that stores and passes game states between
players. Since launch, there’s been user demand
for a pass-and-play system and it’s something
we’re looking into building for future revisions.
We also wanted a lighter game that was easy
for people to pick up and play, to put down when
they were done, yet have it be compelling enough
for them to come back to again and again. With
the Command & Conquer games we built, it was
remarkably easy for users to lose track of time and
not realize that they had spent over an hour playing
a particular mission. We took this as a sign of a well-designed mission since one of our goals was to
create as immersive of an experience as possible.
However, this isn’t something we wanted in a
game that players can pick up and play anywhere
at any time. Sure, we wanted players to get
engaged with the fiction and feel compelled to
continue because they were having fun, but we felt
it would be irresponsible to punish them for putting
the game down when something more important
happens, such as their subway train arriving.
We sacrificed some of the traditional strategy
game elements such as unit production, the
ability to carry over your forces from one mission
to the next, and direct control of units during
combat. Resource gathering was discarded in
favor of a simple approach that granted players
units upon capturing certain structures. Base
building was also removed; instead, players
can capture and hold certain structures which
provide combat support for any battles that
take place within the structure’s support range.
Figure 3 illustrates where players spend time in
HigHborn, with combat taking the majority of time
followed by information (checking for hidden
units, studying enemy structure and unit support
ranges) and base and army management.
While we took some hits from traditional game
reviewers who felt HigHborn was too simplistic,
we feel we were very successful in reaching our
target audience as reviewers of mobile games
and thousands of our customers gave HigHborn
consistently high marks.
Where is it going next?
» To figure out where strategy games are going
next we need to take a look at where the genre
exploded in popularity, specifically the birth of real-time strategy games. Before the RTS, turn-based
games had become an increasingly niche market in
no small part due to its ever-increasing complexity.
This is exactly the same problem that’s crept into
RTS games over the past decade, to the point that
some of today’s RTS games rival the complexity of
a turn-based game. The worst part about this is that
most of these features have done little or nothing
to make the games more fun and have distracted
players and designers alike from focusing on core
gameplay. There are a lot of reasons for this, not
the least of which is a desire to stand apart from the
competition or to add a marketing bullet point on
the back of the box, but it has to stop.
Merriam-Webster defines strategy as “the
science and art of military command exercised to
meet the enemy in combat under advantageous
conditions.” Why is it that so many strategy
games focus so heavily on tactics? When you
have a ton of units, more structures than you can
remember, and so many factions that any sort
of meaningful differentiation between sides is
basically impossible, how can you possibly engage
in any real strategic decision-making? Given all
this, what will the future bring for strategy games?
I think we’ll see strategy games take a few
different paths. There are several titles that have
forgone radical innovations and instead focused on
finely polishing tried and true strategy gameplay.
Blizzard has done this with StarCraft 2 to great
success, and Firaxis also stuck with proven and
successful gameplay for its recently-released
Civilization v. Yes, both of these titles are sequels
from highly successful franchises, but I don’t think
that should diminish the point that you don’t have to
reinvent the wheel with every title to make it good.
Developers have just scratched the surface
of what’s possible with strategy games on mobile
platforms. There will be more tower defense
and turn-based strategy games. Our company,
for example, is working to extend our HigHborn
app by bringing it to additional platforms and
adding new features. There is so much room for
innovative game design on mobile platforms.
Shorter development schedules and relatively
lower budgets compared to PC and console games
allow designers to take more risks. Imagine a game
based on Foursquare’s location-based check-in
model, where you capture and hold real territories
for strategic gain in a version of an alternate reality
game. How cool would it be if the entire world, via
Google Maps, were your battlefield?
We’ll also see strategy games hit big on
consoles, but we shouldn’t expect them to look
anything like their PC counterparts. Trying to
shoehorn PC RTS mechanics onto a console by
coming up with a clever control scheme just isn’t
going to work. Designers need to go back to the
fundamentals and rethink what a strategy game
means, what is the absolute core gameplay
mechanic, and what is the minimal feature set
required to make the game fun. Compounding
the problem of console strategy games is the lack
of confidence in the genre that most publishers
have, given the less-than-stellar sales of existing
releases. I think the best bet is to continue
development of strategy console games for digital
distribution via XBLA and PSN. toy SoldierS on XBLA
and fat PrinCeSS on PSN are two great examples of
strategy games on consoles that work quite well.
rade stojsavljevic has worked on major franchises at
companies such as Westwood Studios, Electronic Arts,
Activision, and Sony Computer Entertainment America. He is
the co-founder and president of Jet Set Games.
game developer | January 2011 34