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The Life and Death of Tank Platoon by John "Spoons" Sponauer (June 2000)

In addition to my duties at SimHQ.com, I also run the largest and longest-running web site devoted to the tank sim M1 Tank Platoon 2.  Through the years, I've come to know many great people through that site, including several of the people involved in the game's development.  In the last couple of weeks since the cancellation of "Tank Platoon," (M1TP2's sequel) I've read probably hundreds of posts, email, messages, etc. decrying the situation and offering varying degrees of finger-pointing at everyone from the "suits" at Hasbro to the gaming media to the design team to the sim community.  There have been people theorizing online that the game was never going to be released at all, that it was a marketing attempt to sell Gunship, and more.

As I learned while studying to be a journalist, the truth is rarely black and white, if there actually can even be one "truth."  Such is the case with Tank Platoon.  I started this article after I had received word of the cancellation, and the early draft wasn't something that I would have been proud to hang my name on. 

However, in the process of writing out a timeline for the article, I realized that it was not so clear cut.  Rather than present you with my rants for 10 pages, I'm going to take another route.  What follows is the rough timeline of how Tank Platoon was created and killed, from its early days as an expansion for M1TP2 to the post-cancellation comments and interviews.  While not specifically related to the development, I've included in this timeline work done by a number of outside M1TP2 fans (myself included).  This isn't done to "toot our own horns," but I think it shows some of the potential of the game at various points and how the game was made to allow for expansions.  

Anyway, I'll let you draw your own conclusions.  I have very deliberately left out a large amount of editorial comment.

Some thanks are due to the many people who helped with this article.  To the wonderful people who have supported my M1TP2 site, the crowd on the M1TP2 mailing list, the current and former employees of MicroProse / Hasbro Interactive who have talked to me at various points in three years, the guys at SimHQ, and the people at PC Data and elsewhere who helped come up with some information.  I don't believe I have quoted or referenced any private message / call / email without permission, however, I have freely used quotes from publicly posted messages without seeking permission first.  

Because I am not a big believer in playing "gotcha," I sent a copy of this article to three key people at Hasbro / MicroProse (Game Designer Tim Goodlett, Hunt Valley Studio Head Robin Matthews, and MicroProse's Director of Marketing Tom Nichols) prior to publication to solicit any comments they might want to send in response, should they choose to make any at all.  The only comments made were pointing out a typo and saying that the article "fairly and accurately captured a lot of the history of these products."

So here is, as far back and as accurately as I can determine, the history of Tank Platoon.  Pay attention and take notes....it's an interesting ride that says a lot to me about development, the sim community, and the economic realities behind it all.

May 1997
At E3 Expo 1997, M1 Tank Platoon 2, the sequel to 1989's "M1 Tank Platoon,"  is announced by MicroProse.


December 1997
MicroProse updates their M1TP2 site with a lot of information.  It hasn't really changed much to date (5/24/2000).


January 29, 1998
MicroProse begins to say that M1TP2 will be just one game in a series that will finally deliver on the often-fancied "virtual battleground."  In an interview, Tom Nichols, the product marketing manager for MicroProse, states "We will be doing additional simulation products in the M1 universe, one of which will be centered around the Apache helicopter, like the Gunship series.  That's just one example."

It's not something that specifically happened in January, but among the ideas floated around by the development team is the possibility of expansion packs for the game, which would add the ability to play other vehicles.  The game is designed to allow that expansion with a minimum amount of extra work.


February 24, 1998
In a preview at Computer Games Online, a MicroProse representative is referred to back in June of 1997 as saying that he wasn't sure if the Challenger II or Leopard II tanks would be modeled for players to play head to head combat with, but suggested that even if they were, they would likely use the M1's interior cockpit graphics.  It is also mentioned that a Mission Editor would not be included in the release version, but may be an item for an expansion pack.


March 10, 1998
M1TP2 goes "gold."  The company expects to ship at least 100,000 copies of the game to retailers.  Along with the game Ultim@te Race Pro, MicroProse says that it has "strongest line-up in the 15-year history of the company."  A ZDNet article says, "Plus, it was developed internally at MicroProse and was completed on time, which doesn’t happen very often these days."


March 24, 1998
MicroProse starts shipping M1TP2.  Initial reaction is mixed, although reviews are mostly positive.  While certainly a big step up from the original, the game doesn't match the documentation in many areas (or is it the other way around?), and there are a number of very visible bugs and missing features in it.


March 27, 1998
A post is made on several online Armor Forums by Tim Goodlett, M1TP2 Game Designer

Thanks for all the posts. We have been reading them and considering all input during our planning stages of our upgrade and expansions. As the game's designer I want to take this opportunity to let our audience know what the future holds for M1 Tank Platoon.

Yes, the Manual has errors in it. I apologize for this. Instead of giving a lengthy series of events and excuses, I will say that the development team has learned several valuable lessons for the future. The manual has been corrected in the second printing and an Errata will soon be posted on the MicroProse website.

The team has been reading the posts to this site and paying attention to the various points made about the game, much like we did prior to the start of the development cycle. Since the completion of M1, the team has been working on an enhancement to add Direct3D graphics support to the game. This is nearing completion and will be posted to our website within the next few weeks. In the meantime, the team will evaluate both your feedback and our internal review and include fixes to most of the problems with the Direct3D upgrade.

It does not end there. We plan to add on to M1Tank Platoon II with one or more expansion sets that will add additional equipment and more player controlled vehicles. The design of these expansions will take your feedback into consideration as well. I am not guaranteeing that every suggestion will make it into the game, but it will be considered.


Early April 1998
Frustrated by the lack of a mission builder, a number of M1TP2 enthusiasts (myself included) begin peeking into the data files of the game.  While not exactly intuitive, the mission files are plain ASCII and look friendly to tinkering.  I start work identifying what the game's 105 vehicle codes mean.  At the same time, others make huge progress on identifying what each part of the mission files do (weather, unit facing, unit orders, etc.).  With these two chunks of information, it becomes readily obvious that anyone can make very detailed missions in the game "by hand" and not rely on the canned ones that came with the game.  Very quickly, many custom made missions are being created by users, including using the whole scope of the game's selection of vehicles.  Communication is enhanced by an M1TP2 mailing list, on which the group of users compare notes.

One of the interesting "finds" was that if you toggled one setting in the mission file, you could play the OPFOR's (enemy's) side...none of the interior tank screens changed, but externally and on the map you WERE commanding the OPFOR.  On April 19, a user creates a mini-campaign, with the player playing as the OPFOR through a series of battles!   

Another interesting find was that when the user selected "his" unit to be something other than an M1, the correct weapons showed up in the gunner's sight!  The Bradley carried 25mm cannon and TOW missiles, the 2S6 had SAMs and cannon, infantry had rifles and anti-tank rockets, and even the AIRCRAFT were loaded correctly.  In fact, if you chose to "fly" an aircraft, you could sit view from the gunner's sight and watch as an apparently AI-controlled gunner selected a target, locked onto it, and used appropriate weapons.  In a jet, if you took over and controlled the bombs (basically, a guess as to when to pull the trigger....you still were stuck at the gunner's screen), the bombs would drop (actually, cluster bombs were represented by the game image as a DPICM artillery shell) and pilot would automatically radio that he was coming around for another pass, and behave exactly like he would in the game when you weren't involved.  While you couldn't directly fly any of the aircraft, you could adjust waypoints on the map screen and hop along for the ride.

This was all sometimes flaky.  Some weapons wouldn't fire unless you toggled on night vision first, others only fired in small bursts, and the audio was still for the original game, so firing a rapid-fire cannon resulted in hundreds of plays of the sound "Sabot up!," all within a few seconds.  You also were stuck with really only one view...the gunner's sight from the M1.  You could jump up to the commander's .50 caliber gun, but that wasn't really right (imagine playing a grunt with a helmet-mounted .50!  ;)  ).  Except for the changed "ammo counter box" at the gunner's screen, none of the other internal views changed.  

And even when it worked, it didn't always work RIGHT, especially some of the ATGMs, which sort of flew off in their own directions at times.  However, in many cases it DID work....in the Bradley, for instance, the TOW could be consistently "steered" in flight by moving the crosshairs.  

It was an exciting time, as the end users figured that they now had a game with endless replay possibilities.  It wasn't M1 Tank Platoon 2 any more, it was any kind of ground combat you could imagine.



m109-1.jpg (63928 bytes)m109-2.jpg (46726 bytes)m109-3.jpg (46803 bytes)
M-109 and shelling a village


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Su-25 attacks with cluster bombs (DPICM artillery effect is used) and rockets

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Playing the T-72 and T-90.  Note ATGM flying downrange in right shot


April 14, 1998
Mike Dubose, the QA Lead for M1TP2, posts this to several message boards about the upcoming patch for the game.


I apologize for the late post. It has been a hopping day. The upgrade is in QA, and being tested. I have compiled a list of the issues we have corrected, and added. Also the stuff we added due to gamers response. For those interested, the size of the upgrade will be 1.5 - 2 meg. Once we are done with it in QA it will be available for download on our web sight. OK, now down to the meat & gravy....aka T-Ration

1. TC target Designation. If you as a TC point it out, your gunner will "jump to" and fire on it. BEWARE !! This includes your own vehicles also. So be careful who you point at...
2. Artillery delivered smoke. This option will only show up with your detail level set to high. Have fun with it..
3. Bino view in the TC out hatch. Z key brings them up, X key puts them down. You wont be able to fire the .50 cal when using the Binos.
4. Night Vision Goggles in the TC out hatch. The T key will activate them. With these you will be able to engage targets at night with the .50 cal. They are not a thermal class sight system, so using them during daylight hours will be ineffective.
5. External View controls. ( F8 ) This view is now controlled with the joystick, or by a left click on the mouse. Using the mouse you can pan the view to where you want it, then right click to hold the view in place. Also it is not as sensitive. No more nausea....
6. The seam in the sky has been corrected.
7. Joystick control buttons are now in accordance with the manual. It is quite convenient by the way.
8. The Hull to Gun command is now functional. It is also in accordance with the manual.
9. TC ammo over ride. We fired all the loaders, and are sending a batch of new recruits to all platoons. The new loaders will load any round a TC tells him to, and wont give you any flak about it.....
10. Situational awareness in the TC out hatch. We have modeled the turret under the .50 cal machine gun so that the TC can see the tank under him, and know which way he is facing.
11. The CITV button keys on the keyboard are now functioning as per the manual.
12. COAX vs. Main Gun Rounds. In the GPS, after using the COAX, the loader does not have to reload the main gun. A gunner can switch right back to the round in the gun, and engage targets.
13. We have added contour lines to the Map screen. This is a toggled function using the L key. It also sharpens the contrast between elevation shading.
14. Unstabilized .50 cal machine gun. In the beginning of a battle the .50 is unstabilized, however, you can restabilize the .50 with the K key. It is a toggle function just like the contour lines.
15. We have made numerous tweeks to the Helos. We have changed their threat ID, taken away the cloaking device, and a few other things............
16. Smoke pods. The AI will automatically use the smoke pods mounted on the vehicles. Keep an eye on some of your vehicles when they take a hit. The TC will pop smoke to cover his tail. The Soviet vehicles do this also. I learned this the hard way today, and got my head shot off.
17. We have put a lot of work into the Multi-player aspect of the game. We have tightened it up, and it is much more stable.

We still have a couple of issues that are under construction. These being Direct 3D, and vehicles engaging through forests. We fully intend to get these issues squared away for the upgrade. Some other points of interest are...

1. Some new single battles. We created some smaller single battles. BTW the numbers next to the battles denote size in comparison to the number of vehicles in the battle. ( I sounded smart just then....)

2. In the Config. screen we added the option to turn off the menu bars. Personally I think they are cool, but then again I''m a dumb grunt, and flashy things amuse me..........

The above list are the issues we will be addressing with the upgrade. I have maintained a list of all the suggestions, and ideas that have been sent to me. Many of them are great. We weren't able to implement all the stuff sent in, but, I'll keep the list to use during the designing of the next expansion. Its gonna be a killer!!!! I will be up on the boards every day to keep you all up to date on the testing process.


April 20, 1998
The Unofficial M1TP2 Edits and Missions Site is created by me, basically to publish all that we've learned to date about the sim's structure.


April 22, 1998
Patch 1.1 released.  The huge inconsistencies between the manual and game have largely been fixed...features that were missing in the release are now available.  The game essentially now plays as the manual suggests.

However, the patch removed the ability to play the other non-tank units in the game, making the previous player-as-OPFOR battles crash.


April 24, 1998
In a post on the newsgroup, an M1TP2 player complains that the ability to play the OPFOR has been removed.  The response from MicroProse's Amy Boylan:

"Sorry...... its no longer available because it was one of the causes of "2 people in a tank" bug in multiplayer. If I can give it back to you, I will...promise"

Prior to writing this article, there's always been some thought in my mind that perhaps this was done deliberately.  It seems logical to assume that since a potential revenue builder for a company was "discovered" by end users and exploited, the company would want to cut that off.  However, in researching this article, I have come to believe that this was NOT some deliberate plan to forbid users from playing as the OPFOR.  It really does seem to have been an incidental side effect of the patch.


April 28, 1998
MicroProse updates the FAQ for M1TP2 for the second and last time.


April 1998
M1TP2 does not fare well in US sales, coming in ranked 104th for PC Games for the month of April, according to PC Data. It is ranked 15th in the category of "Simulation," behind Sierra Pro Pilot, Comanche, U.S. Navy Fighters, A-10 2: Silent Thunder, Jane's F15, and MS Flight Simulator (the other games in the "Simulation" category include Wing Commander Prophecy and Monster Truck Madness).  About 7,500 copies are sold in the month.


May 14, 1998
In referring to the game's non-functioning UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle...a drone, basically), an MPS rep says that because they could never get them working right, they decided to reduce their likelihood of appearing in missions to 0%.  It was stated that this was an issue for the planned M1TP2 expansion set.  The UAV can be hand-added to missions, where it can be used for spotting, but it obviously isn't really complete.  When destroyed, it just stays where it is, suspended in mid-air.  It doesn't really do much.

uav.jpg (66246 bytes)


May 18, 1998
Patch 1.2 released.  It doesn't "fix" a whole lot, and in fact slows down the game considerably and makes it unstable for many people.  It also neuters the AI of helicopters, apparently.  They now act very timid, whereas before they were almost reckless in their attacks on enemy units.  

Some people to this day feel the 1.1 patch is more stable in the long run and play with that.


May 28, 1998
Hasbro announces Gunship 3.  The press release says that the sim will fully connect with M1 Tank Platoon 2.


June 1998
A very early demo of Gunship 3 is shown at E3.  In an article at Combatsim, it is reported that Gunship will be a stand alone product, but will connect to M1TP2. 

In the article, the terrain was reported to be identical to M1TP2, with the exception of individual trees which was reported to be something that Game Designer Tim Goodlett wanted to put in M1TP2 but couldn't, possibly due to performance constraints.  Instead, whole "blocks" of forests and single tree lines were used.

Some of the possibilities mentioned for the future included flying a Havoc, Hokum, or maybe even an A-10 in the game engine, as well as the RAH-66 Comanche. It is also suggested that Gunship could upgrade the M1TP2 engine with such effects as fog, smoke, dynamic lighting, new resolutions, and, of course, the new trees.


June 10, 1998
I learn that the product development team is doing "a lot of work on M1 and Gunship."  I am told that the 1.3 patch will take care of all the major items that needs fixing, and when Gunship comes out, it will include many fixes that will fine tune M1. There is a readme created internally of all of the changes in the 1.3 patch, and that readme is very close to being publicly released to myself and several other sites so people can see what is being fixed.


June 11, 1998
An active M1TP2 player finds a way to play the OPFOR and the other units again, even with the 1.2 patch installed.

"After some initial problems with the game crashing (as you warned) I've managed to get fairly consistent results by first playing a normal battle (I use the static gunnery range which I've copied, tweaked, and saved as a player battle) and then moving from there to one of my non-US vehicle/non-M1 battles. The crashes occur mainly only when I try to play the non-US/non-M1 battle as the first battle.  Using this technique, I've managed to play the non-US tanks as well as the infantry vehicles. I've even managed to "make it work" using an AH-64 flight; though I was unable to control any of the firing or sighting, I was able to command the platoon via the F3 view and look over the gunner's shoulder, so to speak, in the F4 view (check out the F7 view for an interesting change of pace)."


July 1998
Many users start to find an interesting bug.  With the 1.2 patch, the game seems to crash after about 25 minutes of gameplay.  It doesn't seem to happen among everyone, but several users report it consistent with their machines.


July 30, 1998
At the request of a person who was working with me on a Mission Builder utility program, MicroProse sends out to the community their own document  about to manipulate the mission files by hand.  Much of the information is the same as has already been discovered by the end users, but a few new pieces of information help explain some things.


August 6, 1998
In an article at CGO, we learn some of the first new details about Gunship III.  It will feature several of the campaigns from M1TP2 as well as two new ones (including possibly South America).  The Comanche will be one of the flyable helos.  Some of the changes planned are mentioned in the article:

"Changes will include extending the viewing range (to support the longer-ranged views achieved in the air) and enhancing performance. They also plan to add weather effects, cloud layers, and new missile types; also, between mission management of maintenance, supplies, and replacements will play a part in the game.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the ability to link with M1 Tank Platoon II so gamers can fight cooperative, combined-arms battles with friends on the ground. MicroProse is even kicking around ideas for a third product, a wargame that would let one person act as commander for multiple helicopter pilots and tank commanders (human or AI)."


August 6, 1998
Mike Dubose posts this on several online venues.

The Ver. 1.3 patch that we have been working has turned into something more
than we had originally intended. What started out to be some localized
changes has grown into a major over haul of the game. We are now in the
process of making major changes to 85 - 90% of M1TP2. The list of
suggestions, and ideas that have been sent to us via. Forums, and E-mail are
being reviewed. Some of them have already been implemented, more are being

The largest and most complete change will be with the multiplayer. It is
all being re-done. The amount, and type of information exchanged also the
way it is exchanged between machines will be upgraded.  To help us with this
we have added a new member to our team.  Multiplayer, in it's many forms, is
his specialty. Other areas include updated graphics, improved AI, an
expansion of Command levels, the addition of NATO vehicles, some new
cockpits, a larger area in which to fight, along with various other changes.
The only area that will be basically the same is the game Wrappers, and
Interface. Everything else is getting updated, and upgraded.

Ok, now the bad news. All the upgrades we are making to M1TP2 are being
implemented along with the development of Gunship3 to create the beginning
of an Electronic Battlefield. What does this mean to you as a gamer? The
upgrade to M1 will not be available until just before, or at the same time
that Gunship3 gets released. Our decision to do this was based on  time
management. To spend 8 to 10 weeks on a patch, only to have to change it, or
to roll that 8 to 10 weeks back into the project. We chose the later.

I know you all have a lot of questions, along with some colorful comments, I'm sure. 

Just some things to chew over.....in my opinion, based on conversations and emails, the 1.3 patch would have been a significant patch and would have addressed known issues with the game, and probably would even have added some user-requested items.  From all I can gather, the decision to stop work on it was NOT forced by an impending merger with Hasbro, at least at the level of the development team who was actually doing the work.  The time estimations floating around the net about how close the patch was to completion range from done to 48 hours to several weeks.  Looking through past emails and conversations, I do not believe the patch was "ready to go" and is now stored in a Hasbro vault somewhere.  At the time, MicroProse was not doing well financially, and it probably just made more sense to focus on a revenue generator like Gunship than work on a patch in isolation, especially when that new product would contain many of the fixes in the patch.  I believe the development team was intent on working on a "hardcore" (I hate that expression) helicopter sim at this point.  


August 10, 1998
In response to an earlier email I sent regarding the status of the patch, a MicroProse rep tells me that they were aware of the slowdown many people experienced after installing the 1.2 patch and are looking into it.  "Somewhere between v1.1, and 1.2 something got changed.  We are hunting it down."

Around that same time, I learn that there will be a fairly detailed battle editor / creator shipped with the "Gunship / M1 package."  When I asked if the old hand-created missions would still work, it was implied that the actual mission file format should not change much at all.


August 12, 1998
An outside Beta Testing Team for the GS3/M1 package is created from a core of M1TP2 fans.  It is limited to 15 testers.  I am included on the list.

I was very excited about this.  In my opinion, external user-based testing teams tend to look for gameplay bugs, freeing up internal QA Teams to focus on product stability bugs and the like.  


August 27, 1998
In a "Welcome to the testing group" email, I get the following message:

Phase three is the final approval stage for a development team to begin creating the game in question. For us it is the M1TP2 upgrade, and Gunship 3. As of now, our Design team is fleshing out the details of the design document, the programmers are beginning the process of altering code, and I am in the process of putting together a Beta Testing program.


September 8, 1998
The Beta Testing team is sent an email with the first list of members - about 12.  This is the first and last group email to the testing team.


September 15, 1998
Hasbro buys MicroProse, making the game company a wholly owned subsidiary of toy maker.  From a press release:

"MicroProse will significantly enhance Hasbro Interactive in three key strategic growth areas: brands and content, R&D assets, and European distribution," said Alan G. Hassenfeld, chairman and CEO of Hasbro.

Tom Dusenberry, president of Hasbro Interactive, added, "MicroProse will provide Hasbro Interactive with product strength in the strategy, simulation, and 3D action game categories, enabling us to compete in virtually all major PC game categories." Hasbro also plans to port
MicroProse titles to console platforms.


September 21, 1998
An M1TP2 fan publishes on my web site a document about how to edit the terrain in M1TP2.


October 9, 1998
I receive word that because of the Hasbro deal, the timeline for the Beta Group has been delayed.  However, it is not believed that the merger will set back any shipping dates...instead, delay is expected on the legal, sales, and marketing sides of things.

In researching this, I get the impression that it was after the Hasbro merger that Gunship became more scaleable in difficulty levels, features, etc.  You start seeing that phrase more often in previews and articles.


October 1998
Several of the M1TP2 / Gunship team visit the US Army Armor School at Fort Knox.  They bring in some artists to capture the interiors of the T-72, Challenger, and BMP.  They also took a lot of video.  The school has made themselves available as consultants, and British and German liaison officers offer their services as well.

At about this time, MicroProse sends up a team of artists in a hot air balloon to capture the "feel" of rolling terrain at a low altitude.


November 5, 1998
The first custom world for M1TP2, Bosnia, is created by another M1TP2 fan.

More information is published by the original terrain-editing fan concerning editing the maps.


November 11, 1998
The first version of an M1TP2 Terrain Editor is released by the terrain-editing fan.


December 20, 1998
Several versions later, the last update to the Editor program is released, which not only allows terrain manipulation, but also mission editing and creation features.  At about the same time, the first whole new world for M1TP2 is released, Israel.


December 1998
A working demo of Gunship 3 is shown to Hasbro.  


January 1999
I inquire about the status of the Beta Team.  I am informed that the programs are still alive, but it will be some time before anything is ready for testing.


February 22, 1999
I learn that Hasbro has decided to make the M1TP2 enhancement a separate full product, called M1 Tank Platoon 3.  Gunship 3 will be sold separately.  I don't see the name M1TP3 used by many people until April, for some reason.


April 1999
The phrase "M1TP3" is first used by Hasbro in connection with the upcoming E3 trade show.


May 3, 1999
Since I'm going to add an interactive poll to my M1TP2 site asking for thoughts on M1TP3, I contact MicroProse and ask if there is anything they'd like to get user feedback on.  They respond back that they'd like to know what different types of vehicles gamers would like to see in the game, how gamers would change the tank commander's cockpit from as it was in M1TP2, and what vehicles the players would like to be able to directly play as.

I learn that there will be infantry bunkers, as well as working interiors for the M1, Challenger II, Leopard II, and the Russian Black Eagle tank.  In addition, all of the APCs will have playable gunner's sights, including ATGMs that can be guided.  But they still want feedback, to see if their thoughts mesh with those of their fans.


May 6, 1999
I added the poll to my site and begin to collect suggestions.  To date (5/24/00), the poll has been taken 1,000 times, and there are probably more than 100 suggestions from end users.


May 12, 1999
Hasbro puts out a pre-E3 press release regarding Gunship and Tank Platoon.

Flying to stores next winter, Gunship III is a realistic aerial combat game
where the players have the ability to fly a selection of the world s most
advanced and deadly military helicopters. Fly the AH-64D Apache, AH-1Z
Cobra, Eurocopter Tiger, or the Mi-28 Havock in a quest for victory with two
ways to play. Start in the Instant Action Mode with fewer controls and
intense head-to-head action with enemy units for pure excitement. Start in
the Campaign Mode and watch the plot unravel with dramatic tension as the
player is placed in a combat environment for the ultimate in campaign
realism upon a lethal battlefield. Capturing the feel of the original game,
Gunship III will showcase more detail, realistic graphics, dynamic mission
generation, advanced artificial intelligence and multiplayer support.
Gunship III will also feature multiplayer support for the upcoming title M1
Tank Platoon III , which will allow the two games to be connected for truly
immersive battlefield play.

In unrelated news, the same fan who built a Bosnia map for M1TP2 releases a game map of Kosovo.


May 22, 1999
A MicroProse programmer appears on the Combatsim boards and talks about some of the features of Gunship 3 / M1TP3.  Among the things mentioned are the:

bullet Flight model ("We are making Gunship scalable wherever possible. The flight model on "Action Mode" will be easy for the casual user, while in the "Simulation Mode", it will be much more realistic"), 
bullet The connection to M1TP3 ("Yes. M1TP3 will be using the same graphics engine and the same vehicle models"), 
bullet New features ("There are a lot of cool new features in this game (the realistic thermal view, the volumetric clouds that you can use for cover, the realistic trees you can use for cover, and others). However, my personal favorite is the monocle view. This allows you to see the unaided eye view (cockpit view) as well as the camera view. In that way, you can zoom in on a target, while still looking at your MFD.  Being a Hasbro company, we are going to get a larger distribution, so we need to be accessible to a larger customer base. So, we are making this game scalable, from Action to Simulation. In this way, we should be able to satisfy a much larger group of players.")
bullet Multiplayer ("Also, multiplayer games should be able to interact in a virtual battlefield with M1TP3 players.")
bullet And other areas.

June 1999
Mike Dubose, by this point the Associate Producer for GS / TP, leaves MicroProse / Hasbro.


June 6, 1999
One of the first videos of GS3 appears in the German magazine Gamestar.


July 1, 1999
I interview Tim Goodlett for SimHQ.com.  From the interview:

I think many people felt that M1TP2 might have needed one more patch to make it more complete.  What do you think?  How was the decision made to move forward with this new product rather than issue a 1.03 patch for M1TP2?

Patches are sometimes necessary evils that are used to fix things that are broken, not to add additional major features or make new versions of a game. When we asked players on the net what they wanted to see in such a patch, the answers included a lot of major design changes, or additions to the game that are not "patch material" but add on or next edition changes. Based on this feedback, we decided to dedicate our time and resources into developing a new, updated product vs a patch.


Nov 19, 1999
Combatsim runs an interview with Tim.

Q: Tell us about growth in the command structure from Tank Platoon II to III.

Tim: The player will be able to command a company. In addition, they will be able to directly control combat vehicles other than the tanks using limited cockpits, such as the gun sight and an outside control view.

Right about this time, Hasbro and MicroProse change the names of the products to Tank Platoon! and Gunship!   When SimHQ inquires about the name change with Hasbro, the reason given is that it was done so that consumers won't feel they need to have played previous versions to enjoy these two titles.


November 19, 1999
Hasbro registers the domain name gunship.com.  


November 23, 1999
I inquire about the status of the Beta Testing team.  I learn that the reason no one has heard anything is that MicroProse doesn't have an answer from Hasbro yet about their policies on outside testing, and the original list was made before the merger.


December 7, 1999
Hasbro announces that the MicroProse studio in Alameda, California is closing.  The Hunt Valley, Maryland studio (where TP/GS is being completed) is left essentially untouched, and both TP and GS were publicly stated to be continuing.  This is confirmed by SimHQ in a conversation with team members in the days after the announcement.  Hasbro makes a public "Statement to MicroProse Fans."


January 8, 2000
Hasbro puts up an official web page for Gunship.  The site states that Gunship "will connect with upcoming "Tank Platoon!" in the multi-player AirLand Combat System."  In fact, it still does (as of 5/31/2000)


February 2, 2000
I called Tim Goodlett and spoke at some length about the two projects.  From the SimHQ news report of that conversation:

We had a nice conversation with Tim Goodlett of Hasbro Interactive / MicroProse today.  QA on Gunship! is well underway and going well, and they are on track to master in March.  All helicopters and weapons are now in the game.  He reports that the fully 3D cockpit is also coming along nicely, and the majority of the flight instrument controls can be handled through keyboard shortcuts.  He also updated us on the enemy AI...sounds like the enemy units are not just going to be a few units stuck here or there;  they'll be going about their business, looking for and engaging their own targets.  They are still determining the final size of battles, especially in multiplayer.  Speaking of multiplayer, according to Tim it is also testing well, and the tandem cockpit is working, as are both cooperative and adversarial modes.  We asked about the varying degrees of difficulty possible in the sim, and he reports that several factors can be adjusted, such as weapon effectiveness and damage to your own bird.  However, one interesting note here...while the lower difficulty levels will have the same type and the same number of enemy vehicles, they'll just be a little slower to react.  Look for more from us on both Gunship! and Tank Platoon! (due out six months later, in time for Christmas 2000) as the projects progress.

I also learn in that phone call that they are not going to use an external testing team for either Tank Platoon or Gunship at all.


February 25, 2000
Hasbro registers the domain name tankplatoon.com


March 17, 2000
Gunship goes "gold."


March 28, 2000
Gunship is available in stores in the US.  There is no mention of interconnectedness with Tank Platoon on either the game box or in the documentation.  Initial reaction is very mixed, with many people unhappy with the lack of accurate avionics, flight model, and other things expected in most "hardcore" helo sims.  Reviews are largely negative from sim sites.

A look at the mission and terrain files of the game show that the basic format of them is very similar (almost identical) to M1TP2, although it is obvious new things have been added.  Attempts to edit the Gunship terrain with the old M1TP2 Terrain Editor are only party successful...the terrain loads and shows on the editing board, but crashes when you play the game.  Similarly, attempts to switch the Poland map (a common map between the two games) results in a crash after a few seconds of flying in total blackness.


April 12, 2000
Hasbro QA Lead Mark Gutknecht posts on our board concerning Gunship's connectedness with Tank Platoon.

"A patch will be needed to connect to Tank.  I've been tasked with making a list of the "issues" you folks find along with any bugs.  The decision will then be made on just when a patch will be put together and what will be on it. I appreciate your patience."


Week of April 16
Gunship debuts in the UK and reportedly has strong sales figures in its debut week.  Reportedly, M1TP2 also sold well in Europe through its life.


April 20, 2000
I get an email from a M1TP2 player that says he purchased a new MicroProse game and inside was a flyer showing Tank Platoon and Gunship together, and mentioning that the two connect.  There is a graphic of the TP box as well....it's the first time I've seen it.

tankplatoon.jpg (32498 bytes)

Also on this day, Hasbro PR sends out this press release to some web sites regarding Tank Platoon.  They include some screenshots.  From the release:

TP4.jpg (70087 bytes)TP6.jpg (63248 bytes)

Tank Platoon!® is a fast-paced combat experience where players control the most durable, heavy, powerful battle machines of the 21st century. Massive and forceful weapons of destruction capable of high ground speeds and accurate gunfire, the front-line battle tanks of the major countries command respect and admiration. For the first time ever, this full fighting experience of power and speed is offered with great ease of use, incredible battlefield depth, and fantastic 3-D graphics that will immerse all gamers into the excitement and action of WW III. Additionally, the full battle experience is enhanced with an on-line connection to Gunship!®, the best helicopter sim-action game in the world. Now get full, hands-on excitement fighting combat helicopters and tanks together in the first ever coordinated, on-line experience joining two different fighting platforms from two separate games. 

Key Features: 

bullet Four tanks to choose from: the M1A2 Abrams (US), the Challenger II (UK), the Leopard 2A5 (German) and the T-80 UM2 Black Eagle (Russian).
bullet 'Scaleable' difficulty settings allow both novice and sim fans to play at their own level.
bullet In addition to the four main battle tanks, players may choose to fight from 26 vehicles as a gunner.
bullet Overall 115 vehicles and varying amounts of individual ground troops make Tank Platoon! the most complete, in-depth combat simulator on the market.
bullet Develop your platoon's experience by guiding them to victory. 
bullet Create custom missions with the Battle Builder.
bullet Realistic rolling terrain that lets you 'hide' behind trees, hills and ridges just like real tanks.
bullet Detailed communications simulation lets you call for artillery or air support and talk to other units.


April, 2000
Gunship does not appear in the top 20 games sold during the month, according to PC Data.  Three other Hasbro titles do, however...Roller Coaster Tycoon, Roller Coaster Tycoon Corkscrew Follies, and Frogger.  Gunship comes in ranked 69th out of all PC games, and is ranked 12th in the category of "Simulation."  The flight or combat sims ahead of it are Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000, Fly!, and Jane's WWII Fighters (the rest of the Simulation category are titles such as Need for Speed, Midtown Madness, etc.).  More than 11,600 copies of Gunship are sold in the month.


First week of May, 2000
No firm news for this date, but it is here that I believe Tank Platoon is cancelled by Hasbro, based on poor sales of Gunship.  I can find no reason to believe that the team wasn't going to keep working on the game....so much of the work was essentially already done. 


May 5, 2000
Tank Platoon does not appear in a Hasbro press release list of games to be shown by the company at E3.  


May 13, 2000
At E3, Dogfighter.com breaks the word that Tank Platoon has been cancelled.  Within an hour I contact Tim Goodlett and he defers from comment about the situation.  The news from the E3 show is confirmed by SimHQ's Crash, who is there.


May 15, 2000
In a phone call, Hasbro Interactive PR confirms to me that Tank Platoon has been cancelled.


May 18, 2000
Hasbro makes an official statement about Tank Platoon's cancellation.

"We had hoped to be able to expand combat simulations beyond the traditional niche, to broaden their appeal and make them a viable market for us to participate in. But, what we learned from our recent release of Gunship!, is that we're challenged to attract the hard core fans and, at the same time, the more casual gamers. As both Gunship! and Tank Platoon! shared a common engine and game design, we saw little opportunity to rectify the situation and made the decision not to move forward with Tank Platoon!. This is allowing us to focus our development resources on new projects."


May 18-19, 2000
Pretzelworks, a site that has enhanced several other sims with end user mods, uses the info at my site to go on to discover that many of the M1TP2 vehicles are included in Gunship and can be brought into games.  In the M1TP2 mission files, the numbers 0-105 were used for different types of units.  In Gunship, those numbers still seem to work, but they have added 106-144, which are new vehicles.  Some surprising new units, like the Tornado fighter/bomber, are available.


May 22, 2000
Over the phone, MicroProse's Hunt Valley Studio Head Robin Matthews tells me, "We are obviously very disappointed about the cancellation, but we understand the realities of the current market." 
  In a follow-up email, he says, "The popularity of gaming genres is in many ways like helicopters...i.e. cyclical.  Maybe we just have to wait long enough for a turnaround!!!"


May 23, 2000
To date, there is no update on the patch status for Gunship, despite several email requests for a simple "Is there work being done on a patch...yes or no."  Other sim sites seem to be having the same problem. 


May 25, 2000
Based on a suggestion from Robin Matthews, I contact Tom Nichols, now the Director of Marketing for MicroProse and Atari.  I found quotes from Tom going back to 1997, so I asked him a few questions related to the topic of Tank Platoon and the sim genre in general.


How do you respond to those who feel that M1TP2 could have and should have been patched to full completion?
I don't recall the specifics around what patch was released when, but we were proactive about listening to the community when M1TP2 launched and we tried as best as we could to address all of the issues that were being raised.  Some of them couldn't be fixed.  Our position is that we addressed as much as we could.


When was Tank Platoon cancelled?
I don't know the exact date, but early May, 2000.  There are many reasons for decisions like this...they don't come easily and they involve the work of a lot of people.


In your opinion, what is the future of hardcore tank sims?
Well, I think it is going to be pretty light in terms of products.   I look at other sim companies and see what's happening with EA or SSI/Mattel, or Empire.   A lot of sim groups really have stopped working on their projects and all of us who are close to that market are affected.  What's happened in general is that you see cycles.  There was a time when RPG and wargames were dead, and they have come back to life since.  We're in one of those cycles for sims.  The gameplay in the sim genre has stagnated recently.  There hasn't been as much innovation in the last couple years as there has been in other genres.  We're drawing the the same crowd to sims, but aren't able to get new gamers into the fold.  

The market for sims has gotten smaller.  We're just not selling enough of them.  I'm hoping there will be breakthrough in gameplay that will kick start things and turn the genre on its ear.  I know it will happen...it's just a matter of who does it and when.



Special thanks to John and SimHQ for this detailed piece and for his continued efforts in the tank simulation arena. Reprinted with permission.
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