Fasten your seatbelts.
Command is now available exclusively from Matrix Games, HERE.
Far more so than in the User Interface, Command raises the bar significantly in the aspect of simulation mechanics in order to deliver maximum power, detail and accuracy to the wargaming experience.
Detailed terrain: Command uses as its base terrain reference the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) dataset. This digital terrain model features a base resolution of 3 arc-seconds (~900m/cell at the equator), thus allowing for unprecedented terrain detail benefiting air, naval and land operations alike (LOS now actually matters).
However, this is just the beginning, as the base SRTM set has quite a lot of errors on some of its areas, particularly near coastal regions; WarfareSims’ data experts have therefore gone over the dataset with a fine toothcomb, consulting local and far more detailed sources to refine the information. The overall result is a global-scale terrain model that, like Command itself, is unrivalled on its combination of scope, detail and accuracy.
The eastern part of the beautiful island of Crete (incl. the important Souda Bay), with the relief layer enabled. Plan your air/missile strike, your SEAL insertion, your paratroop drops or your holiday vacation.
Does it matter? Consider the difference between not being able to e.g. hide behind a mountain ridge (because the game considers the world perfectly flat or has a terrain model so coarse that the ridge doesn’t stand out) and being able to do just that – literally a difference of life and death. Apart from providing cover, the terrain factor is also crucial for any land operation: A unit that has to cross a smooth valley will take much less time than the same unit having to cross a mountain ridge. Terrain clutter also plays a big part in look-down sensor detections; an attack helicopter over rough terrain may be so hard to pick on radar that you first see it visually (and equally important, it sees you back) before you can get a solid lock on it.
Improved tactical AI: This is the bane of all tac/op wargames (and not a few strategic ones), and Command tackles the challenge head-on. Units behave sensibly and as expected according to their status and their assigned mission, if any. For example, fighters on A2A duty will actively seek out to identify and if necessary engage unidentified air contacts. If they carry BVR weapons and are cleared to engage, they maximize their speed and altitude just prior to the engagement in order to maximize the weapons’ downrange (yes, it matters). Strike aircraft follow sensible paths to their targets and, just before releasing their ordnance, adjust their speed and altitude to ensure they are within the weapon release envelope (yes, it matters). “Wild Weasel” aircraft on SEAD tasking roam their assigned area and correctly engage only surface-to-air threats, reasonably prioritizing the highest-threat contacts. Submarines intelligently alter their depth depending on their task (anti-surface or ASW) and do their best to optimize their sonar coverage while minimizing their exposure. If they are non-nuclear they even come up to periscope depth on their own to recharge their batteries – and vary the amount they expose themselves depending on the perceived level of threat.
All units can be instructed to try to maintain standoff from their primary target (ie. engage it while staying out of counterfire range if possible), and all of them automatically take evasive action to avoid enemy weapons fire (again, a configurable setting). Additionally, units understand that each of their weapons is optimized for a different target type and give priority to the suitable weapon of the moment, going as far as unloading e.g. a gun of a given shell type and loading another one, better suited to the target(s) being engaged at the moment.
Lots of small details here and there that, taken all together, result in much reduced need for manual interference and babysitting (not that this will keep control freaks from finetuning every single attack profile, we’re certain).
Doctrine/RoE settings: One of the things we have consistently observed over the years during our involvement in past games is that tactical AI behavior is affected by doctrinal rules which can very easily vary depending on circumstances. Does a unit have permission to use nuclear weapons or not? Does it have authority to shoot at contacts not yet confirmed hostile or not? Should it be allowed to use tankers or UNREP ships? (This is not as obvious as it may sound; if the replenishment assets are scarce then careful access control may be necessary). Should it try to maintain standoff or close in with the enemy and engage at point blank? These and other aspects of doctrine are a matter of frequent and heated discussion among players, as there is no "one size fits all" solution.
Game developers most frequently try to hardcode the most "sensible" behaviors, or the ones that work adequately for most cases; this however leaves a lot of important edge cases uncovered. Another attempted solution has been to make doctrine user-customizable through text files. While workable, this again means every single unit in a scenario follows the same behavior, regardless of their type, assigned task and circumstances. Something better is needed.
WarfareSims’ approach to this problem is to make unit doctrine and Rules of Engagement (RoE), as well as EMCON (emission control) settings, customizable on a per-unit basis. The player can decide and define how each unit will act in several important respects and tailor these behaviors to the unique circumstances of that unit and its mission.
Sounds like a lot of work? It’s not, because these settings are cascade-inheritable (think CSS) and overridable at any step in the inheritance ladder. The cascading order is Side -> Mission (if any) -> Group (if any) -> individual unit. So, want the entire side to not use nukes except a single "rogue" trigger-happy unit? Set the "use nukes" doctrine option to "No" at the side level, then select the unit in question and override this setting.
Even more powerful is the fact that units automatically adjust their non-overriden settings as they switch between missions and/or groups. So for example, let’s say you are putting together an airstrike with strict EMCON silence. Then you do a late addition to it of a unit that is freely radiating. Once added to the "silent" mission, the unit will obey this mission’s strict EMCON settings and "go cold".
Doctrine, RoE & EMCON settings are a huge chapter of individual unit behavior in Command and describing them in a few paragraphs doesn’t truly do them justice. Apart from being an immense time-saver for the player’s side, they also play a critical role in "programming" behaviors for AI-controlled forces (more on the Scenario Editing section).
Detailed air ops: Where to begin? It is not an exaggeration to claim that, where base operations are concerned, Command offers a more detailed and realistic simulation of air operations than many dedicated air-combat simulation programs. (You! You in the back with the "Falcon 4 Rulez" t-shirt and the HOTAS Cougar in hand! Sit down. I didn’t say "all".). Airbases are so intrinsic to Command’s modeling of air operations that we have dedicated an entire section of the manual to them ("8.3 Air Bases: How to Build Them, How to Destroy Them").
Airbases in Command, as in real life, are vast and complex groups of installations which serve all aspects of on-the-ground air operations: Receiving aircraft, storing them (preferably under protection), preparing & arming them, and launching them again. Aircraft traffic through airbase is not an abstract instantaneous move; it is a multi-step process that takes time and is fraught with potential problems and vulnerabilities. When given a launch order, aircraft will start in their holding facilities such as tarmacs, hangars or revetments, move to a connecting/transit facility such as a runway access point or taxiway (or elevator in a ship) and then move to a runway where they are launched. When they land, they step through the flow back to their holding facility, receive replacement fuel and ammunition and then start the process again.
Al Dhafra airbase, Day 3 of Desert Storm. An all-out surge of the base’s aircraft has been ordered (possible Scud or raid alert?) and everything that can fly is being pushed out. Notice that apart from the two main runways, the runway-grade taxiway is also being used for take-off because of the urgency.
As you might expect, an airbase with even a few aircraft doing their cycles is a very busy place. This helps generate realistic sortie rates which we feel are critical in modeling the strengths and limitations of modern air warfare (if you can effortlessly launch a 60-aircraft package in a snap, you just don’t get how the folks at the control tower earn their pay). Even more importantly, it makes airbases critically dependent on a few key nodes being operational – or, put from another perspective, if you (or your enemy) damage or destroy certain facilities you can shut down an airbase with much less effort. Remember the massive airfield raids of Desert Storm? Command lets you use every trick in the book – and come up with more of your own.
Air bases also support the aircraft logistics model in the game. All bases & aviation-capable ships include ammunition magazines which players can populate with the weapons, pods, tanks and equipment that aircraft need to successfully host their various loads.
In addition to detailed airbase operations, Command features enhanced tactical AI for aircraft-specific operations and a highly capable air-to-air-refueling (A2AR) implementation. The relevant AI is smart enough to allow things like completely hands-off air refuellings and even multiple chained refuellings. (In one of our tests, we reproduced the famous B-2A raids on Serbia in 1999. The stealth bomber took off from Whiteman AFB, performed multiple refuellings from pre-positioned tankers on the way in, bombed a target near Belgrade, refueled on the way back and landed at Whiteman. All this was done without a single manual action. A similar sequence can be observed on the scenario "Wooden Leg", included with the v1 release.)
Air ops in Command are as challenging as their RL counterparts – and as rewarding when executed properly.
Docking ops: Aircraft return to their bases to roost, but where do ships, subs and land units come home to? Maybe nowhere (in a short scenario), but maybe to their own host base: A bigger ship, a port, or any other unit capable of hosting and servicing them. Command models a diverse array of dock facilities (ship piers, dock wells, davits, dry-dock shelters, ROV/UUV shelters etc.) and each facility is unique in its combination and size capacity. This allows scenario authors to use the docking capabilities of modern platforms to their full extent. LCACs and LCMs inside big amphibs? Yup. Ships docked pierside? Check. SOF delivery UUVs delivered by converted submarines? Can do. We demonstrated docking ops in video a while ago and since then we have fine-tuned the relevant AI even more in order to provide a full hands-off operation.
Ships can also be refueled and repaired while docked in order to compensate for combat attrition – so no more one-salvo ships! Docking ops is one of Command’s brand new features in the genre and, like many other of its abilities, enables players and scenario authors alike to model situations impossible until now.
Polar ice: The polar ice caps, and particular the northern one, have been a crucial strategic factor both in the distant past (because they blocked surface movement) and from the recent past to the future (because they are rapidly receding, thus opening new passages for the first time).
Command faithfully models the idiosyncrasies of surface polar ice, from the increased sound ambience levels in marginal areas (horrible for sonar performance) to the plain inability of air & surface assets to participate in any operations in ice-covered regions (except icebreakers – yes, these can traverse the ice). Nuclear submarines are truly on a private arena of their own here, uninterrupted from air/surface distractions and virtually locked into an underwater cage from which only one side can emerge victorious (for an example of such a confrontation, check the scenario "Trapped Under Ice").
One of the coming improvements on the ice model is the use of authentic successive ice profiles from the early 90s until today, which will enable modeling both the highly-restrictive environment of the Cold War era as well as the opening opportunities of the present and future. Despite all the ice, the Arctic is about to get _hot_ …
Coming next: Mechanics – Part II.
Version 1 of Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations is just around the corner and it’s a good time to summarize the features that make it really stand out. Starting with general infrastructure and user interface. (Click on images for full screen).
Scope, scale & detail: Command enables scenarios that can range from a muzzle-to-muzzle gunboat duel all the way to intercontinental-scale operations, and does so at a level of detail that starts from literally counting every gun shell or missile and goes all the way up. This combination of scale and detail has, to our knowledge, never been attempted in the public domain before – and with good reason; it’s not easy. Command harnesses the raw horsepower of modern PCs and uses modern software frameworks & tools to deliver an altogether superior wargaming experience.
Standard Windows interface: This has become a point of criticism by some (“it looks more like an Office application than a game!”) but we consider it to be one of Command’s core player-side strengths. Following Windows’ standard UI infrastructure means we are able to both create new UI elements and change existing ones with minimum effort and complications. It also allows us to integrate Microsoft’s design improvements to its standard UI elements “for free”.
The Windows desktop environment you know and (ahem) love
Being a windowed Windows app also means easy switch between this and other programs, easy multi-monitor support (more on this later) and all the other benefits of the Windows desktop ecosystem.
Performance & scalability: Quick now – how many units were present on-map in the last air/naval game you played? A few dozen? Around a hundred? Command can comfortably handle more than a thousand active units in a single scenario (“Shamal”, a Desert Storm-focused 1200+ unit scenario, runs well at 1-30 sec time acceleration on a mid-range Core i5 under Windows 8), and can even scale up to thousands of units if the player can handle the slowdown – or has a liquid nitrogen-cooled Cray in the basement. To achieve this, Command aggressively uses modern CPUs with multiple cores, fast memory as well as low-latency hard disks (or even better, SSDs).
These numbers are not about bragging rights: Getting this kind of performance means that situations hitherto impossible to model in detail (e.g. global thermonuclear war with all the historically-accurate strategic forces) can now be simulated and played out. It’s about opening new horizons on what you, as a player and/or scenario creator alike, can accomplish.
It is important to note that Command’s blistering performance does not come at the expense of simulation fidelity. Common “acceleration” performance tricks of other games like, for instance, updating positions of units only every 15 sim-seconds (with occasional hilarious bugs as a result – “look ma! This bomb went right through that target without impacting on it…”) are simply not acceptable in Command. After all, hardware is getting faster and cheaper by the day – but killer bugs can destroy even the highest-performant experience.
Google Earth-style map: If you’ve labored with 2D maps that you know are unavoidably distorted (particularly getting closer to the polar regions) you will definitely appreciate having a true 3D representation of the earth globe at your disposal.
It’s a small world
Having a single unified map for any scenario instead of per-scenario maps also means you can construct and play scenarios spanning very large distances and distant theaters. A trans-Atlantic convoy crossing and at the same time a huge air/naval battle in the Pacific? Not a problem. World War 3 running in all major theaters concurrently? Can do (if the machine can handle the load). You are now only limited by your PC’s horsepower and your imagination.
Customizable information layers: Which units are being targeted by Nighthawk #1? Which of them is the primary target? Is it currently lazing any target – if yes, which one? What is the estimated missile coverage of that enemy SAM battery just detected? Which emissions are detected from it? Is it just searching as usual or has it actually locked on to any of our aircraft? What is Kim Kardashian having for dinner tonight? (Okay, we don’t really need to know that last one). Command provides a rich set of user-selectable map information layers to enhance your situational awareness.
No sense sweating to blast through the defenses if you can simply go around them.
Apart from the usual suspects also featured in other games (range rings for friendly sensors and weapons etc.), Command goes the extra mile and adds targeting vectors (who is targeting whom), illumination vectors (who is “painting” who for semi-active weapons, e. g. LGBs or Sparrow or Standard missiles), weapon datalinks (who is providing guidance for that AGM-130 about to dive on that bunker? Not necessarily the guy who dropped it!), non-friendly weapons & sensors (if the contact in question has been classified and located with sufficient precision), detected contact emissions (that land contact just lit up a Straight Flush – it’s _probably_ not the local hotel owners annual meeting…) and more. And when the range rings displayed on the map become one too many but you still want to view them, you can even have them merged so that the clutter clears up.
Built-in and custom map overlays: Command’s built-in map layers include a global “Blue Marble NG” tileset and a custom relief layer derived from our terrain elevation data. Pretty as they are, their true value lies in their tactical utility: Depth and elevation can be some of your best allies if you understand and use them properly, or your worst enemies if you ignore them.
Planning a detailed strike on Natanz’s nuclear facilities is now a hobby for the entire family
In addition, players can import and use their own custom overlay images, generated from Google Earth or any other GIS system able to generate geo-referenced image files. These can be used to spice-up a scenario with highly-detailed overhead images, but their big payoff comes when constructing detailed land facilities: Want to build your favorite airbase down to the last hardened shelter? Import an overhead photo of it and simply place the facilities literally on top of their real-life locations.
Multi-monitor support: This is one of the benefits of using the Windows desktop environment. Want to stretch the map across all monitors? Check. Want to park the map on the big monitor and pull the secondary information windows on the smaller ones? Can do. One of the future improvements will be the ability to permanently place secondary windows on specific monitors so that they need not be arranged on each play session.
A better message log: Command follows on the footsteps of logging paradigms established by other great existing games, but does so one better. Apart from a greatly expanded set of messages, Command provides the ability to customize each message type to (a) not appear at all, (b) be printed to the visible message log, or (c) appear on the message log and also generate a pop-up message that draws the player’s attention, allows jumping to the location of the message’s related event, and automatically stops the simulation clock. (If you are reluctant about using time acceleration “because suddenly there’s like 200 enemy missiles detected and by the time I stop the clock my ships are already toast”, you will probably love that last one: Just set the “New weapon contact” message type to generate the pop-up).
Color-coded for your convenience
Command provides two ways of accessing logged messages: You can either have them directly on the corner of the main screen, WoW-style (the default mode), or have them printed on a separate window. The former is more space-efficient; the latter is preferred by folks who have trouble reading the messages through the map background and may also be more suitable in a multiple-monitor environment.
Mouse-cursor rich info: What is the depth/elevation at these coordinates? What’s the weather like there? How rough is the terrain? How strong is the thermal layer, and how deep it starts and finishes? What about convergence zones? What’s the local time? Is it dawn, day or dusk? What’s the local temperature? What’s the wind and sea state? Clear sky or solid cloud cover? Dry or soaking humid? Countless parameters of crucial tactical importance are location-based, and the fastest way to get them is to point the mouse cursor to the location and read them right next to it. “But I didn’t know” is no longer a valid excuse.
“OK yeah, but where are the nearest burger joints?”
Integrated database viewer: Command’s databases feature thousands of aircraft, ships, submarines, land units & facilities, satellites, sensors, weapons, loadouts, comms & datalinks, magazines, propulsion systems, air facilities & docking facilities – and the DB viewer bares them all. Apart from “manual” browsing with various search filters (“list all Dutch ships ending with ‘Grigorovich’” – ummm….) , the viewer is also tightly integrated with various information windows used throughout the game; for example if a contact is positively classified, the player can click on its classification name and the DB automatically brings up the relevant entry.
“Some assembly required”
In addition, each DB entry can be supplemented by text and images provided as individual files; this allows us to provide the ability to populate these fields without copyright/IP concerns (since they are not bundled with the game). Already the beta-testing community is busy providing text & image files matching the DB entries and we fully expect this trend to explode in the future.
Record and replay: Yes, that’s right. That one time when you sank the Kirov with nothing but a bomb-laden A-7 and brass balls can now be recorded and shown off for posterity (the strike, not the balls). Recorded files can be saved and swapped among players for any purpose ranging from bragging rights to educating others on weapons & tactics.
Almost as good as watching season 1 of the X-Files
And the coup de grace: Not only can you go back in time and see what you saw and did at any point, as well as see the same tactical situation from any side’s point of view (as well as the “ground truth”), but you can also resume play from any point. So you can repeatedly try different possible answers to a given tactical problem and see what works and what doesn’t – and why, and how regularly, and what which factors really matter. Needless to mention, this feature (along with some others) has already drawn very strong interest from defense professionals.
Location: Western Philippine Sea
The Philippines has been fighting internal insurgencies since before the Second World War. In present day times, the Global War on Terror has focused on a section of the island nation called the Sulawesi Sea Triangle. It describes three primary routes (ratlines) to and from the Southern Philippines to it’s neighbors to the South (Indonesia) and SouthWest (Malaysia) used by militant groups such as Al-Queda in the Phlippines (AQIP) and Jemaah Islamiya (JI) to funnel fighters, money and weapons to wherever they are needed in the region.
One ratline runs from Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines and traces down the island chain of Sulu, and makes landfall in the Malaysian peninsula of Sabah. Since 2001, the United States has assisted the Republic of the Phlippines in building strong relations with the impoverished and isolated inhabitants of this chain. One of the most successful operations has been to provide medical missions under the campaign name Lingkod Timog (Serving the South), as many of the villages have no permanent doctors or convenient access to healthcare. In so doing, the goodwill of the Lingkod Timog teams translates to better relations with the government, and a natural resistance to the insurgent forces, who tend to come in and forcibly take what they want without regard to the local populace.
The medical missions have been such a success that AQIP and JI elements have resorted to piracy tactics to re-invigorate their influence in the area. Op Lingkod Timog I will feature a joint US-RP mission to deliver a turn-key field hospital to the southern end of the Sulu archiapelago and establish a permanent foothold in the area. Because of sequestration and constitutional limits, US forces can only provide non-lethal aid. It will be up to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to safeguard and deliver the mission package and personnel.
Download it as part of the Community Scenario Pack HERE.