Friday, January 16, 2015

Cross of Iron

Back during the early days of the PS2, a little known strategy game came out entitled Ring of Red.  It was a Konomi production, and featured an alternate history in which technology went in a decidedly diesel punk direction.  Over the course of World War 2 traditional tanks were phased out of mechanized units in favor of AFWs (short for Armored Fighting Walkers), a derivation of the real military acronym AFV (or Armored Fighting Vehicle).  The actual game's focus is on 1950s Japan which has been divided into two nations, one north and the other south, along communist and capitalist ideologies.  So, basically what actually happened to Korea except in the Land of the Rising Sun.  It's a fun game with deep mechanics, verisimilar animation, and an interesting setting.  Sadly, a poor quality localization combined with a low polygon counts kept the game from gaining mass appeal.  That said, I think it really deserves a second chance in the form of a sequel...or better yet a prequel!

Let me start off this idea of mine with a two word summery, Nazi mecha.  Now, I know what a lot of people will think, "You can't play as the Nazis!  They're the bad guys!!"  Valid point, but let me finish my pitch and maybe you'll see how it could work.  Two issues I had with Ring of Red were the repetitiveness of enemy types and overwhelming superiority of the player controlled AFWs.  Taking the role of a Wehrmacht field officer in 1939 would "lampshade" those otherwise glaring points.  Historically speaking the early part of World War 2 saw Axis forces making mincemeat out of pretty much any and all opposition...and there was a lot opposition; Poland, France, The United Kingdom, America in North Africa and of course Russia.  No shortage of enemy variety here.  The plot could follow a three act structure (Act 1: Fall of France, Act 2: The Desert War, Act 3: Battle of Kursk) with a prologue tutorial taking place during the Invasion of Poland and an epilogue bonus series of missions featuring the player and his buddies participating in Operation Valkyrie (the assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler).  In a pulp twist though the player could fight they're way through Waffen SS grenadiers to the "Wolf's Den" for a final showdown with the Führer himself in some kind of prototype super-weapon (think this, but in AFW form).

One of the most distinguishing elements of Ring of Red is its use of infantry in support of AFWs.  This feature would also be well served in a World War 2 themed game.  Aside from German infantry armed with standard issue "Kar" rifles, "Potato Masher" gernades and MG 34 (or later MG 42) portable machine guns, there were a variety of anti-armor upgrade weapons such as panzerfausts, panzerschrecks, schiessbechers and early in the war anti-tank rifles.  The bolt-action rifles could be swapped out for MP 40 sub-machine guns, and toward the very end of hostilities StG 44 assault rifles.  Exotic weapons that were actually used could give each side some interesting special abilities to work with.  Examples include the Goliath Tracked Mine, or for Allied forces, things like Russian anti-tank dogs.  I'm also fond of the idea of an American flail tank re-imagined as a close combat AFW.  Instead of white phosphorus though I'd go for functionally equivalent flamethrowers, since chemical weapons were never used in the European theater of war by the Axis or the Allies.

AFWs would retain the same basic roles as they had in Ring of Red; four legged heavies standing in for self-propelled guns, flexible mediums that are well suited for anything, close quarters "anti-AFWs" filling in for the spot held by tank destroyers, and of course the flightless bird shaped light AFWs with their fast speed plus anti-infantry armament (possibly flak too).  Taking a moment to discuss aircraft, Ring of Red features none because of an in-game agreement between super powers after the invention of the atomic bomb.  However, in a prequel there's no reason not to have Stukas come screaming in for dive bomb attacks or P-51 Mustangs make strafing runs.  I think it would be cool to radio in air support either to provide cover or strike ground targets devoid of anti-aircraft protection.

Customization for AFWs could get a major feature expansion allowing for upgrades to armor thickness/coverage, engine horsepower, and offensive weaponry.  Rather than attaching ammunition types to select crews, going with pre-mission loadouts would give players greater agency before starting combat operations.  Couple this with more detailed damage models (rather than the abstract hit point based system that was used) and choosing shell types could be truly interesting.  Say for example armor piercing to knock out specific subsystems versus high explosive to cause more widespread damage.  Then there could be shrapnel rounds to lay waste to infantry, smoke canisters to decrease enemy accuracy, and star shells to negate night combat penalties.  Incendiary could work like a "poison" status effect, inflicting relatively light initial damage but considerably more than normal over a long period of time.  Lastly, sabot shot can act like a one time super attack.  Instead of the weird ninety second overheat countdown that applies to all AFWs in Ring of Red, I'd much rather see limit timers based on logistic concerns like gun barrel wear, ammunition supplies or fuel reserves.  I enjoy the one-on-one nature of AFW skirmishes.  That said, it would be awesome if nearby AFWs could lend a hand in the form of indirect fire such as mortars (like the awesome Karl-Gerät), artillery (like the deadly Pak 88mm) and rockets (like the hilariously sounding Nebelwerfer).

In Ring of Red each AFW has three different squads each consisting of entirely male or female soldiers.  In this hypothetical prequel, I'd much rather see a half-dozen or so fire teams consisting of a man and woman each.  For example a long range sniper/spotter pair, a medic/engineer support duo, or an assault combo made up of a shock-trooper/flammenwerfer.  Obviously lots of other teams should become available as the player progresses such as anti-armor teams, sharp shooter teams and machine gun teams.  Not to mention certain nation specific units like British commandos and Russian assault engineers (who wore steel body armor!).  Instead of charging up special attacks by cycling troops between vanguard and reserve positions, I think some kind of command point system would add a nice layer of resource management to the mix.

Obviously, a current gen version of Ring of Red would benefit greatly from a graphical presentation standpoint.  Not just more detailed textures and higher polygon counts, but also detailed physics based damage effects, surround sound, and a sleeker interface.  Personally, I'm fond of a slightly watercolor-over-pencil-sketch look since I think it would suit the game's last century time frame, but that's just how I picture it in my head.  One other thing that's needed is a new title...something that hearkens back to the original, but doesn't have a "2" at the end...

No comments:

Post a Comment