On the 28th June of 1914 Austrian successor of the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand Habsburg is assassinated. The assassination was made and done by the group of Serbian nationalists, then citizens of Austro – Hungarian Empire who were trying to incorporate Bosnia to their country. In the result of the attack, Austria – Hungary gave Serbia ultimatum which is declined by them. The situation in Europe is tense: as the result of many of different agreements and treaties made in the beginning of the Bismarck era, the continent was divided into the hostile alliances. At one side the forces of entente (Great Britain, France, Russia) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria – Hungary and Italy). Europe mentally enters the military conflict and all the negotiations, talks and ways of resolving the frictions does not succeed. On the 28th July Austria – Hungary declares war to the Serbia, starting the domino effect caused by the complex system of international alliances. The greatest military conflict starts, which will take 4 years to end and will cause death of 16 millions of people.
HISTORY LINE: 1914-1918
The computer games from the turning point of 80ties and 90ties showed only a small portion of war actions: a couple of good aircraft simulators were issued, but generally it lacked a complete depiction. This gap was filled in 1992 by German studio Blue Byte who released for Amiga and later MS-DOS History Line 1914-1918. The titular HistoryLine is based on the engine of the popular series Battle Isle; it carries with impetus the player, like a good book, through the events of the orld War One. HL is basically, a history lesson: it involves the skirmishes played in 2 month intervals and the course of the war is shown through 24 missions during the 4 year conflict. They took into consideration the historical background, the units are thoroughly characterized, every mission is preceded by the summary of the course of fights in the last weeks. The player learns about the world events, technological novelties or even the trivial matters described in the newspapers’ of this period. Even the intro makes us feel the atmosphere and the historical background nicely: the cutscenes show the assassination in Sarajevo and the animated map of Europe explains the political complexities. The scene showing the lonely soldier on the battlefield titled „Somewhere on the Western front. Summer 1916” introduces us to the gameplay.
THEATRE OF WAR EVENTS
The first decision involves choosing the sides: France or Germany. It is a simplified choice, because a majority of developed countries participated in the war, but it immediately places us on one of the fighting sides. The gamescreen is divided into two parts, which enables us to play the rounds at the same time, and the gameplay involves two separate rounds: the movement phase and the attack phase. When one of the players starts the engines of their machines, the second player burns the fuse in his cannons. In 1992 it was an original approach, which was copied in the next years by a couple of games of this type. The objective of the game is taking over the hostile headquarters or simply destroying all enemy units. The map is seen from the bird view and is divided into the hexagon fields and different elements of scenery (hills, rivers, lakes, forests, roads), influence the properties of units (combat as well as movement). The time of the year also influences the properties of the units, for example on the winter maps the mobility of our army is usually smaller. On the maps we can also find depots and factories which can help us repair the existing or create new units. The buildings neutral at the beginning we first have to take over (we sometimes receive as the prize the units residing there), and from their number depends our ability to produce (manufacturing points). AI of the computer is set into an ultra optimistic attack and with a little bit of calculation and cunning we can defeat him quite easily. There is no fog of war in Hl and the realism of the strategy decreases because of that. Graphically the game looks great, the battle scenes are animated. The steering is simple: joystick or the mouse and the use of a couple of buttons from the keyboard.
The game begins In August of 1914 with the attack of Germany against France. In the first months of war cavalry, infantry and light artillery dominates on the scene of war, but with the passage of time armoured vehicles, airforce and navy become the main forces. Consecutive missions introduce new formations – we are the witnesses of industrialization of units with early bombers, tanks, airships and submarines in the forefront. The picturesque green meadows and hills from the summer of 1914 in the next months transform into full of bunkers, trenches and ditches the points of fortifications – the conflict was a positional war. When possessing the similar amounts of soldiers and equipment, the key to victory is of course the strategy and the level of training of your army. You gather an experience during the fights, so the important part of our decisions will be removing from the battlefield the damaged units, and then restoring them to use in depots. The experienced units fight more efficient, that is why we should not let them be destroyed, because the reinforcements created in depots have at the beginning a small fighting prowess. Every unit is characterized by completely different combat features and various mobility. Some of them, for example huge cannons, are slow and they receive a punishment for the move and restore their combat ability only in the next round. It is good to use transport vehicles such as lorries or ships.
GREAT WAR, GREAT JOY
Great graphics, music helping to create the proper atmosphere, good working animations and the whole historical depth make HL a really great strategy. Of course a realism of the game has a big gap between the later releases from the Panzer General genre, but the entertaining ability is really good and the gameplay is absorbing. For many players from our generation it was the first professional multiplayer game and nothing caused more joy than destroying the enemy cavalry from the hill. It is worth mentioning that for two player mode additional 12 maps were made. The game takes a lot of disk space (7 amiga diskettes) which was a big obstacle in the past, changing diskettes very often (map mode, cutscenes, fight simulations) was exhausting, so the majority of players resigned from the animated fight scenes choosing the simulation in the shortened version. The name of the game suggested the beginning of the whole series of historical games: British magazine CU Amiga (earlier Commodore User) in their review suggested the possibility of issuing the additional editions placed in the Roman, medieval or Napoleon
times. Unfortunately those plans never succeeded. In the USA, because of a greater recognition, this game was issued under title „The Great War 1914-1918”.
BLUE BYTE SOFTWARE
HL 1914-1918 was definitely a good release, but what is more important, considerably made it easier for the Blue Byte studio to develop. Smaller at the beginning developer from Dusseldorf invested in the complex projects – difficult to realize, but ambitious and visionary. This is how the main series of the studio developed,The Settlers, which through connection and realization of many different ideas was the first that developed strategy for Amiga, setting the standards for next years. Blue Byte exists to this day (the studio was taken over by Ubisoft in the January of 2001) and successfully produces and issues games for different platforms creating the beautiful, almost 30 years long, history among the computer games producers.
Article published in Komoda #7.