2021 was a year unlike any other. When I wrote the equivalent article, twelve months ago link to article I never expected the changes that would confront us.
Vale John Tiller – It was only in January 2021, that we became aware that John was seriously ill with brain cancer. Mercifully, his fight with the deadly disease was short and we lost him on April 26th, 2021 - eight short months ago. John, as a self-taught programmer used his PhD in Mathematics to great effect after joining Talonsoft back in the 1990’s and subsequently forming John Tiller Software (JTS) in 1996. His first self-published game, distributed through HPS was Panzer Campaigns Smolensk ’41. The Panzer Campaigns series was only ever expected to be a few games, but twenty-six titles later it has become one eponymous with the JTS brand. The flexibility of the code John wrote has allowed it to represent conflicts from the year 1500 to today. Bridging game scales of tactical, operational to strategic again underlines the basic utility John built into his gaming systems. John more importantly was a family man, and our best wishes and thoughts are extended to Pat, John’s wife and daughters, Julia and Kathleen.
John’s passing left many of the team and projects in limbo. With much of the programming in John’s hands there was a real possibility that many of the games John published were at the end of their life and many of the planned projects would be still born. However, the JTS team rallied, new hands joined the team and all joined forces with the existing WDS core to form a new company. I would again like to thank the Tiller family publicly for the trust they have placed in the WDS team.
With the asset purchase concluded in early September, a target announcement date of pre-thanksgiving (November 25th) was set. At a minimum a new WDS website, builds and updates were needed. Ideally, any enhancements that were planned would be included with these new ‘4.0’ WDS builds. To say the two intervening months from deal signing to launch was hectic is an understatement, our apologies for any oversights in that period, but we were verging on project management hell! The revisions to products, update of information and infrastructure changes are a credit to all that contribute to WDS, the programmers, artists, series owners, developers and customer facing team, the launch could not have happened without you.
The overall reception since the WDS announcement has been extraordinarily positive. We appreciate all of you who have bought John’s games in the past and have supported us since the launch of WDS on November 19th, 2021. We thank all of you that have bought something in the most recent sale as that confirms the direction we are heading in the new year. A reminder to all, if there is a title you want at sale price, the sale concludes early next week on Monday, January 3rd, 2022.
What do we have planned for the coming year? There are three threads of tasks we are focused on:
- Setting the WDS organization up to robustly handle the future
- Update and upgrade the existing catalogue of series and games.
- Publish new titles and game series.
Working through these threads, the first ‘Setting up the WDS organization’ is the most pressing and the bedrock we can build the rest of the endeavor on. In the past, both JTS and WDS has been a range of disparate, globe-spanning teams, working on a range of interesting projects with little infrastructure behind the operations. We want to remedy that to ensure we can both continue to support our existing customers but handle an influx of new players to our genre as well. To those ends, we will have a lot of work going on behind the scenes in the coming year that will be our highest priority, but in the end you, the customer, will reap the rewards through better services and products for the future.
The second point of updating and upgrading our existing catalogue acknowledges the diamonds in the rough we now control. The products that John Tiller published were known for their depth of research and ease of play but not necessarily for the graphics, user interface and other aesthetics. We believe that with the 4.0 versions we have made a material step forward. Using equivalent graphics in the pre-twentieth century series, will hopefully improve players ability to play games from different series. Migrating the shortcut keys used in the Civil War Battles series to Napoleonic Campaigns is another. This work though is not done. Three series, Squad Battles, Naval Campaigns and Modern Airpower had minimal work done for the November 19th launch. There is a plan to improve these series, but there is a lot of work to do before we can release it – Squad Battles for example has sixteen titles after all. Work is already underway here, but you will have to wait for a later blog to see some examples of what we are looking to improve. (Editor - show an example from Squad Battles!) Ok, here is a very early test trialing the tactical graphics from the pre-twentieth century graphics as well as some new 'heads' for units. Note all are subject to change:
There is also work ongoing to update series that were overhauled for the 4.0 versions. For example, additional effort is underway to improve peripheral graphics in the Napoleonic and Early American War titles. Expect improvements in unit boxes and other presentation graphics. Here is a sneak peek of a current test we are doing:
Additional content is also being created. We have already shared the updated Bolt out of the Blue scenario for Modern Campaigns Danube Front ‘85, but you can expect a large body of new work for Panzer Campaigns France ’40 as well as revisions to titles like Panzer Battles Kursk – Southern Front where the procedurally created game map is being replaced by a new hand created master map. This will mean all the scenarios need to be laid out again and new enhancements such as limited objectives potentially incorporated. Finally, we have a list of programmatic changes needed across various series covering a full gamut of opportunities. They are too many to list but will be fodder for a future blog post. These are just a few examples of the continuing work underway to improve existing titles.
Traditionally, John Tiller did not talk about new titles in development. The rationale was to prevent disappointment when a title was either not ready when expected or ultimately shelved. WDS changed that approach with the early revelation of Panzer Battles Kursk – Southern Flank, six months before release and we have subsequently announced at least one new title expected to be published in the following year. The same approach has been done every year since with Panzer Campaigns Kiev ’43 being the revelation in our 2020 End of Year Update.
Internally we have two sides to the ‘house’, there are teams working on the pre-twentieth century series and then the twentieth century to the current day teams. We currently have over twenty projects in various stages of completion that are scheduled for release over the next three years or so. These are new game projects beyond the enhancement work listed previously. In some cases, a new game series is planned to take us beyond the twelve series currently available.
With the caveat that all is work in progress we would like to share a title that is expected to be released in 2022.
With four different teams working on Panzer Campaigns, we have significant new titles in development. The title we are announcing, from the Panzer Campaigns series, is Rumyantsev ’43.
Panzer Campaigns Rumyantsev ’43 covers the Soviet operation of the same name to recapture Kharkov after the German defeat in the battle of Kursk. This battle is also called the fourth battle of Kharkov and would be the final time the city would change hands. The game is the first title from Daniel Asensio, a historian (speciality: Ancient Iberian peoples in pre-Roman Hispania) and a keen modder of Panzer Campaigns. The title covers the period from July to mid-August and will cover both the first and second phases of Operation Rumyantsev, the battle for Kharkov, and the counterattack at Bogodukhov. Additionally, like the inclusion of Market-Garden in Panzer Campaigns Scheldt ’44, we expect to include a new version of the German attack on the Southern flank of the Kursk bulge to provide additional context to the follow-on Soviet operations. Here are a few screenshots from the current prototype build:
Significantly, Panzer Campaigns Rumyantsev ’43 will be the first release of a planned four title series covering the major operations in Eastern Ukraine in mid-1943. We mentioned in the equivalent blog post last year that the Eastern Front in 1943 had not been adequately investigated and we are planning to remedy that. We already have a title in development that covers the area north of the Rumyantsev operation and we are planning a third that covers to the south. The fourth title is proposed to link all three games together, similar to how Modern Campaigns Danube Front ’85 pulls together Fulda Gap ’85 and North German Plain ’85. The difference here though is the over-arching title will only have a number of campaign scenarios included and will probably be recommended for multi-player play due to the size of the scenarios. The other three titles will be focused on the various sized scenarios you would expect to see in a standard Panzer Campaigns game. This is a big project, but Daniel is making great progress.
If not apparent, we are sharing news of a game release cycle that will take several years. This is different to the past, but we think it worthwhile trialling, with all the necessary caveats. By giving you all an insight into our current development projects we can share more, receive feedback and more content for future blog posts. It also helps the developers see the level of support or interest in a title and its content. All going well, we will share more in-development titles during the year.
2021 was a year of unexpected change. 2022 will be a year of consolidating what was done in the run-up to the launch of WDS. We have our work cut out for us, but with your support we believe we can continue to deliver the games you love to play.
Happy New Year!