Panzer Grenadier Battles on September 19th:
Edelweiss #16 - Phalari Pass North of Elsenborn #8 - In the Mood
Edelweiss IV #29 - Phalari Pass Panzer Grenadier #24 - High Water Mark
Edelweiss: Expanded #21 - Phalari Pass River Fleets #10 - Music to My Ears
Eastern Front #111 - High Water Mark Spearhead Division #7 - Munsterbusch
Invasion of Germany #13 - In the Mood White Eagles #33 - Train of Death
PG-HQ's 1st "Six Month Plan"
by Shad, 2010-12-10

As you may already know, I live in China. The Middle Kingdom is well-known for its 5 Year Plan system of national development planning. It serves as a platform for dictating policy to lower-levels of government and the business community, as well as providing the Lao Bai Xing (common people) with a general idea of where their country is (hopefully) headed.

On December 6th Panzer Grenadier Headquarters marked six months since our public launch back on June 6th. Apart from my core team, I've been chatting with some of you through email about both what we're doing these days and what we want to do in the future. In the spirit of the 5 Year Plan system used by the PRC, I've decided to adopt a 6 Month Plan for PG-HQ. Here we go...

In-Progress Projects

Completion: < 1 Month

All of the following projects currently exist in various stages of completion. I long ago learned that the best way for me to avoid burnout is to keep at least 2 different projects going at all times, and switch between them when I hit rough patches. If all goes according to schedule, everything in this section will be live by early January.

RSS/ATOM

Completion: < 1 Week

By now you've certainly noticed the appearance of this icon ATOM feed on the main page's banner. RSS is a way for a site to broadcast news. It lets subscribers know what's new on the site without them having to visit. Ours is currently online but still in testing. When it's truly complete it will announce new members, new plays, new AARs, new errata, and new posts on the main page. I will also post a short how-to on using RSS for those interested members who have never tried it. Don't worry, it's easy. I had never used it myself before 2 weeks ago, and I had to implement the damn thing!

Annotated Rules

Completion: < 1 Week

Through the hard work of Alan Sawyer and his team, the old Unofficial Player's Guide has been folded into the site in the form of Annotated Rules. Exactly like it sounds, we have an online copy of the rules with clearly marked clarifications inserted directly into the flow at the spot they're clarifying. There is also a very well-designed link system for supporting rules discussions on other sites. This is in the final proofreading and diagram creation phase, and will be released very soon.

Unit Images

Completion: 1~2 Weeks

This is what I turn to when I really need a break from coding. Currently, 567 of the 1,092 units in the PG-HQ Library have at least one image. At this point, with the help of a few key members who will be recognized upon completion, I've probably got images laying around for another 400 to 500 units -- basically nearly all of them.

Counter Errata

Completion: 2 Weeks

PG-HQ has had support for game and scenario-specific errata since launch. Adding counter-specific errata is a no-brainer, since misprinted counters don't fit neatly into either category. Once implemented, counter errata will automatically show up in the existing game and scenario errata lists whenever that counter is present. It'll also of course appear on the counter's own page in the PG-HQ Library.

AAR Format Upgrade

Completion: 2~3 Weeks

While the current AAR formatting syntax is about a simple as one can find, I've noticed few people take advantage of it. To encourage users to style their AARs more, and just make life easier for those of you who already do, I'll be installing a formatting bar. This will function just like on BGG: you highlight the text you want to style and then click the appropriate button on the bar for bold, italic, lists, whatever. It should also allow for realtime previewing, removing the need to repeatedly hit the Preview button to see how your AAR looks. All the formatting syntax will be the same, so old AARs are 100% compatible and you can still format by hand with #s and *s if you so desire. Should be a nice, simple upgrade.

Game Inventories

Completion: 3 Weeks

As already announced on the main page, PG-HQ will begin hosting counter inventories for every game. These will probably be in the form of one master file for convenience's sake, though I'm still sifting through the tremendous flood of homebrewed inventories the initial announcement garnered.

Bounty Hunting

Completion: 3~4 Weeks

This is a biggie. When I was doing the analysis for the PG-HQ: Road to 1,000 article I was somewhat dismayed to realize that at current submission rates, and assuming no more Panzer Grenadier games are ever released (obviously false), we are not forecasted to reach 100% Play Coverage until October 2012 and 100% AAR Coverage until December 2013. While that may not matter to you, as database curator hitting 100% coverage is really the golden milestone for me. But how to encourage people to play new scenarios? That's where bounties come in.

With help from a few others, I've developed an algorithm that assigns bounties to each scenario in the library based on their rarity and difficulty. Simpler, frequently played scenarios have very low bounties; monstrous, never played scenarios have very high bounties. The end result is a lovely points distribution. The entire thing really works quite well. When you record a play or write an AAR, you "claim" those points and the system recalculates all the scenario bounties. You can't exchange them for cash (ha!), but your bounty hunting score does have some cachet - people with the highest bounties are the ones doing the most to improve site quality. You're the MVPs, in a way. This is targeted to (hopefully) launch January 1st.

Near-term Features

Completion: 2~3 Months

There is a clear blueprint in place for everything listed in this section. All, or nearly all, of the details have been worked out and these items are just waiting for their spot in the queue.

Play Record Sheets

Completion: 2 Months

As suggested by Filip, we will implement a Play Record Sheet Generator that outputs a high-quality, scenario-specific form for each scenario in the database. All you need is a printer.

Armor Designations

Completion: 2 Months

As suggested by Robin, we will add armor designations to the library's unit pages where appropriate. What are ADs? Think "closed-top AFV", "open-topped AFV", and the like. This is an area of PG that could definitely benefit from some clarification!

Leader Selector

Completion: 2~3 Months

As suggested by numerous hardnosed grognards, this tool will automatically randomly draw leaders for the requested scenario. There will even be direct-to-email results support, for the extremely paranoid. ;-) Initially, this will run as a prototype and only support Airborne while we work out the kinks.

Record-a-Play Upgrade

Completion: 3 Months

The current functionality of the record-a-play process will be augmented with the ability to mark scenarios as either played solo or face-to-face. If you select FtF, you'll be asked to select your opponent from our member list to link your plays. This preserves the integrity of our Win-Draw-Win percentages and will lay the foundation for creation of a site matchmaking ladder in the future. If your opponent is not on PG-HQ (seriously?) you can select N/A. As always, records can be edited and/or updated at any time and you'll be able to add declared opponents to previously recorded plays.

Medium-term Plans

Completion: 4~5 Months

Now we're getting into the part of the 6 Month Plan where details are still somewhat sketchy. All of the following items will eventually be implemented, but their arrival dates and final character are still a bit foggy.

Campaigns

Completion: 4 Months

This feature is gonna be huge. Every side in every scenario tells you the names of the forces involved, such as "Company E, 2nd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division" for the Americans in Battle of the Bulge #1. Nice to know! But suppose you wanted to see all the PG scenarios featuring the 10th Infantry Regiment... how would you assemble that list? Well, at present, you'd have to go searching. The Americans are in 319 scenarios... that'd take awhile! That's where we come in...

Drawing on the power of our PG-HQ Library, this feature will create pages for every formation found in PG. Visiting the library page for the 10th Infantry Regiment, you'd see that they fought in 12 Battle of the Bulge scenarios -- instant campaign pack!

SuperStats

Completion: 4~5 Months

Have you noticed how much longer the Statistics & Rankings page takes to load than every other page on the site? That mishmash of Top 10s and Combat Ratings is largely recalculated with each subsequent refresh of the page. Likewise for most of the stats found on your My PG-HQ: Home tab. The current stats system pushes the limit of the site's realtime bandwidth and server ability. I wrote it this way because that was the easiest solution in the beginning. We've already outgrown that humble setup, though, and it's time to upgrade.

SuperStats will reduce site statistics and rankings calculations to a once-daily processing pass invisible to users. This will remove the page loading speed barrier completely, and allow us to increase our statistics and tracking depth by 100-fold, no joke. Want to know your success rate when playing as the Germans during December? Done. Want to see a 3D analysis of your play ratings comparing scenario map footprint, total counters, and turn count? I'm not even breaking a sweat. Once this feature launches, the only real statistical limit will be between your ears.

PG Achievements

Completion: 5 Months

The stats engine beneath SuperStats will also support PG Achievements. Just like on Steam, Xbox Live, and elsewhere - you'll receive badges/awards for all manner of accomplishments. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • War Correspondent - 100% AAR/Play Ratio
  • Globe Trotter - Play 1 scenario each on 5 continents + Australia
  • Nihilist - Play 5 scenarios featuring bridge demolition
  • "Smoke 'em if yah got 'em" - Win 5 scenarios as a side featuring flamethrower units

Advanced Search

Completion: 5~6 Months

Little known fact - this feature was implemented on a prototype version of PG-HQ way back in January of 2010 to prove it could be done. It kills me to see this item so far down the list, but our members have spoken. What does advanced search mean? Anything you can think of, we can search on. Germans vs. Soviet in severe weather on a Tuesday - no problem. 20~25 turns, starting at 0800, using Map 7 but not Map 8 - cake. My favorite part of this feature is that this will be a realtime search. As you move down the form adding criteria, the total number of valid scenarios will continuously update. This avoids inadvertently being overly-specific and getting empty result sets.

Long-term Initiatives

Completion: 6+ Months

We've now reached the realm of ideas. Once you get past the surface, the existence of the following items quickly becomes murky.

PG-HQ Forum

Completion: Early Summer

Does the world need another place to talk about Panzer Grenadier? No. It only really needs one place... one great place. A place where threads can be tagged, so that discussions about minefields and Italians show up as links on those library pages. A place which automatically creates discussion threads for incoming AARs.

As one of my core volunteers once said (paraphrasing): "if you're gonna try to be the best PG site, you might as well go for broke and try to be the best PG site" -- in other words, nothing should be off-limits, even forums.

Photo Support

Completion: Summer

This is so far down the list because it's something that is easy to do very, very poorly. With each passing week my programming skills improve, and I think that come summertime I'll be ready to tackle site-wide photo support at a competency level that will actually result in something people enjoy using...

Online Play Matching

Completion: Summer

There may not ever come a time when Avalanche Press allows VASSAL play, but as some of our members have come to appreciate - PG is perfectly serviceable so long as you have a good net call connection (say, via Skype) and a fair dice-rolling website (such as hamete). As our userbase grows it makes sense for PG-HQ to facilitate online play however it can.

Tournament Hosting

Completion: 1st Anniversary

Still in the "chatting over pints" stage, but I'd very much like to celebrate PG-HQ's first birthday by hosting a PG tournament. I might even be able to talk Mike B. over at AP into providing another gift for the champion. Who knows? :-)

Indefinitely Suspended

Player Aids

Despite being the most popular feature on the Site Feature Wishlist, implementation of this item has been suspended indefinitely. Why? Because 2 weeks ago I spent the better part of Saturday sifting through the user-created content on BGG, CSW, and the Yahoo! PG Group and came up all but empty-handed. Most of the stuff that's out there is just not very good. The good stuff, when you find it, is often years obsolete.

I'd love to see a thriving Player Aid section on PG-HQ, but there isn't enough out there to support it right now. I was faced with the choice of either developing some aids myself, or working on other site features. When resources are limited, you gotta get the most bang for your buck. Currently, despite obvious popularity among our members, there just isn't enough bang in the player aid arena to justify the commitment.

In Conclusion

It does seem a rather long list, doesn't it? Hard to believe I actually play PG anymore! No worries though, I get a great deal of satisfaction out of the site development on its own merits. I hope you've found something to look forward to in the above - perhaps several somethings?

I'll be the first to admit that there's really no way in hell all of those items will be implemented over the course of the next six months. The order is also pretty much guaranteed to change depending on how much time I have available. Some features are more work than brains, and I can steadily develop them piece by piece. Others require real focus, the kind of concentration that only comes about when you've got multi-hour blocks of free time to tune out all other distractions. I don't find myself fortunate enough to have those blocks very often!

If you've got comments or suggestions regarding any of the above features, or reading this article spawned new ideas for you, I beg of you, shareth them! No emails go unanswered!

See you in six months!