The inception of BattleCruisers, an explosive RTS game from New Zealand
[This blog post is by Pete Casale, designer of the forthcoming real-time strategy game, BattleCruisers, for Android, iOS and Windows.]
"KaBLOOSH!" The man-sized toddler stood on the beach, waving his fingers in front of his face to simulate his explosive phantasia. "BaDaDaDOOMN! BaLAMMO-o-o!"
His vocal effects attracted the attention of other people walking their dogs on Big Manly Beach. Grandparents tutted, mothers shielded their children, and priests called him creepy. But none of that mattered to the world’s smallest giant—whose autistic, stroke-addled brain machinations were manifesting a glorious fireworks display.
Ordinance exploded on the sand, sending up visceral showers of earth.
Secondary MIRV warheads soared out of the ascending smokeball and homed back in on the original impact crater.
The ground was a ruined mess, but that made no difference to the horde of strafe bombers dropping cluster napalm heat ballistics over the scorched gravel pit!
The air shimmered in the intense heat. A trio of slim white missiles darted elegantly into the blackened sand and sat silent. Half the beach was gone in a perfect sphere of plasma. Oh, the humanity!
A small but ominous para-drone floated down through the ash. His chute bucked and rocked from the recoil of his 60mm undercannon.
“BaM BaM BaM PoP PoP KaBLoOOTCH!”
The tiny giant saw another beachgoer adjust their course and realised his verbal sound effects and pincering fingers belied an internal fantasy of flagrant destruction. No matter, he thought, and downregulated his charade so it might come off as a slightly affected walking gait. Did it work? Doubtless, no. But he would never forget the moment because it marked the first brainstorm of the perfect casual RTS game!*
*Perfect according to 100% of subjects interviewed for the purpose of this statistic. Casale, P. (2020). P=<0.001%, CI=0-99, n=1.
Now, obviously, the perfect casual RTS game must feature:
- The ability to create or build a sweet base just the way you like it.
- The ability to defend your base—to the point where the enemy is powerless to penetrate your ridiculous defense battery. I think anyone who was bullied physically can resonate with this feeling. Make something of your own, then keep it safe against overwhelming external pressure and violence.
- Strategic warfare.
- Battles that can be completed entirely in the time it takes to do a poo.
- Creative toys/buildings/units.
- Totally sweet music.
- An interesting story, featuring robots, the future, catastrophe and laughery.
- Fun, probably.
- A beautiful blue sky. A wise man once said: “Game with blue sky are more better than game with grey sky.”
- Shoehorn in some kind of virtuous message, such as “climate change is real”, “vaccines do not cause autism, they save lives”, or “it is considered impolite to eat the entire cake at a child’s birthday party.”
- More, more—always more—explosions.
The earliest concept featured a two-dimensional real-time strategy battle against an enemy base. Picture a large rocky landscape viewed from afar. On the left edge is your base. On the other side of a hill, on the far right of the screen, is the enemy base. You fire artillery at the enemy base, just like that original artillery game, Scorched Earth.
Scorched Earth is an old game where you choose the angle and power at which you take turns to fire shells at each other across a 2D terrain. It was not terribly exciting, and was executed far better by its spiritual descendant, Worms.
Worms gave us an arsenal of sweet weapons, let us move around the map, and have up to eight players. Taking turns to throw things at our friends is one of New Zealand’s favourite childhood pastimes. Worms gave us a chance to do it without the trips to the hospital, nor the expense of costly grenades.
However, Worms was still a largely skill-based game. You had to adjust your aim and projectile velocity every round. A skilled strategist with a mediocre aim would lose to a mediocre strategist with a skilled aim. This made the game less about strategy and more about how accurately you could judge the wind meter.
On higher levels, the fun was overridden by an impossibly accurate AI that could fire a rocket into a perfect wind gust, have it sail over the entire map, and glide precisely down into the hole in which your worm took shelter.
Sorry, Worms. You are an enjoyable game but "letting go of the spacebar at exactly the right moment" is not a skill I wish to refine.
I didn’t make this meme; I found it by searching “worms meme.” It seems like others had the same gripe as me.
Perhaps then, to create the perfect game, we should start with a foundation based on the greatest game ever made: Supreme Commander Forged Alliance.
SupCom was created by RTS legend Chris Taylor, famous for Total Annihilation, the previous greatest game ever. Before that, the title belonged to Command and Conquer. These games were not about making high-risk skill shots, but using strategy to defeat an enemy army. You know that feeling of building a sweet base and defending it with turrets, while simultaneously constructing a spider megabot for a cataclysmic counter-push.
But all the strategy games on PC were more complicated than the last. This did nothing to introduce the genre to new players, especially younger players who would benefit most from the early introduction of strategic decision making. So the idea was to create a much simpler RTS.
How do we make our game more accessible than the convolutions of Total War?
We looked at the most popular real-time strategy games on tablets. There were some simple games to be found, but they were isometric and everything looked cartoonish and too kiddified to be appealing for adult players.
I’m looking at you, Bloons Tower Defence. Nobody cares if you’re attacked by a balloon. If anything, you’ll want to be attacked by more balloons.
Bloons TD may be simple to play, but it looks like it was designed to ward off epileptics.
Is it even possible to create a game as simple as the casual tablet strategy games, but as awesome as the AAA monster titles for the mighty PC? The answer to this question is the same answer we gave to our lawyer when they asked us how we intended to pay for their services: yes. Followed by a quick sprint to the door, never to return.
So we set about designing a 2D side-scrolling strategy game with beautiful graphics and compulsive gameplay. Like Worms, but with tactical depth and no timing-centric skillshots. Like Supreme Commander, but without the overwhelming complexity. Something new, something in the center of several different genres. A game you can pick up and play for five minutes and be actually satisfied. A game that could cater for thousands of new, imaginative and exciting units. A game that would not incur any legal difficulties, because lawyers are expensive. That game is called BattleCruisers.
In the next episode: the earliest concept of a different kind of game. Is there such a thing as too stupid an idea? Find out next week! Subscribe to this blog. Join our fan list for updates. Follow us on Instagram @BattleCruisersGame for more mirth.