Damian Walker

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Planning the Generic Wargame Library

Saturday, 19th September 2020

While working on the generic wargame library I'll be using for Barren Planet: a New DOS Project, I got to thinking about the limitations of the old wargame system I had working on the Psion. I had to decide which ones I wanted to break and which ones I wanted to keep.

In the final Psion game, "The World at Strife", I allowed the campaign designer eight unit types and eight terrain types. These could be set on a map of 20x10 squares, which suited the Psion's wide screen. Each scenario would start with up to 30 units, the deployment and the distribution between the two players at the campaign designer's choice. There could be up to 16 scenarios linked together in an arbitrary way, the paths between them being decided by who won each battle.

This was a pretty versatile system. I managed to implement games in a wide variety of settings both in the series of games leading up to The World at Strife, and in the supplied campaigns of The World at Strife itself. Like mobile devices today, games on the Psion tended to be cut-down affairs, and while The World at Strife was simplistic compared to PC games it was quite sophisticated by mobile standards.

The new wargame library will retain a lot of the simplicity of the Psion one. The maps will stay small to suit their use on an 8088 processor, but rather than lock them to a particular size I've decided to keep a maximum number of squares - 256 - and allow the designer to vary the map proportions according to the needs of the battlefield. So we can have wide battlefronts arranged both north-to-south and east-to-west. Or we can have more square proportions and have attacks concentrating on a point, like a defended hill or building.

I've decided to take the campaign element out of the library entirely. It's up to the host game to arrange campaigns as it sees fit. This will allow greater variation in games that I produce with the library: I can have linear single-player games with story-driven progression, 2-player networks like on the Psion, or maybe even a Risk-style strategic level where the players decide what units they have ready for battle in each region. Procedural generation could be introduced, too.

I decided to remove the limit on unit types and terrain types entirely. I don't envisage there being a great expansion of these; eight of each is a good number for a focussed campaign. It's definitely too many for a single map of the size we're limited to, as I found with the original Strife game on the Psion. And a higher limit allows something else I want to support: downloadable content expansion.

The Psion games gave a limited DLC framework: you could design your own campaigns and offer them for download, which I did by offering a Punic War "expansion" with War in Ancient Times. But these were limited to the original unit and terrain types. For the new library, I'd like to be able to offer new unit and terrain types to add extra interested to DLC, especially for fantasy and sci-fi settings where simply having a different map may not be enough to keep players engaged.

The DLC aspect is giving me a bit of a challege and makes me glad that I decided to create the library separately and before the jam for which I'll be developing Barren Planet. The main problems are having units in the DLC built by standard units, and defining how new units can move over existing terrain. These are not insurmountable difficulties, but the interaction between potential future unit/terrain types and existing ones has meant that my initial development of self-contained types needs expanding.