not been handed any "requirements document" from any publisher—well, not yet anyway. What goes into Red Pill is entirely what we and those who talk with us come up with. For this reason the community’s feedback and contribution is absolutely essential even before the first public beta is made available. Already some items suggested by members of our forums (http://www.warfaresims.com/forum/) have been incorporated into the project and more will certainly be. We welcome any constructive contribution and members who stand out in their participation will obviously have priority in the closed beta phase. Being able to influence so decisively a high-quality wargame is a rare opportunity and one that that the greater air/naval wargaming community should not miss.
Editor’s Note: You can see more information and screenshots for Red Pill in "Real Time Strategy Games" on the Armchair General forums. Search for "Red Pill"