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Paul Bruffell

Paul Bruffell

This interview was conducted at the time Roman Civil Wars was released; it dates to around January 2012. For a variety of reasons I have been unable to post this interview until now; I hope Paul might be able to field several other questions about his latest title: Diadochoi Wars.

Scenario Design Center sat down with Paul Bruffell, who has created, designed and programmed the Ancient Warfare series that is published by HPS Simulations.

Paul is one of the most accessible people in the wargame business; you can regularly find him posting at either The Blitz or as 'Leonadis'.

SDC: Ok, Paul, I was wondering where do you get your inspiration for a game topic from?

PB: I love history and I have been fascinated by Classical and Hellenistic warfare for many years. I read as many books as I can find on the subject. I decided to combine my interests in computer programming and war gaming to develop the 'Ancient Warfare' series and so the original 'Ancient Warfare' computer game concept was born in 2004. I also wanted to create a game covered by very few computer games on the market, so the period of warfare chosen was 2000 BC – 600 AD. I quickly realised that such a large span in history covered a multitude of arms, formations, tactics etc so it was practical to focus on just one key period in history.

My preference was for the Second Punic War where large armies, vast arrays of men-at-arms could be seen on the battlefield and easily represented on the computer screen. The game 'Punic Wars' was launched in 2006 through HPS and was the first in the Ancient Warfare series. The intention has been to expand the type of weapons available to a player and the different armies as more games were introduced to the series.

SDC: What sources do you rely on most for game research?

PB: The Internet tends to be too general. For detailed accurate historical information you need to go to specialist books. I have used the Osprey Campaign series and Adrian Goldsworthy's excellent history of 'Caesar' and 'The Punic Wars'. Another excellent reference to create battles from the editor in the Ancient Warfare games is Fred Ray's 'Land Battles in 5th Century BC Greece'. Finally, I would recommend the Wargames Research Group publication 'The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome' by Phil Barker.

SDC: ...and where is your favourite place(s) to find these?

PB: Osprey books can be found in most major book stores such as Waterstones. Adrian Goldsworthy's books are best bought on the Internet – try Same goes for Fred Ray's book. Phil Barker's is out of print, so second hand book stores again on the Internet are your best chance.

SDC: What quality/qualities do you find makes for a high quality "game-able" ancients battle? A campaign?

PB: Ancient Warfare is best played with armies in the region of 2000 to 5000 points and less than 20 turns. Battles of this size can be played over one night which makes for a quick and exciting conflict. If you have the time and inclination, Ancient Warfare allows any one army to have up to 600 units on the battlefield at any one time. This is a monster of an army demanding much time and attention from a player. Given an infantry unit can be up to 400 men strong this means you could field an army of 240,000. More than enough for any ancient battle.

SDC: Has there been any thought to someday making a full-sized Alesia map?

PB: The battle that was Alesia covered a large area and was typified by local focused combat zones. There were good portions of the Roman circumvallation that never saw combat, so I doubt we will generate a full sized map but more map segments may be created in the future.

SDC: Ok.... say, for example, a budding scenario designer would like to have a go creating, say a scenario that might require a custom map, is there a preferred procedure for that? (Also say for example that this battle might be Marius' Battle of Vercellae -as possibly, Arausio...). [It was at this point that SDC discovered that there was a Gallic Wars Expansion Pack -which is something that culminated in SDC hosting this Expansion.]

PB: The Ancient Warfare series provides two components to the game – the battle engine and an editor to place armies on a map. It does not include a map generator. Numerous famous battle maps (>100) are available with the game and downloadable free from HPS in the expansion packs. Any map created for any game in the series can be used by any other game in the series. Maps with clear open spaces are also available so large armies can be pitted against each other. The battle of Vercellae map is available in the Gallic Wars Expansion pack. We would be happy to send you a copy.

SDC: I've seen it written in various places, that your Ancient Warfare series is: "the most detailed computer-based representation of ancients wargaming available." It seems that the ability to code in programming language, as well as to pursue a serious and disciplined study of history is a rare combination. How have you managed these two complimentary, yet at the same time, very different disciplines?

PB: Both computer programming and my thirst for history are hobbies, I am a Chemical Engineer by profession and my full time job is as a Operations Manager running a speciality chemical company manufacturing site. I like a challenge and running a project is something I do regularly.

Working with the people from HPS our objective is to make Ancient Warfare as representative as possible of ancient times, to reflect the command difficulties, the indiscipline and successful tactics of the period. To give the player the same issues presented to commanders of that period. One of the most challenging elements to the gamer is the lack of command control as battle events progress forcing the player to think through his strategy before throwing his men into combat. Experienced players of Ancient Warfare regularly use a strategic reserve.

SDC: Your games strike me as a completely "different animal" from a mass market style video game. How would you explain to a sceptical academic about how your work is a different experience?

PB: The mass market of computer games thrives on visual effects, fast action and the need for quick eye / hand coordination. Many come under the genre of 'First person shoot-em up'. The 'Total War' series was developed by over 50 programmers and provides excellent animated graphics. Ancient Warfare is developed by 1 programmer, 2 graphic artists, 1 sound engineer and a few scenario designers. Therefore we cannot compete in the mass market and HPS succeed by generating games that are historically accurate with a feel of realism as to the combat and outcome. Considerable effort is put into researching a battle then it is play tested and adjusted to get the right balance between historical accuracy and playability. Each battle in the game therefore offers a combination of a tactical challenge and historical accuracy we hope players will enjoy.

SDC: I know that you and I had discussed this privately, and I think that the readers would be interested in knowing the connection that your series has with miniatures' gaming.

PB: I have played table top miniatures for 30 years but always struggled to find enough time to paint my armies with the detail I wanted.

I realised that if we created a computer image of a soldier with a detailed and historically accurate uniform, that one image could be repeated as many times as desired and a computerised army could be created within minutes. In fact if we create a 3D computer wire model of a man and horse then various poses / positions can be created quickly.

I have always been a fan of the Great Battles series but I wanted to see the massed ranks of warriors that is the classical image of ancient armies. The answer lay in a computerised miniature army.

SDC: I'd always assumed that your design approach to the Ancient Warfare series was to channel the look and feel of a miniatures game to the personal computer; while after discussing this with you privately I understand that this has probably been exactly the thing that you were striving for, however still some people see a digital image and compare it to other products using similar digital imagery; however, I'd like to afford you the opportunity to address this to the readers in your own words, so that readers can get the information from the source. [I think here I sort of inadvertently asked a nearly identical question to the above -however Paul, to his credit, answered both questions - so despite being a bit repetitive, I reckon his answers to both are well worth reading.]

PB: You are correct – the objective of the Ancient Warfare computer game is to allow a player to create a colourful army quickly and play a famous battle in a night. These are objectives of miniature wargaming. However, the computer game goes beyond that and also provides a level of realism and historical accuracy that is difficult to match on the table top. The most obvious features the Ancient Warfare computer game brings to the player not available on the table top is 'Fog of War' and Command Control (or lack of it).

Miniature wargaming rules when striving for historical accuracy often employ a complex and time consuming combat evaluation to determine losses but a computer programme can conduct those same complex calculations in a fraction of a second. Hence the computer war game can allow a player to focus on the strategy and tactics of the battle and not get bogged down in the rules. So it is with Ancient Warfare, a considerable amount of computing goes on under the hood as the player watches the combat phase unfold. This enables HPS to provide a realistic simulation of ancient conflicts.

The look and feel of a miniature game when moving units is intentional and intended to signify to the player this is not just another 'Total War' game. The Ancient Warfare series is designed to meet the niche market of players that like historically accurate simulation of warfare and to focus on the commander's role rather than worrying about the details in the rules.

If you try to win by beating the rules, you have missed the point of the game, it is designed to encourage ancient tactics and benefits those who conduct a battle as would the great generals of ancient times.

Ancient Warfare allows a player to make sweeping movements of large numbers of units in minutes and also micro-manage individual units for optimum response when in the midst of combat. Whole armies can be moved with one command or large groups or just one unit as the player sees fit.

SDC: What do you hope that players take away from your titles?

PB: I hope they enjoy the challenge of directing an ancient army under different conditions (terrain, weather and size / type of enemy). That the game gives them a better appreciation of the difficulties encountered by a commander of that period when trying to coordinate a combined arms army. That the player appreciates the immense problems a leader suffers when the fog of war prevents a god-like view of matters typical of miniature wargaming.

But above all, that they have fun.

SDC: Have you ever considered the scope of some of the scenarios on offer in your titles? Have you ever come across a table top match that even compares, in scale to some of the larger scenarios available in the series?

PB: The Ancient Warfare series includes the big battles such as Alexander the Great at Gaugamela, the Roman Legions at Pharsalus, and Hannibal's biggest victory at Cannae. These battles cover armies of 60 – 100,000 men.

However, scenarios in the Ancient Warfare series also cover table top fictional battles or representations of known small conflicts where each side would have no more than a few thousand troops.

It is difficult for miniatures to give the impression of vast armies with a battle front of several kilometres but the computer generated graphics can readily create huge formations on the move.

SDC: So, what has your feedback from the miniatures gaming community been?

PB: The feedback has been mixed.

Some gamers are impressed with the look and feel of the game, others do not want to touch computer games and remain stalwart fans of the miniature figurines.

Part of the fun of miniatures is the painting and assembly of your own army so such enthusiasts may not be inclined to play computer war games but if your interests are in historical accuracy and creating armies from historical units, the Ancient Warfare series is for you.

SDC: What is it about your background that led you to create a wargaming series? How did you decide on your speciality topic?

PB: In the 1990s I was thrilled to play the John Tiller series of computer games published by HPS.

John Tiller worked on the original Take2 Campaign series of WWII games starting with 'War in the East' then 'War in the West' and so on.

Turning to HPS, John Tiller published the Napoleonic series of computer wargames and the American Civil War series. These had a major impact on my thinking.

At first I was happy creating new battles through historical research and use of the Tiller scenario editor for the Napoleonic, ACW and WWII level.

However, I felt the games were not quite right when it came to combat accuracy and wanted to adjust the rules. This is when I first considered writing my own game. Knowing that John Tiller had done an excellent job with his game series I needed to find new ground and one of the history periods not touched was the ancient period ending in 600 AD.

Considering the ancient period, I realised we were talking about a vast expanse of time where empires came and went, weaponry changed and developed, the primary unit on the battlefield moved from infantry to cavalry.

So inevitably, I too considered this period right for a wargame series; one that I have received full backing from HPS to develop. My thanks also go to Rich Hamilton who provided the contacts over that critical development period when I needed a small team of specialists to help in the creation of the first game in the series.

I agreed with HPS that we should start the series covering a famous military period in ancient history. We decided on the Second Punic War with such great generals as Hannibal and Scipio and famous battles such as Cannae and Zama.

SDC: The somewhat cliché, "Time Machine", question. You can be present at any one event that Ancient Warfare has covered with a digital camera. What would you choose to cover, what would you bring back, and why?

PB: The number of historical records still available from this period are few and most not specific in military matters. This leaves a lot of educated assumptions as to why an army and its soldiers fought in the way they did. I would like to video the famous battle of Alesia to appreciate the effectiveness of the Roman fortifications and an open plain battle such as Cannae to appreciate a military genius such as Hannibal at work.

SDC: The obligatory, "what have you in store down the track" for fans of your series?

PB: HPS and I are committed to develop the Ancient Warfare series and where possible upgrade the existing published games as new features are introduced. All upgrades are free downloads from the HPS site and new expansion battle packs are created for download at no cost to the public.

When you look at the period we have covered so far with the 5 games published it covers roughly 500 BC to 50 AD. Given the Ancient Warfare platform is designed to cover battles from 2000 BC to 600 AD there is still plenty of scope to work on.

In the long term we hope to develop a new version with a considerable make over but the framework of version 2 has not been finalised yet.

[...and of course, recently, this resulted in the release of Diadochoi Wars.]

SDC: Thanks, Paul, I appreciate the time that you've spent with SDC on behalf of your project(s), and I wish you every success now and in the future.