For a miniatures flunky, you might notice I play a lot of computer wargames. Given in pewter pusher circles I’m sort of a Renaissance man due to my playing multiple periods of history (most only one or two because of cost and time, but I haven’t got a life), this might seem odder still.
The bottom line, however, is that even retired I don’t have the hours or resources for several periods of history I like, and that is where PC gaming comes in. Boardgames are nice, but the computer with its high graphics potential, allows me to get my miniatures fix with none of the fuss. It’s also why I lean towards tactical PC games. And one of the best is Storm Eagle Studios (SES) Jutland Pro.
Back in Dry Dock
SES was formed in 2001 by Jim Rose (aka, Talonsoft) and Norm Koger (aka, The Operational Art of War) to produce computer wargames that placed a premium on realism and historical accuracy. Jutland was actually the second digital ship in the Distant Guns class, so called because the first and lead game was named Distant Guns and covered naval warfare during the Russo-Japanese War 1904 – 05 (or Wooden Men and Iron Ships according to one churl). Jutland was a 2006 sister product, updated until 2011 with bug fixes and improved graphics. These same improvements were retrofitted to Distant Guns which then became Distant Guns Pro. Today this high seas class includes the following:
- Distant Guns: the Russo Japanese War at Sea Pro (2010) – two campaigns, 10 battles, $ 49.95 US.
- Jutland Express Edition – the same as Jutland Pro with all DLC, but free and allowing only the first 10 minutes of play for each battle.
- Jutland Pro (2010) – over 900 ships from the North Sea navies of Britain, France and Germany, two campaigns to include May 1916 and the entire year, 18 battles to include Jutland, submarines, Zeppelins and light house ships, $ 49.95.
- Jutland DLC Ship Pack 1: US North Sea (2010) – includes two hypothetical campaigns and five battles involving the US Atlantic Fleet, expands the Jutland ship selection to 1140 ships of which 43 classes are American, $ 24.99 US.
- Jutland DLC Ship Pack 2: Dogger Bank 1915 (2011) – includes two new 1915 campaigns, several standalone battles, adds 225 additional British and German ships to the game, $ 14.99 US (40% off).
- Jutland DLC Map Pack 1: the Falklands and Coronel (2012) – includes two new campaigns and two unique map sets on part of the world, and several new British and German vessels, $ 19.99 US.
You can also purchase all the Jutland DLC as a package for $ 69.99 US, Jutland Pro plus the two Ship Packs for the same price, or add in Distant Guns Pro to the previous for $ 89.99 US. This last one is called the “Divorce Pack” and like all the products above, is a bit pricy given the age of the software.
Over at the Admiralty
Now be advised dealing with SES is . . . “special.” This is because the firm has kept such a low profile I wasn’t even sure it was in business anymore. Well it is, even though its Website is woefully out of date. Yet the site is live, there are still games being sold and all downloads still work, not to mention a technical support staff that’s pretty responsive. Likewise, there is a Facebook page and conversations a plenty, the most recent last month about the company’s new and improved customer forums.
Nevertheless, their digital distribution process for downloading, installing and running the games are a bit cumbersome. All the functionality seems to be self-contained in the firm’s Stormpowered software, which is to SES sorta like Steam is to everyone else on the planet. Download the software from the SES site and then when you purchase a game, it will appear in your library on Stormpowered. Right click on a title and the software will provide you with options for downloading, installing and launching the software. You must work with these games from within Stormpowered or they simply will not work. Likewise, it’s also a very good to use all default settings to include directory and by all means kill any antivirus software (that means you, Comodo) that does creepy stuff like running an executable file virtually from a containment folder. Finally, if Stormpowered is being updated, let that finish first.
Launching the game also seems to take a lot of time, and invariably displays a small window in the middle of your screen. Changing settings will not make the window larger, so don’t even try. Instead enlarge the window to full size by clicking on its four sides then pulling the double arrow mouse cursor to the left, right, top and bottom.
All of this is far less than state of the art, but there are plus sides. When you download and install Stormpowered, you will find your Library already populated with the Express Edition of the entire Jutland line, ready for you to download and play free . . . for 10 minutes. Hardware requirements are also very modest. You’ll need a machine running at least XP or Vista, a 1.5 MH single core processor, Internet access, 1 GB RAM, 1.5 GB hard disk storage and a 3D video card running DirectX 9. That’s it.
This will likely be the shortest section of this tome for very good reason. While the game has near unparalleled accuracy, realism and visuals, it is deceptively easy to play. When cranking it up you will be taken to an intro screen of pleasant period art and background music, with a vertical line of buttons on the right side. These little critters are green with an appropriate symbol such as a “?” for Help and so on. You click to enter campaign mode, multiplayer mode or a single battle against the computer AI. Assume the latter and you will go thru a series of dialog boxes where you pick a side and the like, finally arriving at the Battle Screen, where all the action and great visuals take place.
The Battle Screen has several areas of note. At the top left is an area which shows date, time and event reports. On the right is a single “fly out” button of which we will discuss below. At the bottom left is a Point of View (POV, as in where the camera is looking) indicator, and to the right a mini-map of the entire battle area. In the center, a ship’s information dialog box will appear if the mouse cursor is place on top of a vessel. You can move the POV left, right, pan up, pan down, zoom in and zoom out plus other options using hot keys such as arrows, or optionally the mouse. The latter is my choice, but it is a bit tricky in this game. Clicking on the single green button on the right will drop down a menu with several buttons allowing ending the battle, exiting the battle, receiving weather reports and so on.
But using the mouse to select either a ship or a group of ships is where the fun begins. It’s here that Battle Space Controls become available, to include a series of green buttons that enable fly out menus of different types depending on what was selected and current events in progress. There are two general menus here, one controlling Maneuver and the other Targeting, with esoteric but historically accurate commands such as Target Nearest Ship, Target Free (at will, nearest ship), Division Turn in Succession and so on. When movement is selected you then draw a path for the ship or group and drag it to where you want your vessels to go. All of this is done in real time with the enemy acting simultaneously to thwart you. Be advised, however, there are historically accurate time lags to simulate engines being revved up or down, orders being passed from ship to ship and reloading those big guns in your turrets.
You simply continue doing this until victory is gained or not, all the while being witness to some of the best battle graphics anywhere, and certainly the best of this genre. The ocean looks like what I saw outside my cabin window from my holiday cruise last week, while the 3D ship models are rendered with amazing accuracy and precision. Detail is high, colors are correct, and movement looks like the real thing. The billowing smoke and gunfire is not only correct, but the splattering of ship’s debris when hit is a great bit of chrome. This is not Hollywood History as you might find in World of Warships, or even the Japanese movie “Saka no ue no kumo” 坂の上の雲. No, this is film 90123 from the Huntly WWI archives – the real deal. Ironically, this may be the game’s biggest issue.
War has been often described as pure boredom interspaced with fleeting moments of terror. This is especially true of fleet actions, particularly in the Great War where the concept of a “Fleet in Being” was a paramount aspect of strategy. Add to that the elevated price tag for an older game (seriously, the script used looks like bad MS DOS) on an esoteric subject with accurate, quite impressive actually, but less than exciting eye candy, SES Jutland may well not get the attention it deserves.
Just remember this is the final war where ships in battle could actually see each other, making the visuals perfect for both tabletop and computer. This is before extended ranges, carriers and cruise missiles made the Georgia Dome necessary for miniature play, and PC’s aren’t much better. SES Jutland is easy to play with excellent graphics for the genre. Whether you are a battleship or Great War enthusiast, a computer gamer or a budding High Seas Fleet Admiral struggling for Deutschmarks given all that extra lead you need, this is a game very much worthy of your consideration.