Total War modder to wargame maker: Nick Thomadis' road to Ultimate General: Gettysburg

Heavy combat takes place on the colorful map of Ultimate General: Gettysburg.

When Nick “DarthVader” Thomadis quit working on the highly-regarded DarthMod series for Total War - a bit of a huff after perceived slights from Creative Assembly and growing fatigue with the series as a whole - it was easy to think we’d seen the last of the outspoken modder.

Instead, he got an opportunity to make a game of his own. The result, Ultimate General: Gettysburg, would prove to be one of 2014’s best games and perhaps the year’s best wargame. For Thomadis, it was less vindication than it was the culmination of a lifetime’s passion.

Thomadis was an opinionated and sometimes blustering persona on the Total War forums, someone as passionate as he was talented. After his clashes with Creative Assembly and departure from the modding community, you might expect Thomadis to claim vindication and do a little “I told you so” crowing about his latest achievement.

But during a slightly scratchy phone call from his home in Athens, the 39 year-old Thomadis comes across as more self-critical and thoughtful than his Darth Vader alter-ego ever did. He’s humble about his work as a modder, perhaps even a bit deprecating.

“I had reached let's say the peak of this ‘career,’” he says, and you can hear the eye-roll in his voice. “Some things were written about me. People mentioned my mods and they were enjoying them. So I was very fond of the game industry, and I was searching to find something there.”

That’s when Maxim Zasov, the CEO of the developer Game-Labs, contacted Thomadis and offered him a chance to make a game of his own, with a small team and development budget. Zasov’s sole directive was that Thomadis make a game that any wargaming novice could play and enjoy.

A more civilized age

When he sat down to think about what he wanted to do, Thomadis had a couple options that he was excited about.

“My first idea was to make a game about ancient Greece. I thought as an era it would be interesting, and I am Greek and I know a lot about this era and its history. The other proposal was to make a game about the American Civil War, and it was one of my favorites also. I like this period a lot, and have read about it. So I didn't think about it much. I didn't want to push my agenda. If it was this era that Game Labs required, I would do it and enjoy it,” he says.

A hand-drawn sketch of medieval battle drawn by Nick Thomadis when he was young.

Both periods spoke to Thomadis’ interest in historical, premodern warfare, when massed formations of soldiers clashed in the open field. As a child, he would even sketch the kind of combat he found so riveting.

“I don’t know why I was so interested,” he admits, then pauses. “They were heroic times. When you watch movies, you get an intense feeling of how it was then to be a soldier. Maybe I wouldn't try it in reality. I think it would be better in a game than to do it myself. To stand like an idiot, not trying to find cover, just because someone tells you to stand in a line and shoot? And you do it? Insane, if you think about.”

The DarthMod series was clearly inspired by this love of spectacle. Thomadis crammed every possible ounce of historical detail, every last brass button and length of gold braid, into his mods. But Thomadis is also someone who cares deeply about realism, and historical truth.

The Total War mods ran up against the limitations of the Total War games themselves. But this time his limitations were both technical and conceptual. How could he capture the spectacle of Civil War combat without undertaking more than his small team could handle? How could he capture the tactical realities of the period without making his game entirely inaccessible to the kind of people that that Zasov and Game-Labs wanted to reach?

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HistoricalGamer avatarArcusTenshi avatarApropos Of Nothing avatarStinkflipper Incarnate avatarMountain_Man avatarRob Zacny avatar+1
HistoricalGamer Avatar
5
HistoricalGamer(12 hours played)
2 Years ago

I enjoyed the article a lot and the game is a gem, biggest difficulty if they want to go napoleonic is cavalry. Cavalry in UG is more a scout with very limited combat value. Napoleonic cavalry is critical to the tactics of the era and would give the game an entirely different feel and style to combat. I don't think it would be as simple an adaptation as one would think.

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Mountain_Man Avatar
729
Mountain_Man(4 hours played)
2 Years ago

To be honest, his reasons for abandoning the Total War community seem a bit petty. Since only 4 modders were invited out to Creative Assembly, it seems there were a lot of people who _weren't_ invited, not just him. And taking a random comment from one of the developers as a slight against him when there was no reason to think they were even talking about him is childish.

.

Still, he seems to be a talented game designer, so hopefully he finds the success he's looking for working on his one games.

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ArcusTenshi Avatar
73
2 Years ago

He would be more dissapointed at CA by now; virtually, creativity unmoddable for newer TW games, presumably so that fans would keep buying new ones.

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Apropos Of Nothing Avatar
5
2 Years ago

Wasn't the American Civil war the birth of so called 'modern warfare'? Forgive me if I'm wrong.

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Rob Zacny Avatar
101
2 Years ago

Yes and no. It can certainly be cast that way, particularly the last couple years as trench warfare and protracted sieges took their toll. The ACW and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 both exist and an intersection between Napoleonic warfare and the industrialized warfare that would dominate WWI. I would say the Franco-Prussian War is probably a little more "modern" but really, WWI marks the true discontinuity in military history.

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Apropos Of Nothing Avatar
5
2 Years ago

Thanks for the reply - Great article.

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Stinkflipper Incarnate Avatar
269
Stinkflipper Incarnate(42 minutes played)
2 Years ago

Interesting read. I found it especially interesting that Game Labs approached _him_. I guess they were fans of his mods.

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Mackles Avatar
117
2 Years ago

Good article! More of the same!

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