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C:MANO ; First impressions...


Giftzwerg Sep 30, 2013 1:58 PM
Posted in group: comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.war-historical

I just realized something; the time it takes me to get to writing my
usual "First impressions" post about a new wargame is directly-
proportional to my liking for the product.  In other words, I took a
week to get this post up because the time it takes to grind out this
missive is cutting into my C:MANO gaming time.  

Anyhow.

COMMAND: MODERN AIR / NAVAL OPERATIONS is Warfare Sims sprawling modern
military simulator, published by MatrixGames.  I'd had some inkling of
the hugeamongous scale and scope of the project by following along
intermittently at their website, but until I got my hands on the thing
... well, I had no idea just how epic this thing is.

NUTS AND BOLTS

The purchase and installation of C:MANO is the usual effortless Matrix
operation.  Type your address, enter your credit card, press "Submit,"
and you're given a serial number and a download link.  DRM is similarly
the usual Matrix affair; only a serial number to squirrel away in the
install directory.  Thanks once again, Matrix, for not assuming I'm a
crook and allowing me to own what I'm buying.

This is a big game, and the download and installation takes a while; pop
some popcorn and watch half an episode of "Breaking Bad."  The game is
pricey, at $80, but hugely mitigated by the enormous scope of what
you're buying.  The vision of this product is literally to allow the
player to game out *any* air or naval scenario from 1945 to 2020 or so.

The database seems to have everything, including the kitchen sink.  In
fact, there's probably 147 models of the kitchen sink, from a small
basin in a 1940s deer camp to the world-beating Kohler "everything" sink
that Martha Stewart uses.

I've run this game on three machines to date:  my fire-breathing
desktop, my much less pugnacious laptop, and my wife's laptop (which has
seen better days...).  Despite the huge size and complexity, C:MANO ran
well on all three systems.  Startup time could be better, I suppose ...
but in a product this huge?  I'm not complaining.

That said, this is one of those games where you might want to pay
attention to the system requirements.  My wife's laptop is not up to
spec, and while the game runs without trouble, there's a noticeable
performance lag.

I haven't seen a single bug, crash, or other problem in a week of heavy
play of v1.0.  Try *that* with HARPOON, my friends.

INTERFACE

The game is straightforward, plain ol' Windows.  There's a menu system
that allows the usual stuff, a zoomable main window that depicts the
various units and informational displays, and a sidebar that reads out
information about the currently selected entity.

Basically, you click on your units to select them, right click to drop
down a context menu, and select options from there.  Want to have a
destroyer fire at a submarine?  Click "Attack options," click "manual"
or "automatic," click the target.  The destroyer does its' thing.

For the most part, this works perfectly.  I've complained a bit that
they could include more "click-through" capacity with regards the
database, and the designers seem to be receptive.  This is the only
"problem" I've seen, and it's really not a big deal.

MANUAL

I haven't read it.  I opened it once to find how to "define an area."  
Other than that, I haven't the foggiest (and doesn't *that* say
something about the intuitive nature of the interface?).

GAMEPLAY

"HARPOON that works," seems the best metaphor here.  The game system is
centered around Pausable (or is it Pausible?  I never get it
straight...) Continuous Time (PCT) with the ability to give orders while
paused.  The game runs at a variety of speeds, from 1sec=1sec to 1sec=
30min.  Even in games that feature a large unit-count, there's no
possibility of "Click & Twitch."

Units are individual ships, aircraft, facilities, and weapons.  You can
group units into flights, formations, or flotillas as you like, to make
command and control easier.

Positioning (at least from the perspective of the gamer) is straight
point and vector.  There are no hexes, squares, or any other system
apparent to the gamer.  Click on a unit, and the data-block appears
detailing its position, speed, and altitude in a free-form three-
dimensional matrix.

While the database is ginormous, and the game appears to calculate just
about everything imaginable, from the intercept angle of a missile to
the weather conditions, all this is hidden away from the gamer.  At the
gamer's level, it's all about giving real-world orders in a real-world
fashion to units that behave in a real-world manner.  Sure, the game
models all the sensors on a 1996 AEGIS cruiser (and they're probably
quite different from a 1992 AEGIS cruiser...), but you don't have to
worry about any of this.  If the sensors make contact, the system will
tell you about it.  

All the vast detail can be safely ignored.  You're the commander of the
battle group, not some Senior Chief manning a radar display.  The detail
is there to make the simulation accurate and intense - not to bog you
down in chrome.  The interface makes this completely customizable; you
can completely configure what you want to be informed about, and how you
want to be informed.

You can micromanage or not, as you like.  You can micromanage one
portion of the scenario - the sexy part, presumably - and let the system
handle everything else.  Or you can micromanage everything.  I haven't
tried this - because I'm not a micromanager - but it almost seems like
you can steer individual wire-guided torpedoes.

Or, you can micromanage nothing.  Which brings me to:

MISSION EDITOR

HARPOON never got this right.  At all.  It was a disaster, and couldn't
be relied upon to send out a fucking helicopter with a dipping sonar to
look for a submarine.

The C:MANO mission editor is completely different.  Do I think it's
perfect?  No.  Would I entrust it with a fantastically-complex air
attack on a SLAVA?  Probably not - but that's kinda not the point.  The
"big" attacks in a naval / air game are probably exactly where the
player *does* want to do a little micromanaging.

The beauty of the mission editor in C:MANO is that you can delegate to
the AI all sorts of missions that are *important*, but maybe not
*crucial*.  Want to send an Orion on ASW patrol of a certain strait?  
Less than a dozen clicks will put the thing into the air, with orders to
patrol for and sink any enemy sub detected.  *Then you can forget about
it*!

I've played a half-dozen small scenarios in both "Mr. Micromanage" mode
and "Admiral's Mode" (where I let the AI just command my units for
me...), and I'm confident that the AI does its' job well enough that I'm
getting a net-benefit out of being able to focus my attention on the
win-lose part of the scenario.  In other words, I'm able to target my
micromanagement in a very realistic way.

SCENARIOS

COMMAND: MODERN AIR / NAVAL OPERATIONS ships with about 35 scenarios,
ranging from tiny tutorials to fairly large operational ones.  The
scenarios are rated for difficulty and complexity.  

Something I want to specifically address here is the notion of
"monsteritis."  When the available map for a wargame is *the whole
planet* and the database is *every airplane, ship, and possible target
for 75 years*, there's a tendency to conclude that this game is an uber-
monster.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  There are many
small, intimate scenarios that you can play out in about 20 minutes.  
And there are bigger ones which take several hours.

I thought ~35 scenarios was a bit light for an $80 game, but this just
brings me to my next point:

SCENARIO EDITOR

This is going to be the heart and soul of C:MANO.  Grogheads are going
to work tirelessly to crank out all their pet scenarios.  I know, I
know; it's folly to base hopes for a new game on the unrealized
potential for future scenarios ... but the editor is pretty damn good.  
Creating a basic scenario is a snap, and I'm already building the
"Fortress Keflavik" scenario from HARPOON CE.

I *never* build scenarios.  If I'm doing it ...

No, I truly think a shit-ton of scenarios will be built for this game.  
The designers have already released another half-dozen or so - the day
after the game shipped.

SO.  IS IT FUN?

I'll be short here.  If you liked the whole idea of HARPOON ... except
the fact that it didn't work, the designers were asshats, and they never
bothered to fix it, and they kept selling it even though it was crap ...

... your worries are over.  This is designed right, plays right, has an
AI worthy to command my own units - the highest praise I have for AI
programming - and is a Proper Computer Game.

CONCLUSION

HARPOON that works.  And with designers who listen.  A labor of love
that's easily worth a piffling eighty bucks.



--
Giftzwerg
***
"Obama's Favorite Trope. You know the one: Straw Men on one side, Straw
Men on the other. And Obama, in the center, in the spotlight. Like a
hero."
                                        - Ace of Spades