A Pair of Passable Panther Substitutes

Close to the top of my ‘Childhood Toys I Wish I Still Owned But Can’t Quite Justify Repurchasing’ list is a Solido Panther tank the colour of butterscotch Angel Delight. The thing was diecast, heavy as a grapefruit, and sported these amazing all-metal tracks that squeaked menacingly when in motion. I loved it despite the fact that, being 1/50 scale, it looked somewhat shrunken when sharing lawn, sandpit, or carpet battlefields with my 1/32 plastic soldiers. The pleasure centres that Panther lit up forty-odd years ago, are illuminated today by titles like Gunner, HEAT, PC! and Armoured Commander II, two very different tank-em-ups that have been monopolising my monitor this week.

Radian Simulations have been toiling like Ukrainian tractor drivers since this preview was penned a year ago. Returning to GHPC’s ‘vertical slice’ (available to Patreon patrons) after a few months away, I found, amongst other things, crewable M2 Bradleys and a random mission generator waiting for me.

Although right now the latter is only capable of fabricating attack and defend scenarios on a single 8km x 8km map, unpredictable force compositions, spawn locations, paths, and zero hours (weather and seasons are not yet implemented) make it worth its weight in looted washing machines. One day the generator will be used to inject uncertainty into campaigns.

The Bradley, like the BMP-1, another fairly recent introduction, can’t carry passengers at present (Infantry are on the way). What it can do, however, when in capable hands, is ticker-tape the interior of any Warsaw Pact AFV that crosses its path. Turret-mounted wire-guided TOW missiles see to that.

The chap transmitting course corrections down GHPC’s metaphorical command wire is Josh Busuito. A few days ago he was kind enough to answer some of the questions that have popped into my head while I’ve been popping turrets.

THC: Does your interest in armour have pinpointable origins?

Josh: I’d say it was a mix of video games, the History channel, and my dad’s interest in tanks that got me into them. I spent much of the ‘00s playing sim games, watching docu-tainment pieces about the Sherman, Tiger, and T-34, and listening to my dad talk about the role of the Centurion’s gun depression in repelling the T-55s at Golan, or how HVAP rounds allowed Shermans to swiss-cheese T-34s in Korea. The engineering problems of armor design, and the cat-and-mouse interplay between weapons and armor, fascinated me immediately. It was practically inevitable that I would be an armor nerd.

THC: Which PC tank sims of yesteryear do you have the fondest memories of?

Josh: I only played a few back in the day, but my favorite one by far was Armored Fist 3 [£1.75 on Steam until April 25]. I picked it up in a four-pack of Novalogic games one day and was instantly hooked. The game had just enough realism to ground it, with things like fire commands and realistic gunsight views, while remaining easy to play and action-packed. I think that experience, more than any other one factor, taught me that it was possible to make “realism” and “accessibility” not mutually exclusive in a tank game.

THC: When and where was Radian Simulations born?

Josh: Radian Simulations LLC formed at the end of 2019 [Josh spent the previous six years working in “the military training simulation industry”], right around the time I started recruiting additional team members to the GHPC project. Despite the early state of the game, I was optimistic enough to agree with my close friends’ advice that I might need an actual business entity soon. The name is pure nerdiness. A radian is an important measurement in trigonometry: the angle equal to the arc segment along a circle with the same length as the circle’s radius. 2 x pi radians makes 360 degrees. Writing code for GHPC involves a lot of math, I’ve always enjoyed the subject, and it just made sense to lean into that.

THC: Was GHPC’s Fulda Gap ’85 setting a head or a heart decision?

Josh: Honestly, it was a bit of both. Around the beginning of 2020, my team decided we would rewrite the early demo (formerly “Josh’s Unnamed Tank Game”) for better structure and direction. At that time, we determined that our goal was ultimately to depict many different theaters of war, and so it would make sense to start off with some “common” vehicles that could be easily adapted to new variants. Looking at what tanks are most widespread and notable, it quickly became clear that they were all originally invented in the Cold War and used for the massive buildup in Germany, so that seemed a reasonable place to begin. The fact that the Fulda Gap setting is legitimately interesting in its own right is the cherry on top.

THC: I imagine you’re confronted with ‘realism vs fun’ design dilemmas pretty regularly. Would you describe a recent one for us?

Josh: All the time! The first recent one that comes to mind is our implementation of physics-based damage for the UAZ-469 rally mission in the April Fools’ Day update, which was actually a testbed for new game features. We wanted to have excessive forces damage both the vehicle and the crew, but it wouldn’t be any fun if people instantly lost their engine or driver at the first excessive impact, however realistic that might be. In the end, we tuned it so the crew have a bit of “armor”: low-intensity impacts do nothing to them but can still cause minor damage to the vehicle. This way, we can signal to the player that they’re taking too much risk, without instantly ruining their fun. Extra-hard impacts will still hurt the crew or destroy the drivetrain; we just created a bit of leeway for understanding the consequences.

THC: Has the AFV-related footage coming out of Ukraine changed your thinking in any way?

Josh: It’s quite a dark development for sure. From a reference perspective, the footage is not so unique compared to similar footage from previous conflicts around the world, but the fact that it’s a current event makes it weigh more heavily in everyone’s mind. If anything, it drives home the fact that, while we’re passionate about the subject we portray, it’s still about war and not something to glory in.

THC: If you could wave a magic wand and instantly add one of the following to GHPC, what would you add and why?

  • a selection of British vehicles
  • MBT interiors
  • Spintires-style mud
  • civilians

Josh: Tough call. We’ve done some experiments with deformable ground before: a patch last year featured it before we brought it back to the drawing board for performance reasons. I’d have to go with interiors. Not because they would affect the gameplay (the fact that they’re nearly useless in normal gameplay is one of the main reasons we aren’t putting the requisite absurd amount of resources toward them), but just because it would just be neat, you know?

THC: What, potentially, would a publishing deal mean for the project?

Josh: GHPC has a pretty ambitious scope for a team of our size. It’s been awesome to see the community come together to support us via Patreon, which is currently our only income. If a publisher shares our vision for the game, the extra resources they provide would no doubt help us advance and grow even more quickly.

THC: Research-wise are there any questions you’re struggling to answer at present?

Josh: One of the unfortunate realities of the project is that all the easy research is trivial, and all the challenging research is well-near impossible. We’ve made great strides in learning where and how to look for things, but some answers remain elusive. One thing in particular I’d like to see solved is getting a good look through the coincidence rangefinder of the M60A1, as well as the stereoscopic rangefinder of the Leopard 1AX series. Illustrations in manuals don’t do them justice, especially for stereo, and we think that’s important to get right in the game. So far, we’ve only met with frustration on this front, as photos are scarce and display pieces are usually stripped of the relevant parts or locked up.

THC: Does coding and testing GHPC all day mean you no longer game for pleasure?

Josh: Absolutely not! Gaming is one of the ways I unwind and stay sane during this wild ride. During GHPC’s development, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Fallout 4, Skyrim, and the new Hitman trilogy, and I recently got back into BeamNG.drive with a G923 wheel and shifter setup as well. I miss driving manual in real life, and that scratches the itch.

THC: Thank you for your time.

* * *

It’s high-time Tally-Ho Corner had an equivalent to this Nantucket whaling ship yarn, and this tale of a B-17: Queen of the Skies Liberator. Nudged back into its clutches by a helpful Cornerite (Thanks, TimePointFive) the rather wonderful Armoured Commander II is, I now realise, perfectly equipped to power a (hopefully) memorable episodic AAR.

I was aware that Gregory Adam Scott had been regularly adding campaigns and vehicles to his turnbased austerity tank sim. What I hadn’t fully grasped was that he was simultaneously refining and enriching his creation in a manner guaranteed to woo fussy, jaded wargamers like Yours Truly.

Overseeing the actions of ‘Athlete III’ – a multi-gun Char B1 – and its two unlucky predecessors these past few days, has been thoroughly absorbing. I could accept the invitation offered at the close of the campaign, and see how my avatar and his battle-hardened, stat-and-skill-defined crew fare at the other end of the war in a Sherman, but I think I’d prefer to start afresh with a completely new theatre, steed, and band of angry housemates.

If you’re one of THC’s vital airlifters and would like to participate, in name at least,* in the coming adventure then please declare your interest below. Browsing AC2’s impressive selection of campaigns, ‘Desert Rats Victorious’, a medium difficulty North African jaunt, tickles my fancy. Of the 28 (!) possible starting AFVs, I’m particularly drawn to the rugged Churchill IV. In theory we should have a better chance of surviving our eight-day ordeal in this battle wagon than any of the alternatives.

* In contrast to the annual communal Combat Mission game, you won’t need to submit orders.

As I’ll be carrying the can tactically, I think it makes sense for me to occupy the commander’s seat. If you’d like to join me as either a gunner, loader, driver, or assistant driver, then state your role preference in the comments section and cross your fingers. Positions will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis and just because you miss out on the initial draft doesn’t necessarily mean you wont appear in the AAR later. I’ve yet to finish an AC2 campaign with exactly the same crew line-up I had at the start.

12 Comments

  1. My finger has been hovering over the the GHPC patreon join button for a while, and I think that interview will be the thing that finally makes it descend. Thank you Tim and Josh.

  2. You wouldn’t catch me in a tank for all the tea in China!

    That said, I’m in. Happy to sub in case any of the original crew meet a sticky end. I’m sure I could turn my hand to whatever role is required.

  3. Thanks for the mention of my game, Tim! Looking forward to your AAR.

    We have a Community Challenge running right now on the Discord in the Jungle Rats campaign. Never thought that a Stuart I could be so capable…

  4. I was AWOL and slightly too late to enlist for the A-Team. But if you need more reinforcements, Tim, or just a mechanic to curse when things go wrong in the field and the treads were put on the wrong way around, this is Private Cabinets reporting for duty.

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