“Clear your mind of all things…focus on the micro.” –teh_masterer, Pure Pwnage
After Miho and Ooarai manage to beat the All-Stars University Team to save their school a second time, they invite Alice and All-Stars University Team’s commanders over to help recall the events of their match, so that Anzu and the Student Council can shoot a new promotional video that’s more current. To encourage the other school’s attendance, an Appreciation Festival is organised, allowing the students from the different schools to mingle and share their Panzerfahren strategies with one another. Miho opens the festival with a presentation on their first exhibition match, where Ooarai and Chi-Ha Tan had squared off against Pravda and St. Glorianna. When Miho reaches the larger match against the All-Stars University team, Alice arrives and helps Miho to walk through what had happened. The festival ends on a high note, and Alice thanks Miho for the invitation, promising that they’ll one day face off against one another in Panzerfahren. This is Girls und Panzer: Dream Tank Match (Dream Tank Match from here on out for brevity), a game that was originally released in 2018 for the PlayStation 4 and subsequently ported to the Nintendo Switch a year later, which featured all of the expansion content for Dream Tank Match. Dream Tank Match was the realisation of a chance to engage in Panzerfahren in a video game setting, and beyond the campaign that retells Der Film‘s events, the game also includes additional scenarios, a “Festival” mode which allows for players to participate in outrageous scenarios, and a five-on-five multiplayer mode. On paper, Dream Tank match is the perfect chance for fans of Girls und Panzer to finally try their hand at operating the same tanks Miho and her friends do – built as a dedicated Girls und Panzer game, Dream Tank Match allows players to re-live iconic moments from the film and see how their favourite tanks and crew perform, complete with voice lines from the series’ original voice actresses to create an unparalleled, authentic Panzerfahren experience that, until 2018, players could only faintly mimic via Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks. In practise, although Dream Tank Match is a fun game, mechanics in the campaign interrupt the flow, resulting in a rather odd experience where players will drop into a match, and then the game yanks control from the player as the characters share dialogue. In other chapters where the goal is to survive a for certain duration, one cannot prematurely force the segment to conclude by hammering all opposing tanks into scrap metal. Beyond this, Dream Tank Match‘s campaigned proved to be a gentle return to Der Film‘s storyline and Girls und Panzer‘s not-so-subtle reminder to players that the series’ themes of sportsmanship are unshakable; even after the upset victory, Alice and her classmates regard Miho with respect rather than contempt, speaking to the spirit of Panzerfahren as a sport for discipline and respect.
Having finished Dream Tank Match‘s campaign, I’ve now finished something I didn’t think would be possible: at the time of writing, there is no port for PC, but fortunately, Dream Tank Match does have an English-translated version that can be purchased quite readily. Upon completion, it becomes clear that Dream Tank Match is the superior choice for folks looking to experience Girls und Panzer and drive the tanks for themselves – unlike World of Tanks, whose list of shortcomings is so extensive I’ll need a separate post to address all of them, Dream Tank Match provides players with all of the characters and tanks of Girls und Panzer for Panzerfahren. Losses do not punish players excessively (the only thing one takes is a slightly bruised ego), and players cannot pay to gain a massive advantage over their opponents. However, Dream Tank Match remains a lesser choice compared to Battlefield V, which still offers the most immersive and authentic World War Two armoured combat experience. The only challenge about Battlefield V is that the combined arms environment means players have more to worry about than other tanks – infantry have access to dynamite and Panzerfausts, allowing them to harass tanks, while pilots armed with bombs can take one out of a fight instantly. The gap in armoured warfare between Battlefield V and Dream Tank Match speaks to fundamental differences in how Japanese and Western studios approach games: Japanese games have a much larger emphasis on characters, requiring players to listen to the game and give thought to how they wish to approach a problem, while Western games favour individual skill. In the present day, games have blurred the boundary between the two philosophies, combining story-telling with high-skill mechanics to produce an experience that compels players to simultaneously to pay the story mind and master the mechanics. In the case of Dream Tank Match, armed with the skills from Battlefield, the campaign proved to be trivially easy to complete. It became clear that in the face of overwhelming über-micro, it matters little as to whether or not I was playing as the All-Star Team or as Ooarai: all foes were felled without effort.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Dream Tank Match is a love letter to fans of Girls und Panzer: it provides a nuanced retelling of Der Film and provides players a chance to experience different Panzerfahren scenarios. Returning to Ooarai Golf Course, where Miho and her allies have seemingly pinned down a number of St. Glorianna tanks, brought back vivid memories of the summer some seven years earlier, when I’d just about wrapped up my graduate thesis paper. Back then, I was dividing my time between looking after the lab’s new summer students and getting things off the ground at my first start-up.
- Der Film had been a very enjoyable experience, even if from a narrative standpoint, it’d been quite unnecessary: from a practical standpoint, it wasn’t improbable that MEXT could go ahead with reneging on their promise and proceed with closing Ooarai anyways despite their winning the Panzerfahren championship if no signed documents ever existed, but Ooarai’s closure was simply a conflict to drive Miho forward. Girls und Panzer had wrapped up Miho’s story to a satisfactory extent, so from a narrative perspective, the film doesn’t add anything new to her growth as a person.
- On the other hand, from an enjoyment perspective, Der Film absolutely delivered. Dream Tank Match allows players to now drive the tanks, and although the campaign does hold the players’ hands, as well as limits the scale and scope of each engagement, there is still enough freedom for players to approach a problem in their own manner of choosing. It becomes clear that, with the right mindset and skills, Panzerfahren is something that isn’t quite as dramatic or stressful as Girls und Panzer had presented it: any player with the right map and weapon knowledge, coupled with a modicum of decision-making prowess and reflexes, will be able to make short work of things in Dream Tank Match.
- I colloquially refer to this combination of skills as “über-micro”. Urban Dictionary mistakenly defines über-micro as the ability to use a keyboard with “great speed and accuracy” in an RTS game to control multiple units at once, but Pure Pwnage describes über-micro as having enough mastery of skill, reflexes and discipline to excel such that one has an almost supernatural control of their equipment. In this 2004 mockumentary, Pure Pwnage follows the life of Jeremy, a pro-gamer as he navigates the real world for a project his younger brother, Kyle, is working on for school.
- Pure Pwnage is responsible for several of the greatest jokes available on the internet, including FPS_Doug’s iconic BOOM, HEADSHOT! catchphrase, but in addition to creating a rich portrayal of classic gamer culture, Pure Pwnage also proved surprisingly meaningful, cleverly presenting life lessons through gaming metaphors. I myself was introduced to Pure Pwnage through friends, and a decade earlier, I found myself returning to Pure Pwnage as my thesis ramped up. In fact, on this day ten years ago, I was on the cusp of finishing my undergraduate thesis paper.
- By this point in the semester, I had found myself doing reasonably well: besides my thesis project, I also was enrolled in databases, software engineering fundamentals and introductory statistics. Although this term was more difficult and involved than my first term, I managed to balance my time well. Since I had already finished most of my thesis project’s implementation by January, this left me with enough time to work on my paper, and in doing so, I had plenty of time left to ensure I could do well in my other courses. Databases came intuitively enough to me, and I managed to keep up with assignments and exams for statistics reasonably well.
- Looking back, software engineering was probably the toughest course, but even then, recalling the models and practises was sufficient for me to score fairly well in that course. By late March, I’d felt that my undergraduate degree was practically in the bag, and having made an effort to ensure I was caught up in my coursework, I was able to finish my thesis paper with time to spare. It was with great satisfaction that I submitted my thesis paper ahead of the deadline; this represented the culmination of four year’s worth of discovery and learning.
- After sending my paper in, I retired for the evening and awaited the release of Girls und Panzer‘s final episode, which would release a few days after the paper deadline. A decade earlier, the massive delay in Girls und Panzer‘s production had meant the final two episodes would release in March, three months after the tenth episode had concluded, and the combination of Girls und Panzer‘s excellent writing, coupled with where the tenth episode had stopped, resulted in some of the most tangible anticipation I’d seen in the anime community.
- I myself ended up watching the finale after making a beeline home once the day’s lectures ended, and fortuitously, I’d put myself in a solid position, so one evening of not studying or tending to coursework wasn’t going to be too detrimental. The finale had been everything I’d hoped it would be, and I was left with an immensely satisfying conclusion to Girls und Panzer. In the present, however, I do feel that a few minor adjustments could be made to Girls und Panzer‘s original run to address an issue that became apparent as soon as Das Finale began airing.
- This will be left as an exercise for the near future, and I’ll return my focus to Dream Tank Match: from a mechanical standpoint, Dream Tank Match is rudimentary and polished. Tank operation is simple, and players are given a few options to drift their tanks for more daring manoeuvres. Further to this, aiming and firing is intuitive and simple, entailing lining up one’s crosshairs with a target and then pulling the trigger to fire. Reloading entails a mini-game of sorts, similar to Gears of War‘s active reload system, where if one manages to reload at the right time, a speed reload is executed.
- When one becomes familiar with the active reload system in Dream Tank Match, they can greatly increase their tank’s firing rate. There are some comparatively strange mechanics in Dream Tank Match, and here, during a survival round, I found that All-Stars University’s commander couldn’t be harmed: even after getting behind their tank and hitting what would be a weak spot, the game only registered a glancing hit. I ended up deciding that, if the round only required my survival, I could easily camp out of range and simply wait for the timer to run out.
- I’ve found that Japanese games make much greater use of max-min optimisation elements in that, for best results, if one plays a certain way, the outcome with be guaranteed to go a certain way. In Dream Tank Match, for instance, I could have tried to engage All-Stars University and destroy all of their tanks. In any other game, the opposing team would be expected to retreat after some biting remarks about unexpected enemy strength, and the round would end. However, by preventing this outcome through use of unseen mechanics, Dream Tank Match forces players to last the whole five minutes.
- This was most visible when Dream Tank Match returns to the open field, and I selected Darjeeling’s Churchchill VII. With nothing to do beyond hang outside of the All-Star University team’s Pershings and their effective firing range, I took my time in aiming down sights, blasted their treads to slow them down and methodically picked off each tank until only their commander was left. Since the commander wasn’t taking any damage, I simply kept firing to occupy myself until the timer expired. While this does make for some tedium, I also remark that the mechanic was likely deliberate: the campaign is a re-telling of Der Film‘s events, so each chapter has constraints to ensure the story still plays out in a manner that is faithful to the original movie’s outcomes.
- One aspect of Dream Tank Match that I found distracting was the directional indicator, which is supposed to give players an idea of where their rounds are going. However, a part of the skill component in a given game, especially where projectile drop is simulated, is learning how to compensate for gravity; in early games, weapons were hit-scan, but as physics engines became more sophisticated, developers began treating projectiles as physics objects. This adds additional depth in the game, and landing a shot at range becomes a satisfying accomplishment.
- On the other hand, Dream Tank Match does simulate limited tank damage: tanks are weaker at the sides and from the rear, and angling one’s armour allows for some shots to be shrugged off. Similarly, aiming for the treads brings about a partial mobility kill – until repairs are conducted, any tank hit in the treads is rendered immobile for a period of time. Thus, one viable strategy is to aim for the treads where possible, and then get into a position where one can hammer a foe into oblivion. During the segment where I played as Mika, her BT-42’s mobility allowed me to take out three All-Star University Tanks with relative ease.
- Battlefield V‘s implementation of the Tiger I tank remains my favourite owing to the level detail, but in Dream Tank Match, it is the case that Girls und Panzer was not too far behind when it came to getting the details right. One element in Dream Tank Match that is completely absent is tank customisation: in Battlefield V, levelling up a tank gave access to specialisations that allowed the tank to perform in different ways, and while these specialisations were straight upgrades (as opposed to being side-grades with distinct pros and cons), they did push a tank to excel in specific roles. Battlefield 2042 sees the Tiger I and M4 Sherman return, but there’s no options for customisations at all.
- I would very much have preferred to engage my foes at long ranges, but in Dream Tank Match, the game is such that most matches force players into close quarters. Here, careful aim goes out the window, and speed becomes king: a tank with high manoeuvrability and a quick turret traversal matters more than higher damage per shot. In my Battlefield V days, I remember making extensive use of the Valentine Archer, whose initial high ammunition capacity allowed me to fell thirty enemy before I was destroyed. While DICE would reduce the maximum amount of shells the Valentine Archer could carry, the tank remains one of my favourites to use.
- Faster tanks allow for a more aggressive play-style, and this is what motivated my decision to prefer medium tanks in Battlefield V. In Dream Tank Match, tank damage models aren’t explicitly clear, and during the campaign, I found that both Ooarai and Chi-Ha Tan’s medium tanks were more than capable of dealing with heavy tanks. Observant readers will have noted that here, the M3 Lee Rabbit team is operating has two targetting lines, reflective of the fact that the tank had two main guns.
- Aside from its M2/M3 75 mm cannon, the M3 Lee also sported a M5/M6 37 mm cannon: the former was a sponson-mounted gun intended for taking on fortified positions and artillery, while the latter was intended to deal with other tanks. Although Germans considered the M3 Lee to be more than a match for the Panzer IV Ausf D. variants, Americans were dissatisfied with the tank, and it was eventually phased out by the venerable M4 in the European theatre.
- For my play-though of Dream Tank Match‘s campaign, since I played the M3 Lee in a segment whose objective was to reach an objective, I never got the chance to fire the weapons. These missions place a large number of tanks in one’s path, and while it can be fun to stop and engage, given the objective, it is more logical to press forwards to the goal: one can always return later and see if they can approach the same mission differently if they wish, and in most chapters, one can replay as different characters to see things from another side of the coin.
- The Crusader is infamous in Dream Tank Match for having extremely loose handling, to the point where it’s almost impossible to control for novice players. Being the most similar to the Valentine Archer, I decided to go with this tank for kicks. This mission was unusual in that there are waypoints one must hit in order for enemy spawns to happen, and while I get that this was to simulate the events of Der Film and prevent players from being annihilated, it also takes away from the challenge – any gamer with über-micro will have no trouble soloing anything.
- While Dream Tank Match has its limitations, and I certainly would’ve preferred more customisation options (like Battlefield V‘s specialisation), what the game does, it does well. On the topic of Battlefield, I’ve heard unverified rumours that Battlefield 2042 may be getting a second year of support and content. If true, this is exciting news, since it would represent a chance to really bring Battlefield 2042 up to standard with older games in terms of maps and weapons. While it’s been more than a year since the game launched, and no new Portal content has been added, I remain hopeful that more iconic maps, weapons and vehicles from Battlefield 3, Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 1942 are added.
- Here, Miho and Anzu engage the All-Star University Team amidst the narrow confines of a maze in a manner reminiscent of Namco’s 1980 top-down shooter, Tank Battalion, which pitted players against twenty enemy tanks, each of which sought to destroy the player’s base. The player’s goal was to eliminate the enemy tanks before this could happen, and the a top-down perspective made a maze layout appropriate. The game was praised the ability for players to destroy the bricks, allowing them to reach combat areas faster at the risk of giving enemy tanks a quicker route to their base.
- Tank Battalion was later remade as Battle City for the GameBoy, which featured additional elements like power-ups and enemy tanks with different properties. Tank games have (largely) come a long way from humble origins, and I’m certainly glad to have played Dream Tank Match – ever since the game was announced back in 2017 and released in 2018, I’ve longed to play this game. Back in 2013, World of Tanks had been the only viable option for players wanting a Girls und Panzer experience, but I found the game to be asinine for its mechanics.
- My criticisms of World of Tanks are based purely around the premium accounts and damage system, which have a profoundly negative impact on one’s experience. I’d previously noted that my grievances about World of Tanks would fill a small book, but that would be out-of-scope for this talk, and I’ll return in the future to share my thoughts on World of Tanks after ten years. It speaks poorly about Wargaming.net that they’ve not manage to fix the game sufficiently to impress me despite having such a timeframe.
- Of all the campaign missions, my favourite came when the game put me in Alice’s shoes, and I got behind the wheel of the Centurion. This British tank is widely considered to be the first Main Battle Tank, featuring the mobility of a light tank, the firepower and armour of a heavy tank and the profile of a medium tank. Chi-Ha Tan’s tanks stand no chance at all, and I slaughtered my foes in a matter of minutes. Experiences like these reinforce my belief that against undisciplined tankers, like members of AnimeSuki’s Mädchen und Panzer clan, I’d have no problem with taking them to school if I were permitted a MBT to even out the numbers.
- To reflect on the outcome of the battle’s final stages, Dream Tank Match allows one to drive the M26 Pershing as the All-Star University team mounts a comeback. Designed as a counter to the Tiger I, the Pershing was counted as being more than a match for German armour, save the Tiger II, and some variants of the Pershing were equipped with the T15E1 74 caliber cannon, giving it comparable firepower to the Tiger II. In a direct confrontation, Miho’s forces stand absolutely no chance against the Pershing, and I allowed myself to enjoy the moment. The resulting battle had been even more entertaining than when I’d used Battlefield: Portal to create a hypothetical engagement between a single M1A2 and nine Tiger Is.
- With my skill, any confrontation between myself and Mädchen und Panzer would result in what people call a roflstomp: if I have an appropriate tank, I’ll win after a thrilling match, and if I were given a tank with even the slightest advantage, it’ll turn into a one-sided slaughter. I remark here that because Girls und Panzer is a decade old, because general interest in World of Tanks has waned, and because Mädchen und Panzer similarly dissolved from lack of community, any engagement with one of World of Tanks‘ most notorious clans will permanently be a hypothetical one. I’ll therefore satisfy myself with the next best equivalent, which is something that Dream Tank Match offers.
- In this way, ten years after Girls und Panzer, I’ve finally had the chance to experience something I certainly wouldn’t have thought possible: Dream Tank Match is the definitive interactive Girls und Panzer experience, and while it’s no Battlefield V, the game plays well enough to give one a satisfactory chance to see the world that Miho and her friends see. With this post in the books, I’ll be returning in a few days to write about Girls und Panzer after a decade: the series is still engaging in the present, and the animation still holds up very well.
- I’ll wrap up with a screenshot of me engaging Alice in a two-on-one. Whereas Der Film had Miho using fire from Maho to accelerate her Panzer IV into a position where she could slide behind Alice’s Centurion for a killing shot, my attempt simply had me blasting Alice’s tracks off, leaving her immobilised, and then subsequently hammering the Centurion until health ran out. I’ve now completed the campaign mode and unlocked several tanks in a relatively short timeframe, but there is still a few more things to explore before I’ve had a complete Dream Tank Match experience. While I do have a tendency to procrastinate, here, I wager that I could play Dream Tank Match to completion before Das Finale‘s fourth part becomes available: by my original estimates, with a gap of 22 months, the fourth part was supposed to release back in January, and then a nine month gap between theatrical screenings and home release means overseas viewers like myself would get to see things by October. We’re now three months in 2023, and there’s still been no news of Das Finale‘s fourth act.
As enjoyable as Dream Tank Match is, the game is primarily intended for Girls und Panzer fans looking to further their enjoyment of the series: the art of Panzerfahren is admittedly less gripping than combined-arms warfare of the sort that Battlefield offers, and a focus on pure armoured combat means that the mind is not focused in other aspects that tankers must be mindful of. In addition, Dream Tank Match also highlights a limitation in current technologies for implementing a complete Panzerfahren experience. In Girls und Panzer, Miho is so successful against her foes because she has near limitless control over how she wishes for her teammates to operate. On the other hand, Dream Tank Match‘s AI will go off and act according to a decision tree of sorts, resulting in more limited behaviours. There is no way to issue orders, and no way to direct allied tanks to certain positions or act in certain ways. Similarly, while one does have human allies in the multiplayer, matches are limited to five-on-five, a fifth of the twenty-on-twenty action seen in Girls und Panzer‘s largest-scale battles. As a result, even with Dream Tank Match‘s release, there’s still no way to fully test the limitations of the Nishizumi Style (or the vaunted strategies that AnimeSuki’s Mädchen und Panzer clan claim as being infallible) against the might of flexible, fluid approaches styled after Sun Tzu’s Art of War and executed with the skill and precision of über-micro. With this being said, Dream Tank Match is unlikely to displace Battlefield V as the definitive World War Two armoured warfare experience: the latter completely outclasses it in terms of detail, immersion and skill. However, as a game that adds to one’s appreciation of Girls und Panzer, Dream Tank Match is still a worthwhile game to play for fans of the series, providing players with a chance to revisit Der Film‘s battles on their own terms and fight in a variety of scenarios to see how they might fare against various schools’ commanders and crew on the battlefield. The chance to step into the commander’s copula and participate in Panzerfahren to any extent is something that the me of a decade earlier certainly hadn’t been expecting to ever try out – when Girls und Panzer‘s finale released almost ten years ago, I’d been on the verge of finishing my undergraduate thesis paper, and with some time available to me, I suddenly found myself longing to play a game with tanks in it. No suitable candidate ever turned up, but Dream Tank Match winds up being the perfect way to see how the strategies and tactics I wrote of ultimately fared against what the anime community of the time posited, and to nobody’s surprise, irrespective of the chaotic and adaptive style Miho uses, the precision and skill Alice brings to the table or the brute force Black Forest employs, there is no foe that stands a chance against practitioners of über-micro.