World War II Online – Blitzkrieg Feb. 3, 2002

See Update for WWIIOL – BattleField Europe vs. Call of Duty 1 and 2,
Sept. 4, 2006 at the end of this article.

by Jefferis Kent Peterson

How would World War II have been different if the Brits had not been driven into the sea at Dunkirk, and the French not fallen at the Maginot Line? Enter the world of an interactive, 3D battle simulation of the European Theater during the early years of WWII. WWII Online (WWIIOL) is developed to be “a combined arms simulation” for both PC and Mac, with virtual air, ground, and sea combat missions played against thousands of other players around the world.
Enemy Panzer
An Enemy Panzer Has Spotted You

Several years ago, I was introduced to online war gaming in a flight simulation called Air Warrior. Unlike video games, such as Asteroids, where you try to avoid obstacles while you “fly” and shoot, Air Warrior was built upon real flight modeling and combat damage calculations. In other words, you had to learn the techniques of real flight combat maneuvers to be successful. Rudder pedals, a joystick, and a weapons control throttle made the environment realistic and gave you an advantage over those playing by keyboard or joystick alone. Some of the best aces in the game also happened to be real world combat pilots, which says something about the flight modeling. WWIIOL is a more ambitious project than Air Warrior. The developers have extended the realistic environment to tank and infantry combat and to simple assault ships. You can take part in ground assault with rifle, grenade, and machine gun, or you can drive a tank. You can set up a defensive position around your city or base with anti-aircraft or anti-tank weapons. If you are very brave and stealthy, you can even blow up an enemy tank as an infantryman with a sticky bomb called a “satchel charge.” You run up, attach the charge, and run away as fast as you can, hoping you don’t blow yourself up or get mowed down by the tank’s machine gun.
German Sapper
German Sapper
The game has 3 sides so far: French, English, and German, with slots for other countries to be added as the war progresses. The weaponry and armor for each country are modeled on real equipment from the first 3 years of the war. As such, the inferiority of the French tanks is readily apparent. They are slow, have low visibility, and less armor piercing power than their German counterparts. The Brits have some pretty fast and agile tanks, but they have thin armor. One shell from a Panzer usually does in a Brit or French tank, but it takes 3 to 5 hits from the Allies to kill a German tank. So strategy is important. Fire, move, hide, move, and fire. A good tanker needs to think to survive. Did I mention you are playing against other real people who are also trying to kill you and survive? It gets tense and smoky inside the turret.

The game also provides a great environment for infantry. The shrubs and brush are very realistic. You can climb large trees and hide. You can climb buildings and be a sniper. You can hide in the rubble or sneak up on your opponents. It is very disconcerting to be moving your anti-tank gun into position, only to be shot by a sniper from who knows where …but such are the fortunes of war. House to house fighting is the only way to clear out enemy infantry, and when the enemy have infiltrated the town, you have to call out the barracks to do a sweep of the buildings.

realistic shrubs
Realistic Shrubs and Bushes Provide Excellent Cover for Infantry
Click image for larger picture

As for ships, the online manual states, the “Fairmile B …for simplicity’s sake has been made available for both sides. These craft are essentially floating gun platforms, capable of destroying infantry, tanks, and aircraft, and can not only be used to support ground operations near waterways but transport troops as well.” Ship battles are limited to canals for the most part, so your range of movement is limited, but you can have several people join you on a ship, bomber, or tank, to create a full crew and man each station. A full crew gives you the edge over single pilot operations, for when solo, you have to jump to different battle stations using the keyboard, pick a weapon and fire, while continuing to drive your boat or tank. Whether playing solo or as a crew, the competition is severe. battlemap

Battle Map

The Good:
One of the things that is so special about interactive gaming is the online community it creates. People form into units and squads and join user groups in a creative fellowship that extends far beyond the borders of the game itself. Multiple support sites spring up around the game. Squads or flight wings will create their own websites and rosters. Often these cyber friendships extend to friendships in the real world. I’m still part of a mail list called Mac Air Warrior, and I converse regularly with these guys and gals even though Air Warrior for Mac has been defunct for over 3 years! The camaraderie and community makes it much more than a game. For example, members of my flight group, the Shadow Riders , visit each other when traveling in different parts of the country. I was inducted into the group and then made squad chaplain, hence my call sign “Padre.” WWIIOL already shows all the signs of this sense of community, with links to affiliates, forums, and squads and squadrons.

One of the advantages of these combined communities is strategic operations. As the game progresses, alliances are formed between squads, units, and flight wings. Coordination between members of these groups, within their own units and with other squads, allows for strategic defense of a city or for tactical assault on an enemy position. The object of play is to capture cities. (The battle map above shows Antwerp, Belgium and surrounding cities with areas of control.) As in the real world, you cannot win simply with tanks and bombs; you need the infantry to capture and hold bases, bunkers, check points, and towns. Air cover will soften enemy positions and protect your advance, tanks will destroy hardened defenses, but the infantry will win the day. It is deeply satisfying to participate in these larger scale operations and share the sense of victory and a job well done with others in your community.

The game is not gruesome. You get in close with your enemies, but there is really no blood or gore or flying limbs. The game is about strategy and tactics. The thrill is competing against others’ brains, skills, and stealthiness.

The Bad:
It doesn’t hurt to have the fastest computer possible. One way to get shot out of the sky quickly is to have a slower frame rate than your opponent. Your frame rate is measured in “frames per second” (FPS). A frame rate means your computer screen redraws new screens showing new action in your game, and an acceptable rate is 15 FPS or better. A slow frame rate is obvious because your screen will jump from place to place with noticeable lags, pauses, and jerkiness, so the enemy Stuka you have in your cross hairs will suddenly appear 300 feet to your left with the next screen. Although I have a G4 500, I could not play this game as a flight sim. During air combat with other planes around, my rate would drop to 3 FPS, meaning I could not anticipate where my opponent would be. There is no way to compete against others with a frame rate like that. It is unplayable. I also noticed this lag in ground combat when it reached the limit of 64 players in a single hot zone. When I was in the infantry, the screen became so jumpy I had to give up.

cockpit view
Cockpit view
I am not sure that frame rate is the entire culprit. It may be the massive number of calculations for planes, tanks, shells, infantry, etc. all in simultaneous motion that causes the host computer (Playnet) to go into cardiac arrest . The reason I think it may be the host and not my machine is that I normally could be engaged in large scale combat using tanks or anti-aircraft and not see the same lag as I did in when flying or as infantry.Unfortunately, while not a frame rate get rid of herpes issue, I also found that Mac players are at a disadvantage as infantry. Mouse movements, or trackball movements, are jerky and hard to control even when not in a hot zone. You cannot reliably turn and aim. The game is unresponsive to your mouse movements and when it finally does respond, it causes you to overshoot your intended move. Trying to aim against an incoming attacker puts you at a deadly disadvantage. This mouse problem is well known and was slightly fixed with the latest build, but it is still bad enough that many Mac players are voicing their unwillingness on the forums to pay for the game until it is fixed.
For comparison, the graphics in WarBirds III [also for Mac OSX] are just as intense, Unlike WWIIOL, I find that I can fly online in the mini combat arena in WBIII and not notice any lag at all. The graphics in WWIIOL are awesome, but they are just as good in WBIII. WBIII has ground combat but not with infantry. It’s vehicles only. WBIII also has a fantastic offline, artificial intelligence model that lets you practice both ground combat and air to air without paying online fees. It is as close to live play as you are going to get offline. While I enjoyed WWIIOL, I would wait till the infantry lag is fixed before I paid to play. I personally might also have to wait until I get a faster computer to join the WWII ranks full time. If I had to choose, at this point I’d choose WBIII, which is a bit more expensive [$9.95-$24.95], but is a more mature gaming environment that works with my current system. I rate World War II Online 3.5 stars for vision, playability, pricing, and potential. If the lags and the infantry model were fixed, I’d rate it a 5.

My Equipment:
I acquired a Saitek Cyborg Gold 3D last year. While it cannot replace the complete rudder and weapons control stick of my Thrustmaster equipment for ADB Macs [pre-USB], the Cyborg has a z-axis which functions like a rudder, a throttle, 10 buttons, and a hat switch. For WWII era planes or tanks, the joystick is very playable requiring you to use a minimum of keyboard commands. See my earlier article on my transition to Mac OSX and Flight Sims.

To see more screen shots of the game, Click Here
* WWIIOL – Battlefield Europe.

It has been several years now, with a faster computer upgrade to a G5 dual 2.5 ghz Mac. A lot has changed in the game and there are many improvements. While I can now fly with a joystick, I still sense that the world model is a bit strained trying to keep track of high speed combat with ground forces. My favorite air to air combat was Air Warriors, now long defunct. Since it was dedicated only air to air, the modeling for the planes was more complete. However, WWIIOL is very playable and fun. I’m just not as good as it as I once was… The graphics have much improved with the new version, and there are 50 or more new weapons options and vehicles. My favorite is the addition of the sniper scope.

I only played the new version for about 2 weeks with the “Welcome Back Soldier” trial, and it is the first time I’ve played with a fast computer. While I enjoyed it, I found that the problem of realism of time and travel got me frustrated and bored. Since I quit WWIIOL years ago, I owned and played Call of Duty, and the extension pack United Offensive online. Not only are the graphics more realistic, but the play is more energetic. In WWIIOL, when you move armor from city to city or objective, the time compressed realism still requires you to actually spend 10 to 20 minutes in transport before reaching your destination for short hops, especially when flying or on a ship. This realism contributes to the fairness of the game play between sometimes massive armies of more than 60 players in any one combat zone. The drawback is that you actually have to fly, sail, drive, or walk that distance. In an environment where personal time is limited for gaming, that downtime is actually a waste of time. If you get shot down, or blown up, you have to start back at base and drive or fly your way back to the battlefield all over again. In contrast, Call of Duty puts you in close quarter combat online almost continuously. So, all your time playing is actually in combat. In order to appreciate WWIIOL fully, you probably have to join a gaming group and become part of a virtual combat division, where there is someone giving your team orders and directions to take specific targets. This type of game begs for strategic planning. Since I was only doing a trial, I did not join up. However, before paying a monthly fee, I wanted to know if it was as addictive as I remembered. It was fun, but not that fun that I wanted to make a commitment to it. The time issue became are real roadblock to me. For others, it may not be an issue.

I recently purchased and have been playing Call of Duty 2, and while it has all the fast paced action of Call of Duty 1, they both lack the larger battlefield maps, game scenarios, and vehicles used in United Offensive. COD 1 and 2 use small contest maps with no armor or moving vehicles. The United Offensive extension pack, which was developed by Treyarch [and not Infinity Ward], had both. I especially enjoyed the Base Assault scenario of the larger battlefield on UO, with its operable tanks and anti-tank weapons. [Note: both COD1 and 2 have vehicles in their single play battle scenarios, but not in online play.]

The danger of all this adrenaline rushing combat is that it becomes a major time sink. I periodically decide to sell my games, just so I can spend more time studying the Scriptures, and I’m reminded that:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8, NRSV.
When I find my nighttime dreams are filled with struggle and combat, instead of rest and peace, I think that perhaps my attention should be better spent on things that are of lasting value. For success in life does not arise from excellence in fantasy gaming. Rather, we are counseled to success by considering the laws that govern life itself:
“This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.” Joshua 1:8, NRSV.

I don’t watch much television. So sometimes diversion and play is a good thing, but all things must be held in balance. There is nothing so fulfilling as uncovering the mysteries of God and seeing the beauty of God in Creation. And how much more fulfilling would it be if we were able to heal the sick and comfort the afflicted? Instead, I suspect, we spend our hours in recreation and entertainment as a way of escaping the difficulties of life. Would that we would desire and know the presence of the Lord far more than all our distractions. It would not be a sacrifice to turn our attention from diversions, but a pleasure! O Lord, by your grace, please make it so!

Jeff Peterson is the author of a book from Isaiah House, entitled Pardoned or Paroled? Escaping a Prison of Guilt to Find Freedom in Christ. Jeff is also a Macintosh pioneer, acquiring his first 128k Mac in 1984. In 1993, he produced one of the first electronic magazines, O Theophilus, and some of the first educational courses for the web. He started his own web design company in 1999, and is still acquiring new clients. He writes for Jeff is also a part-time theologian on The Scholar’s Corner, and he loves to play Flight Sims when he gets a chance, being part of the notorious Shadow Riders, call sign Padre =<SR>=.

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