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Gen’l,

To-day’s Engineers Corps Log is all about visual presentation. We´ll take a look at where we are now, and what to expect in the future.

Hint: Click the links in the text to open images &c.

The Troops Look Thin, sir.

When we talk about graphics in Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865), we need to take a look at the game concepts and techniques first.

One of our main goals in the game is to show this conflict in the biggest possible scale. For the battles, this means hundreds of brigades with many thousands of single soldiers and hundreds of cannons. All at the same time, all connected in an AI matrix – and all in real-time!

Image 1

Our original idea was to present this all in 3D and use low polygon models for the soldiers, horses, and artillery. Unfortunately, the first engine tests showed us the limitations. But because we still want to keep the epic scale, we decided to change our initial concept and replace the low poly models for soldiers and horses with sprites.

For this task, I created high polygon models for men and horse, with additional equipment and bone rigs for animations. Out of this, I created ~ 47 animations /stances for Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Others (Commanders, wounded, captured, &c.) split into three sprite sheets layers (Inf, Cav, Others). And because we wanted to have a fluid unit rotation, we “shot” every frame from 12 directions (12 cameras). This all limited the sprites to not more than 65 frames on one layer, meaning every animation or stance has limited amount of frames. On top of it, we split every sprite into 3 parts: jacket and hat/cape, trousers and all the rest. Why so? Because this allows us to color the different parts separately via code.

After all this work, the first results were rather disappointing: Blurred, low detailed and strange moving soldiers occupied our battlefields. But our daily work with the Unity engine taught us how to solve most of these issues and to-day we are quite happy with the results – not only because of the improved looks, but also due to the low impact in performance, compared to other techniques.

Image 2

However, the balance between graphics and performance will always be a thin red line, and subject to improvements along the way. For those who get lost in this confusing technical part, the above title image shows a picture of all work steps and two different colored brigades.

Furthermore, we spend some time on performance optimization. This allowed us to improve the terrain as well, while improving the FPS. More objects, better LODs (level of detail), detail distance, light, camera, and more.Together with sound and smoke, we could create an intensive battlefield atmosphere, even with our very low resources.

And as always… work in progress! Testing, bug fixing and improving is ongoing all the time.

Ship Ahoy!

In the last months, we´ve implemented all our battlefield features and we move now with full steam ahead with the campaign map. Ilja writes the campaign concepts and Oliver integrates the basic terrain and first features, like troop movement on land, rail and water, as well as telegraph lines, as you are reading this. One of my first tasks here are the naval and land units.

Please keep in mind this is a very early phase of the campaign development and we have not yet finalized the final details.

However, the campaign game-play will have naval movement for troops, overseas trade, blockades, and naval engagements. You will command paddle-wheel steamers, battleships and ironclads, traders and blockade runners, as well as troop transports on open sea and major rivers like Mississippi. Most of the units will have a unique model for each side, like the USS Monitor or Cairo for the Union or the CSS Virginia for the Confederates.

All models will have smoke particles for engines and guns firing, plus other small nice features.

Even without a separate naval battle game-play layer (like in latest Total War -games), we´ll try to create a very exciting and important role for Naval Units and fleets. But we’ll discuss this in more detail in one of our future Engineers Corps Log!

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Peter Lebek,
Chief War Artist.

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Fellow Generals!

When fighting the battles in Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865), you will face an enemy ran by a multi-layer AI opponent. In to-day’s Engineer Corps logbook entry we’ll talk a bit about the AI, which you, as the player, can also utilize.

Hint: Click the links in the text to open images &c.

A Few Ways to Create a Line of Battle.

When we started drafting the concept for the battle AI, we had in the background Oliver’s The Seven Years War (1756-1763) and its battle AI. In that title, the battle line for the AI was created by determining player’s army’s flanks, and line center. The AI would then match this line, deploying his troops accordingly. Depending on mission, the AI would try to out-power or out-flank player with its units.

Though it sounds very simple, the end result was quite good and true to period. For example, if player started to turn a flank, the AI would counter by turning his line accordingly. In many battles I played, the end result was the battle lines rotating around each other, just like happened in many historical battles. But when we jump from times of Frederick the Great to American Civil War, we can see a few important development steps in tactics, which required some more thinking in the AI concept.

Armies had grown larger since The Seven Years’ War, which required more robust organization. Corps organization allowed independently moving masses of troops with their own logistical support, so the whole army did no longer need to be together. Napoleon’s maxim “march divided, fight united” and identification of interior and exterior lines, as explained by Jomini, meant the battle lines would seldom be straight, and turning the flanks would be the norm instead of oblique order attacks, like favored by Frederick. With improved communication methods, the large bodies of troops were also easier to maneuver efficiently, which again increased flexibility.

Due to the above facts, we decided, at least partially, to abandon the simple matching of lines mechanism, and went deeper with an AI that would have different levels according to organization and maneuvers.

The Levels of AI.

The top level of Grand Tactician’s battle AI is the army. On this level, the army commander decides the strategy the army will follow, and will give orders to “AI groups”, which are explained later. The Army commander will calculate known facts like the size and combat efficiency of the opposing armies (morale, experience, casualties, &c.), as well as troops arriving later as reinforcements. Depending on his personal attributes, he will decide whether to try to break the enemy line in an assault, try to outmaneuver it in attack, to take up defensive positions, or to withdraw from the field. The commanders also follow how the battle develops, and change the strategy accordingly – though with a delay. As personal and army attributes other than simple number of men is taken into account, it is possible to have a smaller but more aggressive army to take the initiative by attacking, or to force a numerically superior opponent to cede the battle-field by inflicting serious enough casualties to unease the commander-in-chief. Just like happened during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 between Lee and McClellan.

Under the army level, we have something we call “AI groups”. These are usually corps and division level organizations, or a number of them, that carry out the actual maneuvers. An AI group will maneuver on a “line of operation”, as described at that time, and will fight united as a “line of battle”. To describe this in historical context, one can see how the Battle of Wilderness in 1864 was fought: On May 6th on the Union side you clearly have 3 separate lines of battle, Sedgwick and Warren in the north, Burnside in the middle and Hancock in the south. In Grand Tactician this would be 3 different AI groups.

The AI groups are formed so, that there will be a main unit, a corps for example, around which the rest of the group is built. More units can be added to the line, on right or left, to reserve behind the main unit, or in front or flanks to screen the movement. Additional units will follow the movement of the main unit, and are considered “linked” with it. They will do their best to maintain formation. When fighting on the offensive, the AI group will try to turn non-anchored flanks of the opposing line, or if impossible, to break the line by assaulting. On the defensive, flanking maneuvers are met with refusing the threatened flank, curving and reinforcing the line. When AI groups arriving on the battle-field from opposing directions meet, they are combined into a larger body, and so on.

The larger unit(s) within an AI group will be given a stance, or tactic, according to strategy, situation and position in the formation. The stance, which player can also give to his commanders in a battle, dictates how the commanders will use their single units, the brigades, artillery, &c. The stance can be to screen, to defend, attack or assault, and the used formation, tactics and maneuvers change accordingly.

The Brigades Did the Fighting.

The actual fighting is carried out by what we call the “micro-AI”, or the single unit level AI. This AI carries out orders that they receive within an AI group, and it also reacts to threats independently. This AI is the brigade commanders and such, who lead their men into thick of the battle, with no clear image of the bigger picture. The Micro-AI is also coupled with path-finding, navigating the battle-field to where he is ordered to. Micro-AI actions include, for example, stopping to fight an enemy, changing formation, advancing or falling back under fire, charging a weak opponent or maybe taking cover behind a stone wall or laying down to avoid artillery fire. The division and corps commanders and their staff also are controlled by this AI. Player will not be able to micromanage the movements of the commanders himself, as they will find their own place in the formation according to situation and threats.

The player can place larger units (divisions, corps) under AI control, using the orders to use certain tactics, or stances. This will allow the player to focus on something else, while the AI acts on its own, according to stance and movement orders from the player. There is also the control to allow initiative, which, when not coupled with a stance, will advice the commander in question to interrupt his movement, reform and report, if he runs into enemies. Without this initiative, his troops would carry out the initial orders, reacting to threats only if they directly affect single brigades &c. With a stance, after the initial reforming and reporting due to enemy contact, the commander will start carrying out your orders

Commander Personalities Matter.

…but not in every case. The different commanders in Grand Tactician have different personalities, and like in reality, not all personalities work well together. Famous and experienced commanders have the highest probability for friction with completely different kinds of personalities. The friction could end up in open feuds, and this will complicate the line of command. The end result could be disagreeing with orders, delaying carrying out orders, or even acting on one’s own. This makes officer management even more important during the campaign, but also adds some extra realism: The Civil War was full of personal feuds that had an impact on the battle-field!

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer.

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In Addition to Whiskey, an Army Never Runs Out of Paper.

When playing the battles in Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865), even though the game pace is not hectic, the player will not be able to follow every single corner of the action. To help, the game offers a collection of papers to inform about important development in the front, or to give an overview of the situation and status of the troops. Wasel, our paper, map and typography specialist, web designer, musician, &c. is the man behind the historically inspired papers you will see in the game.

General’s Papers.

The first paper presented to you, when starting a battle, is the map. Instead of a traditional minimap you see in most games, we decided to go for a full screen map, drawn in historical style, showing the overall situation of the battle. The map style is hand drawn by Wasel Arar, drawing inspiration from the maps Civil War generals had available, usually drawn by the engineer officers under their command. Our digital paper map is cunningly layered with hand drawn elements like wear and tear, the legends &c., but also contains dynamically changing elements like battle information, the units and so on. Some ahistorical choices needed to be made, for example because for game play reasons we need to show commanders’ position on map, which was not done in the historical maps. Here we chose to use commonly understood Nato -symbols.

In comparison to historical maps used by the Civil War generals, ours are, unfortunately, always correct, showing all the roads and details. While having imperfect maps would be a cool feature, making it work for player and AI would be impossible. And of course the player would be able to “cheat” by checking the actual maps…

Orders and Reports.

When entering the Headquarters -view during a battle, you can browse through the most important papers, that the ever busy staff officers have prepared for you. The game’s consolidated report forms, the large folded ones, look just like the consolidated morning report the staff would have made during the Civil War for their commander. The Excel of its time, the report will keep track of everything from service history to breakdown of strength of the units, to victories in combat and ranking within the army. How many men have deserted or have fallen sick? And who is your most experienced commander? Look no further. Player can browse the order of battle in the reports, from army overview to single brigades.

In the headquarters the staff also keeps copies of briefings, as well as the battle field objectives and their status. One noticeable detail is how good the hand writing of the officers was, before the type writer and modern ruggerized computers! When creating the forms, we used real forms as reference, from the condition and look of the paper to fonts. Some of the telegrams you will see, are those really received by the generals during the war. When going through The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies – Correspondence I have also learned quite a lot about how words were used differently back then – and then portray this in the papers you will see in the game to-day.

Military Dispatch.

With your army fighting in the battle field, it’s important to know the latest information about the situation of your subordinates. As the player cannot be everywhere, we decided to teach the AI commanders to send short dispatches when something of note happens. Whether they capture an objective, run into contact with an enemy, or run low on ammunition, a messenger will deliver the information to you to review. The dispatches are also stored during the battle, so you can backtrack the development of the situation later, if needed. The dispatch form used, when creating the messages, was: J.E.B. Stuart’s dispatch to Braxton Bragg on May 11th, 1864.

These papers are some of the small details our talented artists are adding in the game to capture the Civil War -atmosphere. We hope they will help immerse You, the player, to enjoy the game even more.

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer.

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Hear, Hear!

To capture the atmosphere of a Civil War battle, sound plays a big part, from the roar of musketry and low booming of cannons in the distance, to bugle signals cutting through the noise.

“Then cheer, boys, cheer, raise a joyous shout!”

In Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) we are using a wide variety of sounds and music, that was heard on the 19th century battle field. As a small independent team of developers, creating a believable world of sounds is challenging, but with help from very talented professional volunteers and some ingenuity, the sound of a 19th century battle field is coming to life.

When playing the battles in The Civil War (1861-1865) first you will hear the marching sounds of the formations of troops, the clanking of artillery being towed to position and flapping of the flags in wind. While marching, the musicians in the brigade occasionally play drum and fife music to cheer up the boys, including catchy tunes like Bonnie Blue Flag or Frog in the Well.

Creating these sounds required some field time and marching drills equipped with microphones. Some fellow joggers did look a bit curious when they ran past my “recording studio”, marching up and down a gravel lane, mud and puddles, 110 steps per minute – the quick time marching cadence used by troops in the Civil War. The same drills were carried out with double quick time and running. With some audio editing trickery, these drills were transformed into formation of hundreds men marching – and the artillery limber wheels rolling were originally a stroller, where the “artillery crew” was having her nap.

The drum and fife recordings are played by Wasel and his crew. A reenactment drummer, Wasel knows how the instruments should sound, and also the troops that would have played them. Getting the sound right required some practice in imperfection.

March to the Sound of the Guns.

Once the troops get in contact with the enemy, a roar of musketry will take over, with the booms and bangs of artillery firing and shells exploding around the formations. The troops would shout and cheer anxiously, while performing their duties under fire.

When we started creating the sound engine, we wanted to add the effect of distance to it. The sounds that travel long distances – firing of muskets, guns, shell explosions – sound very different depending on how far the source is. So, for these sounds we added a distance that changes the played sounds from clear shots and cracks to low booming and popping. Also the time the sound takes to travel is taken into account. To get the weapon sounds right, we used reenactment videos for reference, adding some “oomph”, as the weapon sounds a bit different when firing live ammunition.

Sound the Retreat!

In the maelstrom of battle, directing the troops is difficult. The officers’ shouts of orders are not heard through the constant fire. Before the radio was invented, musical instruments were used to carry orders, as were couriers and messengers, and during Civil War wig-wag flags and field telegraph. The instrument used during the Civil War was bugle. The use of drums for this purpose was already in the past, as bugle sound cuts through the noise and carries farther. The kind people at National Field Music School gave us historical advice about the use of instruments in the battle field – thanks Don!

Alan Tolbert, a musician and a reenactment infantry bugler, recorded the historical bugle signals heard in the game. He really knows his bugle business, and this brings a very cool historical touch to the game. In this making of video Alan explains all things bugle, as he was recording the signals for us:

Making of Grand Tactician: The Bugle

Forward, March!

During the summer we have been working on the AI for Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) battles, and Peter upgraded the artistic looks of the battle UI. The battle layer is soon fully implemented, and focus is turning to the campaign game play and features. Before diving into what the campaign will bring, we will release some more information about the battles, including more game play footage.

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer.

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Fellow Generals!

In Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) battles can take multiple days. When the sun goes down and the fighting ceases, both sides will continue furiously to prepare for the coming day.

As the Firing Dies Down.

The day will end either when the sun goes down, or if both sides agree on a cease-fire. As seasons and length of day is modeled, during summer it’s possible to fight longer. When the fighting ceases, the situation of both sides is calculated, including reserves that reach the battle field before morning. According to the disposition of troops, some may find themselves cut off from the main body, with lines of communication broken…

…And of course some disheartened soldiers will see the darkness as the perfect distraction to leave the ranks without permission and head home. Untrained, inexperienced, poorly lead and demoralized soldiers are the most likely lot to desert.

In the heavy fighting your troops will consume their ammunition, which is in average some 60 rounds per infantry man and some 128 rounds for guns of average caliber. During the night, the troops will first level ammunition within their unit. Then they await the arrival of their supply train.

Units with line of communication will be resupplied with ammunition and food, which is provisions for men and forage for horses. The amount depends on available supply, distance and also commanders’ administration capabilities. The supplies are distributed to the troops according to order of battle. Cut off troops will not be able to receive any supplies and this may cause problems with morale and condition of troops on the long run, in addition to not having more ammunition to fight with. If condition of men goes down, they will tire faster and the number of men falling sick will increase, along with the obvious effects on morale, that are the more severe the greener the men.

After resupplying the commanders will be busy re-deploying their troops. The possible deployment zone is calculated from position of troops, occupied entry points and objectives. Troops cut off will not be able to reform, and will start their next day from the position they hold. During the night positions can also be improved with engineers building barricades and digging trenches. And of course the generals will consider the situation and formulate plans for the next day, to overcome the enemy. Or if the situation looks dire, maybe try to slip away and withdraw from the field to fight another day.

With the multi-day mechanism and possibility to resupply during the night, or cut off the enemy lines of communications, the fortunes of battles may swing from side to side. Arrival of fresh troops just in time may change the course of fighting and force the enemy to abandon plans for attack to try to hold their own, like happened at Wilderness when Longstreet’s Corps reached the field…

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer.