The Grand Tactician: An Interview With Oliver Keppelmüller

In late 2015 Oliver Keppelmüller completed the gargantuan task of creating a grand strategy game in the style of Total War solo when he released The Seven Years War (1756-1763). Now he has his sights set on an even greater challenge. I sat down with him and his new associate Ilja Varha, two members of their three man development team, to discuss what the forthcoming Grand Tactician holds for us.

 What single feature of Grand Tactician would you regard as the most critical to it being a successful (however you might define that term) game?

Oliver: The mix of game depth, historical accuracy and smooth gameplay. Let me compare two well-known representatives of historical strategy games we have seen so far: Total War series with great graphics and user-friendly UI but lacking historical accuracy and hardly any game depth, while Scourge of War has great complexity and accuracy, but heavy UI and some players have found it a bit boring.

Our aim is to be somewhere in the middle, while not losing the important elements of both sides. I understand being “successful” not on commercial terms but making a “kewl” game for our target group. If we would want to be commercially successful, we would have to drop a lot of our ideas and focus more on visuals.

Your excellent development blogs discuss the theorists, notably Jomini, that have inspired you in designing Grand Tactician. Are there any games that have inspired you in the same way?Ilja: A lot of games have inspired me in designing our game: Sid Meier’s Gettysburg for sure, the more recent JMM’s HistWar: Napoleon, the already mentioned Scourge of War or Richard Bodley Scott’s Field of Glory -series have some brilliant mechanics in them and have cost me a lot of sleepless nights. Of course, Total War too. Oliver’s The Seven Years War (1756-1763) made a grand impression, as there were a lot of things done right under the hood, if compared to other strategy games. So, I was a fan first, and only later a co-developer!

What’s been the greatest challenge so far in designing and building the game?Oliver: The challenge for me was the new kind of work when acting as team (Oliver created The Seven Years War alone). I am myself a very pragmatic person, used to advancing fast and adding every content that comes in mind. Ilja on the other hand is the perfectionist, critically checking every detail and reminding me what to improve. Although sometimes I feel that his wish list is endless and I would need 35-hour days, but in my opinion, this is not only a challenge but also a real pickup for our project!

Ilja: Yeah, Oliver reminds me every now and then that if we are to implement every little detail on my mind, we would be ready in 2050s! But the good thing is, if I manage to re-design parts of these ideas into easy-to-code format, he usually takes the bait! But still there are too few hours in the clock, it feels most the time.

Oliver: During the first part of our project we hired some freelancers to do graphical stuff. But some of them turned out to be very unreliable and delivered not the requested quality. As Peter joined our team a few months ago we succeeded in closing this gap in our front and we are now able to include high quality 3D models and UI elements ourselves. Along with our supporting staff creating music, historical art, webpages (we will launch the new webpage later this spring) etc. we feel that we are very well positioned now!

Ilja: Yes, things have improved a lot since the start of the project. You know, we live in different countries and I have different 1st language than Oliver and Peter, so sometimes communication is challenging. It’s difficult when you can’t just walk to the other guy’s monitor and point out: “that there…”. Skype’s nice, but not perfect.Peter: Real life! Sometimes it’s very hard to manage family, regular work, other activities and then have enough time and motivation to keep on working on the game. However, it’s also very satisfying when you see the result.

By the same token, what role, within the game’s timeframe, will logistics have?Oliver: Winning a war by just taking 200 provinces is odd in my opinion. Looking at historical warfare there were other important reasons for a nation to win or lose a war. That is why we want to add detailed economic terms and supply. Lessons learned from “The Seven Years War” -game, we will keep at least the same level of possibilities but make it more attractive and understandable for the players.

We also lay focus on the specific elements of the economy during that era, so no simple “build weapons and ship it to location X”, we will take a close look on what was important during this specific war and will cover all the relevant details. This will enhance the tactical elements of the game because even the strongest army won’t win the war without being paid or supplied.

Ilja: Crucial! The flow of supplies will be from towns and industries to supply depots, that player can build in friendly or occupied territory. From depots the supplies are moved to the armies in the field. When supply flow is insufficient, and it historically was most of the time, armies will start foraging. Foraging will wreak havoc on the countryside, and this will have impact on civilian lives too. When an army goes on campaign, it will need to carry supplies in trains. And of course, all parts of the logistics chain I described, are possible targets to enemy actions.

How large are the maps we’ll be playing over? Will I be able to do Waterloo, the complete Waterloo (including Plancenoit) or the entire Hundred Days campaign?Ilja: On the first title, size of a single battlefield is roughly 13×13 kilometres. This will allow manoeuvring quite well, combined with the entry point system and battles lasting multiple days. But you may reach what you described on the campaign layer, which will then generate the battles, and the effect should be the same, even if not all fighting happens on same battle map at one time.

Oliver: On technical terms we are going to the limit of our PCs. We have invested a lot of time in optimizing performance for huge army setups and minimize RAM usage for huge battlefields and we are confident to get all the historical dimensions done: The armies will have correct hierarchy structures with hundreds of units and the roads and rivers on the battlefield will be accurately placed!

Every period has its own flavor, whatever period you choose to go for first (Napoleonics, Seven Years War, Franco-Prussian War etc), how will these differences be present in the game?Oliver: We tend not to focus on longer periods, like known from some titles of the TW series, but on one specific conflict – how it happened and how it may have happened. Therefore, we can be very specific about the era. We will have accurate campaigns, army setups, commanders, economies, technologies, diplomacy style and music. Also, known from The Seven Years War we add historical waypoints where the player can choose for or against an historic approach – though these will be handled differently than time based yes/no -choices. This all together will create a specific mood for each period!

Ilja: If we skip the combat mechanics, as there are obvious differences there, we try to add some flavour with artistic choices in addition to historically driven events. For example, we will have an original soundtrack with songs from the period, that are played by professionals of the said style. And even though we cannot provide AAA quality 3D graphics, we try to add some cool details in the visuals that are true to the period, and hopefully immerse players deeper in the game.

Thank you to Oliver and Ilja for this interview. There are no firm dates for when Grand Tactician will release at present, but the development team keeps an extremely detailed development blog, available on their website.


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