Interview: Gregory Adam Scott

If the bottom ever drops out of the armour roguelike market, Gregory Adam Scott won’t need to cast about for a new career. When the creator of Armoured Commander II isn’t enlarging or enhancing his trailblazing austerity tank sim, he’s usually to be found edifying students at the University of Manchester. A senior lecturer in Chinese culture and history, today’s interviewee tells me he may, one day, turn his back on angry houses, and craft a game more in tune with his professional interests.

THC: Are your fellow academics aware you’re also a successful game developer’?

Gregory: I’m not sure that I would call myself ‘successful’! The game has been far more popular than I ever expected, and the response from the players has been incredible, but it’s still quite a niche game. A few of my colleagues, especially the ones who are into games or game studies themselves, know about the game, but otherwise it’s not really relevant to my academic work. I hope in the future to apply my academic knowledge to a future game in a very different genre from the Armoured Commander series, but that won’t be for a while yet.

THC: What came first, your interest in armoured warfare or your interest in China’s past and culture?

Gregory: Definitely Chinese culture and history, which I’ve studied since my first year of university back in 1998. Over the years I also got into tabletop wargames like Advanced Squad Leader and later Flames of War, and they’ve always been a hobby for me. When I discovered the 1988 board game Patton’s Best, I was immediately drawn to the abstract but evocative system, and the ability to play single-player against a table- and dice-driven AI. I had already worked with Python for different academic projects, so when I realized that much of the game’s dice rolling and table lookups could be automated by a computer program, that’s what led me to develop the first Armoured Commander game. Initially it was just supposed to be a companion to the board game that one would use to generate dice rolls and table results.

THC: Which upcoming features are likely to alter AC2 most profoundly?

Gregory: There’s a lot of minor changes and fixes coming that, I hope, will have a very positive effect on the player experience. I don’t plan to make any more profound changes to the game, just polishing what is already there and adding new content. I think the core gameplay loop is really solid.

THC: Is AC2’s endearing PETSCII aesthetic driven by nostalgia or practicality?

Gregory: A bit of both! I grew up with a Commodore 64C and always dreamed of making my own game on it, so now to be able to use an extended version of the PETSCII character set definitely brings back fond memories of that 8-bit machine. Additionally I have little to no skill in the visual arts, so creating good-looking graphics is just not possible for me. In addition to these, however, as I grow older I appreciate more and more the power of abstraction and a focus on gameplay over fancy graphics. Maybe it’s because I grew up playing games on computers with limited graphical abilities, and the programmers and artists of that time had to get very creative in representing their game worlds using a limited palette. I always prefer good gameplay to fancy graphics.

THC: What campaign/AFV recommendations would you give to a new player with masochistic tastes?

Gregory: Most campaigns have the option of commanding an armoured car rather than a tank, which gets especially challenging as you progress toward the late-war period. You can’t rely on thick armour to save you there. Additionally, any campaign where you play on the Japanese side is going to be challenging, since their tanks were normally far outclassed by those of their opponents. There’s a few custom campaigns being developed on the Discord server that are truly diabolical, yet still historically accurate. The horrific challenges that some tankers faced during the war can hardly be believed.

THC: Is there any point in machine-gunning enemy tanks in AC2?

Gregory: Only lightly-armoured tanks can be hurt by bullets, so if your target has between 0 and 2 points of armour, it’s worth a try. Otherwise your attack will just bounce off the armour. Machine guns are better saved for unarmoured targets. The key problem of how to crack an armoured target is one of the central challenges in the game. With some vehicles you’ll have no problem, with others you will need to be much more cautious, moving for a flanking attack, for example.

THC: I was a little surprised/disappointed to emerge from my last campaign gongless. What’s the secret of winning medals in the game?

Gregory: Headquarters can be fickle! Sometimes your contributions will be recognized, others not. In general the game takes your average daily Victory Point score or your highest one-day VP score, whichever would give you a better chance, and then applies a little RNG to that. The more VP you net, the better your chances of a medal at the end of the campaign.

THC: The roguelike format suits WW2 tank warfare surprisingly well. Are you tempted to use it to explore other facets of military history?

Gregory: As much as I like wargames, especially their connection to history and the complexity of their systems, developing the Armoured Commander games over the past few years has given me a good case of violence fatigue. When much of one’s artistic output is dedicated to simulating death and destruction, one starts to question whether or not there could be other possible outlets. I still have quite a bit of work to do on Armoured Commander II, but I don’t think that I’ll return to a military setting for my next game. It will likely include violent elements, but they will be more rare rather than being part of the core game loop. Playing wargames gives me enough exposure to this; also developing a wargame is a little too much for my tastes.

THC: Have you considered porting your creation to other platforms?

Gregory: I have a long-delayed plan to set up workflows for packaging versions for Mac and Linux, but since I continue to issue updates just about every week, I’m holding off on this a little bit until the game is a little more stable.

THC: Name a game, either upcoming or released, that you think deserves more attention.

Gregory: As a long-time fan of Advanced Squad Leader who has never had a chance to play it regularly, I am really excited about the forthcoming Second Front. If it’s done right, I think it could be a landmark computer wargame.

THC: Thank you for your time

11 Comments

  1. Great interview! I love AC2 to pieces. I would love to see the concept of AC carried up to the skies, there aren’t enough TB dogfighting games.

    • Really interesting interview, thanks Tim and Gregory! This isn’t about ACII per se, but I was actually wondering if you could expand further on this:

      “I hope in the future to apply my academic knowledge to a future game in a very different genre from the Armoured Commander series, but that won’t be for a while yet.”

      Do you already have some ideas as to what this game would cover? Are there any events in Chinese history do you think are underrepresented/underserved, and could potentially translate into an engaging game experience?

      (Only if you feel comfortable sharing those ideas, of course. I won’t steal them, promise!)

      • I’d like to create a game set in the tumultuous period of the 1910s and 1920s. There was a great deal of uncertainty and unrest in China during this era, but also a lot of creativity and optimistic imagination as well. My hope would be to give players an appreciation for the rich culture of modern China, while also having them face similar sorts of challenges as those faced by people in the region in the modern era.

        • It’s a really fascinating period and one I know too little about. I’m really looking forward to learning more by playing Rise of the White Sun, hopefully I will be smart enough to actually play it!

          • Thanks for the answer! I would love to play something like that. It’s not something I know much about either. I did spend a happy and entertaining hour or two on the Rise of the White Sun demo after Tim posted a link to it, but I’ll admit a lot of it went over my head.

          • Honestly, I’m fairly familiar with the time period, and a lot of it went over my head as well. I was really disappointed with the demo.

  2. Was tempted by last week’s AAR but I guess I will have to buy now!

    Interesting to hear about “violence fatigue” from a creative perspective. This type of conversation is happening more now in light of the Ukraine war, and there was a conversation about it on the THC discord.

    I see most video game violence as something quite abstract and disconnected from the real thing. While there are obviously some games that linger over and fetishise the horror as the scale increases this becomes much less of a thing. I just finished a Great War playthrough of darkest hour as Russia where, in two and a half years, I apparently killed and lost over three million souls combined – a literally unfathomable number, Stalin was right about tragedies and statistics. But interested to hear how it feels in the trenches of patch notes about hull penetrations!

    Also, love how the steam page credits the Flare Path rather than RPS…

    • Unfortunately I gave up on trying to get into the THC Discord (it made me do three separate reCaptchas just to sign up then instantly permabanned my new account without me doing a thing!) but it is a really interesting conversation.

      I’m like you, I suspect, in that I have no problems disconnecting abstract video game violence from the real thing. But I imagine it hits a lot harder as a developer in the war gaming space, where you’d be elbows-deep researching the minutiae on a daily basis, then basically being forced to ask yourself the question of how best to model the horror. Even abstracting violence and horrible events must be difficult, because you’re burdened with this knowledge of all the things you’d like to shine a spotlight on, but have had to leave out in the interests of making the game more enjoyable/accessible.

      • That’s a shame, as there’s not only the THC chat on Discord but also one for AC2, in which the busy developer himself kindly answers idiotic questions from hapless players (i.e. me).

        The game has a fantastic community, and that’s one reason it’s lovely to play – not just the tight gameplay, but also the sheer extent and continual addition to the content to bring variety and different challenges.

        My Finnish war campaign is on hiatus as a Steam sale led to me buying Sniper Elite 4 for friends and having to replay it myself as a result, but I yearn to rejoin the fight against evil Russian invaders, even knowing the eventual outcome of the conflict.

  3. Last weeks AAR on AC2 reminded me that I played AC1 to death, but somehow was completely oblivious to the fact that AC2 was a thing. Bought it immediately, really good stuff! Above a commenter was angling for a AC in the sky, I would like to suggest a AC using blue water navies (ww1-2 or perhaps even later)

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