Sid Meier's Gettysburg!
My First Ever Interview With The great Sid Meier, the man behind the best-selling Civilization, lasted just a mere five minutes. Unfortunately, he kept saying the same thing over and over again, no matter what I asked him. Worse still, every ten seconds or so he'd panic and freeze solid. When he did start talking again, he seemed to have trouble with his lips which didn't quite match what he was saying...
It's all my fault for not upgrading my CD-ROM drive, I suppose. QuickTime movies don't like has-been PCs and mine's a lot more has-been than most.
Anyway, there was only one question I rea really wanted to ask Sid. Why Gettysburg? I mean, when you've covered the whole history of humankind in Civilization, why pick on an itsy-bitsy little skirmish such as Gettysburg for your next money-spinner? I Fortunately, the answer comes just after he j freezes up for the third time. He's always I wanted to, ever since he was a boy. "We didn't set out-t-t-t-t-t-to create a real-time strategy-gy-gy game," he said, pausing for a while to collect his thoughts ar generally jerk about a bit. "We set out to write a game about the Civil War." To most Americans, Gettysburg was the turning point in a war that shaped the present day United States in much the same way as Waterloo, the Battle of Britain or D-Day affected of Blighty. Sid himself describes it as "the climactic moment of America's bloodiest war", so it must have been quite important.
In actual fact though, it wasn't a particularly decisive battle. Score-draw is the phrase that springs to mind, but it makes a hell of a good wargame so let's substitute Brian Reynolds for good old Sid and see if we get a bit further in the second half.
Brian is in charge of the programming team working on Gettysburg and he also worked on Civilization 2 and Colonization. What's more, he's real and doesn't do alarming things like change colour and freeze completely when you talk to him.
After pointing out that there are plenty of other American Civil War games around at the moment, I asked Brian what was different about Gettysburg. "Well, with all due respect, there's no comparison between Gettysburg and the others. What we've got is a real-time action game which provides the feel of 'really being there' much better than the turn-based attempts. "If you've ever read a civil war novel or history, 'Confederate Defensive Fire Phase' sort of ruins your suspension of disbelief," he added, with a non-too-subtle dig at a certain rival game series.
"And this is no 'everybody-run-to-the-centre-of-the-screen-and-bash-on-each-other' kind of game either," he went on, just in case I thought real-time games involved everybody running to the centre of the on each other. Which I do, actua "You'll find yourself using formations, like lines, columns and skirmish order as well as realistic tactics, flanking fire and echelon attacks, because they work best. Troops get bonuses for friendly support on the flanks and rear, and there's a drastic penalty for flanking fire, so proper formations follow quite naturally."
And cavalry charges? "Mounted cavalry charges against infantry weren't a good idea in the age of rifled muskets and they won't work in Gettysburg either," he replied. Well, that told me.
Asked if any other games had influenced the design of Gettysburg, he confessed: "We've got a number of fanatical WarCraft 2 players on the team, so we were certainly influenced by some of its strengths and weaknesses. But with no disrespect to the earlier products, we think Gettysburg is the beginning of a whole new genre." He's obviously never seen the classic MicroProse title Fields Of Glory, Impressions' rather less classic The Blue And The Gray or Empire's more recent Civil War, all of which are undoubtedly real-time wargames.
Order of Battle
Gettysburg covers all three days of the battle from 1-3 July 1863. The finished version should include 24 or 25 scenarios or engagements of varying sizes and a campaign game. In the campaign, engagements are linked and your performance in one engagement will have an effect on the next. There will also be some multi-player scenarios which allow you to run huge engagements as a single scenario for team play over a network or the Internet.
In Gettysburg, you'll have four straightforward zoom levels, an overhead view and even different types of display. For example, you can choose between a terrain view with high ground and gradients, or an 'analysis' view which allows you to check unit orders. One of the most thrilling features promises to be the ability to rotate the camera to view the action from different angles.
Naturally, with so much devoted to real-time action, there's going to be some abstraction of weapon types. Artillery is divided into two classes - smoothbores like Napoleons which are most effective at short range, and rifled guns for long range. Infantry will be armed with rifled muskets, while cavalry will be carrying carbines. Leaders are represented on the battlefield to provide morale boosts to attached units, but you'll find that they can,t be ki,led deliberately. However, they can be wounded or killed if the units under their direct command take a beating.
One of the biggest worries when recreating historical battles is play balance. I asked Brian if Gettysburg would turn into a it historically accurate slugging match.
"Surprisingly, we didn't have to do a lot of play balancing - we just set up the historical forces in the historical locations, historical manpower and it turned out to be really exciting. I'd say that between equally skilled players the Union wins the historical scenario three times out of four, but there are other ways for the Confederates to win in the campaign game. They can take Longstreet's disregarded advice to Lee, for instance, and swing around south flank." Well, I don't know about you, but I'm totally sold. I'll definitely be upgrading my CD-ROM drive now...
Before We Start, There Are Only three things you need to know about Sid Meier's Gettysburg. Firstly, Sid 'Civilisation' Meier had a hand in it, so it must be pretty classy. Secondly, it's about the well-known American civil war battle of Gettysburg (yawn). And thirdly, it represents a pretty radical departure from turn-based computer war games -in other words it's real-time all the way.
Let's face it, the traditional approach to wargaming has always been turn-based: You move, he moves, you move, he moves, and so on. Sometimes it gets more complicated, with defensive fire phases and such-like, but moves are slow, deliberate and carefully planned. A bit like Sid's other masterpiece, Civilisation...
In a real-time game, however, things happen around you and the shit hits the fan faster than you can press the Pause button. You can spend ten minutes positioning a gun battery and forming up your best brigade for an assault, only to find that everywhere else is chaos. (How could they get there so ruddy quickly? I thought I left a regiment guarding that crossing? Oh there they are. That's funny, they're running away. And whose are all those troops? They're certainly not mine. Oh shit, now where's my reserve?).
Gettysburg (the battle) needs little introduction -especially after the rash of other war games, such as Battleground Gettysburg. It's a battle that's embedded deep in the American psyche; it was the turning point in a civil war that gave birth to the United States as it is today, and Americans are very proud of it. So just humour them, OK?
The wow factor!
Apart from the delicious artwork on the intro screen, the first thing you see in the game is the menu screen, where you can choose to play a scenario, the full battle, a multiplayer game, a tutorial, or load a saved game. A quick click on TUTORIAL leads you gently through the command interface bit by bit. It's confusing at first, and anything but intuitive, but you'll be too busy gawping at the graphics to take in the first lesson properly.
This is what will grab you by the balls and pull you in. The detail is just amazing. Units are made up of a dozen or so individual figures, each one beautifully animated at each of the six zoom levels available. To be frank, it's light years ahead of anything we've seen before. The soldiers move, load, fire, walk and run whenever ordered - and they don't do it in unison, but as individual figures.
You've suddenly got living, breathing units rather than wooden blocks of infantry in the same old boring firing positions. They stand, fire, re-load and W leg it, depending on their morale levels, although most of the time they'll try and carry out their orders. The atmosphere is superbly realistic too, with voiced commands floating at intervals over the din of battle. Every order you make is echoed by the sergeants and officers and punctuated by volleys of rifle fire, artillery and other sound effects. As a gaming experience it's not to be missed. The units (regiments or batteries) are controlled by brigade commanders who can move several units under their control at once, although each regiment can be quickly detached and placed on its own if things get bad. (You can always re-attach them with a single mouse click later).
The projected or actual positions of the units are indicated as rectangles pointing in the appropriate direction whenever you click on the brigade commander, so you can see at a glance the disposition of each brigade. It spoils the gorgeous 3D landscape, but so what? It's nice to know what the hell's going on occasionally.
Although the command interface is well thought out, it's all too easy to lose control at times and give up. Only moving your leader to a quiet location and rallying can get your brigade back into any resemblance of order - unless the troops are engaged with the enemy or busy hoofing it back home to the barracks. I'd be the last person to say this was unrealistic, although the word 'frustration' should be underlined and in capitals...
First of all, the big shock. You can't play the full Gettysburg game from start to finish. Gettysburg was three days of bitter fighting, building up gradually from a small clash to the climactic Pickett's Charge. No gamer could hope to control all that in real I time, so it looks like Sid decided not I to give them the chance. The 'full | battle' is, instead, a step-by-step set of scenarios building up towards the later events. Some do get large but there's no way you can fight the whole thing at one sitting. It's not a campaign either - you can lose almost an entire regiment in one scenario and find that it's increased in size the next.
Shock number two is that the cavalry won't stay on their horses under fire, which means that you can't charge the enemy on horseback. Now, I'd be the first to admit that cavalry very rarely charged unbroken infantry in the American civil war, unless they had some kind of death wish, but occasionally it would be nice to be able to pursue routing units. Their only real use is as a fast-moving reserve.
Another good feature is the 25 scenarios you can choose from, plus a random scenario generator that will w give you games ad infinitum (or ad nauseam, Mlb depending on your point of view). These can be skirmishes or big battles, it's up to you. One thing that sets the game aside from the rest is that you can view the battle from eight different points of the compass. Without a doubt this is the best-looking wargame since hexes and cardboard counters were invented, and one of the most challenging too. Ignore the disjointed campaign-style approach and the fact that you can't fight the entire battle. With its multi-player support across networks, serial links and the Internet, it'll almost certainly take the games charts by storm and it deserves every little bit of it.
I want to see more effective cavalry in version 1.01, and I want to have a shot at the big one all on my own, no matter how slow it is. But as I said earlier, there are only three things you need to know about Gettysburg. It's brilliant, it's realistic and I've got a copy...
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode