I said I would get to this in the April month in review post.
I ended up owning War in the Pacific in the usual way these things come to pass. In this case a friend has been posting to twitter about an epic, full war campaign they have been playing.
As is often the case, when watching or reading about somebody else playing a game, my immediate thought is, “I want to play too!” I am bad at watching people stream video games. If I own the game, I tend to stop and go play it myself instead. If I don’t, I end up tabbing out and looking into the game. A while back I had been watching videos about people playing IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad and had to suppress the urge to go buy it and try it out.
Anyway, as I was watching the Twitter threat unfold, the virtual campaign moving along almost in real time to the actual war, but taking different twist, I became invested and wanted to try it myself.
The title is available from Matrix Games, which specializes in war game niche. The price of the game, however, is $80, which is a bit much for me to drop on a whim. But then on Easter weekend they had a big sale and I violated the standard purchase limitation rule and bought something after 8pm on a Friday night because I was a bit bored.
And now I am wondering what I have gotten myself into.
Development work on the game started back in 2003 and the goals set for it were highly ambitious. Creating the game was quite a trial, or so I have read, and it finally released in 2009.
In 2015 the game got an overhaul, and is now referred to as War in the Pacific: Admiral’s Edition to distinguish it from the original release.
I knew that in advance and was prepared for some bad UI design. War games are a niche market and few developers will worry about horrific interface choices getting in the way of the simulation they are trying to achieve. Even more mainstream titles, like the Hearts of Iron series has been known do things like scroll information past you and off screen before you can read it.
And I was not disappointed. WitP has a UI that feels like a war game from the turn of the century in many ways.
What I was not prepared for was the difficulty in figuring out how to play. Not how to play well, or to know all the options, but how to play at all.
There is no tutorial, no simple scenario, or other “babby’s first campaign” option, unless you count jumping into the battle for the Coral Sea or the Guadalcanal campaign as such. I am not sure they should count, even if their scope is reduced from fighting the whole war against Japan.
Nor is there a manual [edit: There is, just not at the link on the download page. It is a .pdf in the install directory.] or any sort of guide to get you started, so I have spent a considerable amount of time just figuring out what to do in a very basic, mechanics sense. Turn based games tend to have a cycle of play, a series of steps like “supply, orders, movement, combat, resolution, start again,” and it is clear that WitP follows that general idea. But the game is opaque enough that I cannot quite grab onto it.
Again, I am not struggling to play well, I am struggling to play at all. I would be happy to play badly but at least feel like I had some grasp of the turn cycle and basic mechanics.
But this is what the internet if for, right? My ability to fix things as a home owner is directly proportional to how many YouTube videos exist related to whatever is broken. And there is a very passionate community around WitP, so there is lots of material to explore. There are some community patches that fix some issues, make the map more readable, and even a utility to set up the launch alias to set it to the right screen resolution and settings. Unfortunately, when it comes to actual game play I have yet to find the right bit of material.
What I have run into tends to either be strategy and tactics that assumes you know what the hell you’re doing at a basic level, which I clearly do not, or so basic and introductory as to leave me feeling I have made little progress. I spent two hours watching a series of videos that went through the basic premise, the map, icons, and the types of units each side has access to, but which never once actually played a turn of the game.
I saw a bit of advice that suggested I pick one the smaller scenarios and set it to play through with both sides run by the AI. This is kind of a neat feature. The AI is said to be good and you can use the scenario editor to create situations and watch the AI battle it out as kind of an observers view. You can turn off the fog of war even to see what both sides are up to.
Unfortunately the AI doesn’t use the UI to give orders, set ship courses, select patrol areas, or any of the other many bits and pieces of the game. It does that in the background, so you can see the results, but the mechanics, the simple “how to” bit is missing.
Anyway, I am not giving up yet. I put a bit of time in now and then trying to get over the hump that separates me from feeling like I am playing the game. I am still looking for that tutorial or description that will get me into it.