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Part Two   THEATER OF OPERATIONS: The Game      Journey of the Reluctant Indie Dev     My wife and I were dealing with twin new...

Theater of Operations: The Game Part Two Theater of Operations: The Game Part Two

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Theater of Operations

Part Two


Journey of the Reluctant Indie Dev
  My wife and I were dealing with twin newborns plus a 2 year old, and a complete lack of meaningful sleep for months. In the wee hours of the night I would let my mind wander to my “happy place” to help keep my sanity. I am a life-long war gamer and my mind eventually wandered to “how would I create a campaign layer to the Combat Mission series of games?” by This is the genesis of Theater of Operations.

  I found myself continuing to think about my game concept even after I gradually started to get some sleep. I continued to tinker around with various concepts, and then one day I decided to try and make the game a reality. Here is the catch; I NEVER intended to be the person to actually develop the game. I am not a professional programmer (though I have done it before), nor am I in the industry (yet). I was happy to be a volunteer consultant for a company; all I wanted was credit and a free copy of the game! I tried time and again to “give” my game concept away. Every company I contacted had varying degrees of courtesy, but they all had the same basic answer of “no thanks because we have our own production schedule” and “come back when you have something to sell”.

  Steve at Battlefront has been surprisingly supportive of me and my idea, especially during the early days. BFC didn’t want to develop my game, but Steve encouraged me to take the reins and try to make it happen on my own. I had enough going on in my life, and this was NOT something I wanted to expend my energy on… or so I thought. I tried to forget about the project, but I found myself drawn back to thinking about it. My conscience wasn’t going to let me quit this project, so here I stand fully committed and motivated to make this happen.
  How was I going to make this happen? I started trying to find different resources and then one day it hit me. I have one of the largest research universities in the world in my back yard (Ohio State), and they became my primary focus for resources. I started getting research material at the library, and soliciting advice and ideas from faculty. Eventually I was directed to Professor Crawfis who teaches game design and development. After meeting with him, he started helping me find some local people that would be interested in joining forces with the project. This is how I met Mitchell and David. Another contact at the university connected me with John, and together we formed Buckeye Battle Group (BBG).

  The team was excited about the project, however we had no funding. Despite great interest and good intentions there was little meaningful progress in programming development over several months. Everyone had full time jobs, and the project was too complex to work on in a casual manner. After some time I accepted the fact that the only way to complete an ambitious project like ToO was to get enough funding to dedicate team members to the project full time. So I started researching different avenues to get funding. After a rather exhaustive search I concluded that crowdsourcing appeared to be our best bet.

 To avoid any confusion I want to stop here and say that the game name has evolved over the years. Currently our project is called Theater of Operations, however during our Kickstarter in 2015 the game was named Combat Operations: Overlord (COO).

  The summer and fall of 2015 was an exciting time for the project. I had a team, and we were working to get a Kickstarter prepared for the beginning of September. I had gotten to know JC of Real and Simulated Wars fairly well over the previous couple of years, and he was excited to try and help. After some planning sessions we decided to run a few segments on his blog about the game. My plan was to begin the Kickstarter after giving it a few weeks to garner attention. I was hoping that the forward momentum would help us reach our relatively modest development funding goal.

  The segments ran in Real and Simulated Wars as planned, and it got a lot of positive attention. My team and I also spent time on other forums to attempt to generate even more attention. Then something even more exciting happened; Rock, Paper, Shotgun picked up on my project and posted about it! Morale was high and we thought we might actually pull this thing off!

 Then came the reality check. The Kickstarter began September 1 (to coincide with the 1939 German invasion of Poland), and the first day went well. Despite the initial success I sensed that things were not trending in the right direction. Funding quickly flat-lined and I started to see a fair amount of less-than-positive feedback. There was plenty of constructive criticism to take note of, but some other criticism was rather obnoxious and baffled me with its angry tone. I soon figured out that much of the venom was fuelled by scepticism. Behind the scenes I tried to salvage the campaign with different measures, but after a week I felt like anything we did was going to be too little too late. There was a lot of time still left on the campaign (with potential donors still lurking), but I decided to end the campaign early, catch our breath, regroup and reassess.

 It sucks to fail, but I learned many critical lessons on many different aspects. The baptism of fire was the best source of accurate information I could have gotten. I got perfect clarity on what we needed to do. Furthermore, I made many new friends that were excited to provide positive support in a variety of ways. A perfect example is our forum on Before the campaign I was using a Google Group as a forum, but during the Kickstarter Asid of graciously offered me space on his forum. So yes, we failed to reach our primary objective, but the project still made a significant advance forward as a result.

 Immediately after the Kickstarter I took a deep breath and re-evaluated our approach. Perhaps the core lesson learned was attaining greater public confidence. Software development projects are met with greater scepticism with Kickstarter, and I had to address this. If we build greater public confidence then we have a much better chance at reaching our crowdsourcing goals. All I was showing in my Kickstarter was my game concept, what it wanted to achieve, some of the support we had, and some conceptual pictures. The public needed to see more since our team had no game production credentials.

  The obvious question now becomes “How are you going to attain greater public confidence?” There are a number of ways that we are addressing this. The first way is simply to continue to have a presence (i.e. our forum and website), and continue to market ourselves and our project. The best way is to actually produce something. As I mentioned earlier Theater of Operations is too ambitious with our current constraints, however we are currently working on taking a board wargame from a known publisher and creating a computer version. I can’t talk more about it yet because of where we are at in the process, but we plan to have something out before this fall.

  While the board game project diverts our programming attention away from ToO the potential benefits far outweigh the diversion. Ironically the board game project may lead to faster development of ToO for a couple of reasons. The board game will be easier to develop with a simpler scope, and it will give our team more experience and confidence when it comes to programming a complex game like ToO (more confidence, faster execution). Additionally, it will create a trickle of revenue. Accomplishing the board game project may open other immediate sources of funding that makes another Kickstarter completely unnecessary. Like Cicero said "the sinews of war are infinite money"! It is every bit as true for creating war games too!!

  As it stands now the ToO game design and algorithms are mostly complete and ready for formal beta testing. I am being brutally honest when I say that we are a long way off of any computer playtesting, because A LOT of code still needs to be developed before that can happen. The programmers indicate that once they can get through with building all the foundational programming for ToO, adding all the game algorithms should be relatively easy.

 Currently we are doing a ‘manual’ live play test of ToO. We are running a scenario that takes place in Normandy called Blue, Gray, and Bocage. I don’t want to mislead anyone, so I will reiterate that everything is being accomplished by hand at the moment. So I am using spreadsheets to track and compute results, and I create the visuals using Vassal. While some may scoff at the thought of doing this, I am getting great design information to adjust and tweak. So progress is currently being made in small increments, but it is progress nonetheless. Additionally, people can see the basic concepts in action.

  Our forum has gobs of information. I give updates, links to videos, insight to game concepts, and discussion on various aspects. This is also where we are doing our live play test. I encourage all that are interested to check it out and feel free to join the discussion.

The Core Team of BBG

  Matt McCoppin is the game designer for Theater of Operations and the ringleader/founder of Buckeye Battle Group. He has over 2 decades of military experience, and he is a lifelong war gamer. He enjoys most genres of gaming from historical to fantasy. He enjoys all mediums (computer, board game, or miniatures), and all levels of combat (strategic, operational, and tactical). He has been designing various games since he was 5 years old, but never tried to get one published…till now!

  David Hazlett is our lead programmer and is a cofounder of Paint BiNumbers Studios. His company mostly does consulting work in the gaming industry, and they work closely with Ohio State University researchers. Many projects they do are gamification of daily tasks or therapy. They have partnered with Games That Move You to develop a stroke rehabilitation video game using the Kinect to track a stroke patient's skeleton and have them do gestures to control game actions while getting their therapy at the same time. He is a foundational member of Buckeye Battle Group and has been working on writing the software needed to make our game a reality!

  Mitchell Arthur is a foundational member of Buckeye Battle Group, in fact he was the first programmer to join the team. He is currently a .NET web applications developer at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He has been passionate about gaming ever since he popped a 3.5" floppy into his computer with the title "The Oregon Trail" on it. The first strategy video game he can remember playing was Axis and Allies, and strategy games have consumed vast amounts of his time ever since. He started game development in 2012 with Unity 3.5 in a class at The Ohio State University. Ever since then, he can’t stay away from Unity and game development.

  John Rose is a foundational member of BBG, but he was too busy to give us a bio in time. So we will just say that he has been developing software for a LOOONG time (since the early ‘80’s).

  Lincoln Stanley has many hobbies that include reading, video games and working out. He enjoys all things technical, so he builds computers and websites when he can. He is a former soldier and worked as a linguist in military intel, so he tries to maintain his knowledge of foreign languages as well. He has degrees in Korean, History and Business Intelligence yet he works in finance…figure that one out! His love of gaming in general and historical strategy in particular is what gets him excited to be part of this project.

  “Pres" is a programmer for BBG. He has been playing computer wargames since the 80's, and he is an avid student of military history. He has always wanted to develop wargames, and he worked for a computer gaming company for a while to get some experience in the industry. Creating games has always been an interest, and now is a perfect chance to be a part of BBG.

Part One   THEATER OF OPERATIONS: The Game I would like to introduce you to Theater of Operations (ToO) . On the surface it appe...

Theater of Operations: The Game (Pt 1) Theater of Operations: The Game  (Pt 1)

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Theater of Operations

Part One

I would like to introduce you to Theater of Operations (ToO). On the surface it appears to be like most WWII operational level wargames, but it doesn’t take long to realize this title has a number of unique qualities that set it apart from others in this genre. Players take control of either the Axis or Allied forces as they battle in 1944 through the hedgerows of France, the Soviet steppes, or the mountains of central Italy. In each scenario you will direct the forces under your command to crush your foes.

But what sets it apart? To start with ToO will allow multiplayer (up to 8 players) to be assigned various command roles in each scenario. Next ToO will allow players to fight out tactical engagements “manually” using however they wish, and input the battle results back in to ToO. These aspects are discussed in far more detail below. First I will go over the core game features. A comprehensive video can be viewed here:

Core Features

* Operational level combat as the Allies or Axis in the European Theater of Operations in 1944
* PC/Mac (mobile platforms planned for future release)

* We-go style of turn based play (explained below)

* A detailed combat resolution system

* Scenarios can be small (a few kilometres of land) to huge (thousands of kilometres of land)

* Scenario editor to allow user created scenarios

* Typical unit size: battalion, some company-sized

* Accurately depicted units based on actual tables of organization

* Players can organize powerful battle groups of units to perform assigned tasks

* Artillery units can perform missions to interdict enemy units and movement, counter-battery, and battlefield support

* Engineer units can bridge rivers, lay mines, clear mines, and fortify units

* Limitations due to command and control (or lack thereof)

* Fatigue, casualty levels, unit cohesion, supply levels, equipment levels, and more are tracked for every unit

* Detailed supply system to create real life limitations to commanders

* Various terrain and weather impacts

* Fog of war

Unique Features

 ToO will allow up to 8 total players to be assigned command roles. If a given side has more than 1 commander, then additional players are assigned command roles as subordinate commanders. For example, if a player is commanding a corps sized force that contains two divisions of troops, then additional players may be assigned roles as division commanders, and/or regimental commanders. Subordinate commanders are only responsible for the troops under their command. There is no hard limit to the number of roles a given player may be assigned. There will also be flexibility to allow role reassignment after the game has started. This can add lots of exciting possibilities for your war gaming experience! You can watch our video on command roles for a more thorough explanation

The other major unique feature is that  players may opt for battles to be played out using other tactical level games instead of using the in-game battle resolution system in ToO. ToO will produce battle data to players (we call it an order of battle) to allow them to manually resolve tactical battles whenever they wish. Players may use whatever game system they want (other computer games, miniature battles, board games). Once the tactical battle is complete, players can input the battle results back into ToO. This means that ToO can act as a dynamic campaign layer for players who enjoy tactical level games. This aspect also creates lots of gaming opportunities, just use your imagination! You can watch our video on tactical battle resolution for a more thorough explanation

Game Scope

 The base game will contain scenarios in Normandy, Italy, and Eastern Front in the summer of 1944. The game scope will be expanded by DLC to different areas and time periods. I hear the groans now about DLC, but if you don’t want to play in North Africa of 1942 then simply avoid this DLC. Only buy the area and time periods that interest you!

Game Play

 Players take command of Axis or Allied forces (primarily but not limited to German, US, British and Commonwealth, and Soviet troops) and re-write history. A great amount of detail and analysis has been included to help simulate military operations. Players are rewarded for carefully planning their actions and taking calculated risks. Players will have to deal with real life limiting factors such as terrain, weather, fatigue, supply, time and space planning factors, and random SNAFU’s to name just a few. 

 Play will be scenario based with each side attempting to meet their assigned victory conditions. Scenarios can range in size from a small regimental engagement all the way to commanding multiple corps of troops and everything in between. Scenarios can last a few hours to weeks covering a few kilometres or thousands of kilometres of land. Game map granularity will be 100 meter “tiles” which will allow dynamic unit movement and placement at the operational level. The game will include a scenario editor that will allow players to create their own scenarios.

 Players can issue various orders to the units under their command, and units will attempt to carry them out to the best of their ability. Many unit types can be split apart and organized with other units to create a hybrid unit called ‘battle group’. It can be a combined arms force that is issued orders like any other unit and sent in to combat.

What is “We-go” style gameplay?

We-go style means there are 2 phases to each turn: Orders Phase and Action Phase. During the Orders Phase, players simultaneously issue new orders to their units while the game action is paused. Once all players have completed issuing orders the Action Phase commences. During the Action Phase players may only watch as units attempt to execute their orders until the turn ends and a new Orders Phase begins. Staff reports will be provided to help summarize key events during the previous Action Phase.

Where the Project Stands Today

In short we are early in the development process. The game concept and design is advanced and is ready for formal beta testing, however the actual computer coding is not very far along at all. I will explain in greater detail at a later time, but the level of complexity with the project means we need to acquire a funding source to dedicate full-time programming. We are always interested in talking to people that are eager to help that have any sort of computer development related skills (programming, art or sound), or people with lots of money looking to donate to the cause! ;)

Future Plans

Once the base game is ready for public sale and enough DLC is prepared to go with the initial release, providing greater amounts of DLC will be the initial priority. We will also look at getting mobile development underway just as soon as possible. If ToO sells well enough, Steve at has indicated on their forum that they are willing to join forces in an effort to allow their Combat Mission series of games to interface directly with Theater of Operations. See for yourselves on the BFC forums:

As ToO matures additional titles can be prepared. Some examples would be a companion game covering the air war in WWII, and different time periods for Theater of Operations (perhaps Cold War).


Matt McCoppin  (In Part 2 I'll talk in detail about the development journey so far. Coming soon)

ToO Website Link

Part 2 published