Andy Mills, 5 December 2022
I have been a very good wargamer this year. I’ve completed all my chores and done everything “assigned” to me by my wife. I was even nice to my mother-in-law!
This Christmas I would like a new version on Steel Panthers: Modern battle Tank with 3D graphics and 7.1 surround sound. I know this may be a lot to ask, but the original Steel Panthers: Modern Battles has been around since 1996! Despite all the great work done on it by the Steel Panthers community, I think a new gaming engine is in order.
Santa, I’ve heard a rumour that you are more of a first-person shooter type of guy than a wargamer. That’s OK – I don’t judge! Just in case you’re not up-to-speed on Steel Panthers: Modern Battle Tank, I’ve put this little information package together to give you some context on why this classic title needs an update.
In the Beginning
In 1996, now defunct publisher SSI, released Steel Panthers II: Modern Battles (SPII). This turn-based depiction of post-WW II era combined arms warfare was the magnum opus of game designers Gary Grisby and Keith Brors, along with the SSI Special Projects Team. Grigsby and Brors capitalized on the demand for a modern wargame that let you field the latest in “sexy” military hardware, such as M1A1 tank or BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle. The prospect of turn-based armoured clashes in the hills of Korea or deserts of Iraq whet the appetite of gamers looking to move beyond the battlefields of WWII. The game also accommodated hypothetical future conflicts between the battle sets of several different nations. SPII was pure wargaming gold for the publisher SSI and Gognards alike.
The Secrets to Wargaming Success
SPII was built upon its 1995 award-winning predecessor Steel Panthers (SP), which focused solely on WWII. Like SP, SPII was a DOS-based game that retained its hex-overlay and top-down perspective, but it focused on small unit formations from squads up to the company level. This reduced scale made battles seem more like first-hand experiences and the decent sound effects helped to create a pervasive level of immersion.
With over 1000 types of air, armour, artillery, and infantry units players got to try new tactics and create strategies to counter all these different types of weapon platforms. SPII provided the wargamer with a multitude of fixed wing bombers, fighters, strike, recon and transport aircraft along with attack helos. The concept of air-support staying on station, in the form of helicopter gunships, allowed troops to advance under a protective umbrella of long-range fire. Helicopters could also be used to deny areas of the battlefield to enemy troops (at least temporarily) without the commitment of land-based forces. This added a whole new layer to the traditional wargame and exponentially increased the depth of game play along with scenario creation.
Adding to the Goodness
Back in the ancient days of computer gaming, before broadband Internet and DLC (downloadable content) publishers released additional content for a title on a 3.5” floppy disk or CD-ROM. These releases were referred to as expansion or mission packs and in the case of SPII, it was called a Campaign Disk. This disk featured 3 fictional campaigns, 30 scenarios, additional units and numerous fixes to the engine.
The Beginning of the End?
From 1996 to 1999 most computer wargamers had migrated from a DOS 6.11 operating system to a Windows-based PC with increasingly powerful hardware. The SPII DOS-based engine with a maximum video resolution of 800×600 was started to look dated. Despite these drawbacks, the solid gameplay kept SPII on computers of wargamers around the world. Official support for the game ended in 1994 when SSI was acquired by Mindscape. Mindscape was then acquired by gaming juggernaut Ubisoft in March 2001. Ubisoft ended up retiring the brand circa 2003 and any further SPII development was left in limbo.
The Steel Panthers Camo Workshop
In 1998 two game developers, Don Goodbrand and Andy Gailey, released a modified version of SPII called Steel Panthers II: World War 2 (SP:WW2). This professional modification was so well-received by the wargaming community that Mindscape allowed them to use the SPII code for further development. From 1998 until 2003 the SP Camo Workshop, (a group of volunteer designers/wargamers) under the direction of Goodbrand and Gailey, worked on improving the SPII gaming engine. In 2003 the Camo Workshop released the last version of SP: WW2 and another version called SP:MBT
When SP Camo Workshop operations came to an end, a group of former volunteers moved ahead with another project based on the SPII platform. They named themselves SPCamo and released a fully Windows compatible product called Steel Panthers: Main Battle Tank (WinSPMBT).
In 2005 Shrapnel Games became the publisher for SPCamo’s enhanced version of WinSPMBT. This successor of SPII sported a maximum resolution of 1600 x1200 and ongoing support in the form of extensive patches to address issues with the game. The game is still available from the Shrapnel Games and comes in two different versions: a basic free download, or an Enhanced Edition which must be purchased. The Enhanced Edition comes with a printer quick start guide, higher resolution graphics and a cut and paste map editor.
Santa, I hope that after reading this brief retrospective you can see why a modern update of Steel Panthers: Main Battle Tank would be such a great gift to wargamers all over the world.
I will leave some Doritos and a Pepsi out for you on Christmas Eve (Yes- this is a bribe).
PS: I’m really hoping that the mother-in-law issue is behind us!
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