OnLine of Departure

Subscribe to Line of Departure

OnLine of Departure Support Wargames by Jim Werbaneth

Main

Articles

Scenarios

Supplements and Player's Aids

 THE MOVEABLE HERITAGE

HOW THE EVOLUTION OF COMPUTER GAMES OBSCURES THEIR OWN HISTORY AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT

Originally Published November 10, 2002

By Jim Werbaneth

There are two types of technology, mature and evolving.  Mature technology has reached the peak of its development; there might be some incremental improvements, and perhaps changes in production methods that are not noticed by the user except perhaps as reflected in improvements in cost or quality. 

Evolving technology embodies constant change that is most assuredly noticed by the user, who sees a steady progress in capabilities and usefulness, and sometimes in declining costs as well.

Every technology goes through both stages.  Taking a simple but critical example, edged tools and weapons went through an evolutionary phase that lasted tens of thousands of years, from the first hand axes into more sophisticated stone artifacts, such as obsidian knives and flint arrowheads, into the ages of copper, bronze, iron and steel.  Toward the end though, the march of technology slowed, then effectively ceased, as a steel kitchen knife of 2002 performs essentially the same as one of a hundred or two hundred years previously.  In the field of weaponry, the Japanese katana may well be the best cutting sword ever devised, and so now its craftsmen see their role not to improve upon it, but to lock the technology and its production methods in place, enshrining them as sacred elements of the Japanese cultural heritage.

One might even see some regression from the technological peak.  In the Middle Ages, Arab swordsmiths manufactured weapons from Damascus steel.  These beautiful blades had unique swirling designs in their metal, held a razor’s edge, and never rusted.  Unfortunately though, the recipe for Damascus steel is now as lost as the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and despite the best efforts of modern metallurgy and chemistry, researchers can approach but never quite duplicate what Middle Eastern craftsmen accomplished a thousand years ago.

The dawn of the twenty-first century is one of swift evolution in some critical technologies.  Communications technologies improve and expand rapidly in ways that were utterly unpredictable twenty-five to thirty years ago.  Consider for example the mobile telephone, which in the late sixties was a unit filling the trunk of a car, and used chiefly by executives in limousines, and by TV detectives.  But since the early eighties, it shrank to a package that fit into a shoulder bag, or a hand unit a little smaller than a World War II walkie talkie, then shrank further to something smaller than a pack of cigars, and in some cases now folds to a size a little bigger than a matchbox.

At the same time, the capabilities improve.  Originally, cellular phones used a fairly primitive analog system, with erratic sound quality and security, but now rely mainly on clear-sounding encrypted digital signals.  Text messaging, interactive games, and color graphics are now arriving with third-generation (“3G”) technology; whether they live up to the promises of the vendors’ hype remains to be seen, but whether or not consumers embrace it, the technology remains impressive.

Correspondingly, the price of mobile phone service declines, and market penetration accelerates.  What was the exclusive status symbol of the rich and famous in 1969 is cheap and available to all in 2002.  Mobile phone technology has become so inexpensive, easy to implement and pervasive, that it is a very attractive alternative to poor countries lacking the wherewithal for extensive landline networks.

Then too there is the Internet.

The evolution of the personal computer is central to the communications revolution.  Since 1965, when Gordon Moore first stated that computers’ processing power would double every eighteen months, Moore’s Law has been a valid rule of thumb to describe and predict the geometric pace of that technology’s evolution.  Even so, it does not do full justice to the way that the price of the technologies involved-------whether microprocessors or memory chips or hard drives-------entered into a downward spiral that enabled market penetration on a scale similar to mobile telephones.

A TALE OF TWO TECHNOLOGIES

There are two distinct technologies that provide the essential venues in wargaming.  One is that of the paper wargame, and the other personal computer.

Each consists of two basic parts in turn.  The traditional manual wargame has the material of its components, an amalgam of cardboard and ink in the familiar components; map, rulebook, unit counters, maybe some charts and tables on separate player’s aid cards.  In some cases there might be additional specialized pieces, such as specialized playing cards, plastic unit stands, and most too include dice.

Together, these constitute a very mature technology.  The fundamental form and format of the board wargame has been established for about forty years.  There are variations of course, such as mounted or unmounted maps, and shapes and sizes of the counters.  Even the graphic standards have been fairly steady for the last couple of decades; there might have been a burst of improvement in color printing and computer graphics starting about fifteen years ago, but after some dramatically rising standards, they have leveled off for the most part in the last ten years.  Even without the most modern graphics, a game from before that era, say an SPI title from the late seventies, retains a recognizable form, and the aesthetics of the map especially are comparable with the standards of 2002.

The second part of the manual boardgame can be described best as language.  That too is mature.

The language of the game is more than the form of English, French, Spanish, Japanese or whatever tongue the designer and publisher happen to speak.  It is the comprehensive set of concepts, methods and approaches customarily used in games.  Zones of control, sequence of play, combat results tables, all happen to be established elements of wargame design.  They extend too toward specific conventions; the movement-combat sequence within distinct and separate player turns, for example, is the predominate form of the sequence of play, and zones of control, where they exist, usually extend into the six immediately adjacent hexes.  Such conventions are so accepted that many, if not most, board wargames derive their unique identities through variations on their themes rather than through complete rejection of them.  There have been some relatively recent innovations, particularly the introduction of actions and variable initiative to sequences of play, but even these tend to be measured against the old ways, using the traditional approaches as benchmarks.

Rules formats too have firmed into a universally recognized form.  Writing styles may differ and so may organization to an extent, but the vast majority of wargames use a single rulebook with game functions laid out in clearly-defined cases.  At one time there were other methods, such as the introductory rule card and “Battle Manual” in some older Avalon Hill games.  Ultimately these proved to be evolutionary dead ends, whereas the notion of the single, comprehensive rulebook ended up as the enduring one by about 1975.

Computer wargames have their own roots in board wargaming, and share with it many of the same concepts and practices.  The mainstream of computer historical simulations share with their paper brethren hexes to regulate movement, a turn-based sequence of play, and the functional equivalent of, if not the always the same term for, zones of control.

The two defining, underlying elements of computer wargame technology are the same as those in all other manifestations of personal computer revolution, hardware and software.  The hardware is obvious; it is the computer on which the game in played, along with the network and Internet connections.  Even if one is playing solitaire, the latter are increasingly necessary to acquire patches, upgrades and new scenarios.

The software side is, naturally, the game itself, the executable files and all that support them.  It actually goes even further.  Connected intimately with the graphics card and monitor, the digital artwork and the graphics constitute part of the software component as well.  So does the artificial intelligence.

Both might be contained within the files, but their full importance cannot be expressed only in terms of how many files there are or how much space they take up on the hard drive.  The graphics are just as essential to the game as they are to any boardgame, and if they fail, are the part most likely wreck the player’s first impression.  Sound quality is similar, in that it is a function of hardware (sound card, speakers) as well as software (music files), and there is a big difference between punctuating gameplay with CD-quality clips of the Tchaikovsky, for instance, or a bunch of ineffectual beeps.

There is one part of the computer environment, determined by software, and which both encompasses all aspects of the game’s design and presentation, but which can invite little scrutiny.  That is the operating system.  In the personal computer world, there have been three operating systems of any importance, at least when it comes to games, all from Microsoft.  DOS [Disk Operating System] is the original, command-line based system, and the one on which nearly all users first became acquainted with desktop computing in the eighties and early nineties.  Windows 3.1 was the first truly successful Microsoft operating system to have a graphic user interface, but was actually less of an operating system than a set of common functions and an interfaced overlaid atop DOS.  Windows 95 pioneered the idea of putting the Windows approach front and center, and making the DOS code an auxiliary, and was the first to use a 32-bit system of true multitasking.  That was subsequently followed on by a series of incrementally-improving iterations, with the current one being Windows XP.

The look and feel of games designed around each operating system varies greatly.  So does the experience of play; it should be remembered that DOS was designed as an operating system in which the keyboard was the primary input device, with the mouse assisting sometimes, whereas the Windows systems were all build around input from the mouse, with occasional help from the keyboard.  That distinction has a strong effect on the use of pull-down menus and icons, drag-and-drop, and such very basic game functions as choosing options and saving games.  Additionally, for years DOS-based games were not even designed to use a mouse.

The changes in operating systems and their capabilities amount to both a cause and a symptom of the rapid evolution of personal computer technology as seen by the wargamer.  Paper stayed the same, but just as Moore’s Law reflects the rapid growth of hardware capabilities, the steady evolution of the operating systems is indicative that software moves in the same direction.

PAPER TRANSPARENCY

As a definitely mature platform, paper offers some very clear advantages to wargaming.  To start with, the players do not need much else to play, just a table and chairs, and perhaps a sheet of plexiglass to hold down the map.  By contrast, buying a computer game hardly means that one can put it together with some furniture and clear plastic and get right to the business of playing the game; there is that other prerequisite, which calls for a major investment in a suitable computer.  That calls for the money to buy it, and the time to learn its operation.

All of this might sound perfectly obvious on one level, usually involving the price of the computer.  But even an extremely dedicated computer gamer who does not use his machine for any other purpose still has to know something about the workings of his operating system, and probably the configuration of his display, and for an online game there is still the matter of establishing a connection over the Internet with one’s opponents.  Deconstructing the process proves that it calls for far more knowledge than just unfolding the map and punching the counters, and none of that should be taken for granted.

The technology of the paper wargame draws upon the capabilities of one component that is always present: The gamer himself.  Of course all games, regardless of the platform, take on life only when played.  But manual wargames demand that the players do more than just make decisions and interact with each other.

There is no artificial intelligence, only the real thing.  Computer games call upon software and the laws of probability to provide a steady stream of decision-making, but board wargames employ the human brain and the human brain alone to perform these functions.  There are exceptions in the form of a few boardgames designed as strictly solitaire affairs, but these are never more than scattered exceptions to the rule; even standard two- and multiplayer games played solitaire rely on a human brain for all of the strategies and tactics.  It shifts gears as the switch in player roles changes objectives and interests, but ultimately the role remains the same.

The human element is also what interprets and administers the rules and mechanics of the game.  Again, there is no machine intelligence for these tasks, nor for record-keeping or tracking time.

This has one overarching consequence: Constant player involvement and immersion in the details of the game.  That goes beyond strategic decisions into all the functions, major and minor, that keep the game going.

Combat resolution is one constant among those details, and players get to see how the machinery constructed by the designer and developer work.  Whether the system is simple or straightforward on a par with the Avalon Hill “Classics” or SPI quads, or a detailed method of tracking the fire, impact, and damage of each gunshot in an elaborate tactical game, the player gets to see the whole process from attack declaration to implementation of the results.

There is a lot to be learned through the transparency of paper wargames.  At the top level, one can learn much of the history being simulated through the map, orders of battle, and victory conditions.  Underlying them, there is also a clear view of the interactions that make a game a game, and an active learning tool.  One can see the command structures, models of combat, maybe insights into relative layman’s esoterica such as morale, production and economics.  In games that eschew the traditional player turn-geared, move and fight sequence of play in favor of impulses and actions, even a different view of time itself, in which the designer attempts to capture unpredictable rhythms on the battlefield, instead of attempting to force everything into the rigid constraints of the conventional calendar.

Disagree with the designer, one usually gets a good look at his perspective and intentions.  Where there is some controversy or ambiguity, there might also be notes to explain the rationale behind a design decision. 

In general, a player can look at a boardgame as a coherent, interactive whole, one in which every process is visible, and in which the player himself is constantly involved.  There is a depth and breadth of perspective and, at the same time, an intimacy that one especially feels with the best wargames.

As with books and their authors, there is an additional opportunity to weigh the viewpoints of designers against each other.   A gamer can compare and contrast differing portrayals of the same or similar subjects, and get a good look at how the designers agree and disagree, and the varying emphasis that each gives to various elements.

OPAQUE ELECTRONS

Looking back at the first titles from SSI in the late seventies, one sees a clear attempt to port the boardgaming experience to the nascent technology of the desktop computer.  That was the main thrust of computer strategy gaming for over a decade and a half, as the multitude of turn-based games with hex-based game maps illustrated.  There were arcade-type games, flight simulators, tank simulators, roleplaying games (fantasy and otherwise), and a smattering of real time games that got rid of game turns, the first version of Harpoon (Three-Sixty Pacific) most important among them.  But with the exception of Harpoon, which is actually the computerization of a set of miniatures rules, none bore much in relation to the established families of military board wargames, and thus should be considered as entirely different genres.

Later in the timeline, real time strategy [RTS] games came into their own, with a host of exceptionally popular titles, among them the Command and Conquer (Westwood), Warcraft (Blizzard) and Age of Empires (Microsoft) franchises.  They represent the most exciting innovation ever in computer wargaming, and the first really significant break with manual boardgame traditions.  Thus, like simulators and roleplaying games for the computer, they deserve consideration separately from turn-based computer wargames.

Computer wargames as originally conceived were intended to relieve the player of some of the less pleasant burdens associated with cardboard simulations.  There was the matter of finding an opponent.  From the very beginning, computer games counted as one of their chief assets having an opponent in a box.  The artificial intelligence component was a gamer who never went to work, was always interested in playing whatever the player wanted, and did not get up from the game table to order pizza.  That artificial intelligence often played predictably and poorly, and in many software titles still does, was considered an acceptable trade off for convenience.

Furthermore, computer games have another extremely valuable asset through their suitability for limiting intelligence.  One of the most persistent, and valid, criticisms of boardgames is that they allow the player far more information than his real-life counterpart would have in an actual conflict.  Limited intelligence rules are of widely varying sophistication and usefulness, and attempts at double-blind games have been spotty, with the best success coming out of naval gaming.  The only really dependable and realistic methods of limiting intelligence come from having a neutral umpire decide what each player might see on his map, but this suffers from a couple of serious handicaps.  One is the difficulty of finding a third, knowledgeable gamer willing to invest his time and effort as a game master.  The second is constructing house rules that work around both the game and the personalities of the participants.

Computer software handles everything easily and, if programmed correctly, well.  Computer games increase realism of battlefield perception by eliminating omniscience, and inversely increasing the potential for surprise.

Along with a built-in opponent and umpire, there is also an entire office of built-in bookkeepers.  The computer game format frees players from all the paperwork, tracking and other tasks that, despite one’s love for the subject and of the hobby, can be tedious in the extreme.

This also results in the freedom for designers to make finer distinctions than would be possible in a boardgame.  For example, in a manual wargame, the ability of the system to simulate losses is limited by the paper format’s ability to portray them, and the players’ ability to track them.  For example, most units have at most three increments of strength; full strength, reduced, and destroyed.  To a great degree, this is because it is convenient to simulate losses by flipping a unit counter to show the first step loss, then removing it from play.  Some games, such as 1914 and Anzio (both Avalon Hill) attempted in the early years of the hobby to portray additional shades of damage by substituting lower-strength counters with each step loss.  However, this method has always been limited by practical matters of keeping the counter mix to a reasonable (and affordable) quantity.  It has had its uses, such as in a number of issue games for Command magazine, but has always been secondary.

Computers have limits neither on countermix nor on the ability of the machine intelligence to measure in small increments.  Thus whereas a boardgame might measure casualties in terms of a thirds or halves of combat strength, a computer game can shave it down to portraying losses of individual vehicles, squads, even individual soldiers among thousands engaged.  Additionally, it enables the designer to introduce more vectors to the portrayal of unit state and capability.  Morale and fatigue go from tactical games and those on pre-mechanized conflicts to twentieth-century operational ones.

With the possible exception of enhanced simulation of limited intelligence, each advantage of computer wargames over their paper brethren comes at a price that is easily overlooked.  Each removes the player from some important aspect of the simulation.  Players can no longer follow the combat resolution process from start to finish, and see exactly how each element fits, and finally the interaction among them.  At its most basic, combat resolution in a computer wargame consists of instructing which units should fight which enemies, and seeing the results when it is all over a few seconds later.

This sometimes removes a complex burden from the players.  It always removes insights.

This is just the start of the opaque nature of computer wargames, as much happens for which the player can see the results, but not the process.  Indeed, the processes are purposely and effectively hidden in many cases, to the extent that when there is a problem, such as with faulty combat resolution, many times the only way to find out is to read any notes that accompany a patch.  The rest of the time, many elements of the game function behind a curtain.

Not everything is totally hidden, and one can still see important differences among games.  For example, in the late eighties and early nineties, there were two contrasting approaches to Civil War tactical gaming.  SSI published brigade-level games such as Gettysburg: The Turning Point and Shiloh: Grant’s Trial in the West that looked into combat with some detail, but which had graphics that were on the crude side, even for their time.  On the other side, the Australian company SSG put out its Decisive Battles of the American Civil War series, which accented command and control and a more generalized approach to orders, somewhat reminiscent of the boardgame Civil War, Brigade Series, published by The Gamers.  The SSG games had much better graphics, in part reflecting their origins on the Commodore 64 platform, and further were packaged as multiple scenarios within the same package.  In effect they were, and unlike the SSI games, provided a scenario editor------dubbed “Warpaint”-----that presaged the future.

Even the most casual observer could see that the SSI and SSG titles represented vastly different approaches to simulating the same topic based on vastly different philosophies.  The former was interested in the intricacies of combat and the details of its effects on brigades, and the latter concentrated on larger issues of command and control.

Yet the inner workings of both were screened from the players.  The documentation of the SSI Civil War games, as common for software from that company at the time, did explain the methodology of morale and combat to a most unusual degree by today’s standards, yet the workings of the artificial intelligence were as vague as ever.  From the Australian publisher, the manuals were more limited to play mechanics and employment of Warpaint.

Regardless of which approach one examines, it is evident at first examination that neither one explains everything that goes on in the game.  Wanting to understand everything might sound like an entirely unrealistic expectation, but everything is precisely what one sees of the inner workings of any boardgame.

Therein lies one of the primary problems of recording the history and heritage of computer wargames.  There affinity for limited intelligence goes beyond the events that they simulate, and what the player sees, to their own identity, and what is seen and recorded for the future.  The details of the SSI game manuals of ten to fifteen years ago not withstanding, the intentions and methodologies of the designers of all computer games are at partially hidden.

SHIFTING PLATFORMS

As a mature technology, paper requires nothing more than one’s eyes to read and analyze.  Software requires a computer and its operating system, and those continue to evolve, sometimes rendering a computer unplayable as “legacy” software.

One can see this in the world of Apple software.  The first SSI wargames were designed for the Apple II, and for the first few years of computer wargaming’s history it, along with the Commodore 64, was the favored platform for military games; the now-standard personal computer with a Microsoft operating system was a relative latecomer.

Then in 1983, Apple introduced the MacIntosh, a completely new machine that represented a quantum advance over the Apple II, and in fact all the other desktop platforms of the time.  It was also completely incompatible with the systems and software that preceded it, thus on the day that Apple introduced the Mac, it rendered the established Apple II obsolete.  For the computer world, it was as pivotal an event as the launch of HMS Dreadnought was in the history of battleships, as in both cases one development shoved everything else into the past.  There would be no more games for the Apple II, and as the earlier model of computers faded from the scene, the existing games would become unplayable.

IBM-compatible computer users experienced something similar beginning about ten years later.  In the early days of that technology, the floppy disks on which software was packaged were 5.25” in size, with 360 kilobytes capacity.  Moreover, since hard drives were not installed in all computers, software was generally run from the floppies themselves.

There was also an emerging form of floppy, 3.5” square and holding 720K of data, but it was secondary to the 5.25” variety.  Around the early nineties, if one bought a wargame, there was often a choice of floppy sizes, but if only one was offered in a store, it was with 5.25” disks.

Double density diskettes in turn faded, replaced by high density ones with double the capacity.  At the same time the 5.25” floppy drive faded away, so that unless transferred to hard drives or larger-capacity floppies, the software and data contained on them became as inaccessible as anything compiled for the Apple II or Commodore.

One can see the same phenomenon continuing today.  Today, software is invariably sold on CD-ROM’s, and the CD-R and CD-RW drives allow the user to store information in much greater amounts, and at extremely low cost, than could ever be possible with floppies of any sort.  In the future, DVD technology is sure do the same to CD’s what they did to floppy disks.

Operating systems on the personal computer evolve similarly.  In the beginning there was DOS, and games were written for it.  Then came the introduction and evolution of Windows, and with each iteration DOS and all the software that were built around it melted into the mass of what users so politely call “legacy” technology.  Today, much DOS software-----and not just games by any means-----require special configuration, especially for memory allocation, boot disks, and other expedients if they are to work at all.  Other titles are not so fortunate, and are totally unadaptable to the 32-bit Windows environment; the GW-BASIC and SBASIC programming languages are among the more noticeable examples.

Each step in the evolution of the hardware, especially storage media, and each new version of Windows makes a little more of software’s history and heritage obsolete and inaccessible.  In computers at least, progress always demands the sacrifice of some of the past.

One might wonder why it would be important or even all that desirable to play ten or fifteen-year-old computer wargames when there are so many newer, more sophisticated ones readily available.  The answer is that understanding the old ones is essential to comprehending the origins of the newer ones.  Likewise, a sound grasp of all generations of software’s history is a prerequisite to producing the improved wargames of the future; unfortunately though, each step along that history makes that a little more difficult.

CONCLUSIONS

The two fundamental problems of learning and analyzing the heritage of computer wargaming are the opaqueness of how the games work, and the erosion of that history through technical obsolescence.  With the problems defined, the next step is to look for solutions, or at least partial remedies.

The march of technology and the relegation of previously dominant elements, such as old-style storage media and operating systems, is inexorable.  Some players with real interest in vintage games go so far as to keep an obsolete computer, such as an old DOS-based machine or even a Commodore 64, just for games.  This can be surprisingly cost effective since old computers can be had for a price below scrap value-----In some cases, an ancient Commodore sells for twenty-five dollars at flea markets.  The downside is that very few people have the space to set up antique desktop units of limited usefulness, though there are some who use obsolete laptops for games.

On the other hand, the DOS to Windows transition has been somewhat kinder to legacy software than was the move from Apple II to the Mac.  DOS software can be difficult, due to the need to match up the right hardware drivers, configure sound and video, and maybe worst of all, manage memory for the games that use EMS memory.  Then again, DOS software always had these issues, but in past years few IBM/Intel/Microsoft users noticed, because there was nothing better for comparison.

Publishers and other copyright holders have greater opportunities to preserve their older titles for the benefit of the present and future.  Game software goes through four phases in its lifetime.  It begins as a major new release, sold at full price.  Depending on the game’s reception by critics and consumers as well as the evolutionary state of its platform, this stage can last a few months or a few years, as is the case with some perennial favorites.  Second, it falls back from the leading edge, and its price falls correspondingly; maybe it is published with an expansion kit.  In the third stage, the software sells for a really cut-rate price, with ten dollars being the normal price anymore at Wal-Mart, in a single-CD package, and a manual in Adobe reader format instead of printed documentation.  Sometimes too it might be included in an anthology (remember SSI’s Definitive Wargame Collection?) or, common today, in a twin-CD set with some other topically-related title.

The final stage in a computer wargame’s life cycle is death, as it disappears altogether from store shelves.

Publishers can perpetuate the history of computer gaming by making titles in or on their way to the fourth stage available for free.  Some already go even further than that, by putting out new and improved editions of aging games and then making available for free download from the Web: SSG did this with a new version of Ardennes Offensive in 1997.  Matrix Games goes further, acquiring the rights to SSI’s War in Russia and War in the Pacific from current copyright holder Hasbro, with the condition that the updated games be given away and not sold.

Definitely the same alliance produced the best example of all time, Steel Panthers: World at War.  Matrix acquired a license to adapt the Steel Panthers III engine to the smaller scale perspective of the first Steel Panthers, again with the proviso that the game not be sold.  To make it even better, Matrix’s team redesigned the entire project for the 32-bit Windows environment; ultimately Steel Panthers: World at War does not preserve an institution of wargame history in amber, it perpetuates it as a vital, living part of the hobby.

Barring this, publishers can also keep their own product history alive through supporting “abandonware” web sites by making their own older titles available.  A title’s evolution will not continue in the pattern of those taken over by Matrix Games, but at least the past will be kept alive.  In addition, for those who bought games on 5.25” floppies but never copied them to more current media, downloading the title cancels that neglect.

It is impossible to totally overcome the lack of transparency among the processes within a computer wargame.  However, there is one measure that can help, at least among the more technically savvy members of the hobby.  When a game reaches the fourth stage of its life, the publisher should consider making the source code available to the public.

This would give programmers and game designers opportunities to see not just what the software does, but how it does it.  Again, not many people would have sufficient technical background to get the most out of that chance, but that chance would at least exist.

The cost to the copyright holder would be minimal.  It requires almst no investment, and if a game is no longer economically viable and is leaving the market anyway, there will be little or no lost revenue due to decreased sales.

There is one final question: Why? 

Why should a publisher make products available for free, and then reveal the underlying programming?  General principle is not a compelling reason, and for that matter neither is an academic appeal to the preservation of computer gaming’s heritage.

Companies should make the effort because it increases the general awareness and specialized competence of designers and programmers that might end up on their payroll.  Professionals, and future professionals, in the industry should be able to see what their predecessors did and learn from them, in order to apply those lessons to future products.

Committing to preserving and learning from past achievements is not a cure-all for all the issues of quality and reliability that affect the software industry at large, any more than a general staff’s commitment to military history can insure that it will win future wars.  But a broader and deeper understanding of the achievements-----and failures-----of others in the profession can result in less duplication of effort over the long term, and better exploitation of previous accomplishments, all yielding more economical and efficient allocation of effort and resources.  No one in 2005 should be called up to reinvent the wheel, but they should have the tools to design a better one at a lower price.

For the consumer, that increases the chance of better products with stable pricing too.  Simultaneously, putting the heritage of the industry and the hobby on the table increases the probability of greater knowledge and judgment among reviews and the consumers themselves, thereby adding yet greater impetus toward better quality.

Knowledge and understanding really are power, and if the history and heritage of computer wargaming can be preserved and analyzed, then everyone gains.  And that is everyone, producers as well as consumers.