From an art perspective, there were times when Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein felt like one test after another.

The first was whether the processes and templates I’d developed for Drive on Moscow would actually work, technically and artistically.

The Interface

After Battle of the Bulge‘s year or more of development and creation, my remit for Drive on Moscow was to have it done in, lets say, considerably less time, and future games less again. The only way to do that was to reuse as much as possible from game to game and, where change was necessary, minimise the impact. So, the interface was recreated from scratch in a generic black colour, and I generated templates for everything that required faction specific colouring so only minor colour tweaks needed to be made. All the HTML/CSS layout and creation I passed over to other team members, and we have a new artist who did the marketing, the intro movie, the colouring of the templates, and the painting of the posters.

So did these templates work for Desert Fox? Indeed they did and the majority of the same specific interface was created in no time.

Bulge - AIMoscow - AI El Alamein - AI

Bulge was created as theatre specific, but Moscow and Desert Fox use the same black with minor changes

There’s a number of new features that always take considerably longer due to concept changes, testing, rules changes, UI flow changes, etc., and the important elements like map and units simply need to have time and love lavished on them, but overall it was quick.

You can see examples of the first pass at theatre specific graphics for Desert Fox here.

The Map

The next test was to make a plain desert map look interesting. Bulge had a lot of features and variety, Moscow had arguably more but descriptions and photos of El Alamein and the surrounding area showed flat expanses of sand, small rocks and dry bushes. The playtest map from Mark and Nick had indicated the location of ridges and deirs (depressions) but a look on Google Earth showed they didn’t exactly stand out. I looked at other games on the market and they were on the whole featureless and dull. I couldn’t have that.

While our initial playtests are always on paper or Vassal, …

First map recieved from Mark The first paper playtest map.

The map Mark sent us and the first paper map sent out to playtesters

… as soon as possible we get a prototype on the iPad. This is the perfect opportunity to experiment with general colour, tone and ideas for terrain features. It’s a big time saver and allows me to examine how the map displays on retina and non-retina devices. Important due to the disparity in contrast and colour range – darker tones and yellows particularly – on those two devices and on the PC screen I work on.

colour test 01colour test 03colour test 02shape test 04colour test 04colour test 05
At the same time we massage the area shapes so they best fit around the necessary interface elements while still allowing 6 units and other information in each area comfortably.

Actually, that’s an interesting issue. When I first got the Bulge playtest map from John, it had a lot of very distinct shapes, patterns and flow. Now while the final map is technically identical, we had to massage the size of individual areas so much that a lot of the original character of the map was lost. Bastogne, for example, no longer looked like the communication and transport hub that it originally had despite having exactly the same area divisions and connections. When it came to Moscow I was very much aware of that and tried to keep that character but my time was limited.

 Checking space for unitsEl Alamein map - El Alamein map -

Making room for the interface and checking that units graphics, and later, mines, fit within the areas

When I was first given Desert Fox the map had this incredible sense of compression between the Mediterranean and the Qattara Depression but as we changed the areas around and squashed this, stretched that .. I faced that same issue yet again. It wasn’t until the last iteration that I think that returned. I made a conscious effort to regain the form so I twisted the entire map to exaggerate the angle and depth of the coast. We had to lose some of the original Qattara but there’s enough to still suggest a barrier.

colour test 01El Alamein Full Size map

The first colour playtest map, based on Mark’s, and the final retina version (try zooming in)

The look of the map was dictated by the diers and ridges. Bulge and Moscow had led the way with exaggerated forms and this was no different. While the size of each is proportionately correct(ish), the vertical height, and depth, is greatly exaggerated, as is the shading which was generally used to emphasize the changes in elevation. I’d originally planned to make each area quite distinct and based upon photos of the real area ( one rocky, another dunes, another covered in bushes) but because we decided to add mines to the map as a texture I had to reduce the high contrast and high frequency detail in favour of subtle shading and colour washes.

The coast road is the only tarmac road in the area and has a specific effect on supply so was naturally dark and prominent. Paths have a different effect and their real life paler colour worked well to distinguish them from the coast road and maintain the feel of simple dirt paths/roads (much as they were in Moscow).

The few buildings and very faint rail track are decorative only and add a bit of life to an other wise lifeless environment.

So I hope you enjoy Desert Fox: the Battle for El Alamein. There were a lot of unique questions to answer and hope you’ll agree we’ve done pretty well.

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(Note: Originally Published on the Shenandoah Studio Blog)×169.png” alt=”” width=”186″ height=”103″ />