Hello everyone! We have interviewed Lukas Nijsten, game designer behind the Order of Battle series. He speaks at length of the upcoming expansion, Winter War, as well as the saga in general, and gives us a hint on what we can expect next. We hope that you’ll enjoy it!
Also, feel free to contribute with your own questions.
1) The Winter War and the Continuation War are wars which haven’t been touched by many other games - not at this level of detail, and not as the main focus. What’s the reason behind your choice of setting for the new DLC for Order of Battle?
The idea first came up after we completed the Morning Sun campaign pack, which covers the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The Winter War turned out to be an ideal step toward the European theatre of WW2. Because the Chinese forces in Morning Sun use a lot of Soviet aircraft and vehicles from the 1930's, a substantial number of required unit models were already available. In addition, it allowed us to create a small subset of German and Soviet WW2 units, as well as the new winter climate, as a stepping stone toward future Eastern and Western Front campaigns.
Aside from these production-related advantages, the Winter War is a very exciting conflict which had a significant impact on WW2 in general. The poor performance of the Red Army encouraged the Germans to launch their Operation Barbarossa, while it also brought valuable lessons and reforms for the Soviets. And with Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, the Finns took up arms again in the Continuation War - also covered by this DLC - which tied up a substantial amount of Soviet forces and posed a constant pressure on Leningrad and the Murmansk railroad line.
From a creative point of view we really enjoy covering some of the more unique conflicts in military history - as demonstrated with Morning Sun - which made the struggle of the Finnish Army in 1939-1945 an outstanding candidate.
2) The other campaigns for Order of Battle: World War II focus on the Pacific theater and have an emphasis on amphibious and naval warfare. In this new campaign things will be different, as it is land based, with different tactics employed on a completely different terrain. How does the gameplay differ? What are the main differences from the other campaigns?
One of the unique aspects in this campaign is that the Finns are not capable of purchasing any tanks or armoured vehicles during the Winter War and most of the Continuation War. The only way to obtain such units is by capturing Soviet vehicles, which is generally achieved through completing secondary objectives. This constant shortage of armoured units makes even the lighter enemy tanks a significant threat, as they can only be effectively destroyed through clever use of anti-tank guns and ambush tactics.
After adding the winter climate, the gameplay mechanics of the original Pacific game have proven quite solid to represent this new conflict. In particular the supply system allows the player to effectively use Finnish "motti" tactics to surround, isolate and destroy pockets of Soviet troops.
Another new and interesting aspect is the frozen lakes and rivers during the winter climate. River combat and movement penalties will no longer exist, and lakes suddenly provide a very flat route toward the enemy. Because units cannot entrench on ice however, these frozen plains often turn into areas of no-man's land between the opposing forces.
And while the terrain is harsh, it does provide more room for manoeuvre compared to the Pacific islands and jungles of previous campaigns. Roads often provide a quick route toward the objective, but can be treacherous with enemy troops hiding on the forest-covered flanks.
3) What was the biggest hardship in representing the type of warfare fought in Finland in World War II in a videogame like Order of Battle?
I wouldn't say there was anything particularly difficult about the Winter War. Aside from the requirement of the winter climate, all the effects on gameplay that come with it, and the specific balancing of individual Soviet and Finnish units we didn't have to do any major changes or additions to the game.
The Order of Battle engine represents the 3 key factors in 20th warfare in an abstracted but detailed manner: a wide range of combat statistics for individual unit types, terrain effects on movement, combat and cohesion and finally supply and logistics. This allows us to cover all conflicts in the period of ~1935 to ~1945 in a single game, without any of it feeling unrealistic or out of place.
Whole not specifically related to the Winter War, we have also used the opportunity to revise the key statistics of all ground units. This is particularly important to achieve realistic tank vs tank combat results. While this was less of a factor in the Pacific campaigns, it is vital to get the individual performance right for all the panzers, Shermans, T-34s, Tigers and all other armoured vehicles and their variations. Finding and reading details of armour angles and thickness, gun velocity and ammunition penetration values as well as other key aspects such as turret rotation speed and visibility for the crew takes an incredible amount of time. This is certainly the most complicated and intensive job we've had to do for the Winter War update.
4) What do you see next in Order of Battle’s future?
It is no secret that we intend to cover all of World War 2, so without naming any specific themes, players can expect many more content featuring common and less common conflicts in the near future.
As for a more distant future, our plan has always been to keep expanding the Order of Battle engine to cover a wide range of military history, ranging from ancient civilizations to modern warfare. Assets for what will become "Order of Battle II" are already in production, but that is all I can say for now :)