many years, text adventurers have been able to write
their own examples of their favourite game type without
resorting to learning machine code. Some would complain
that utilities like the classic Quill enabled
too many imaginative people to churn out carbon-copy
adventures too easily, and halted the development of
real programming progress. This may be the case, but
I know that I enjoyed playing with my copy of the Quill
immensely and inflicted no new adventures on the market;
I'm certainly no programmer, and if it hadn't been for
the Quill I would never have written adventures
at all. I suspect that most game design utilities are
used in this way, for the private amusement and satisfaction
of games players who would otherwise have neither the
skill to write their own nor the time to acquire it.
And inevitably, these are the limits of The Wargame
Construction Set. But at least -- at last! -- wargamers
have a comprehensive utility.
bring you software to help you make
war instead of love
Wargame Construction Set occupies two sides of
a disk, one side given over to a selection of eight
tailor-made scenarios. The background to and instructions
for each are given briefly in the rulebook, and glancing
through these small summaries it's clear to see that
the designers have intended to prove that the utility
can be used to simulate conflicts in many different
genres. In addition to the inevitable WWII battles,
there are two science fiction scenarios, an episode
from WWIII and the American Civil War, and the siege
of a castle in the 12th century The on-screen appearance
of all the games is very similar, but this is a generous
selection and proves that the same basic terrain shapes
and unit types can be juggled around to stimulate the
imagination of the amateur designer. The true wargaming
addict will want to play these samples through, before
going onto the serious business of design, and it's
worth getting to gaps with a few of them to gain a good
knowledge of the way the game works. Because when you
come to construct your own masterpiece, if will be the
turn three and time for a bit of reconnaissance
major limitation of the WCS is the rigid, unalterable
turn structure. You have a choice between a one and
two player game, out no chance to decide how many and
what kind of phases there will be in a turn. A nine-phase
turn has already been decided by the designers of the
utility, and the function of each phase is described
in detail. It's a standard and straightforward sequence,
quickly familiar to anyone with wargaming experience:
observation, friendly fire, friendly movement and so
on. A victory phase at the end of each turn assigns
points to the player for enemy units eliminated and
victory squares occupies.
the editor allows you to determine is everything else
about the content of the game: the number and type of
units involved, their statistics, their value, their
deployment on the map and the shape and structure of
the map itself.
Editor is driven by a simple menu, and to give a fair
idea of the capabilities of the utility I'll describe
the options briefly and in turn. Disk access enables
the player to load and save scenario, either from the
sample disk or from his own. It's not possible to create
scenarios which will run independently of the editor,
so the WCS clearly imposes its own restrictions,
unlike the Quill; the market is not going to
be overrun with cloned nine-phase turn wargames, and
this is undoubtedly a good thing.
'draw map' routine is undoubtedly the first thing that
buyers will want to play with. You're presented with
a blank screen to be filled with a landscape constructed
from a visual menu displayed below. The types of terrain
available are already defined by the program, and their
graphic form pre-set; as with the units, there is no
facility to draw your own. The selection offered is
fairly comprehensive, and terrain like woods, roads
and rivers have several different shapes so that you
can assemble twisting paths, streams, lakes and forests.
If you choose to make your map on a smaller scale --
to simulate the siege of a building, for instance --
there is a facility to build a structure from blocks
that represent whole buildings on a larger scale. Each
terrain icon fills one 'square' on the map, so you can
easily plan out your map beforehand on squared paper.
Drawing the map on screen is a simple, joystick-operated
process; with a flashing cursor you select an icon than
deposit it with another cursor at the appropriate position.
Mistakes can be erased with a 'blank' icon.
consequence of this simple system is that all of the
maps you can produce look very sameish, and none of
them look very impressive. But the purpose of this utility
is not to produce an attractive, commercially viable
game. The actual structure of the landscape for use
in a wargame can be varied infinitely, as long as you're
prepared to accept that trees, water, hills and so on
always produce the effects prescribed by the program.
They have a standard 'cover' value, for instance, and
change that the designer can make to the graphics is
the colour of all types of terrain. So you can, with
some imagination, produce a pseudo-Martian landscape
with a brilliant red background, yellow trees and green
water. This may be some consolation for the frustrated
most important part of the editor routine is the definition
of the units that will be available in the game. There
are a total of 31 friendly units available though, of
course, you can choose to employ less than that. The
type of statistics attached to the units has already
been decided, and the designer merely has to fill in
the values for the army that he wants to create. For
example, 'firepower' can be set between 1 and 99 and
affects the degree of damage that a unit can do to another
in combat. Strength ranges from 1 to 7 and represents
the amount of damage the unit can take before expiring.
The complete list of parameters is as follows: firepower,
defence, assault, movement, strength and range. You
can also choose the type of fire (very much oriented
to modern mechanised warfare -- there are machine guns
and mortars, but no twanging crossbow bolts or flying
spears) and the basic nature of the unit. The rigidity
of the system interferes with the flexibility of the
setting here; you have no choice but to select a unit
type from a list that assumes a modem scenario. If you
want to create cavalry or perhaps fantasy creatures,
you have to apply a liberal quantity of imagination.
up the unit parameters is very straightforward, and
there is a handy function to duplicate any quantity
of a particular type.
units are constructed in the same way, with the addition
of an elementary artificial intelligence factor. 'Aggression',
ranging from 0 to 7, defines how determined the unit
will be when under attach. At a low level, it will retreat
if threatened. At level 6, it attacks anything in sight.
At level 7, it becomes a 'counter attacker' and once
attacked will follow friendly units relentlessly and
fight to the death. Units are deployed easily, by means
of the cursor.
The operation of the editor is simplicity in itself,
and most of the data input is visual and self-explanatory.
There's no need to learn command structures or similar
tricks. Anyone moderately familiar with wargaming could
pick up a joystick and draw a simple game straight onto
the screen in about half an hour. To get full use out
of this utility, you will have to put in a lot more
imagination and effort than that.
rulebook takes the aspirant designer through a tutorial,
which, pleasingly enough, constructs a small fantasy
war scenario and demonstrates that it's possible to
designate units as individual characters as well as
groups of skeletons, zombies and archers. They still
look rather like WWII infantry on screen, but the idea
is not a utility which is going to allow anyone to produce
a commercially viable wargaming product, but then it
is clearly not intended to be. It does provide a framework
for wargamers to construct then own scenarios, and the
framework is, if rigid, fairly broad; the fact may remain
that you're always going to be playing the same game
with different numbers and a different map, but the
game itself is sophisticated enough not to try the patience.
My major objection is that due to an inattention to
cosmetic details the games are inevitably unatmospheric.
There is no way to name units on-screen, for instance;
they may be German Panzers or Zombie Legions of the
Shadowlord in your scenario notes, but as far as the
computer is concerned they're Units 1 or 2. An option
to design your own unit graphics would enhance the utility,
and surely wouldn't have posed insurmountable difficulties.