Hearts of Iron III: Semper Fi

Review

posted 8/10/2010 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
One Page Platforms: PC
To recap, Hearts of Iron 3 (HOI3, developed and published by Paradox Interactive) is an amazingly detailed 1936-1948ish-era simulation.  Generally speaking, you're supposed to fight World War 2, although it is rumored that careful diplomacy can avert it.

You take on the role of a "guiding spirit" of sorts, a veritable Illuminati of your country.  You can take actions as diverse as appointing a new cabinet minister to upgrading your aircraft carriers' engine to setting up trade agreements.  This is not a simple war game, but an attempt to simulate the economic, geographical, technological and historical factors that surrounded the war.  One could imagine learning a lot by watching a replay of the actual war played out in the Clausewitz Engine used in HOI3.


The problem this introduced was that running a war is a complex business.  While some obsessive-compulsives would enjoy countless hours poring over minute decisions, most players would be primarily interested in a few areas (perhaps sea battles and logistics) while loathing the time spent on the areas they considered less interesting (maybe land battles and trade relationships).

The solution to this problem was brilliant.  Gameplay was divided up into several areas: Diplomacy, Production, Technology, Politics, Intelligence, and Military.  The player could set each of these areas (and sometimes sub-areas) to AI control.  The AI, in general, had to be able to make these sorts of decisions in order to run its own countries, so why not allow the user to let the AI make those decisions for his?


This solution is both the pride and the downfall of HOI3.  The pride because this is obviously the way all future games of this scale will be written.  It is both such a good idea and so obvious it's hard to believe no one had thought of this before.  It is the downfall because the AI plays like the "after" picture of "Flowers for Algernon".  You know, after the super-smart serum wears off.

Most of the additional features in the Semper Fi expansion can be viewed as attempts to work around the AI problems.

Probably the most important change is the addition of an "Arcade" mode.  The point of this mode is that supply is drawn directly from the national stockpile.  This differs from the original HOI3 model in that the original model included a full-blown logistics simulation.  The engine would keep track of the path a supply would need to take to get to a particular unit.  If it went overland, the engine would keep track of how many supplies were going through that territory and limit the flow of the infrastructure in that territory could not handle the traffic.  If the supply had to go overseas, the engine made sure there was a transport to take it, and both ports were required to have enough handling capacity.  It was a practical plan for Germany to allow the U. S. to land at Normandy then sink enough supply boats to make them withdraw.  The only problem with the idea was that the engine could not track supply paths in any meaningful way.  Examples abounded of supply paths that were laughably suboptimal, often crossing the same territory multiple time.  Arcade mode is an admission of defeat by the developers.
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