PCD: First, please introduce yourself: who are you, what’s your position at the company?
Steve Grammont: At the moment Battlefront.com consists of five full time employees; Charles Moylan (Co-founder/Programmer/Designer), Steve Grammont (Co-founder/Designer/Researcher), Martin Turewicz (President), Matt Faller (Jack of All Trades), and the man from Down Under… Dan Olding (Artist Extrordinar). In addition to these vague jobs just described, each of us performs a number of very critical jobs that come up from day to day. Everybody has creative input in everything that we do. With such a small company there is no such thing as specialization!
In addition to our paid staff, Battlefront.com enjoys a very large following of highly talented people who contribute those things which we can’t do because of lack of time or special expertise. One long time helper is Tim “Rune” Orosz, who’s family history involves a one way trip from Hungary to the New World :-) Charles was recently in Budapest (true) to see if there was any possibility of Hungary taking him back before he causes our country any more trouble (kidding!!).
Battlefront.com also has a fantastic relationship with three high quality wargame developers. Major Holdridge (Texas, USA) has been with us since the beginning. Panther Games (Australia) and Fury Software (Canada) teamed up with us about 1 year ago.
PCD: Could you please also introduce your company in a few words? When was it founded, how did you start?
S.G.: Battlefront.com has been founded in 1998, but really it has been forming as an idea for much longer than that. It has been started by two game developers (Steve Grammont and Charles Moylan) who have grown increasingly unhappy about the direction that the “usual” games publishing market has been taking for some time back then. Publishers focussed much more on flashbang graphics, “hot” catchwords and a “me too” attitude to copy the latest best-selling game titles from the competition, than on supporting the development of new ideas. Additionally, the rewards for game developers were being decreased more and more, as the cut earned by publishers, wholesalers and retailers was growing out of proportions. From a game which would find its way onto the shelves in Hungary, we – the people who made the game – would only get to see a few pennies! Starting Battlefront.com, an internet-based direct distribution of our own games seemed to provide a real alternative to the usual “shelf sales”, and although we could not hope to reach the same sales figures overall, the fact that we – the developer – kept the bulk of the money earned without having to share with publishers, wholesalers and retailers, meant that we also only needed to sell much less in terms of quantity to earn the same amount of money. This strategy has provided to be a big success for us, and has ensured that there will be a Combat Mission 2, 3 and who knows what else :-)
PCD: As here in Hungary there are quite a lot of people who don’t know much about Combat Mission, could you please tell us something about the original idea: where did the idea of this nice new game come from?
S.G.: Originally, a long long time ago, Charles Moylan has been asked by Avalon Hill to make a computer version of the famous “Advanced Squad Leader” (ASL) board game. Shortly thereafter Avalon Hill has been purchased by Hasbro, and the plans for a computer version have been cancelled. But the idea stuck, and the more we thought about it, the more we came to the conclusion that a realistic 3D tactical ground combat simulation was missing on the PC games market. Instead of merely copying ASL, we went about to develop our own vision of such a game, and Combat Mission is the result.
PCD: We heard gossips that CM: Beyond the Overlord was only a sketch or a first try before the much larger Barbarossa to Berlin project, is that true?
S.G.: Well, yeah, I guess one could say that, although at that point in time nobody could have known if we are going to sell enough copies of Combat Mission to still be around a few years later doing a sequel. But the decision to do a West Front version first was guided by the thought to not try to bite off more than we could swallow the first time around. Programming a ground breaking game engine like that of Combat Mission was enough to worry about as it was (and took no less than 3 years!), and choosing the fairly “small” combat theatre of the West Front (covering just one year and a limited amount of nations) ensured that we were able to actually finish the development of Combat Mission on time. Since we now have spent another 1.5 years on developing the sequel ( Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin), it becomes clear that this has been a VERY good decision, as the plethora of units, weapons and equipment that is to be found on the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1944 would have been a too large job to tackle back then.
PCD: Let’s talk about CM:BB. Why did you choose to focus on the Eastern Front instead of North Africa or Pacific Islands?
S.G.: The Eastern Front has been the largest and most decisive theatre of the Second World War, without a doubt, and has as many “fans” (if not more) as the Western Front. Moreover, it provides us with an incredible variety of units, weapons and terrain features to really add spice even for the most seasoned player of CMBO. Tackling this new challenge of historical research and game engine improvements kept our own interest level and motivation high during the development.
PCD: How many new units will the new CM game have? How many German or Russian tanks? Will there be different kind of infantry?
S.G.: CMBB features so many units that nobody really cared to count them all so far, to be honest. We have pretty much all major units, vehicles and equipment for six nations (Germans, Russians, Hungarians, Finns, Romanians and Italians) that were involved in combat on the Eastern Front. Add to that the fact that some units come in different models throughout the war years, this adds up to several hundred different units overall. Something like 300, but that’s just a guess.
PCD: Will there be Pz 38(t) in the game? :-)
S.G.: Yep, currently the Pz38(t)A, E and G are in the game, available for the early war years until about mid-1942.
PCD: We read that the interface was expanded for including more information, could you tell us something about it?
S.G.: We need to show more information in the interface because a number of new features have been coded into CMBB that were not present in CMBO. Wind would be one such feature, and as it has an immediate effect on game play (wind determines the way smoke drifts for example), this needs to be shown to the player. Also, a lot of additional commands are available to the player – for example, besides the MOVE order present in CMBO, we now have ADVANCE, ASSAULT, MOVE TO CONTACT and others, and in order to keep the player informed about what is going on, the interface needed a tweak to incorporate all this new information. At the same time, we wanted to keep the game as easily accessible to new players as CMBO was, so we’ve spent a lot of time and effort in making sure that players can start playing immediately, without having to dig through a 200+ page manual to understand what’s going on.
PCD: Some Hungarian fans became quite eager by hearing that the will be a ‘human wave’ order for the Russian troops – as they know it quite well from the tales of their grandfathers. Will the game really have this feature? And what about other new and interesting commands?
S.G.: Yes, the Human Wave order is available to Russian troops under certain conditions. It is in fact the only “assault” style order available to Russian conscript troops at the beginning of the war, to simulate their well documented inexperience in tactical movement. Units ordered to do a “human wave” will tend to break less easily under incoming fire, and will begin moving at a brisk walking pace, then turn to running (assaulting) for the last part of their movement. The order doesn’t work well when the defender is prepared (which is realistic), but it can overwhelm numerically inferior defenders quite effectively – albeit at an often extremely high casualty rate.
Another “interesting” command is, for example, the “Shoot & Scoot” order for tanks. This enables the player to order a tank to move out of cover or over a hill, fire a few shots and withdraw into cover within the same action phase. This command was asked for often by people visiting our message boards, and since it is a valid military tactic, we have decided to include it in CMBB.
There are many other interesting new commands in CMBB (for example “cover arcs”), but it would be way out of scope to discuss all of them in detail now.
PCD: In the model design contest you also asked for Hungarian panzers (Zrinyi, Toldi). Did you receive any entries of these? Would you like to encourage our readers to enter the competition?
S.G.: Yes and yes :-) We did get some great models, and in fact some of our fans specifically bought the models and submitted them for the contest. But we can never get enough submissions. Even after the official end date for the contest, we are happy for any submission we get, as we can use them for future games just as well.
PCD: We read somewhere that you declared that as you are not pushed by marketing managers, you’ll be working on the game until it gets totally finished. How much does that effect the moral of the team, how much are you working a day?
S.G.: It’s very good for team morale, but it doesn’t really affect the length of our working days – we’re working just as long or probably even longer as with a marketing department breathing down our necks. The pressure to finish the game is, actually, the same either way, but the difference is that we want to make a good and finished game and the marketing department cannot simply order us to stop at some point and release what we have – something which happens more often than many people realized in this business, unfortunately.
PCD: CDV is now publishing the first CM game in Europe, what will happen to CM:BB, besides the online shop, will it also get into the offline stores?
S.G.: Sooner or later, this could very well be. As popular as the internet is in some countries, as much it is still lacking in others, and until this improves we will strive to bring our games also to those audiences which are reluctant or simply not able to find out about them and order online. CMBO has been released by CDV almost two years after its original release by us through the internet to help penetrate the European market, and it is possible that we might want to repeat this with CMBB. By the way, CM1 is also being released into Poland and the Czech Republic shortly by another partner of ours, CDProjekt.
PCD: Can we expect more games to the Combat Mission series? E.g. North Africa, or the early stages of the war (Blitzkrieg)? Or maybe a game of World War I? What are your plans after CM:BB (or at least what can we know about these plans)?
S.G.: Since CM1, our plans were to release additional WWII theatres and, at some stage, also develop a new engine for Combat Mission to stay “up to date” with future hardware possibilities. It is still not decided what exactly will follow after CMBB, ie. if there will be more titles with the current engine (North Africa/Mediterranean would be a good candidate, or maybe the Pacific Theater), or if we will start work on a new engine immediately. Most likely there won’t be any other time periods (WWI) with the current engine, as the adaptation would simply take too long; time much better spent on developing a new engine, which will be far easier to adapt.
PCD: Thanks you for the interview, we wish you all the best for the development.