The History of Expansion:World War II

 

Introduction

Expansion:World War II (Exp:WW2) has evolved, since January 1999, as a result of several attempts to create a multiplayer play-by e-mail (PBEM) game. Some of these attempts were successful, others were aborted. I've also learned a lot from existing games, such as World in Flames, Axis & Allies, 3rd Reich, High Command, War in Europe, War in Russia, V for Victory, The American Civil War (Adanac Command Studies), and even Panzer General. It may seem that one could learn the most from existing games or from the more successful attempts, but to me it seems I've learned most from those attempts which failed. Read ahead to find out why. Below is a list of the 'parents' of Exp:WW2. We'll start with the oldest.


Crisis

Early 1990s:
Crisis is a simulation which has been created by Dr. Zussmann to give students a better insight about the workings of international politics. Students would perform the role of politicians and had to achieve certain pre-determined goals. They could form alliances or go to war with other countries. There was a simple economic system that enabled players to build military units. I have briefly e-mailed with Dr. Zussmann, but I have never played the original Crisis. However, mr. Bill Logan was one of Dr. Zussmann's students.


Crisis'38

1995:
Crisis'38 is a version of Crisis being or having been run by Bill Logan. The playing field is the international political arena of 1938. Players represent various countries and have to achieve certain goals in order to win. Players are practically free to do what they want in diplomacy. A simple but effective economic system gives each player the tools to build the military hardware they need to achieve their goals. A somewhat more eleborate combat system (based on High Command by 360 Pacific Inc.) is used to execute military commands. Crisis'38 is sometimes more an RPG than a wargame because it's based on Crisis which purpose was purely educational. Nevertheless, Crisis'38 can be a lot of fun and I remember the excitement of playing Poland in one of the games. Crisis'38 made me enthusiastic for these type of games. Check out the website for more info.


World War II PBEM

Spring of 1996:
One of the players in a Crisis'38 game, Jeff Tarnowski, decided to create his own World War 2 game. Within a month he finished setting up the game and had 20 players ready to start a war. The first and only game of WW2-PBEM, as Jeff called it, was hectic, ultra-fast and very exciting. I played Germany and quickly appeased the Western Allies while assembling an enormous alliance to threaten the USSR. Alas, after a short period the game desintegrated. Jeff suffered from information-overload with so many players sending so many emails in such a short time. Players not only commented on the content of the game, but also about its structure: the rules and restrictions were thought to be unclear at best. Nevertheless, WW2-PBEM was a great achievement in the short time Jeff spent on it.


World Affairs

July 1996-February 1997:
Players were quickly beginning to talk about what had gone wrong, what a shame it was that the game couldn't continue and of the possibility of starting an improved version of WW2-PBEM. A team was formed consisting of mr. Jeff Tarnowski, mr. Stuart Pierce, mr. Chanel Stevens and myself, mr. Marco Veldman. The plan was that a good game structure would be set up first and that each of the four game-creators would be performing a role of 'controlling the game' (a term derived from Crisis'38 in which the Game-Master is called Control). A discussion between Marco and Chanel about whether the game should be broad and players should have much freedom (Marco's opinion) or whether the game should concentrate on military matters and players should be restricted in forming policies (Chanel's opinion) resulted in Chanel dropping out as GM. He would still give advice (and remain very critical) and would eventually play Stalin. Not long after Stuart dropped out also: his wife was in a car crash and he would be spending most of his time in the hospital, supporting his wife. By then the game had already started. It was the summer of 1996. However, within the first turn, Jeff was in communicado for several weeks because he went to live on the other side of the USA and didn't have e-mail yet. When he returned he stopped as one of the controls. Marco was now the sole 'control' (GM) for the remainder of World Affairs.

World Affairs (WA), like WW2-PBEM, started the game-calendar at 1 September 1939, but with none of the countries (except China and Japan) at war. One of the lessons learned from WA is that a game which starts on this date should begin with the historical diplomatic situation: Germany at war with Poland (and consequently with France and Britain). Such a situation would demand that the players concentrate on military affairs. Since I hoped to create a simulation-game where most diplomatic and economic decisions would be left open to players, I learned that such a game should start before the Munich Conference (1938).
The second major lesson from World Affairs was that it helps the speed of processing orders to develop a game by giving players their own program. In the end, WA was a program developed on the Commodore Amiga: it generated for each country so-called updates which I then had to insert in e-mails, which were then sent to players. Players themselves simply returned hand-written e-mails, in no particular format at all. So that meant an enormous amount of time was spent by the GM (me) on weeding through the e-mails and translating that into something which my program could understand. I wasn't proud of the whole process or even of the program.


World Affairs 2

Spring 1997:
World Affairs 2 (WA2) was to be the successor to World Affairs, which I thought was necessary because of all the bugs, errors and faulty ideas behind or within World Affairs (WA). In January 1997 I decided that a completely new game was needed to replace the then running WA. With the advice and critique of many WA players, in particular Chanel Stevens, but also aided by Siger Vrees, and with contributions by Rick, Gene and Alan (see the acknowledgements), I worked on WA2, while still running WA (which ended in the spring of 1997). Although I hoped to start the game on 1 July 1997 with the game-date at 1 July 1937, I hadn't progressed as fast as I had hoped. Since I moved more and more away from the original ideas of World Affairs, and because the name World Affairs is that of a respected political science magazine, I renamed World Affairs 2 to Sim-Exp during the summer of 1997.


Sim-Exp

Summer 1997-December 1998:
Sim-Exp stands for SIMulated EXPansion. It was my first attempt to create a client-server game, but it was to be merely an attempt. Work on Sim-Exp had started in August 1997, when I purchased the programming language Delphi. This gave me the means to develop a Windows based application. I started out programming wrongly and in the course of 1997 and 1998 I learned three things. The first was how to structure my programming, thanks to a course in computer programming. Secondly, I learned about databases, thanks to a job I held at Europdonor Foundation. Finally, I learned about two typical aspects of Delphi: objects and client-server applications. This eventually allowed me to create an internet application using an independently functioning Hexagon Map component. In day-to-day English, this means a program that can communicate worldwide through the internet and which uses a map technique that can easily be re-used in other applications.

Although I felt increasingly unsatisfied with the work I had produced, I was motivated by the enthusiasm of people like Brad Miller, Russ Fagaly, and Christian Schlobach to start a trial game in the Autumn of 1998. I selected Operation Barbarossa and sent them, and later John Bailey, a 3 Megabyte Installation Program. After removing about 8 major bugs, the program seemed to work, but it lacked two enormously important aspects: giving orders, and sending them to me.
This meant the playtesters and I had to work using normal e-mail. Since the combat calculator didn't work properly as well, I had to manually calculate or re-calculate most combat situations. On top of that, I felt the pressure to spend more time on my final thesis. When three turns had passed, John rightly pointed out to me that we needed a hexagon map (hex map), instead of the square based map I was using. This was the last drop: I decided to start again, learning from my mistakes and first building a hex map component, which could be used by any Delphi program. The second major lesson learned from Sim-Exp was that the game model had to be worked out first before it would be smart to start programming. The results from this lesson can be seen in the encyclopedia. In December 1998 Sim-Exp was aborted and I started all over again, implementing the lessons learned.


GalExp

January-October 1999:
I dropped the name 'SimExp' in January 1999 for two reasons. The first was that it again was an existing name: a simulation about the evacuation of buildings. The second reason was that it was simply an ugly name. I therefore decided to use the name 'Expansion' and add ':World War II' to it. The reason for this was that this represented clearly my desire and intention to create one universal game model and make several variations of it. One of these was, or rather could be, GalExp.

GalExp stands for Galactic Expansion. It was (and is) a space conquest game, using the same hexagon map as Exp:WW2. I have finished it for 50 percent during the course of 1999. For me, this was a great learning experience. It gave me an opportunity to develop a thought-through game model, using simpler ideas than for Exp:WW2. I decided in the autumn of 1999 that I had learned enough and continued 100 percent with Exp:WW2. GalExp may be developed later if a demand exists for this sort of game.


Back to Exp:WW2

November 1999-present:
This brings us back to Expansion:World War II. As you can see, the road behind has not been straight and was littered with obstacles. But each step, even in the wrong direction, has contributed to Exp:WW2. With GalExp I have tested the Hex Map, developed in the early months in 1999 and refined thereafter. With World Affairs 2 I created the currently used map of over 200,000 hexagons. From World Affairs 1 I learned that it was necessary to create a client-server application to speed things up. WW2-PBEM taught the necessity of a well-developed game engine / model. And finally Crisis'38 was the trigger for me to dive deeper into every possible aspect of World War II and to strive for a more structured, objective, scientific and detailed approach. I hope I've succeeded, or layed the foundation for it.


Game Organization



Encyclopedia

This historical conflict simulation is dedicated to Chanel Stevens

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© 1999-2005 M.C. Veldman, Expansion Games

Acknowledgements