Oliver Keppelmüller (O), a treasury banker from Austria. He created a strategy game called The Seven Years War (1756-1763), alone, from scratch, releasing in late 2015. This game received 2 DLCs during 2016, expanding the battle game-play and adding a Swedish themed campaign of the Pomeranian War.
Ilja Varha (I), a Finnish Army officer and a military history buff, ran into Oliver’s game while working for a gaming magazine as a freelance writer. Ilja, with a history of modding, wargaming and simulators, both entertainment and military use, got involved in Oliver’s project and designed the Pomeranian War DLC. It was after the release of this DLC that the seed for Grand Tactician was planted.
Peter Lebek (P) a Control Room Operator in the Chemical Industry in Germany, joined the team in 2017 plugging a gaping hole in the team’s line. Now we had a full-time artist to improve the game’s visuals, especially the UI. Peter was previously involved in the Europa Barbarorum II mod for Total War, creating units and coding.
1. How and when did you get hooked on history?
O: Probably it started as I got my first LEGO castle.
I: Very early on, through computer games. I think it started with old WW2 fighter sims and later with strategy games such as Steel Panthers.
P: I remember reading old books with beautiful paintings of medieval soldiers back in the days. Modelling was also one of my hobbies as a child, creating those old planes and building armies of model soldiers. I think here it started somehow.
2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
O: It was always fascinating for me to imagine how historical people felt in certain situations, eg. when a general realized he had failed, and what he learned from his past.
I: I read a lot, mostly about (military) history, modern studies or historical books by the people who witnessed or experienced it.
P: It always catches my attention in every media and discussion. I can´t get enough of reading and learning from the past.
3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?
O: Not much until now ;-)
I: During high school I was thinking about going to study history in a university. But after I got into military service (which is compulsory in Finland), I decided to pursuit that career. I wrote my master’s thesis on military history. For all military people around the world, traditions are extremely important. Not only to know where you came from, but also to learn from. As a student of art of war, reading about history is very important. It’s a way of learning from other peoples’ experiences.
P: Well, my plan was to studying history after school and it was actually the only subject I wanted to study. However, in the end, I decided to do something "meaningful" -- and go to work in the industry. History became a hobby. And through history, I started to create artistic content for historical games. The circle is now closed, I guess.
4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
O: Knowing the past helps to understand the present.
I: People throughout the history have gone through similar situations as we go through today. It’s very important to learn from other peoples’ actions, the cause and effect of things in the past. It provides a compass to navigate the present, so to say.
P: History is repeating itself. And everything we saw in the past, we see again day by day.
5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
O: Guess what: "The American Civil War", this because it was perfectly documented and one of the first conflicts that came to live through photos. Furthermore, strategies and technologies heralded the dawn of a new era in warfare.
I: Currently the time from the 17th century to 19th century. Warfare, social politics and life in general during that time is fascinating to me.
P: I like every aspect of history and all eras. Not only the militaristic parts. Also socio-political, biographies or the everyday life of simple men 6000 B.C. But if you ask me to name one era, then it’s probably the time after Alexander's death and the Wars of the Diadochi, which was also my first project in art and history gaming. It´s incredibly interesting how different cultures melt together and the almost impossible task of controlling a huge empire without any modern ways of communication.
6. How difficult is it to create a game that balances history and playability or enjoyability?
O: Nearly impossible. Balancing between playability and historical accuracy is a thin red line. We tried to stay closer to historical accuracy but needed to rearrange a few topics in order for the game to stay enjoyable.
I: Very difficult. It’s always a trade off one way or another, and a compromise. Also in historical games players can cheat by knowing things they should now, if they try to immerse themselves in the game. For this reason, historical games as an art form are more like historical movies. They are created to entertain, they will cut corners and will provide a point of view maybe, but they never can convey the whole story, let alone truth.
7. Tell us about your upcoming release of Grand Tactician: The Civil War ? What sets it apart ?
I: The game is a huge project undertaken by a couple of guys. It’s our vision of a strategy game we wanted to play, but which did not exist before. The game has a campaign layer, where you manage your nation, the north or the south, during the American Civil War. When armies engage, you can fight the battles. It’s different from most other games in that it runs in real time and has realistic game mechanics like order delays. Most strategy games, especially in the grand strategic layer run turn-based. Real time allows more realism in military operations, as everything will have a delay. This means the player will have to plan ahead.
In the game we also try to tell the story of the war in a bit different way, through period art, photographs and documentary style cutscenes where we use colorized period photos and epic re-enactment footage from LionHeart FilmWorks.