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Battle of the Bulge Interview

Interview

In the final few days of the Battle of the Bulge Kickstarter, we’ve interviewed Nick Karp, Founder & CFO of Shenandoah Studio.

What’s the backstory behind Shenandoah Studios?

Many fans of old-school historical simulations have been disappointed by the versions of them on computers to date. Players had to constantly pan and scroll. And the experience of staring at a vertical screen is less satisfying than looking over a board at an opponent.

Eric Lee Smith, game lover and veteran game designer, picked up the first iPad and realized that the perfect platform for board gaming had arrived, offering touch and natural gestures and an interactive play surface. He started putting the pieces of Shenandoah together.

What’s your role on the project?

Eric and I met as playtesters at Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), worked together as designers at Victory Games, and then on several other occasions over the years. On the Battle of the Bulge project itself I’m working with the developers to hone the user experience, so that players perceive the inherent complexity as richness rather than a burden. We give players the information needed to understand what is happening and take command, without unnecessary details or a steep learning curve.

More broadly, I’m working with Eric to plan Shenandoah’s future as a viable business beyond Battle of the Bulge: defining our approach to market, selecting titles and strategy, and assembling an incredible team with the resources to build great games.

What makes for an essential videogame-board game experience?

Three elements are essential: (1) Players have to be able to learn the game without reading a lot of rules. They have to be able to start right in and play. (2) Gamers need to understand their options and the factors influencing their decisions. The computer can and should relieve the players of recordkeeping and calculation, but the game’s innards must be visible so that players can see and refine the way their choices influence outcomes. (3) Great AI that plays by the rules, so that players feel challenged but not cheated.

What about the conflict (of The Battle of the Bulge) attracted the team to design around it?

The Battle of the Bulge is a classic gaming situation, with a surprise attack, a desperate defense, and a bold counterattack. It is real history and a battle well known to experienced gamers. That gives us the ability to highlight the capabilities of the platform and our approach to design.

How important is it to represent the historical accuracies alongside fresh mechanics?

It is vital that our audience appreciate the historical context and drama: Battle of the Bulge is not “Risk” with Sherman tanks. The terrain, situation, and military formations are all accurate, giving the players a deeper understanding of the situation and connection to the events being simulated. We provide historical background as an integral part of the players’ experience.

Designing a simulation videogame for the iPad, have there been any advantages to designing the genre around the platform?

Battle of the Bulge, Shenandoah’s first game, was designed specifically for the iPad by John Butterfield, a talented game designer who also has many years’ experience designing touch screen interfaces. The size of the map, time scale, number of units, and many other elements of the game were chosen to provide an optimal experience on the platform.

How does the accessibility of the iPad advance the simulation genre?

The iPad makes it easy for a new audience of tens of millions to try the genre who might never otherwise have been exposed to it. Staged tutorials reduce the investment to learn a game. Automated setup, recordkeeping, and calculation reduce the time and effort to play. Attractive graphics, presentation, and sound effects increase the fun. AI and online opponent-finding make play available on demand. Games are the single most important use for the iPad. So the genre is now available to a vast number of players who would not have considered it before.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

We’re having great fun here at Shenandoah, redesigning a classic genre for a new platform. The iPad enhances the gaming experience in so many ways: I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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