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Wednesday What We’re Reading (Dec. 11, 2019)

Thanks to church choir obligations, Winter Wargaming will likely start in early January, or possibly late December.

Defense

Science and Technology

Grab Bag


  1. I found one source which said 425km, but that appears to be a miles/kilometers mixup. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Dec. 4, 2019)

Given that last week was Thanksgiving, you might have expected last week to be the short edition. That’s where you’d be wrong! We were both on the road, and neither of us did much of the linkable sort of reading.

Books

  • When Tigers Ruled the Sky mini-review: starts slow, especially coming from an uber-detailed Massie book. Mr. Yenne tried to do the same biographies-of-everyone-involved thing, but didn’t have the page count to do it justice. It picked up dramatically after two or three chapters, when he got into the actual Flying Tigers action, and that part did not disappoint. It gets the Fishbreath Recommends stamp of approval.
  • Empires of the Sea mini-review: this is a reread, so no revelations here. It’s an extremely readable account of the sieges of Rhodes (briefly), Malta (extensively), and Nicosia and Famagusta (briefly), plus the Battle of Lepanto (extensively). The author has a good sense for characters, but spends a suspicious amount of time on drawing equivalences between Christendom and the Turks in re the brutality and slavetaking common at the time. I’d have to dig up some better sources before I say I trust that take1, but the book still gets my thumbs up. (I am, after all, reading it a second time.)

Guns

Defense

Hong Kong

The Solitary Grab Bag Item


  1. In the latest edition of his Hardcore History podcast, Dan Carlin remarked that, in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, everyone was bad but the Japanese were worse (my paraphrase). The Christians and Turks of the 16th century strike me as broadly similar. Nobody comes out smelling like roses, but it’s not wrong to identify degrees of badness. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 27, 2019)

Happy Thanksgiving! If you aren’t an American, you can overeat and nap tomorrow anyway. We’re very egalitarian that way.

Books

  • I’m going to be spending my time on When Tigers Ruled the Sky and Empires of the Sea this Thanksgiving.

Defense

History

Science and Technology

Sport

Guns

Grab Bag

Some brief thoughts on game design: make the player earn it

Among the many things parvusimperator and I chat about on our coffee breaks at work are video games, and in particular those we’re playing at any given moment. For me, for now, that’s BattleTech, the recent turn-based entry by BattleTech (the miniatures wargame) creator Jordan Weisman. For parvusimperator, it’s been Resident Evil 2 2, PS4 boogaloo. That is, the recent Resident Evil 2 remake1. The two are very different games, but in the end, they do make the player earn it.

BattleTech: mercenary life, paycheck-to-paycheck edition

In BattleTech-the-setting, mercenary companies are undisputably the coolest way to play. The meta-story around the battles writes itself—dragging damaged mechs back to the dropship, patching them up as best you can, sending them out again to pay the bills.

A lot of BattleTech-the-setting PC games have only partially delivered on this promise in the past. The majority of them have been mech-piloting games rather than mech-management games, which makes it more difficult to come up with an AI that properly challenges the players. Too, it takes a more serious masochist to pilot a degraded mech in first-person than it does to manage some other poor shmuck doing the driving.

BattleTech, on the other hand, leads hard into the mercenary-life-is-painful trope. Not quite as much as Battle Brothers, but not too far behind it, either. In particular, early in the game, you’ll find yourself barely getting by, scrabbling for easy money wherever you can come across it, and cursing the moments when your intel misses some key piece of information about the strength of the opposition.

Eventually, things get better. You hire a few more mech pilots, so that losing one to injury doesn’t put you so far behind the curve. You salvage a few more mechs2, so you can field more weapons or sub in a B lance if your A lance is in for repairs. I’m in the early midgame now, and have a few months of salary cushion and close to a second lance. Things are still tight, though, and unlikely to get very much less tight until I can bulldoze missions with maximum firepower. One or two bad drops, and I’ll be right back where I was, only getting along by the skin of my teeth.

What you get over time is resilience—the game itself doesn’t get any easier, but setbacks get smaller proportional to what you’ve attained.

Resident Evil 2: the cool toys are for closers

My thoughts on this one are less my own and more parvusimperator’s transcribed, but he’s working on defense commentary articles, and we all want him to keep working on those, so here we are.

I’d wager that many of the people playing the Resident Evil 2 remake have fond memories of Resident Evil 2 the original. The other side of the coin is that those same people remember how Resident Evil 2 went. So, in addition to the variations present in the original (that you can play from the perspective of both main characters), it adds a few more wrinkles, which I’ll leave parvusimperator to expand upon in a comment, if he wants3.

Eventually, after you’ve beaten the game with a given character in a given manner, you can go back and play with all the toys from the get-go, infinite ammo, and suchlike things. You know, how you would approach a zombie thing if you knew one was coming, rather than (like the characters) you’re surprised by it.

What you get over time is ease—the game gives you tools to beat it more readily.

Conclusion: winning easily is more fun if it was hard at first

In both games, the end result is positive feedback loops. Play well? The game makes it easier for you to win later. Put another way, the difficulty curve is a hill: it starts on an upslope and ends on a downslope.

“I should make my game easier just as people are getting better at it” sounds like a questionable design choice, but it makes a lot of sense in both cases. In BattleTech, the change in difficulty curve is subtler, but important nevertheless. If the game was so finely tuned that no matter how impressive a mercenary company you put together, you’re always just barely getting by, it wouldn’t feel at all rewarding.

In Resident Evil 2, the change is more obvious. “Here’s infinite ammo!” is not sneaky. At the same time, though, it makes sense. Why are you replaying the game? Because you enjoyed it the first time through, and want to see it again. Do you want to do things the survival horror way? Maybe you don’t. After you’ve seen it how you were supposed to, the game ceases to care if you want to play outside the boundaries.

So there you have it4. Make your game get harder at first, then sneakily (or not, depending on your goals) easier later on, so that your players can properly experience gaining mastery.


  1. I’m going to bury this tidbit to see how closely he reads my articles: Resident Evil 3 is reportedly getting the same treatment
  2. And that’s your only option. Nobody sells fully-functioning mechs—why would they? They’re difficult or impossible to make. If you have a working one, you keep it. If it breaks down and you can’t fix it, you sell the bits on and use the money to buy bits to repair your other mechs. 
  3. There’s a lot of creativity in how many New Game+ options you have. 
  4. It’s something I’ve been thinking about with respect to tabletop RPG design, too, and why perfect balance is not necessarily desirable. If you get more powerful, but your foes also do at exactly the same rate, what have you accomplished but for reskinning the fight against six rats at the very start of the campaign? 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 20, 2019)

So, Winter Wargaming is Rule the Waves 2. For those outside of the know, it covers naval architecture and battles at sea between 1900 and 1955. I’m thinking France for this game, given that it has a clear route to dominating the Mediterranean, and that’s always a fun place to play.

Defense

Guns

Science and Technology

Grab Bag

Protests, Rebellions, Etc.

  • Bolivia protests inspire Chilean protests? – I didn’t actually read this one. It just indicates that there are protests going on in Chile.
  • Hong Kong protesters not driven by hope – “They talked about Xinjiang, and what China had done to the Uighur minority. I’ve heard about the fate of the Uighurs from so many protesters over the months. China may have wanted to make an example out of the region, but the lesson Hong Kongers took was in the other direction—resist with all your might, because if you lose once, there will be a catastrophe for your people, and the world will ignore it.”
  • Scenes from Hong Kong, again

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 13, 2019)

No votes were forthcoming on the Winter Wargaming topic, so I’ve unilaterally decided it’ll be Rule the Waves 2. I think I’ll probably post it over at Many Words Main, so as to avoid leaving it so barren.

Defense

Science and Technology

World Politics

Sport

Grab Bag

M1 CATTB Revisited

A couple years ago, I wrote on the very cool experimental M1 CATTB. Having found some more information on the vehicle, I decided to revisit it.

We’ve talked a little about the new gun, engine, and turret already. Let’s look at the autoloader. The autoloader was the same chain-style autoloader found on Leclerc and K2, and it held 17 rounds of either 120 mm or 140 mm ammunition. 140 mm ammunition was two-piece, and was stored in its ready to fire configuration in the bustle, which accounts for a lot of its length. The new powerpack opened up more room at the rear of the hull, and this was used for reserve ammo stowage. The reserve stowage could hold 22 140 mm rounds separated into the two pieces, or 33 120 mm rounds. There was also a mechanical ammunition transfer system to refill the ready magazine from the reserve stowage.

The new powerpack was the AIPS, and it had a total1 volume of 4.81 m3. This is a savings of about 3.5 m3 of space, which was used for the ammunition stowage mentioned above. The engine itself displaced 1,682 cubic inches, with an oil cooling system. It used a special oil to handle higher temperatures better. A key advantage of the oil-only cooling system was that it was much more compact than a water cooling system and used less power to run the cooling fans, needing only 120 HP for the cooling fans instead of 240 like most other 1,500 HP diesels of the time.

CATTB also featured a brand new track. The old track had two 9-inch wide track shoes mounted side-by-side, spanning the width of the track pins. Track guides (which travel between the roadwheel pairs) were bolted between the shoes. The new track for the CATTB had a single 25-inch wide shoe to span the pins and integrated the track guide with the shoe. This was intended to uniformly distribute pin loading and increase track life. The goal was 5,000-6,000 miles of track life, more than double that of the older tracks, which was approximately 2,500 miles.

CATTB replaced the torsion bar suspension of the M1 with an in-arm hydropneumatic suspension system. There were two designs that were being tested. Switching to a hydropneumatic suspension saved about 1,700 pounds in the vehicle, and frees up several inches of space in the hull, to lower the vehicle silhouette or to add extra belly protection. Being a test bed, neither option was selected on the CATTB.

In my previous article, I commented on the very large number of smoke grenade dischargers on the CATTB. These were for an early soft-kill active protection system. The sensors cueing it were a radar warning receiver and a laser warning receiver. It could automatically fire smoke to obscure the tank, or automatically slew the gun to face the threat. I’d be concerned about its effectiveness without additional IR or radar-based missile approach warning systems.

CATTB was also projected to test the Multi-sensor Target Acquisition System (MTAS). This added a low-power millimeter-wave radar to the tank, with a field of view of 180° in azimuth and 7.5° in elevation. Range was projected to be about 5 km.

Since this is a test bed, it’s not intended to enter mass production, so I won’t evaluate it as such. But I will review the new features:

  • I think the turret design is a pretty good one and it looks cool. If you’re going for a manned turret and aren’t trying to reduce the profile like Leclerc, I think it’s a solid design. But I’d prefer an unmanned turret like TTB/T-14.
  • Provided you’re ok with the two-man turret, the autoloader is solid. The really nice feature is the auto-resupply from reserve stowage to the ready stowage of the autoloader. And 39 rounds of 140 mm is a pretty good capacity. 50 rounds of 120mm is also a good loadout.
  • I’m kind of skeptical of the engine, since this hasn’t been tried anywhere else to my knowledge. There’s probably an SAE paper somewhere behind a paywall that would tell me why. Anyway, I’m also skeptical of the idea of needing ‘special oil’ for my tanks. Plus, there are some other smallish, proven 1,500 HP diesels available these days.
  • New track seems better than the old track. More life and fewer parts. Sold.
  • Hydropneumatic suspension is better than torsion bar suspension. More room in the floor for mine protection or more room for systems or less hull height is a really good thing. Active hydropneumatic even allows you to get a bit more elevation/depression out of your gun, which can help make the turret roof lower.
  • I love active protection systems, but this seems a bit early yet. It probably would have been worked out with more testing, but I’d like more ways to cue the system. Also, I strongly prefer having hard-kill capability. At the time, it’d be worth the work, but now there are a ton of off-the-shelf systems that just work. And are hard-kill to boot.
  • Radar tracking/targeting is a cool supplement to thermals. And if you set it up right, you can use it for missile approach warning too. I’d just want a way to switch it off sometimes.

  1. Engine, transmission, cooling system, final drives, power generators, batteries and fuel for one battlefield day 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 6, 2019)

With the Armored Brigade review now posted, I can ask a question I’ve been waiting to ask: for Winter Wargaming this year, what’s the commentariat’s feeling on Armored Brigade vs. Rule the Waves 2?

Defense

History

Science and Technology

Hong Kong

Grab Bag


  1. I’ve always enjoyed this bit of wordplay, which only makes sense if you expand ‘CDR’ when reading. 

Fishbreath Plays: Armored Brigade Review

As the annual treachery of daylight saving’s close casts its pall over Many Words HQ here in Western Pennsylvania, we turn our attention to another hilly part of the world of somewhat greater interest to wargamers and the broader defense affairs community: the Fulda Gap.

Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm is my current recommendation for the definitive Cold War armored combat command experience. Can Armored Brigade unseat it? Read on to find out!

Continue reading

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 30, 2019)

Busy morning at the office. Commentary status: limited.

Defense

Games

History

Grab Bag