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Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far Preview

Atomic Games returns to Operation Market Garden with the sequel to Close Combat


Students of World War II have long been fascinated with Operation Market Garden: Monty's ballsy push into the Netherlands to cut off the Germans in the west. The idea was to use a single, concerted thrust, rather than a broad advance, to knock the Germans into a smaller box. The problem was the numerous Dutch rivers that lay in the path of the advance, and the solution was to use paratroops to capture the bridges at Eidhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem intact. From there the Allies could turn their attention to the Fatherland itself.

The operation, recounted in Cornelius Ryan's classic narrative history A Bridge Too Far, started out well, with many of the bridges captured quickly. But things bogged down at the farthest point, Arnhem, as the British and Polish Airborne Divisions were cut off by a concerted, and unexpected, counterattack by the 9th and 10th Panzer SS Divisions. Of the ten thousand men caught in Arnhem, only two thousand would escape. It was nasty, close-quarters fighting for a single bridge and the city surrounding it. In some case, combat degenerated into house-to-house fighting.

Keith Zabalaoui and Atomic Games are no strangers to Arnhem: Their V for Victory: Market Garden is the best simulation of the battle ever produced. Atomic has left behind its landmark turn-based V4V engine for a new landmark system in Close Combat. Now, with Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far, Atomic is taking the system to the next level and once again turning its sights on Market Garden.

"Operation Market Garden was exciting," Zabalaoui points out. "If you don't know that much about it, there are several books and even a terrific movie about it. It was a late war battle with elite German, British, Polish, and American airborne units, and German and British infantry and armor units. Either side could win, although the odds are against the Allies. And the clock is ticking all the while. Oh, and as the British player, you get to shoot at tanks with spring-loaded anti-tank weapons. What could be more fun?"

Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far is not just a new battle and set of units in an old engine: The entire game has been rewritten from the ground up. The biggest visible change is in the maps. In the original, Atomic rendered little tiles and pieced them together to form the game maps. For A Bridge Too Far, however, they prerender each map as a whole piece that is kept in memory. They look sharp, scroll much faster and more smoothly, and depict the battlezones more accurately. (Pre-invasion aerial photography was used as the source for the maps.)

One complaint about the original Close Combat was that the men were too small, which was true since, of course, they were in scale. To address this complaint, the men in A Bridge Too Far will be slightly bigger. One wag who saw the early screenshots compared the resized soldiers to "bloated Ronald McDonalds with automatic weapons." This has changed: "When we posted early screenshots of A Bridge Too Far, a lot of people said they didn't like the size of the men; they were too big. This is frustrating because the single biggest request from Close Combat was to make the men more visible. In reality, the men are about one or two pixels bigger, but the buildings are now to scale. In Close Combat, the buildings were 2x or 3x. Even so, we have redone all of the soldiers since we released those first screenshots. I think people will find them more agreeable and stop comparing them to gun toting, obese versions of commercial spokespeople."

In addition to mapping, the interface has also been changed and streamlined, making all the functions more accessible. A strategic layer has been added that allows the player to choose where to fight next and how to handle supply. It wasn't a matter of not being happy with the original Close Combat, Zabalaoui says, but of taking the next step forward: "I really feel good about Close Combat. I'm proud of it and what it represents. I can't say that I'm disappointed with anything in it. A Bridge Too Far just lets us improve what we did for Close Combat. I told people on Usenet that we were keeping a list of their suggestions and I wasn't lying. We had lengthy list of items and we went over each and every one prior to the start of work on A Bridge Too Far. Many of the changes came from that list. To name few, we now let you issue orders during deployment, we changed the way battles end, and we allow the player to customize his forces prior to battle."

Some of those forces will include a few new units, for a total of 130 different kinds of units, including British and Polish forces as well as American and German units. The most requested was a flamethrower, so Atomic implemented several different kinds. There are also new German armor and half-tracks, American-made Firefly tanks, and more. The behavior model for all these units is also being tweaked, including the psych model and the AI. Tank behavior has been improved, and troop logic now governs the use of multistory buildings.

But why does Atomic keep returning to World War II instead of something fantasy-based or even modern warfare? "We've considered it a lot," Zabalaoui explains. "We're not married to WWII. We'd love to do a sci-fi or fantasy game if we found the right one. Right now, though, I think there's a glut of sci-fi games either on the market or in the pipeline. Fantasy is possible, too, but we're not finished exploring Earth's history. It's fascinating. I couldn't make this stuff up."

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