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 Steel Beasts Professional by eSim Games  Steel Beasts: Simulator and Wargame A made-up conversation between the two designers of Steel Beas...

Streel Beasts Professional by eSim Games Streel Beasts Professional by eSim Games

Streel Beasts Professional by eSim Games

Streel Beasts Professional by eSim Games

 Steel Beasts



eSim Games

 Steel Beasts: Simulator and Wargame

A made-up conversation between the two designers of Steel Beasts Professional

About Design Principles

Nils Hinrichsen: When I joined Al Delaney some 25 years ago, we didn't spend much time defining development goals and writing specifications. We looked at examples that we liked, even more so at what we didn't like, and then tried to come up with a formula that would cater to our strengths as engineers with some professional military experience, to make something that we would like to play.

Five years into that, with Ed Williams on board, we decided to try and cater for the professional military training market, and from that point a lot of our development was driven by uncoordinated and short-term customer demand. Fortunately, much of that was of the more of the same type of development where the customers liked what was there, they just wanted to see their own vehicles added to it all.

Still, we need to somehow make sure that we're still following some overarching design principles, and we must keep in mind that military training actually means three distinct audiences crews of fighting vehicles, junior leaders learning the basics of tactics, and then the command posts of higher-ups for tactical training at the battlegroup level (with the support of dozens of low-level constructive operators).

These design principles have partially emerged over time, partially we are assuring adherence through our development processes and continuity in team composition, and there is of course also a more rigid intellectual element at work as well.

Ed Williams: Generally, when we think of a military based simulator, we think of a first-person view simulation of something, such as the user flying an aircraft, or driving a vehicle. We see what is happening at the ground level, and experience combat up close and personally, but the player has little or no perspective of the larger tactical picture, and usually has no influence on it either. In a simulation the player strives to become proficient at fighting, either learning how to operate their aircraft in all its functions and roles, or practicing their accuracy when they personally engage targets. 

When we think of a wargame, we think of a top-down view of a map, where the user is a commander, moving units around. We don't see what is happening at the ground level, but we do see the larger tactical or strategic picture which we usually have full control of. In a wargame, the conflict is not personal as the combat is not experienced, and instead it becomes more like a game of chess which abstracts a battle into a game of tactics and maneuver. When the knight takes the pawn, we aren't thinking about cavalry overrunning infantry, but instead we are looking to move our units to gain superiority over the enemy. 


Steel Beasts does something that few others do, it combines both a simulator and a wargame into one. The player can fight the battle from the map view, moving units around while the AI engages the enemy directly, or the user can jump into the vehicle and engage the enemy personally, experiencing both personal combat and the tactics involved in maneuvering larger forces. The player can also choose to fight the battle and concentrate very little on the map view, in certain well-designed scenarios. Most importantly, the player is not one person, but is instead a sort of driving force on the side, usually (depending on the scenarios restrictions) able to jump from unit to unit, manning all sorts of different types of vehicles, or jumping into infantry units to assist them with tactics.

Nils Hinrichsen: This description of Steel Beasts applies to the single-player experience. In a sense, that is also what you do in multiplayer network sessions; players usually take responsibility of more than just a crew position but rather multiple platoons, simply because the AI takes seamlessly over whenever you leave a unit and jump to the next to influence their actions. The exception being Steel Beasts as a crew training tool, whereby design the exercise is set up at a much smaller scale and students stay in that gunners seat because it is their new job now, and they need to learn it.

But with more players you can scale up the scope of an exercise from company team to battlegroup; some of our customers even use it at brigade combat team level with regularity.

About Scale

Ed Williams: What makes a great wargame is scale. In wargame design, if you don't get the scale right then the game simply doesn't work. Scale affects all aspects of a wargame, whether it is time (number of hours per turn for turn based game, for example), the size of the units on the map, and the distance involved. These are the most obvious things in wargame design when we think of scale, but it is far more complex than that. 

At the core of a well-designed wargame are calculations based on numeric values used to abstract everything. Most often this is in the form of combat values of attack and defense, but also range when it comes to the scale used for distance. The heart of a wargame are these values and how they are scaled between the combat units. If there is either an error in scaling or no scaling at all, then the wargame does not function the player will soon realize that it is not based in reality. In other words, it just doesn't feel right. 

The simplest way to demonstrate this is, let's say you are designing a World War II wargame at company level. One unit on the map represents a platoon of Tiger tanks, while another represents a platoon of 1942 era T-34 (not T-34/85) tanks. If the Tiger tank platoon does not have better defense and attack values than the T-34, then the player will immediately know that it is not realistic. On the other hand, the player would expect that the T-34 might have a higher speed. Then there is the range, where the Tiger would need to be better, able to engage the T-34 for a greater distance. However, if the distance scale of the game is wrong, such as too many meters per hex for company and platoon combat, then the Tiger will not have any range advantage possible since combat would all happen when the units are adjacent on the map.  Additionally, not only do the combat values have to based in reality, they have to also be scaled together, across the various available vehicles and infantry in the wargame, so that one particular type of unit is not in its own world, unrealistically superior or inferior than the rest in some way.  If you get any of these aspects wrong, you will get an unrealistic wargame at best, or a nonfunctional game at worst.

Nils Hinrichsen: There's also a user interface aspect to scale. It's absolutely necessary to give a human player adequate span of control for the task or tactical role he's supposed to fulfill. We have to rely on the map as the primary interface to give orders to your units, but our map is by design incomplete. It doesn't show you everything, and it doesn't show you everything in real time. There's a delay between things that happen and when they appear on the map. This forces a multiplayer audience to communicate verbally, it forces the audience to actually look at the 3D view of the terrain to recognize mobility obstacles that aren't represented on the map. There are command elements to give orders at the platoon level without ever having to use the map. There are 3rd person view positions just as there is the first-person view, depending on the scale of your task. 

And then there's a temporal aspect to scale. For a tactical exercise you want tasks to take as long as they do in physical reality. For crew training, you don't want to wait for that bag full of spent 30mm autocannon casings to be dumped; you want to know if the crew remembers that it's something that they have to do from time to time, but then you want to skip those wait times that are basically unproductive, lost hours in crew training.

At the same time, we clearly couldn't design Steel Beasts as something turn-based. So, you can't have a real-time game with responsibility for an entire mechanized company, reinforced by a tank platoon, forward observer, engineers, and air defense, plus supply train, without delegating tasks to the AI, and you can't have a successful game if the AI is not sufficiently competent.

Ed Williams: In simulations, scale is equally as important. In a similar way to the wargame design example between the Tiger platoon and the T-34 platoon, in a tank simulation the ammunition and armor performance has to be scaled properly. If the ammunition performance is too strong over reality, and the armor is weaker than reality, then in a tank simulation you end up with serious problems, which is obvious. What is not obvious is that when ammunition and armor between vehicles are not scaled properly against each other then you also end up with serious problems, since a particular vehicle or weapon may outperform similarly matched opponents.  

In Steel Beasts, over 20 years of development has allowed this scaling to be finely honed. Vehicles have armor models which model the varying levels of armor on the vehicle, and these armor values are held to a strict standard like what can be seen in wargaming design, where everything is cross checked and scaled relative to all the other vehicles. This means that players can be confident that no one vehicle is in its own reality, and they all perform on an equal level of representation in its performance. In a similar way, the ammunition data is also cross referenced and scaled so that one weapon system is not under or over performing compared to the others. Of course, in practice this is a constant never-ending pursuit of perfection and mistakes are made, but by using wargaming methods in design, a high degree of accuracy can be achieved. 

Nils Hinrichsen: Technological progress has helped, too. Microprose's M1 Tank Platoon was made for Amiga and the Intel 80 386 processor, and it had to squeeze these machines for all the juice their 250,000 transistors could deliver at 25MHz. We started Steel Beasts development work in the late 80 486 era which already was an advantage, and four years ago you could get a 16 core CPU at 4GHz with 7.6 billion transistors. While that doesn't directly translate to how much more you can do: That's about four million times as many instructions that can be processed in a given time than 30 years ago, for about the same price per computer as then. This is an enormous technological budget handed to all of us, allowing to solve some question of scale simply with brute force. We do not have to aggregate and disaggregate units as the player moves up and down on the command ladder. We can afford simulating every fire control system at the entity level even when running a brigade level exercise, raytracing the fragments of artillery shells as they explode on the battlefield. That simply was out of the question decades ago. I'm still stunned at what's possible these days despite daily exposure to the change since my first Texas Instruments 99/4A home computer in the early 1980s.

The Sandbox

Nils Hinrichsen: Steel Beasts isn't just wargame and simulation. It's just as suitable as a sandbox to set up a certain type of confrontation and then investigate events as they unfold. Case in point, the screenshots made for this article. A custom scenario was built in minutes to illustrate aspects of modern warfare with drones and loitering munitions as prevalent threats. I then ran the scenario in test mode, giving me complete freedom to move the camera and capture perspectives that wouldn't be accessible when playing by the rules where the player is deliberately constrained to information and actions available to him in the field as well.

One example shown in the screenshots is the "Libelle" anti-tank drone concept to transport a 155mm artillery shells EFP warhead and fly it to the target. This concept was developed as a part of the actual development of the weapon to illustrate how the user interface of the final product might look like. So, while it's not a real device just yet, the technological capability is absolutely there and will materialize eventually.

Steel Beasts players have used UAVs to call for artillery fire for about a decade now. Some TV pundits expressed surprise that drones would take over that role when it was pretty obvious, and not just in hindsight, if you just think of artillery observation balloons in WW1. As a result, no seasoned Steel Beasts player will stay much longer than two or three minutes in a given position because he just knows that, if spotted, he'll receive artillery fire after that time. So, the rules of the game how long it takes for a spot report to actual effect as it filters through the chain of command have measurable effect on player behavior; experts, I think, call that learning.


An infantry unit launches a drone in the morning for area


Eventually, a hostile tank platoon is spotted.

The chase is on.

Alas, it's too far away:

A new drone with longer endurance and range is sent, with thermal/Day fusion mode:

The  anti-tank  drone  arrives  over  the  target area, the engagement


What is this thing, and how big is it?

The operator selects the target, and fires.

After Action Review

The last shot is a reminder that you don't just get the desired effect

on  target,  but  that  fragments are also flying in other directions.

Steel  Beasts  simulates the velocity distribution of fragments, their

spatial  distribution,  and  their mass distribution based on accepted

models  (Gourney,  Taylor,  Mott), and raytraces the thousand heaviest

fragments in the near vicinity of the explosion, and uses statistical

methods to calculate effects on target for the remaining smaller


The drone war may be less exciting

than what traditional wargamers are looking for, but it's relevant for

today, and Steel Beasts has always been about high intensity combat in the contemporary operational environment.

 This is not a screenshot but illustrates the different drones, loitering munitions, and countermeasures. We had that artwork made for the 2022 edition of our collectible mousepads.

For your blog readers attending IITSEC in Orlando in four weeks, we'll be found between the STEM and the US Cyber Command pavilions.

Thank you, eSim Games, for this look at this spectacular and deep simulation. I have owned the game for years and there is no other tank simulation on the market. As far as simulations go, the only one that comes close is DCS, and both of them are used by armed forces around the world.


Steel Beasts Professional/eSim Games:

eSim Games – Vehicle-centric Combined Arms Combat Tactics and Gunnery Simulation