Painting of John Tiller| HPS Simulations Website
I’d heard about John Tiller dying Tuesday evening on Facebook. For those that don’t know, Mr. Tiller was a prolific producer of a ton of computer wargames. By the time he passed, he had done 80 commercial wargames and 20 more as research contracts for the USAF and USN. He was also a licensed commercial pilot, so his was a life of a renaissance man.
He produced games for a variety of game companies, from Talonsoft to John Tiller Simulations, and the breadth and depth of the subjects he covered ranged from the Thirty Years War to the Cold War. He was one of the titans of computer wargaming, and his prolific nature extended even beyond his passing, with his latest title, Scheldt ’44, being recently released. He even released versions of his games on Android! That, folks, is prolific in spades.
John’s game interfaces were always similar. And they were very functional. If you learned one game, it wasn’t really hard to pick up another, even if the game was in a different series. It was a strength of the system. It could be telescoped to any level of gaming, be it strategic, operational, or tactical. The games were not graphical powerhouses but instead had just enough graphics to get the job done, though from a graphics standpoint? I think his 19th Century games, especially the Napoleonic titles, were the best. And the period music attached to the games was just incredible. I really enjoyed hearing La Victoire a Nous when I played Talonsoft’s Napoleon in Russia. And the amount of period music in his Battleground 2: Gettysburg still makes me smile. I always felt like I was playing a miniatures game with his 19th Century titles and a good board game with the later titles. They were wargames that had chrome and atmosphere to spare—ambient music and sound effects as well as just tons of options. I think I might check out his Musket and Pike series. I think those might be a real hoot.
And that’s what I liked the most about John’s works. The games didn’t try to be something they weren’t. Their complexity was in the options they presented to their players, but unlike some computer wargames I’ve played over the years. I wasn’t fighting the game to play the game. No, you fought the enemy, and the game worked with you to help you do that. John’s designs were elegant, functional, and damn fun to play. And he left such a legacy to boot!
John’s Interface in Action, Image from Danube Front ’85. | HPS Simulations
I own my share of John’s games. And I’ve had games come and go from my hard drive. But the Modern Campaigns and Panzer Campaigns games have never left my hard drive, and I play my copies of Danube Front ’85 and Korea ’85 to death. And the best part is he made his games customizable. There’s tons of add-ons, additional scenarios, and just improvements out there for John’s games. It’s a testament to how loved his games truly were. If people are taking the time to design add-ons for your game, it’s a clear sign they really like it.
I think the computer wargaming world has much to owe Mr. Tiller. He was prolific, yet never made a game I would consider stale or boring. He made computer wargaming feel like the wargaming I know. I feel engaged playing his games, and I always come back for more. I still will for years to come, and I hope that his fellow designers keep John Tiller Software a going concern in the years to come. John’s legacy is one worth continuing, and I, for one, hope it continues.
In short, we lost a giant this week. One who will not be equaled. John made games for hobbyist and commercial applications alike, thus contributing to his nation’s defense by helping to educate thousands of Air Force officers through professional versions of his air warfare games. He was someone who quietly did much to advance the computer part of our hobby by leaps and bounds and, as such, can safely be mentioned in the same company as John Hill, Loren Wiseman, Jack Scruby, and Donald Featherstone.
John Tiller is a giant who will be missed. I do plan on playing some Modern Campaigns games in his honor soon. Requiescat in Pace, John Tiller, and thanks for all the games. There’s a whole legion of fans who appreciate it.
And for the rest of us, Good Gaming, Everyone.
(This article is credited to Jason Weiser. Jason is a long-time wargamer with published works in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers; Miniature Wargames Magazine; and Wargames, Strategy, and Soldier.)