The Shenendoah Interview

Published on July 15, 2013
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Last year, Shenendoah released the remarkable Battle of the Bulge. Two weeks ago, Tom spoke to Bradley Cummings, Marketing Director, about the company’s plans for the future. On July 2nd, the Kickstarter  campaign for civil war strategy Gettysburg: The Tide Turns, Shenendoah’s latest project, went live.

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IBG: Hi there.

Bradley: Hello.

IBG: As a wild guess from the trailers put recently, is Battle of the Bulge going to be coming to iPhone?

Bradley: It is yeah! We’ve been hard at work on making a universal version of Battle of the Bulge, which means iPhone will be supported. If you’ve already got the app on iPad, you’ll be able to play on your iPhone or iPod touch on that device as well, and if you maybe don’t have an iPad you’ll finally be able to play it too.

IBG: Is it going to be cross-platform so people will be able to play with one another on iPad and iPhone?

Bradley: Yeah, exactly. One of the cool things about it is that if you play online a lot, you might not always have the opportunity to be connected to the internet or maybe the iPad’s not practical to bring with you, if so you can just hop on your phone real quick and just take your turn, then pass it on to the next guy.

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IBG: Battle of the Bulge is pretty famous for being this huge, beautiful strategy piece, what sort of challenges did the team face when trying to get that to work on something the size of a drinks coaster? I mean… when you’re playing Bulge and you’re dealing with such a large theatre of war, with the map that’s just so detailed, you can’t help but think “wow, I don’t envy the team their job of trying to make that work”.

Bradley: There was definitely a reason why we went with iPad first! I think that everyone will agree that the best way to play is still going to be on the larger platform, but on the iPhone, with the interface we had to start from the ground up. For example, the combat preview screen has actually changed shape to fit the screen of the iPhone resolution. There’s definitely going to be a little more scrolling involved this time round, but we tried as much as possible to make the experience fit on the iPhone. I think that you’ll still be able to get the big picture, but you may require just a little more panning and zooming than before. We’ve really taken our time and I think that people will be surprised at how good of an experience it is on iPhone. I’ve been trying out myself in the testing period and overall, I think it’s pretty good!

IBG: I’ve spoken to a couple of devs recently about the issues of transitioning a game to a universal edition; one of the things that keeps coming up is how integral that sense of tactility is to the board game experience and how important maintain that’s been when moving it to the iPhone. Is that something that the team have had under consideration at Shenendoah?

Bradley: Yes, definitely. I think the tactile aspects that we really like can still be done pretty well in this new platform. You’re still going to have that same drag-and-drop functionality, which we think is really important to get that board game experience. It’s something that the development team has been focussed on, to make it have that same feeling. In terms of everything other than being able to see the whole map at once is going feel the same in a lot of ways.

IBG: Is there a release date yet for the iPhone edition?

Bradley: We are not giving a date just yet, but we will be looking to have it out in the very near future.

IBG: Ok, so what’s next for the company? Will it be continuing to other major battles? From my very limited understanding of games design, I would imagine that the hard work would be the implementation and the design of the rules structures, does having that in place from Bulge open things up up and make it easier to then do expansions and sequels in new theatres?

Bradley: Absolutely, since we’ve done this before, it opens it up to for us to make more. In our first Kickstarter campaign we promised an El Alamein expansion – a North African battle – we’re currently working on that and, within that, trying to take what did in Bulge and lay it out in a firm game engine that can easily go into El Alamein. We’re not announcing anything yet, but if they’re a success then we’re going to want to make more of these. That’s definitely something the team is hard at work on now, laying out the road map for the future of this style of game.

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IBG: Excellent, is Shenendoah Studio currently working on any other projects?

Bradley: The other big thing we’re working on right now is… well, following the great success of Bulge and in our work on El Alamein – the work we’ve been doing in the World War Two theatre ­– we’ve been reaching out to people to ask their opinions about what battles they want to see. Also, this year marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, a major battle in the in American Civil War. What President Abraham Lincoln said there marked it out, but it was also a major turning point in the war. So we are currently hard at work in early development of a game called Gettysburg: The Tide Turns, a wargame that will be for iPad and iPhone at launch. We’re launching a Kickstarter project for it tomorrow [July 2nd].

IBG: That’s well timed then!

Bradley: Yeah, well actually the anniversary of the battle was July 1st, but the major fighting happened between the 2nd and the 4th or 5th. We’re hoping to launch tomorrow and commemorate that event. So the Kickstarter will go for 35 days and run into August. We’ve discovered from Kickstarter that, like the wargame companies of old, we’ve got a great gaming community to rely on. They know what we should do and how we should do it. We discovered that our community is extremely important us.

IBG: I guess that’s something that maybe comes from the communities being born in a very social, face to face environment of standing round table tops with real people, and then that feeds into the online gaming wargaming community?

Bradley: It’s a really cool thing to see. We’ve seen fans set up tournaments and we’re going to start running our own and provide tools and incentives to help people run those. We’re hoping Kickstarter is a great way to: one, validate for us that this was a good idea; and two, our goal is $20,000, which isn’t enough to for us to fund the whole thing but it will be enough to get us some really excellent art for the game. We’ve got an amazing art team, but we want to get some original paintings which take months to do and we can’t expect them to just do those at home in their spare time. We really feel strongly about letting the community to get a word in early and we are still early in the development. The art and style are still in the concept stages so we’re going to be running things by the people that back us on Kickstarter. We want feedback on how things go.

IBG: That participation is one of the great things about Kickstarter.

Bradley: It’s so great to build that community and it’s important to know that we’re not stopping work on El Alamein. We have brought in a new team to help us with this new line of games, because Gettysburg the tide turns is a different type of game. It is a war game but it’s a traditional style hex based.

IBG: That’s really interesting that you say that, only a couple of months ago I wrote a piece saying that I would love to see a Civil War hex wargame in the style of Battle of the Bulge.

Bradley: Oh really? Well there you go, you’re a prophet! We’re hoping to keep Bulge’s very polished art style and keep that middle ground between a table-top feeling and really excellent video game design. I wasn’t on the Bulge team at the time, but I feel strongly about it from an outside perspective. When I originally saw the game, I thought that it was really cool that it told me exactly what was going to happen during an attack, not require you to consult some chart. We definitely want to continue that. The game is design by our CEO Eric Lee Smith, who has a very long back ground in hobby gaming. He worked with SPI and Victory games, and while he was there he did several civil war projects, so he’s taking that knowledge of civil war projects and we’re combining them with the the things we know about iOS and creating a new game for Gettysburg: The Tide Turns, which really captures the battle in some pretty cool wargaming mechanics, but also will include the polish and ease of play that we expect from ad iOS game.

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IBG: Sounds interesting. Of course, there’s a heritage for civil war games on hex maps – the first use of a hex map was a Gettysburg game in 1961 from Avalon Hill.

Bradley: We prototype everything in paper before we start making it digitally, so I’ve played the game in paper form and the cool thing about the hexes is that you really have a feel of distance, I think. I mean, we’re dealing smaller groups of soldiers and not tanks, so those distances are really interesting. More spatial positioning can take place; you can surround other units. It also has a new movement system, the game does not have a traditional your-turn-my-turn set up, but instead you move your individual units, which represent brigades split into divisions, and the game will randomise the order of when the divisions move. So you don’t necessarily know if you’re going to move first or last. There’s also a concept of initiative and if you don’t have the initiative, you don’t know when your combat happens, so movement doesn’t necessarily create combat. Each round represents about an hour and, if you have the initiative, you will decide when you want to declare combat. If you don’t, then combat will randomly come up. So it’s always a measuring game of ‘I have the ability to call combat, do I call it now with these guys in position or do I wait? But if I wait, maybe he’ll be able to move those units that I’ve surrounded and retreat, or flank me?’ So it’s this really cool concept of having to weigh what happens when and not having a clear picture necessarily, which adds a fog of war.

IBG: I suppose that thematically that’s simulating poor communication lines?

Bradley: Exactly, that’s it.

IBG: It’s interesting to hear that you’ve been paper prototyping and that these games are actually worked out as table top games before they go digital.

Bradley: Well that’s something I think is important to do, it’s important for an iPad game to be great app, but it has to have great design behind it. I feel that the cool thing about digital wargames is that there are really strong games that are there to be ported over, so all you have to worry about is presentation; you just have to make it work well on the format.

IBG: Getting rid of the boring stuff about board games then? All the behind the scenes rules stuff that players have to deal with and just leaving the game to shine?

Bradley: Precisely.

IBG: Thank you for your time

 

Review By: Tom O'Bedlam

Tom has been a gamer forever and ever and ever. His boardgame collection is now a good foot taller than him, so he mostly plays games on his iPad as he's less likely to die in a landslide.
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