Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Exclusive Interview with The Red Pill's Dimitris Dranidis

The Red Pill (working title) is a naval/air simulation/war game being developed by a team of independent developers. As judged by the screenshots and after action reports posted at, The Red Pill  will be packed with realism and playability. This is an interview with one of the team members, Dimitris V. Dranidis. 

Q: I would like to start by thanking you for taking time to answer
these questions.

A: And thank you Julio for taking an interest in the project and
helping get the word out.

Q: The Red Pill has already a sizeable fan base following its
development. For the readers of the blog who may be reading about it
for the first time, what is The Red Pill?

A: Project: Red Pill (working title) is a comprehensive wargame of air
& naval (and limited ground) military operations, covering scenarios
of both total-war and low-intensity/other-than-war situations. Scale
is primarily tactical/operational, although strategic-scale operations
are also possible.

Q: Who are the people behind this project?

A: The core team is 7 or 8 strong, from all over the globe and from
many walks of life. We’ve all talked through our experiences with the
public face of game development and many on our team wish to remain
anonymous, for reasons that range from worries about impact on a day
job to just making sure the focus stays on the game and not us. That
said, the team members that do want to be known can be fairly easily
identified as the “big mouths” in our forum.

We are actively looking for other people to stand behind this project
as well, and we hope by the end of this we’ll have tons of contributor
names to post. As we've often stated, our friends get dibs.

Q: There is a strong popular culture reference in your choice of The
Red Pill as the name for this war game. How this came to be?

A: The name is just a working title. That said, anyone who's seen the
first Matrix movie knows what the blue and red pills stand for. We
firmly believe that independent projects like Red Pill and the most
excellent GCB2 can offer greater freedom of choice and a breath of
fresh air to an air/nav wargaming community that had to settle for far
too long
for a near-monopoly environment. Choice is beneficial for everyone.

Q: Compared to other naval/air war games out there, what makes The Red
Pill unique?

A: Lots of little things rather than one big feature. Every wargame
represents its creator's "worldview" of how various facets of military
operations should be optimally modeled and the Red Pill is no
exception. This combination of scale and detail/realism has IIRC never
been attempted, at least in the public domain. We have taken a very
careful look at the existing offerings in our domain to determine what
has worked and what hasn't, so in many ways we incorporate lessons
learned from those that came before us. We are pretty confident that
when people get their hands on Red Pill they will have many moments of
"damn, I wish [my previous favorite air/nav wargame] did that too".

Q: How is The Red Pill going to be distributed?

A: That is a huge question but it is not really on the radar yet. I
think in our minds the business stuff is going to come after we have a
sim that does all the things we have ever wanted our game to do (and
we have a pretty huge wishlist backlog to boot). We've seen a few
attempts get burned by thinking too much about the biz and not enough
about the product itself so we don't want to go down that road. We
have been approached a couple times already and we are considering all

Q: Judging by the screenshots published at, The Red
Pill looks like the ultimate air/naval playground. The whole earth is
available to play scenarios?

A: That is correct. A scenario can utilize the entire globe (pretty
useful for MBX setups too), or it can be arbitrarily constrained on a
specific geographical area. The near-space is also included
(satellites, RVs etc.). Obviously such a scale creates unique
manageability and game speed challenges, and we are tackling those as

Q: Would you please comment about the naval and air units available?
A: Those who have followed our DB work for 10+ years know what they
can expect in terms of coverage, realism and attention to detail.
Currently our databases cover most land, air and sea units from
post-WW2 up to the near future (2015-20). Most of the DB team's focus
the last couple years has been to migrate the existing material from
our past Harpoon-format databases into our own unique DB structure and
format that complies with industry SQL standards, is secure and fits
into the object model of our sim. Hopefully afterwards they can focus
time on getting OOBs etc. up to date.

Q: How many scenarios will be available in the game?

A: Our goal is to have many available at release time. Freedom from
geographic constraints means that now it's possible to do
areas/conflicts that are rarely explored if at all in other games. As
in the past, we are confident that the best works will ultimately be
produced from the community itself.

Q: How difficult is the process of making scenarios? Is a mission
editor available in the game?

A: One of the things we realized when thinking about this was that one
of the major blocks for people building scenarios was the time and
effort it took to actually do it. So part of our design is to offer
tools and features that make the process efficient and painless.

A prime example of this philosophy is the ability to
mass-import/export any number of units and land facilities. Want to
use a specific airbase that someone else has already put together? A
couple mouseclicks and you're done. Once you build a complex
installation, you can export it and everyone else can re-use it in his
own scenario. We’ve already built a fair amount of installations based
on our research and the players will have the ability to build their
own as well to import from others.

Another feature we’re proud of is photo overlays, which allow players
to take satellite pictures (from Google Earth etc.) and overlay them
on the map. This allows you to place units at their actual precise
coordinates and build installations (airbases, SAM sites etc.) exactly
as they are in real life. You can even do battlefields and things like
that. It's very neat and combined with the installation import/export
makes life much easier for the scenario builder.

Mission editor - yes, although it's somewhat different from the ones
you are familiar with and it is no longer the sole instrument of
directing AI behavior.

Q: Many strategists have argued that blue water navies are becoming
obsolete. Whether you believe that or not, there is an increase in
interest on littoral naval operations. Is "The Red Pill" battle ready
for littoral combat?

A:  We are aware of this emphasis shift and we have paid extra
attention to getting the intricacies of littoral and low-intensity
conflict right. As examples:

* Sensors and comms/datalinks are correctly affected by land mass
(both for clutter and LOS-blockage), as well as weather conditions.

* The CEP-based model for anti-surface weapons gives tremendous
modeling flexibility. You can really appreciate the difference between
shooting with a gun at a huge capital ship and trying to hit a nimble
speedboat with the same weapon. The smart little guy has a lot better
odds in Red Pill than in any other past air/nav wargame.

* Weapon effect and damage modeling is overall improved, since in the
littoral/low-intensity arena you're dealing a lot more with guns,
rockets, mines and small guided weapons rather than large one-shot
ship-killing monsters. We are also looking at improved modeling of
things like fire, flooding, secondary explosions etc. but these are
still preliminary.

* Improved AI and doctrine options, more flexible contact detection,
classification  & ID levels, more flexible VCs (we are looking into
non-kinetic VCs as well)... all sorts of individual little things
that, when coming together, can make a big difference in a scenario.

Of course these improvements also help with our favorite classic
blue-water slugfests.

Q: Every gamer has one of those moments where he/she exclaims "this
situation couldn't have been represented better by any other game out
there". Did you have any of those moments while playing The Red Pill?
If so, would you mind sharing it?

A: Too many to list exhaustively. Quick examples:

* Seeing an aircraft buddy-illuminate for others dropping LGBs (with
the laser beam visible on the map).

* Watching a comprehensive airbase attack unfold and observing how the
cratering of some of the taxiways created heavy traffic jams on the
surviving ones, significantly slowing down the sortie tempo of that
base - just like in real life.

* Doing a low-level nuclear run with a B-1B, the bomber barely
outrunning the blast wave of the B83 nuke it had dropped seconds
before - and the very same blast wave sweeping almost every land
facility in its path.

* Watching large capital ships trade broadsides, the shell trails
visibly arching through the map, and having their secondary/tertiary
batteries increasingly add to the carnage as the ships closed in on
each other.

* Launching a salvo of cruise missiles from a submarine and watching
the target defenses desperately try to shoot them down, first with
long-range SAMs, then with shorter-range missiles and ultimately with
a thick hail of guns of every caliber.

* Watching as the HVU in the middle of a large surface group got sunk
and all escorts automatically assumed new positions around another big
ship that was "voted" as the new group lead.

* Dropping a load of cluster bombs on a dispersed SAM battery and
watching the bomblets scatter about before shredding the battery
vehicles to bits in multiple explosions.

* Watching ships accelerate from creep to flank speed (realistically,
not instantly) trying to outrun a detected incoming torpedo.

* Launching a heavy ship-killer SSM from a Russian cruiser and then
watching as an overhead Bear-D took over its midcourse datalink
guidance to "babysit" it towards the distant target area.

* Watching fighters engage in BVR duels and realistically beam/dodge
incoming missiles (sometimes having to sacrifice their own SARH run to
do so) instead of blindly sticking to their targets like dumb robots.
The survivors then closing to visual range and turning like mad (and
bleeding airspeed in the process) to get a Sidewinder or gun shot off.

* Having to carefully plot the course of an SR-71 Kola-recon run
because (contrary to some other sims) the Blackbird cannot turn on a
dime while at Mach 3 and 80000 feet, and the MiG-31 interceptors are

* Launching a heavy ICBM at an airbase at the other side of the globe
and, shortly after apogee and over the arctic circle, watching the
MIRVs come off the missile one by one and speed down on their
individual aimpoints.

...I could go on all night :-)

Q: By reading the forums at, in particular a thread
polling opinions about the delicate balance between completion and
release of the game, I assume The Red Pill is in beta stage of
development. Is that true?

A: The result of that poll so far has been interesting as there seems
to be a consistent 50/50 split between those that want a balanced
first release and those that would prefer that we hold off until we
feel it is feature-complete. However, if you look at Harpoon's history
those that are against an early, possibly more buggy release tend to
be more vocal. Mix that in with a little internet stalker action and
you’ve got the potential for an unpleasant experience. So no public
beta yet.

That said, internal testing is already underway. We’ll be sending
invites out to our friends soon though probably in waves. We want to
know what they think.

Q: I'm always impressed with independent developers. Even more when it
comes with simulations of the complexity of The Red Pill. How do you
guys keep sanity? What's the secret?

A: You assume we do :-). I think it helps that most of our team has
been through at least one rough development phase. We've learned a lot
about the process, keeping focused on what really matters, making
tough calls where necessary (and being able to defend said calls in
public) and last but not least who our friends really are. In the end
though I think we all just want the sim we never got by others… it's a
powerful motive and we hope it keeps us through both the good and the
bad times.

Q: Thank you so much, Dimitris. I wish you fair winds and calm seas. I'm looking
forward for the release of The Red Pill.

A: Thanks Julio. Keep up the great work on your part as well.


Alan Giasson said...

Good interview JC. I'm an old Harpooner from way back. I lost interest in it though when it went to Matrix. Red Pill looks great though. I do recognize Dimitris from my harpoon days too.

JC said...

Ey Alan,

Thanks for your comment.

You guys know all each other. It was a very active community back in the days, it looks.


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JC said...


Make sure to visit for periodic updates on this naval wargame.