Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Tragic Tale of Combat Mission Campaigns

The Combat Mission community was very pleased to hear, in October 2005, that a new product named Combat Mission: Campaigns was in the works. A workable "operational layer" for the popular 3D tactical game had been the Holy Grail since the release of the first title in the series - which by that point had progressed through the original and two sequels (CMBO,CMBB & CMAK) - and as it turned out, the faithful would have almost two more years to wait for the release of the next game in the series.

There had been many attempts to devise "manual" operational layers. (The games did ship with "operations" - sort of 'super-scenarios' - that let the player string together a series of scenarios much like Historical Advanced Squad Leader Campaign Games. But they never seemed to work properly, with front lines being drawn between scenarios in strange places - and the developers either refused or couldn't figure out how to let players export saved game data for re-use in the editor, which would have permitted terrain damage, knocked out vehicles, and depleted units to be "carried over" for free-form campaigns.) The "Meta Campaign" was a popular pastime, where an operational-level game was played out among a group of players, with CM scenarios used to determine the outcome of the battles generated. There were different methods of playing and tracking the operational level movements - usually involving spreadsheets, lots of emails, and communications issues as players dropped in, and dropped out, from across time zones. Battles were generally done PBEM (or TCP) against live opponents (not the AI) and thus a two hour battle window might take a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, to resolve. Simulating a week or two weeks of operational time could take months.

Co-ordinating large numbers of players in such an effort was a chore. Those who stuck with it swore by the rewards. Some players began to develop software to handle logistics, mapping, and other book-keeping (vets will recall the COCAT software with either dread or awe.)

Every couple of months, someone new would announce another new campaign on the official forums, or one of the many unofficial CM fan forums. Some never got off the ground, others folded when the creators realized how much work they were. But there was no shortage of good ideas, and with CM games covering the gamut from North Africa to Italy to the entire Eastern Front (and with a choice of either using the updated Mediterranean module to do a convincing stand-in for NW Europe, or using the original with its older infantry and armor modelling), there were thousands of brigade or division size actions to choose from.

Bruce Poon of Hunting Tank Software obviously thought so. The announcement in October 2005 struck the community by surprise (save those few beta testers who had been selected to participate behind the scenes). But it seemed like a natural idea.

In a press release on October 14, 2005, he described the product as follows:

Bruce Poon, lead designer:
What we are trying to do with Combat Mission Campaign is provide the operational level layer that Combat Mission players have always wanted. Every feature has been designed to be as realistic, complex and challenging as commanding troops really was back then, and to complement the realism in Combat Mission itself. If we can provide a realistic and fun game for Combat Mission players, we know that we have made a great contribution. It could not have been done without great support from Battlefront.

On the official forums, an FAQ was posted by one of the beta testers[/url]:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is this a whole new game or simply an expansion to Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin?

A: Actually, its both. While CMC could certainly be played without CMBB, it was always designed to work in tandem with it in order to allow the player to experience the challenges of operational level planning and strategy. CMC will allow you to "auto-resolve" tactical engagements but this is really meant as a time saving feature and the game was always designed for you to play out the battles, in person, with CMBB.

The best way to think of CMC is as an Operational Level Command expansion for CMBB although it is a new game in of itself.

Q: Did Battlefront design Combat Mission Campaigns? Did Charles Moylan (programmer of CM) work on CMC?

A: Partially, while Combat Mission Campaigns was developed, designed and programmed by the team at Hunting Tank Software, they have been given unprecedented access to the inner workings of the Combat Mission game engine. Charles coded up the interface between CMBB and CMC which allows for the great interaction between the two programs and the ability to "share" information, status and results with one another.

Q: Is CMC based on the new CMx2 engine or the older CMx1 (classic) game engine or something else?

A: Something else. It's a whole new game, coded by an outside developer (Hunting Tanks Software) but it adds the Operational Level Command component to CMBB which was a CMx1 engine based game.

Q: I am a little confused, when enemy units get close to one another in CMC, how are the battles played out in CMBB?

A: CMC handles all the work for you. It chooses the necessary map for the battle to be played on, sets up the correct weather and time of day and populates the battle with the troops and equipment with their experience levels, ammo load outs, morale and fatigue levels and more all intact. Once the battle is complete, CMBB sends the results back to CMC for proper processing and updating of the campaign.

Q. What multiplay modes and gameplay are supported?

A. At the Operational level you can play solo against the AI or Multiplay with numerous human players against other human players or a combination of both human and AI players. If you play out the tactical battles using CMBB you are restricted to normal 1 on 1 or single player vs. the AI.

Q: What campaigns will come with CMC?

A: Right now we are planning to include campaigns covering the following: Barbarossa, Stalingrad, Operation Mars, 3rd Kharkov, Kursk and Berlin.

Q: I can make my own though campaigns, right? CMC comes with an editor?

A: Yes! CMC ships with the same editors that we used to make the original campaigns. These include a Operational Map Editor, Turn Editor which allows for the game to run with several different turn lengths (in hours), including the allowance of different turn lengths for different times of day, a Time of Day editor allowing for different dark / light cycles in different regions of the conflict and a Weather editing program that allows historical weather conditions to be accurately reflected in the game.

There is also an Order of Battle (OOB) Editor that enables the selection of a range of German and Russian troop types and formations, as well as the creation of unusual or custom formations from scratch. Any formation created can be saved for use in a variety of scenarios.

Q: Does CMC allow you to create/play with some of the minor nations like Italy, Romania, Hungary, Finland?

A: Currently, only Russian and German forces are included although other nations may be added as a patch or future add-on.

Q: Will CMC be expanded to support Combat Mission: Afrika Korps or even the older Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord?

A: That is certainly a possibility depending on CMC's commercial success.

Q: How big can the campaigns in CMC really be?

A: Currently, CMC is designed and best enjoyed with campaigns up to a Division per side. WIthin those divisions, several human players could have individual commands.

Q: What's the smallest battles you might have in CMC, that would then be played out in CMBB or auto-resolved? What's the largest?

A: The smallest maneuver unit in CMC is a Platoon so you could have, for example, a small skirmish of just two enemy recon platoons or a massive battle with several enemy Battalions slugging it out.

Q: Will CMC have a "replay" feature?

A: Yes it will. You will be able to review what happened for all past turns at any time.This gives each commander the ability to review the historical progress of the game, including an ever improving operational view of 'what really happened'.

Q: Tell me about Fog-of-War and unit spotting. How have you dealt with that at the operational level?

A: Combat Mission Campaigns implements an exacting Fog of War system, showing limited information due to the visibility of enemy troops, but also takes into account the time to transfer information from one unit to another, the types of signals involved, and the inertia in large units being able to respond to new orders. This means it's even possible to lose situational awareness of subordinate units that are slow to report their current status and position!

Q: Does CMC offer any new tools to help with spotting or being spotted by enemy units?

A: Yes, it offers both. On the operational map, you can select any unit under your command and toggle both a "Who Can I See" and "Who Can See Me" mode which will shade various areas of the map depending on the visibility to and from that terrain.

Q: On the Operational Isometric 3D map, I see that it is made up of terrain squares. What's the size of one of those terrain squares?

A: The smallest terrain tile shown represents an area approximately 1km by 1km in size. Battlefields are made up of 4 of these small tiles, thus giving a 2k x 2k battlefield in CMBB.

Q: When is it coming out and how much?

A: When it's done and expected price will be about 35 dollars.

Q: Do you need beta testers or people willing to create new campaigns for the final release?

A: Actually, we might. If you have a PROVEN track record of creating quality CMBB operations and scenarios we would certainly be interested in speaking with you about the oppertunity to help with CMC! If interested, please email us at support@battlefront.com and be sure to spell out your background with CMBB scenario/operation creation.
(Forum post by Wicky, 13 Oct 2005)

It sounded great. Some of the posters on the forum wondered who Bruce Poon was; when he started posting about the project, curious fellows started checking his posting history. One noticed this:

OK, I've got my Sherlock Holmes hat on tonight.

I've been trying to get a campaign thingie going for quite a while now. My last effort, an attempt, to do a huge battle of Stalingrad, with a Java app not too much unlike CMC ended with me ripping all my hair out in frustration trying to get CMBB to build the OOB's for a generated battle (by simulating mouseclicks all over the damn place).

So I decided to check into who actually did manage to get his grubby little fingers onto CMBB's innards where all the rets of us failed.

He's from Melbourne of all places (great town...go Blues!) so proximity can't have anything to do with it.

Early on he couldn't even figure out operations!
posted August 13, 2000 09:06 AM

"I made a map and an Operation but I can't really make it work the way I think it should."

Huge gap between 2002 and 2004 which is where me may presume CMC was being done????

Then in June 15, 2005 12:21 AM in the When will the Operational Art of War meet Combat Mission thread...
"Who would be foolish enough to build such a campaign system anyway? Must have rocks in their heads "

Anyways congrats Hunter. Still can't figure out how you managed to do it. Must have been incredibly frustrating. Tip of the hat from one programmer to another. Get a move on though...my brain is starting to hurt from playing ASL and I can't wait to ditch it for your game.
Another noted that Hunting Tank Software had posted adverts going back to 2003 for programmers:

And another one from February 2003:

"Hunting Tank Software is looking for an additional analyst / programmer =
to work on our first title, a turn-based WWII Operational Level Wargame.

Candidates should have knowledge and experience with (in order of =
- Python
- XP (Unit Testing, Pair Programming, Object Oriented Design and =
- Pattern Programming

Familiarity with wargames of this genre would be useful.

The position will be Part or Full time (to be negotiated), and will =
involve work in the Melbourne area (Brighton and CBD) and possibly some =
work from home.

When the opportunity arose later, several of us sent in c.v. to apply for a spot in the beta test and campaign design team. Much of the detail is lost to memory, other than there was a long - long - wait. The testers were hamstrung by what they could do; basically wait for the code, and the project was - and I don't recall when we were informed - stalled by the loss of one of the main coders. There was really no idea when the project would be finished.

In November 2005, battlefront could only announce they would do their best to release it before the new game engine premiered.

In July 2006, battlefront was interviewed by Armchair General. They mentioned that "After the last three recent releases (Strategic Command 2, DropTeam and at the beginning of July For Liberty!), we still have a few games in development which we’re (very loosely) planning to release towards the end of the year – among them HistWar, the Combat Mission Campaigns add-on to CMBB, and our own new Combat Mission game, Shockforce." As it turned out, HistWar was never released by battlefront, and Shock Force had another year of gestation.

The campaign designers dutifully did their bit. It involved creating 2km x 2km tactical maps in the CM:BB game. Each operational area required a matrix of these maps. The main CM:C game would then generate battles to be played on them (alternately, CM:C could be played as a game unto itself, without kicking out data to be resolved in CM:BB).

The campaign designers attacked the projects with relish; I had the help of a talented map-maker who called himself Sergei, who whipped up 180 or so maps depicting terrain around Mcensk, based on a wartime map and other references. Others worked on Brest-Litovsk, Stalingrad, Berlin, Kursk, and points in between. The work spanned a period of six months.

In the meantime, we finally saw the early drafts of the game. Perhaps the worst video wargame ever was something called "Avalon Hill's Squad Leader", a horrible little 3D man-to-man turn based thing that borrowed the famous board game's name, and nothing else. It was depicted in an isometric kind of 3D view, borrowed from Soldiers at War. And so was the CM:C operational layer. It had cheesy little icons, and worse, no 2D map. Some of us expressed our doubts - an operational wargame without a map? The player was supposed to plot movement for companies and battalions and translate their movement and plan their eventual combat on the 3D CMBB terrain based on the operational layer - and yet the only hint as to how the terrain related to that layer was in little cutesy "sprites." Perhaps I simply wasn't clear on the whole intent. It just seemed bad.
Each tile on this map represented a 2km by 2km CMBB map (divided into 1 x 1 quadrants). How you were supposed to tell what the CMBB map really looked like was never explained in the rules.

So did the sound effects. And so did the horrendous loading times, which thankfully got better as the project progressed.

Time wore on. Shock Force was released, and I parted company with battlefront - so my beta testing stint was over. I watched the project with interest and kept in touch with other testers but even by the time I left, Bruce had largely stopped posting in the development forum. So had everyone else. It was sad. Even as goofy as the interface looked, there was hope that it might at least be fun to play - or that one could develop some work arounds - no game being perfect, one can always add their own enhancements. Printing paper maps of the CMBB world could have made the sprite-infested ops map at least bearable. Part of me thought that enough player feedback post-release would convince the designer to review some of those decisions - just get it released, and make it a hit, and the community will carry you along on, helping you out after that.

It wasn't to be.

In February 2009, after four years, Bruce Poon announced what many had speculated. The plug was finally pulled - and in heartbreaking fashion.

I regret that I have had to cancel the development of Combat Mission Campaigns, at least in its present form, and possibly in any form.

What went wrong

CMC was a major undertaking, and I certainly underestimated how long it would take to develop. I was probably way too ambitious. Just building an interface to CMBB was one thing, and a tricky one at that, given that CMBB had not originally been designed with that end in mind. But as well as that there was an engine that enabled 'relative spotting' for each commander, given the reports that he would have access to from his subordinates, including communication delays and so on. I had never seen this done before in a comprehensive way, for any game or simulation, and it caused some considerable complexity.

CMC was designed to be a 'grognard's dream', with every aspect of WWII warfare included at some level. It has a very sophisticated supply model, air forces, weather and 9 different ground conditions with associated (2D!) graphics, artillery support, tactical reserves, entrenchment, etc, etc. There is a ridiculously large code base handling everything from medals to soldier promotions to strategic AI.

The problem is that it took too long to develop, and the core engine proved unstable and difficult to fix. I find myself in the position this New Year of having something that is arguably 99% done, and yet we cannot nail the key bugs which prevent release (and no one wants to release something that is deficient). Just like the same time last year. And the year before that.

There have been some talented people dedicate work to the project, only to leave for a variety of reasons throughout (better career, family tragedy, etc). Each time this happens, on such a small team, it causes disruption and complication in new people coming up to speed. It generally takes some months for them to be at peak productivity.

Unlike most major commercial titles, but similar to CMBB, this was developed on a 'shoestring', without the support of a major backer. That means that it cost me personally the bulk of my life savings and my earnings over the last few years. I have run out of passion for working on it, and money to fund it. Keeping one or several programmers busy simply from the funds I personally earn in the computer industry has been possible, but increasingly painful.

It has been clear for some time that any proceeds from the sale of the game would not meet the expenditure. Nevertheless, I persisted with it because I did not wish to see the effort go to waste, I wanted to provide something entertaining, and I am very, very stubborn.

Work ceased over a month ago now. I already feel better, like the man who stops hitting his head against a wall. Apologies for not releasing news of this earlier, but there are some processes.

Apologies and Thanks

I lend my apologies to the fans who wished to see the kind of campaign system that CMC was intended to provide.

Thanks to the beta testers who helped out, creating maps, campaigns, providing feedback, testing buggy software, etc.

An even greater apology to those who volunteered time and effort to help with manual development or graphics. Especially so, Marco Bergman who personally created THOUSANDS of graphical images covering units, vehicles, interface, etc. I feel badly for someone who has worked so hard voluntarily and does not even see the title released. And there were others.

Battlefront, through Martin and Charles, have put a lot of effort into this game as well, while pushing forward with their other titles.

The Future

As promised, we have made the source code and other assets available for the community. Too much work, sweat and blood was invested by too many people to let it simply vanish. And who knows, maybe there are skilled individuals out there who have the time and energy to take what we have and lead it to a conclusion.

The source code and other files have been uploaded and are available as an open source project from sourceforge.net here:


If you are interested to become part of the project, please feel free to join the sourceforge.net project.

There are two important things to note:
- the files are released AS IS. There is a set of documents released and downloadable from sourceforge. That is all the documentation you're going to get. There will be no further support for this project from us.
- all files are released under the GNU GPL Copyleft license. This means that not only are they open source, any derivates based on them have to be open source, too, and may not be commercially exploited. We strongly suggest that you read the GNU GPL 3.0 license text (it's available under the "Documentation" tab on the sourceforge project) to avoid any nasty misunderstandings about this in the future.

If I had ever released the game, I would certainly have dedicated it to those who fell in that terrible conflict, whose suffering puts all our troubles in perspective.


The loss of the dreams of hundreds (or more?) gamers' dream product must pale in comparison to the loss of an individual's personal fortune. It was hard to read; it's hard to read now. Some programmers in the online CM community have looked at the source code, and it doesn't seem that much can be done with it - perhaps one day if the original CM code was ever released - which battlefront has vowed won't happen - something could come of it, but then, the original CM is already 11 years old.

Wargames that combine operational strategy with company-level tactics are a rarity - had Combat Mission: Campaigns succeeded, it would have occupied a unique place in the wargaming niche. As someone who had a tiny glimpse into its gestation, I doubt it would have been the Holy Grail we all look for. With all due respect to Bruce, who poured heart, soul and livelihood into it, I just can't see the sprite-driven map, dated graphics and limited capabilities (only two nationalities, non-scalable maps, etc.) catching on. But I think it would have gained a small but loyal audience, much like the other CM titles, and encouraged refinements and updates.

I hope someday, someone gets a product like this right. I'm not brave enough to risk my own treasure on the notion there is a market for it, but I hope there are developers as brave as Bruce Poon that are.

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