Lessons From World War 2

This article details how I drew from historical warfare tactics to develop the game mechanics for Digitanks.
This article is a duplicate of a post on the Digitanks website

Studying real-world battle tactics isn’t something I do a lot, and by no means am I any kind of expert on the subject, but I do enjoy to read about the topic and watch documentaries about warfare. It’s a great way to waste time under the pretenses that I’m learning something that might actually one day be completely useless to know. Actually that’s a bit harsh, when I was in high school I used to complain that all of those AP Physics and Calculus courses I took would never be used in the “real world” and now here I am developing video games and applying those Physics and Calculus concepts on a daily basis, so maybe I should learn tank warfare tactics in more depth, in preparation for my starring role as World War 3’s greatest tank commander. Following in the footsteps of Rommel and Patton, I’ll redefine what tank warfare means and singlehandedly win the greatest war humanity has ever known!

Or I’ll just use the concepts to design a fun artillery game. I think we’ll go with option number 2.

So these Military Channel documentaries about tank warfare are pretty neat, but they really only cover warfare from a strategic, high-level point of view. Very rarely do they ever go into the nitty gritty tactics of tank warfare. While I knew the basic pros and cons of the tank versus the infantry, I still had never learned before now why exactly tanks became of such a strategic importance on the battlefield and how they play such a vital role in modern military conflicts. So, I went to the best place to learn about such things, which of course is Wikipedia. Here’s what I learned.

To understand why tanks are so important to modern warfare, I’m going to take you all the way back to the ancient Romans. Warfare is of course as old as mankind itself, and in the beginning stages, the basic strategy of warfare was “get a bunch of guys together and go kick the shit out of those other guys over there.” I’m sure that was the basic tactic for thousands of years, until the Romans came along and introduced organization. Battle of <br /<Cannae The incredibly organized and disciplined Roman legions could take on forces much greater in size than their own, since they formed organized units with columns of incredible killing efficiency. The Romans specialized in a new type of warfare that involved creating big lines of men that were difficult to attack from the front. I’m no war historian, so take everything I say with a grain of salt, but I think it’s safe to say that the Romans developed the idea of “battle lines.” These lines had incredible defensive power, and since they were so difficult to defeat, they managed to conquer the entire known world at the time.

Now, the graphic I chose to accompany this article is actually rather ironic, because it’s from the Battle of Cannae against Hannibal and the Carthaginians, which is the first major battle that the Romans lost. They lost it because Hannibal exploited a weakness in the Roman’s organizational system, letting the Romans advance and enveloping their flanks until the Romans found themselves surrounded. It’s the first recorded instance of the use of a “pincer” movement. But in any case…

This is the way warfare was for many thousands of years, with the two sides lining up on the battlefield and facing each other, lobbing cannons at each other and generally trying to kill each other. Sounds like an honorable way to die, nobly facing your enemy. Fast forward to World War 1 and the 1910’s. At this point we had gone past the spears and archers of the Romans and developed rifles which were accurate many hundreds of yards away. It was no longer prudent to line up facing the enemy on a battlefield because the enemy would just shoot you. That kind of thing had died with the American civil war, and with the advent of rifled barrels. So now the thing was to dig trenches in the ground in order to provide yourself cover. Each side would dig a trench at their battle line, and these trenches would provide the soldiers incredible defensiveness to the attacks of their enemies. It’s hard to shoot someone who’s protected by a couple yards of dirt. Just like what happened with the Romans two thousand years prior, once again we have a superior defensive ability revolutionizing the way wars are fought. It’s so much easier to be defensive than it is to be offensive, since you can just pile on another layer of protection, but developing a new weapon that can be safely and efficiently wielded on a battlefield is far more difficult.

So the Germans and the English sat in their trenches, each having a very high defensive position, and played a game of trying to attack the other side. That meant leaving your heavily fortified trench and running out over an open, war-scarred field in an attempt to reach the other guy’s trench so that you could gain a couple of yards. It made no sense! Warfare had gotten so incredibly defensive that the costs for attacking were just way too high. New weapons needed to be developed with enough offensive power to overtake the trenches. Enter TANKS!

Tanks are mobile weapon platforms. They’re really just a big cannon on wheels with armor. They work because they help attackers to punch through a defensive line, mitigating some of the defensive advantages that the defenders have given themselves. With enough of this mobile artillery, attackers can create a hole in the enemy’s line, and then by pushing more tanks and infantry through that hole, they can widen it and advance on their ultimate targets.

Tanks aren’t magical war-wands though. You can’t hold down a battle line with tanks. They need infantry to support them, or they’ll become targets. They need to be manned with humans, and humans have needs other than killing, so if tanks run too far ahead of their supply lines their human occupants won’t be able to do things like eat, much less restock their armaments. They’re also expensive to produce, so you don’t see them in great numbers. As such, there typically aren’t enough tanks to cover the entire battle front, and spreading the tanks out too thin is a great way to ensure that they’re overwhelmed easily, so they need to be concentrated to have an effect. So, one of the main aspects of tank warfare is the intelligence and information aspect — where are the enemy’s tanks? You don’t want to attack the point in the enemy’s line where their tanks are, lest their tanks provide support to the infantry there. When the Allies landed in France in World War 2, they launched a massive intelligence campaign designed to fool Hitler into thinking that they intended to land at Calais, when in fact they landed at Normandy. As a result, Hitler stationed his tanks at Calais, where they were not present for the actual landing. If they had been at Normandy during the landing, the Allies may have failed their landing. A similar situation happened with Patton’s forces in the landing in Sicily, where Allied intelligence fooled Hitler into placing his tanks in Greece, instead of the actual Italian landing location.

Now oftentimes when I’m trying to develop gameplay mechanics, rather than thinking up things that are new and avant-garde I simply find another already existing and fun mechanic, and imitate it. Yeah, I’m a ripoff. Before you judge me though, bear in mind that the vast majority of games are in fact just ripoffs of other games, except maybe for one or two core mechanics that make then unique. Digitanks already has these mechanics, so I’m not looking to invent anything new, because while “new” is good, too much “new” is a recipe for failure. In any case, if I’m going to rip off an already existing mechanic for gameplay, why not rip off actual war? Men have spent their entire lives and written volumes in this complicated endeavor, and if I can capture a simplified version of it then it can maybe be pretty fun.

So, I decided to distill the game into a small number of basic elements. (I like to break down problems into smaller ones to make them easier to solve.) Tank warfare involves:prototype8

  • Highly defensive, mostly stationary infantry elements
  • Highly mobile and offensive tank elements
  • Supply lines which must remain unbroken
So, I built my units and game mechanics with this in mind.

Mechanized Infantry – These units can fortify to increase their defensive position. They can be used to defend key areas and create a “front.” Once fortified, attacking them from the front becomes difficult and overwhelming force must be used, but they’re still vulnerable from the sides.

Main Battle Tank – These are mobile, strong offensive units which are difficult to produce, but pack a real punch. A single Main Battle Tank can’t punch through enemy lines alone, but a coordinated attack can make a hole large enough to compromise even the strongest enemy position.

Supply Lines – The closer you are to your base, the stronger your units become. Venturing far into the depths of the unknown stretches your supplies thin, and is a great way to be picked off easily. However, if the risk of leaving your supplies behind is outweighed by the benefit of a surprise attack, it can turn into an advantage.

The idea is that players will balance these three elements while growing their base and finding the weak spots in their opponents defensive positions. Once these mechanics have been solidified, I plan to add bonus units such as artillery and air support, which can help to soften an enemy position, making it easier for the tanks to move in.

Now I just know that as you read this article you had ideas and want to make suggestions to me. Well, I would love to hear your thoughts! So please email me and tell me all about how my ideas suck and/or are awesome.


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