El Alamein, or as it’s known in America, Desert Fox: the Battle of El Alamein, is our third CiC game. Set in North Africa, it’s based around the lead-up and battles of El Alamein between the German, Italian and Commonwealth forces. This was the pivotal moment in the battle for North Africa, indeed Churchill considered it the turning point of the war. It wasn’t the first time that the Commonwealth troops had proved themselves but it’s certainly one that is still held in great regard and celebrated in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, France and the UK.

But it’s a very tricky battle to do justice to in a game. The desert war was as unique as the outcome at El Alamein was certain. The initial draft was a great simulation of the events, but that doesn’t make for much of a game. In Bulge and Moscow there’s always a chance you can do better than the real life Generals and we needed the player to be able to do the same here. So it spent a long time being redeveloped and the scope of the main campaign expanded so rather than just the battle, it includes the build up, allowing the player to develop their own strategies and supply routes from early on and supply has a lesser but wider and deeper impact on everything. In truth this had little impact on art. A few extra interface requirements and a lot more units but the biggest impact was on the map.

The desert that the battle was fought over isn’t renouned for being feature rich. Infact photos from directly around Alamein show nothing but a vast flat plain of sand dotted by small dry bushes and rocks. El Alamein itself consisted of a small railway station at what was then the end of the line, two buildings close by and precious little else. It doesn’t make for the most inspiring map. There was also a requirement to be able to show minefields as an area filling texture – a game mechanic rather than imitation of real life – that meant it had to be relatively free of excessive surface noise that would interfere with it.

But after the incredibly short amount of time I was allowed for the four Moscow maps, I wanted to give this one my full attention for a little longer. It needed some thought and experimentation to maintain the CiC look and give the player something good to look at and play on. In the end I had a week though I managed to sneak in a lot of tone and colour tests on the playtest maps – much to the confusion of playtesters who, rather disconcertingly, thought they were final art.

Some early shape, tone and colour tests

A short movie showing some of the early iterations and the layers that went into making the final map.
We’d decided early on that minefields should be represented as a texture overlaying the map so I couldn’t have too much high frequency detail. Making the most of what features there were, ridges and deirs (depressions), giving a general toning to the map to exagerate their effect, using a lot of subtle shading to add some interest to the sand and making sure the two main defining shapes, the sea and the Qattara Depression, felt imposing. There’s a very fine line between exagerating the terrain so you can actually see it well enough to be able to make decisions, and exagerating it so much it looks like a miniatures game – something I always try to avoid.

Like Moscow, most of the interface has been based on templates though there have been a number of subtle changes to account for mines and supplies. Here are few sample images

When the game was first in development I was the only artist so naturally did everything but once the game got delayed, we took on other projects and another artist so many of my responsibilities got passed to others and this version was abandoned. Still its sufficiently different to what eventually went in to keep for posterity.

The first unfinished pass of the intro movie (no audio)