Now that we have a good selection of third-party impressions of RT (and, by extension, ATF) I think it is an opportune time to revisit some prior conclusions of my own, made in threads like this one.
Namely, for ProSim to stop wasting time on graphics and sound, and concentrate on their strong points: simulation and content.
So far, *every* review since BCT has agreed: the graphics and sound on ProSim titles are at best dated and at worst atrocious. Now, here's the funny part: the standard answer to this criticism is that "serious wargamers don't care about graphics and sound, just gameplay."
Its simple. If a game producer does not employ the services of a real artist skilled in the medium, the visual appearance is probably going to suck. Ditto for sound in the absence of a proper sound engineer. ATF is no exception to the rule.
So, if ProSim really wants to compete in the "look and feel" department, then hire the necessary talent to do it right. If you can't afford such help, or if its simply not a priority, then you should quit trying to provide "pretty" effects. They're not very pretty, and you're not impressing much of anybody. Such half-efforts are arguably worse than no effort at all at graphic polish. They steal developer time and effort from things you actually do well, and provide further ammunition for critics who regard your efforts as amateur.
The DoD doesn't see a need for weapon sounds and pretty pictures in its C2 systems, and neither do serious wargamers, generally speaking. It is doubtful you can afford the necessary investment to compete with mainstream RTS, nor is there likely to be a good return on that investment. Simplify!
My advice is to actually *roll back* many of the "improvements" seen since BCT. Get rid of the semi-animated picture icons. Get rid of the "move" sounds. Seriously consider getting rid of "fire" sounds, or at least generalizing them to "clue" sounds rather than "realistic" sounds, since it can be nice to have an audio cue that a firefight is taking place; it doesn't need to sound like an actual firefight, though. Definitely provide an option to turn "fight" sounds off. Get rid of the Flash intros, or at least provide an option to turn them off. If you have to make something look nice, concentrate your efforts on the map, since that's the one thing that's going to dominate the screen. Making the map vector-based instead of raster would go a long way towards smoothing all that out, for example.
Now, don't get me wrong. When I advocate the dropping of the "pretty" efforts, that doesn't mean I think the interface is fine and can remain clunky. I agree that the interface is the second-worst aspect of ATF, and that it desperately *does* need improvement. Its just that the improvement should be targeted towards *efficiency* rather than "prettiness". Things like resizeable dialogs. Filters for the spot report log. More useful overview map. Better tools for planning and calling fire support. More informative status markers. That sort of thing.
AATF is the best chance to get back to the roots. Everybody wants to see that come out. Unfortunately, most of what we've heard about it are the prospect of further "improvements" in the graphics. But let's face it: ATF was supposed to raise the bar graphically from BCT, and proved very underwhelming on that score. RT offered a few more eye/ear candy tweaks, and again is wowing nobody in that department. Unless some dedicated graphical talent has joined the team, I strongly doubt further graphics tinkering in AATF will produce any substantive improvement, except perhaps by isolated comparison with ATF.
I think most of us probably want the same things from AATF. Improved simulation. More efficient control interface. Smarter AI. Useful two-player and umpiring capabilities. Easier for modders to add content.
Similarly, I think most of us don't really care all that much about the decor. Certainly not if the choice was between that and getting the game six months sooner, or with much better features in the simulation and interface categories.
Take a hint, ProSim. Graphic design is not your strong suit. Concentrate on your core competencies.