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Hobby War-gamesI like simulating war, at least, as a hobby. As a child I marveled at Axis and Allies, and games like Risk. Writing and designing the war-game Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream for me, working on a realistic computer war-game, or a Real-Time Strategy Game (RTS) as it is more commonly called. In talking about any RTS, we are talking about war-games. Even if the setting has fantasy influences, the core combat systems of all RTS is that of a war-game: Multiple Player Units, Resource Management, Building, and Command level strategy. No origin story would be complete without the mention of breakthrough game maker and publisher Avalon Hill, and their 1960 game Tactics. Even those table-top games owe what they are to the ideas of their predecessors in antiquity.

Tactics IIGame makers have been driving for realism in war-games for thousands of
years, and at some point hobby games became tools of learning for military
strategists.  Where did this fascination come from, and where is the line where hobby crosses into serious war-gaming?  War-games are most certainly serious in the current age, some of the best strategy game makers alive work for Uncle Sam creating war simulations.   While at first the notion may seem odd, the reality is war-games have become tools for military training and strategics.  Serious war-games are teaching tools, practical for professionals in the field and students of military strategy.  With the models created by war-game systems the military argues it saves lives.  Any training we can have in lessening the taxes of war is most certainly a worthy endeavor.

 Putin, Bush, and Cheney play a War-game in the parlorAccording to The Department of Defense a war game is “a simulation, by
whatever means, of a military operation involving two or more opposing
forces, using rules, data, and procedures designed to depict an actual
or assumed real life situation.”[1]  It seems that Russia, the European Union and the United States of America, are in a very real war-game about the future of new Europe.  Grabbing “living-space” for Russia in Georgia must be a move made with a greater strategy.  Certainly it must be part of a larger campaign, but what is the goal? 

Not long ago, ‘total annihilation’ had the United States and the former USSR both engaged in war-games to determine the outcome of such a scenario should it escalate to “World War III”.  Thanks to war-game strategic studies by the likes of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), only three outcomes where determined to be possible in the confrontation between the two powers: “1. Loss of Command and Control 2. Unleashing Tactical Nuclear Weapons 3. Gas or Biological Attack“. [2]

Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts ScreenplayThe play is a literary form that comes down to us from Ancient Greece intended for performance. Used as a production tool to create a perceived story space on stage, it consists of characters, dialog, action, and setting. It is a form that was adapted for motion pictures then called the “screenplay”. While not particularly different than its stage play ancestor, the screenplay is intended for use on linear theatrical productions such as film and television. I chose to adapt it to games for purposes of strengthening game story. While games have their design documentation, often a ‘bible’ of information or a presentation intended to communicate a cohesive vision, the screenplay acts as a method to create a common story vision among widely disparate development pipelines within game development, with the aim of creating a better user experience. While not a concept I claim to originate. It is a form that I have forged wholly on my own, with attention to what makes a game screenplay unique.

Part 1: Cinematics

Linear cinematic segments, while potentially
altered by the player, or selected in a meaningful non-linear fashion
via gameplay, are no different than traditional screenplays. As the
first screenplays did not veer too far from stage plays, with minimal
sets, and high caliber, sometimes over-the-top, characters. So to the
game screenplay is still akin to the screenplays of film. Example 1
(below) is from my first game screenplay for “Company of Heroes:
Opposing Fronts”.

Example 1: Game Screenplay Cinematic Sequences
Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts Cinematic Sequence

Recently in an interview I was asked about other forms of the heroes story, if there are other types yet to be explored by games, and indeed there are. As an example, one form I’ve been playing with, both in thought and practice, is tragedy. This classic tragic hero archetype is one rarely given to players. To often contemporary video games follow a hand-holding method of play design which makes sure always to “please” the player and let them “win”, a discussion explored more in depth in Randy Smiths recent piece on

I was fortunate enough to be able to execute a single-player campaign for Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts which was in fact a tragedy, full of tragic heroes, engaged in tragic actions. In the end, the player, as the fictional Kampfgruppe Lehr, is successful at fending of the British and Americans during Operation Market Garden (OMG), but the tragic nature of the 3rd Reich’s downfall and it’s destruction of Germany is the stories true end. Giving both a positive and negative value charge to the players final moments of the campaign with Wolfgang Berger.

Born out of the nobility of imperial Prussian blood the primary protagonist Wolfgang Berger is innately full of hamartia (flawed judgment), in his support of the 3rd Reich (3rd German Empire) and its aims at increasing lebensraum (German living space). Torn between the conflicting voices of his heart and his mind, embodied respectively by his brother Alrdrich and Major General Voss, he struggles to stay honest to himself. Soon he looses close friend Wilhelm Deinhard and brother Aldrich to a tragic reversal of his fortune brought about by his devotion to the 3rd Reich. In the narrative climax of the campaign a true catharsis enters the  audience as Wolfgang cleanses his hands and mind of the blood-guilt left from his actions (the players actions) during the OMG campaign. As he comes to grip with his err over the body of his dead brother, Wolfgang’s broken heart is able to speak to it’s true antagonist the 3rd Reich, embodied by Maximillian Voss (see clip below).

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Author Stephen E. Dinehart is a producer, designer, writer, and artist. You can find out more about him on his self-titled website.

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