We decided to leave out the barbecue jokes and get right to it, welcome to a new development diary for East vs West!
You can’t have a game about the Cold War without nuclear weapons lurking in the shadows, so adding a new nuclear engine to the Hearts of Iron formula, with a revamped graphical interface and AI was a challenge we happily took on. This, of course, raised a lot of questions from the beginning. How much do we need to focus on the nuclear parts? How much do the players want play with nuclear wars at all? How can we avoid too much micromanagement? How can we model missiles and launches? How should the AI use nuclear weapons, and how it will react to a nuclear war? Many issues, both technical and game-design related, are implied once you introduce superweapons.
We set out to establish a balance between creating a respectable nuclear engine without focusing too much on a game mode that will so drastically alter the world and the gameplay as soon as it’s used. The nuclear weapons should foremost be a means of last resort, a deterrent, a proper tool in a Cold War arsenal.
What we wanted:
- A relatively simple but effective GUI for controlling all nuclear weapons, without micromanagement of nuclear forces
- To allow playing with most modern nuclear platforms of Cold War
- Simple and effective warning systems to provide information about imminence of nuclear seen in the war like DEFCON or the Doomsday Clock
- More detailed information on the effects of nuclear strikes
- Statistics for nuclear forces
- The option of having limited nuclear war and not only a global war that would end the game
- Missile defense systems
- An AI which is capable of deciding how to evaluate a proper counterstrike
- Auto-targeting system that helps set your priorities
- A brand new map-mode with an overview of nuclear operations
What we wanted to avoid:
Micromanagement craziness of burning hell including but not limited to:
- Placing and launching nuclear missiles one by one on the map
- Selecting targets for each nuclear unit
- A too simple washed out AI that would finish the game immediately on the arrival of nukes or even worse an AI the player couldn’t trust on handling the precious weapons
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)
Even the name is cool enough to impress most people and we kept nuclear missiles but changed them radically. They are not selectable units anymore. Though they are still units with stats and models, but the player is not able to control them directly. Instead, ICBMs can be launched from a new special building called silos visible on the map. This will tell you about the model of weapons and the available number of salvoes. ICBMs are the second line of your nuclear weaponry but they exist in great numbers for the major nuclear powers.
Submarine-launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)
SLBMs are also present in the game, and they can be launched, of course, from ballistic missile submarines or popularly known as boomers. Though you have the option to move them into position, the launch procedure itself is controlled from the nuclear map-mode/GUI. Boomers are definitely special in your nuclear arsenal, with a hidden position closer to the enemy, so they have less time to respond to your assault and are strategically also very suitable for a second strike capability.
Nuclear air forces
We didn’t want go to all the way down to the tactical level and model tactical nuclear weapons, including standoff nuclear cruise missiles. At the strategic level, we focused on bigger nukes attached to strategic bombers. Though they have an important role in the early years of Cold War, this decreases over time as ballistic missile tech improves. The big change compared to other games of the genre is that you don’t have to attach nukes to bombers anymore, you just select which bombers you want use as nuclear platforms and at the moment you have enough nukes, the bombs are automatically attached to the plane ready to be delivered to unwanting “customers”.
The importance of centrifuges
Nuclear weapons are still consumed as a pool, but instead of keeping the warheads in pool we maintain enriched uranium which is generated by special structures called centrifuges that you can build in your country. It is important to keep these buildings safe, because without them you are unable to load your vessels and silos with nuclear weapons. You can refine weapons grade uranium from the mined raw uranium resource.
If you have enough weapons in your pool to fit out a vessel or silo, they are automatically loaded at bases after a moddable delay time. Delay times also depend on your platform type and model.
The nuclear mapmode
With its red tones, the nuclear map-mode’s primary function is to show the nuclear strengths of countries and your own nuclear assets. Darker red means greater nuclear strength. Silos are shown in provinces where they are built with a range indicator circling the silo to show how far you can strike. Similarly, you can check the weapon ranges of your boomers. We figured all nations deserve a proper nuclear bunker mode.
Conditions of nuclear warfare
The first self-evident condition is being at war with the target country. In addition to this, you have to check your DEFCON level, because you can’t launch if you have DEFCON level above level 1. Of course you should have your nuclear platforms fully armed with nukes if you want initiate the nuclear strike and the targets must be in the range of the weapons. Want a forecast? There will be rain in Washington DC tonight!
Targeting via the Nuclear control panel
The nuclear control panel can only be opened from nuclear map-mode. It is very simple but it gives you access to your different platforms. Either you can allocate all of your weapons with a main slider, or you can set it individually with platform sliders. For example it’s entirely possible to allocate 80% of your warheads to SLBMs and 20% to your ICBMs, while keeping nuclear air forces on ground with a 0% setting. The panel also shows the countries launching missiles at you.
Targeting can be done by the AI but we have kept the ability for it to be done manually (painting provinces on map) or in a greater scale (painting regions). The AI also has several modes to select high priority targets whether in a specific country or worldwide. If targeting the economy is your priority, then the richest provinces will be targeted, while selecting a military priority will choose targets that represent the highest military threat. If you have no real preference regarding target priorities, you can use the general “All” choice which will weight provinces by both economic and military value.
Opening the target window will let you see which targets the AI has selected and the information sorted by the selected priority. You can’t modify this list, but you can always command the AI to update it with selection of other target areas or priorities. The target window also shows the allocated weapons with their model name and yields.
The red button
Once your targets are set, think of a loved one, take a deep breath and press the launch button. Missiles will not be launched immediately due to an order delay modifier which can be fairly high at early technology levels. In addition, boomers generally will launch earlier than nuclear silos. You can’t control your missiles once they are launched, but you will see their trajectory simulating a ballistic path. Progression can be followed with their arrows and a Target ID label above the estimated actual location. After launch, the mission window shows the progress of the attack and lists the missiles en route. Make sure to crawl under your desk at this point in anticipation of retaliation strikes, since the AI will respond to your attack in a similar scale to which is has been subjected. An eye for an eye, madness for madness.
Impact and effects
The effect of a missile’s impact depends on the type warhead in that specific model. Newer models don’t necessarily have greater impact; sometimes they provide greater range with a smaller nuclear footprint. Impact effects include decreasing the population, causing dissent in the target country, damaging the economy and destroying military units. Nuclear impacts damage neighboring provinces as well, but at a smaller percentage, as we figured close proximity nuclear explosions should rightfully be dangerous. Nuclear strikes will also cause diplomatic turmoil and expect your prestige to plummet.
Countermeasures and detection
Don’t fancy the massive losses of buildings and population? Don’t worry! We have the solution for you! With advanced technology, you will be able to build anti-ballistic missile systems which are represented by a special Anti ballistic missile (ABM) site building. They carry a huge cost and building time are high but you have a chance to shoot down enemy missiles in the region where the ABM site is built. You can also build an early warning site which allows detection of nuclear launches and a faster response.
Thank you and Best Regards from the East vs. West team!
Gábor Gombor (Design, hardcoding, GUI, techs)
Grega Trobec (GFX)
Jorge Martins (Hardcoding, Effects)
Zoltán Takács (Boomer scripting)
Ádám Kun (Silo map and buildings, techs)
Russ Odoni (Techs)
Davide Benedetti (SSBN OOB)