Thoughts on Computer Wargames


Some comments from someone with roots in boardgames, comm’l computer games and military computer games.  My name is Don Gilman, and I’m the "Uncle" of the Computer Harpoon products.  My firm is Advanced Gaming Systems and we develop the three Computer Harpoon titles.
We leverage our commercial (soon to be Matrix published) Harpoon product income with our military work (ADOD, Northrop Grumman, etc).  We are careful about the functionality we take on – simply to ensure that we get double or triple use out of each line of code.
My core programmers work full time and are paid contract wages by the hour.  My support staff get paid "charity" amounts on a monthly basis and they all have day jobs.  I’m the guy who runs the shop, manages the projects, and makes the high level architecture decisions and I (presently) have a day job at Texas A&M University doing building and energy simulations for the state of Texas and the US EPA.
While we apply engineering principals to our new Harpoon work, and try to upgrade the old Harpoon code to that level, our overall approach is that of an Art Studio.  Incremental development vs big releases.  As indicated above we leverage each and every feature and sponsor to build the common property forward.  We have figured out a way to start "strapping" on APPROPRIATE 3D displays onto Harpoon 3, and this will, over many years, allow us to slowly move away from our exclusive 2D display.  But going heads down for 2 years with 1-4 coders?  Simply isn’t going to happen.  We do this on cash flow or it doesn’t get done.
Everyone says they want our next "big thing" which is our version of Harpoon 4- but like this thread pointed out – who is going to front me the money to rewrite my interface in a 3D manner AND provide me with enough 3D models for the eye candy to be considered an "A" title?  Only a government can do that as THEY receive value at a lower cost and risk (due to the fact we are already in wide spread "stealth" and professional use). 
So why do it?
We do it because we want to (i.e. the Art Studio).  After a time, real life intercedes and folks leave.  New folks with a dream show up, and the cycle repeats.  When SSI->Ubi was doing Harpoon 4, I was out of the picture building another business and growing a family.  When that crashed, I came back. 
Our frustrations have been clearly seen at I/ITSEC and failed direct contacts with US DOD.  For us – a huge waste of time.  The typical people/sociological/bureaucratic issues are well known to this list, and due to our size and distractions of earning a living, these issues have proven to be insurmountable.  So my approach is guerilla marketing, targeted advertising (USNI Proceedings, Google, Yahoo) and leveraging the fact we’ve been out there since 1989.  Most of my Pro leads have been from former players who came to us now that their careers have put them in mid grade positions with some level of training/education responsibility..   I don’t think many MBA programs would approve of a business plan that says "lay low", "trust luck", and "be patient, a Lt. who plays may be a Col who buys".

PS – For reference, the paper versions of Harpoon are also done "dual medium".  When Carlson and Bond update their system, they do it with a common core set of models and data – and then package it once for paper and once for us.  If my situation is bleak, the paper side is even worse.




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