One of my worst-kept secrets is my profound disdain for most videogame news outlets in an industry that has gone down the drain, particularly in the last ten to fifteen years for reasons I care not to discuss. On that same note, I also carry some heartfelt admiration for talented writers, chief amongst them, Tim Stone- wargaming’s loudest writer and simulacra extraordinaire.
Tim, we all know you, but in all honesty, who ARE you? There’s so little information about you that for all I know, you could be a sentient fox that learned how to play wargames and writes about them for a living because it’s too lazy to hunt its own food. How did you stumble into this niche?
“Stumble into” is a very apt phrase. I started writing for British games magazine PC Gamer circa 2000 after a spur-of-the-moment job application. At the time I was 30, working in forestry in southern England, and fancied a career change. I didn’t get the job, but the interview led to regular freelance work.
One of the great things about ‘the industry’ was, and still is, its permeability. People can get a foot in the door with no formal journalism training (I had none). Send an email with a few examples of your writing, to the right person, and if that person likes what they see and has money to spare, bingo – you’re a ‘professional’ games reviewer.
For me ‘the right person’ was actually several people. I blame folk like Kieron Gillen, Jim Rossignol, and Ross Atherton for encouraging me during those early years. Without their positivity and patronage, today I might still be a financially secure chainsaw operator.
You have an extensive track record writing about all things simulation and wargaming, what’s the history behind this, and for more curious readers like myself, where can we read some of your older material?
My interest in military history and transport was kindled in an era when home computers and games consoles were extremely rare beasts. I grew up in the 1970s reading marvellous comics like Victor, Hotspur, Look and Learn, and Speed. Many of my favourite toys were made by Airfix (https://www.toysoldierco.com/Airfix/Brand.aspx?BrandID=7&AssocDeptID=21) and Britains (https://ww2pts.blogspot.com/2012/08/britains-deetail-figures.html). By the time the ZX Spectrum arrived in the early Eighties, I was already a keen carpet wargamer. Eventually the 1/72nd plastic soldiers and home-made – with help from Donald Featherstone (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Featherstone_(wargamer) – rules found themselves vying with digital alternatives. Classic computer wargames like Close Combat and Combat Mission completed the conversion process.
Because much of my early writing appeared in PC Gamer magazine and nowhere else, it’s pretty inaccessible now. In 2007 I began writing for a site called Rock, Paper, Shotgun. At present, all my RPS articles are readable (https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/authors/tim-stone), although many lack their original illustrations.
Let’s turn our attention to wargaming and simulacra, what’s your opinion on the current state of the genre? I would argue the genre has never been better, not only do we have more games than ever but we have quite the large influx of new developers and publishers.
I wouldn’t disagree with your assessment. The older you get, the more tempting it is to identify periods in the past as ‘golden ages’, but in terms of thematic variety, conceptual boldness, realism, and price, the contemporary scene is indeed amazing. Yes, personally, I’d like to see fewer familiar subjects… more devs exploring their own local history and transport, but when you’ve been scrapping for Stalingrad, Arnhem, Caen, etc for nigh-on 40 years, a touch of WW2 fatigue is hardly surprising.
Just out of curiosity, what about the state of writing and content creation in our niche?
Sadly, the mainstream sites and magazines don’t seem to have much interest in sim and wargame-related pieces these days (Saying that, PC Gamer did publish a love letter to Close Combat 5 recently, which was a pleasant surprise: https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/close-combat-5-remains-a-brilliant-wargame-two-decades-later/) It’s left to smaller sites like Real and Simulated Wars, Strategy and Wargaming, A Wargamer’s Needful Things, Mudspike, and Tally-Ho Corner to fill the void.
Once again, assuming you’re not a fox and could pick five games to go on to an island and play until the end of your days, which ones would they be and why?
Ask me tomorrow and I’d give you a completely different answer, but right now my quintet would consist of…
- A first-generation Combat Mission title. Perhaps the gloriously playable/replayable Beyond Overlord for old time’s sake.
- Diesel Railcar Simulator, a rail sim that understands that there are more important things in life than gorgeous, GPU-crippling graphics.
- Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! The perfect pop wargame?
- Rowan’s Battle of Britain in its latest, modded form. Sophisticated AI and an incredibly ambitious campaign engine make for uncommonly memorable Finest Hours.
- And Football, Tactics & Glory. Along with Civ, one of the most moreish strategy game I’ve ever played.
Be honest, are you a fox?
Temperamentally, I’m probably closer to a hedgehog than a fox. I’m no danger to your chicken coop, but I may scrump your apples, give you fleas, and attack your flamethrower tank if provoked.
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