The real problem with the American Civil War wasn't the threat of dismantling the United States, it was that the guns were rubbish. It's hard to make a third-person action game – even one that's part strategy game – in a setting where the primary weapon could take minutes to reload. The solution, as with so many of life's problems, comes from time-travelling racists.
Armoured Warfare is set in the Civil War era, but people have travelled back in time and delivered modern(ish) weaponry to the Confederate South. That means their infantry carry machineguns, drive tanks and fly Zeppelins, in a time better known for horses and cannons.
“I was trying to get this military simulation contract,” explains designer Danny Green. Green is the game's only full-time developer, doing all the programming himself and using contractors for the art. “It fell through, but I took the technology and I had a game called Armoured Warfare I was making. Then Paradox wanted me to do a civil war game.” Green convinced Paradox to mix the two ideas.
It's not the only way that the game is a hybrid. Gettysburg is built around 64-player multiplayer battles. Players start each round by selecting a squad of units that mixes air, ground vehicles and infantry. Then they give simple move and shoot commands to their squads, who must capture control points and defeat the enemy. From high above, battles are chaotic and spectacular.
For finer control, players can take direct control of each individual unit and play them from a third-person perspective. You launch the Zeppelin's cannons and fire the infantry's Gatling guns yourself. Unlike the distant strategy view, in thirdperson you can tell that this is a one-man, small budget project. The terrain is a little lower resolution than we're used to, and the machineguns don't look that exciting.
Gettysburg: Armoured Warfare is still incredible. Green is a self-taught programmer, yet he's written a functional, quite pretty 3D engine and networking code that can handle 64 players, each directing multiple units.
Mid-game, Green demonstrates the World Editor that will ship with the game by pressing a button and hopping straight in to it. He paints the terrain to create mountains, moves a slider to add trees and water, and puts down some buildings to start building a city. He presses another button and goes back to playing.
The game was originally going to be free-to-play, but the number of hats required proved too large for a small project. Instead, it will cost around £7, with “cheap” DLC packs released afterwards similar to fellow Paradox game Magicka. Low-fi, action-Total War? That's an enticing prospect.