Our Game Design Philosophy

Let’s all be friends: why we are making Task Force Admiral

Although a rather popular and discussed topic in naval warfare, carriers – both old and modern – have received comparatively little attention from game makers. The last attempt at realistic WW2 carrier combat was made in 2011 with John Tiller’s naval campaigns: Midway; and before that the only comparable product that came out in the 21st century was the remake of the 90s SSG classic Carriers at War, published by MatrixGames in 2007. Although these were great games on their own, they were made by wargamers with grognards as the audience in mind. As such, despite their inherent qualities, they sadly didn’t reach out to a larger public, and remain played mostly by a dedicated but limited band of a happy few.

Meanwhile, the appeal of WW2 naval action was still reaffirmed year after year by games of a very different nature. The Pacific Storm series (2005), the Navy Field series (2006), the Battlestations series (2007) or World of Warships (2015) certainly found their mark with player bases at times in the hundreds of thousands – if not millions in the case of World of Warship. But their popularity came at a price, and what they proposed remained far from the expectations of the grognard community. Although these games and their developers show a real love and care for their topic, gameplay has to come first, rendering historical authenticity and realism moot outside of the metagaming scene. Because of their action-oriented genre, these games naturally had to make concessions in regard of most, if not all realistic-based mechanics. As such, despite the deep historical research the likes of what wargaming does, the game design had to prioritize fun over authenticity. In addition to this, it had to be tied to other technical constraints, such as its large-scale multiplayer requirements or a necessary time limit for the default game session.

Guys, does it have to be like that? Not necessarily, we believe...

Does it have to be a face-off between realism & historicity on one side, accessibility and pretty graphics on the other side? Not necessarily, we believe… Our carriers are for everybody! With Task Force Admiral, we intend to fill up this apparent gap between communities with a game that will carefully pick and further develop the most glamorous aspects of each category of games, and relate when possible to all generations of gamers. We aim to conciliate and combine the two aforementioned design philosophies into a new approach. Using the common interest these audiences show for history and warships, we firmly believe that somewhere out there, there is a place where these two communities will be able to enjoy their hobby the way they like it. It is not about finding a middle-ground, making concessions or rob Peter to pay Paul. It is about giving our player-base a choice. We value what both worlds bring to the table, and we are looking forward to finding the right way to associate the best of what each genre offers. Hopefully, a clever blending of influences might provide our audience with a balanced, authentic and still enjoyable game experience of an original kind.

We are not naive of course; we do not expect to seduce the larger part of both audiences despite the larger scope of our design. Still, we know that the action-centered community is not immune to advanced game mechanics as long as these are intuitively explained. We also know that the wargame and sim communities are not impervious to the “excitement” of reliving iconic battles, as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of outright simplification. With your acknowledgement and your open-mindedness, we hope that Task Force Admiral, as a WW2 naval command simulation, will serve a greater purpose by becoming a reference for the decade to come. We are not making a disposable, short-lived product – this game series is expected to expand from the basis and contents of volume 1 and is made to last.

Back to the glorious 90s: the design roots of Task Force Admiral

In both gameplay and production value, wargames and combat simulations used to be the references on IBM computers back in 80s and the early 90s. Such games were bought and played because they could associate uncommon attention to detail with the best use of the available commercial hardware. The actual game contents stood there hand in hand with lavish presentation, from spectacular box artwork to entertaining soundtracks, and of course, thick printed user manuals packed with historical anecdotes. Microprose, Lucasfilms, Dynamix or SSI’s most legendary achievements remain in our hearts as examples of well-rounded experiences. These were made with top-notch graphics, sound design, ample documentation, deep historical research and, first and foremost, accessible and yet deep, enjoyable gameplay.

Those were the days my friends... If you have not given a chance to them oldies goldies just yet, you are missing on something !

This age died somewhere in the late 90s, together with most of these powerhouses. In the age of Jane’s Combat Simulations or Falcon 4, the production values were still there, but the simulation had moved up the scale in terms of complexity and broke away with its most entry-level aspects. Lite products were made in parallel, but they just didn’t find their audience, their gameplay lacking the sort of depth that was celebrated earlier in the decade. At the same time, many if not most wargames appeared stuck in a technology loop inherited from their golden days, doing little to take advantage of the newer, more powerful hardware available. De-materialization killed game boxes, manuals and goodies, while the triumph of other genres – and especially FPS as a technology demonstrator – made simmer and wargamer communities shrink into more isolated, self-declared hardcore bastions.

Well, Drydock Dreams Games wants to find this magic again and have the players of today enjoy it as we first enjoyed it, 20 years ago. We want to make a game whose depth and difficulty will be fully scalable and customizable, like simulations used to be – while relying on the recipe that made the wargames and simulations of the early 90s so enjoyable and communicative. We want players to be immersed in a 3D real-time world, and provide their senses with all the information an actual commander would collect in the course of battle. With as little abstraction as needed and as intuitively as possible, we will place command in the player’s hands and have them decide for themselves using their natural instincts. We will make a game that makes you want to read the manual to refine your skills and learn more about the topic, not a game where reading the documentation is a prerequisite to actual enjoyment.

Talking about the manual, it is also our intent eventually to publish a physical box edition of Task Force Admiral. It will contain all the basic elements one would expect from a classic game as they were sold in the 90s: manuals, technical reference booklets and goodies will be featured in this attempt at getting the blast from the past right. Details will be released in time once the game has advanced far enough for us to take it to the commercial stage. More on that later!

Task Force Admiral and the rise of the Command Simulation genre

(Image: USS Enterprise action report for the battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942, Early morning PBY reports to Midway NAS, intercepted by Task Force Sixteen)

You have just received a sighting report that seems to be the real deal: the enemy carrier force is out there, and might be in range if you steam in its direction.

But reception was off and a part of the message is missing. Conflicting messages arrive from other sources, including third-party flights not directly under your command.

Should you send the strike already spotted on the deck up in the air on the basis of this report alone, and possibly be the first to hit? On the other hand, should you wait for more accurate info and run the risk of missing a window of opportunity?

(Image: USS Yorktown action report for the battle of Coral Sea, May 8, 1942, radio log of USS Yorktown)

Instead, if nothing follows, should you raise the scouting team by radio and risk a radio-intercept by the enemy intel team, giving them a bearing on your own force? Are your braive airmen even still alive? Is the Dauntless shadowing the enemy force, as originally ordered, or is it skimming over the waves at full power, trying to shake enemy fighters off its tail?

And if we launch now, considering we have to steam further away as we need to turn into the wind, will our planes have the range to reach their target at all? What type of departure should our three different models of planes adopt in order to optimize their chances and keep some cohesion until they find the target, considering the circumstances and their training? That is, if they find the enemy at all…

For all of these decisions, the final call is yours to make, Admiral !

Task Force Admiral belongs to a new generation of wargames we call “Command Simulations”.

As the first of its kind in 3D naval combat, our game will put you in the shoes of the flag officer instead of simply making you the all-knowing, omnipotent and ubiquitous commander classic wargames to which you are accustomed. Command Simulations might go as far back as Peter Turcan’s Waterloo (1989), but they have only re-emerged as of late through more recent and rather successful iterations such as Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa, the Command Ops or the Scourge of War series. Like other comparable new concepts soon to be released (the likes of Burden of Command, Radio Commander or Radio General) Task Force Admiral will make the player deal with the diverse woes of command, intel & communication through a large panel of SNAFU moments, actual combat being only one of them.

Indeed, 1942 is a very experimental time when it comes to carrier warfare, and the latest technology itself was still far from being reliable. Radar was new, so were other innovations such as Identification Friend or Foe or navigation beacons. Flying over an endless ocean made the task of following waypoints and knowing precisely one’s position at all times all the more hazardous. Sighting reports from flying scouts had an inherent and unavoidable part of half-guesses to them, whether it was about distance, heading, types, speed and numbers. Identification or even coding mistakes happened, and could doom an otherwise well-rehearsed plan to failure.

You are not just a pair of eyes floating above a map. You are there, in your flag plot, using the tools of the trade with the limited field of view and scarce amount of knowledge one could expect in the mist of battle. This time Command is not abstracted, it is simulated. It is said no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, but carrier battles have that specific flavor in them. Namely, nothing ever goes as planned, sometimes even before you get to find each other. In this way and as in many others, we are proud to introduce the player to a new kind of fog of war, redefined by intuitive and yet authentic mechanics – and we are just getting started…

Of course, we are not a masochistic lot either. Although we are convinced that this “depowerment” of your avatar compared to classic wargaming titles adds drastically to the immersion and the challenge, our fully scalable difficulty settings will allow you to customize your in-game experience right at the level you like. Want to play Task Force Admiral like some sort of RTS, with limited realistic settings and fog of war? Fine. You want to recreate the settings of Carriers at War or Pacific Air War‘s Carrier module? Just tweak it. You want the full experience like nothing you have encountered before, disable external views and any game mechanic that wouldn’t be 100% realistic? Well, we have you covered too. Make it your own game – after all, in Task Force Admiral, you ARE the Admiral!

Finally yet importantly, we would like to emphasize that our work is primarily dedicated to all the Vets, still around or gone since, who have fought these battles and inked these tantalizing pages in History with their own guts and blood. They provided us with the legacy that inspires this game, while their fight blessed us with the sort of world that allows us to make this product today. Lest we forget their tales of glory and sacrifice was ultimately the crucible that provides our wargames and simulation with their flesh and their soul.

Let it be known that we are not making or playing these games to trivialize or the daring feats of the Greatest Generation in any way, but on the contrary to perpetuate their memory, and keep it alive for generations of younger gamers to come. We will make sure that every time someone will fire up this game in the future, every bit of the experience we will provide will do right by them, telling their story in a fair and respectful way.

For additional questions regarding what we believe in, where we come from and where we are headed to, please refer to our FAQ page!

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