As a participant, I discover I’m usually drawn to video games which are steeped in historical past in addition to being enjoyable and entertaining. My day job is as a author and director within the TV trade, so dramatic and emotionally-rich storytelling is de facto essential to me. When I design, my purpose is to attempt to mix these totally different components into video games that replicate historical past in an accessible and hopefully illuminating method, whereas additionally creating thrilling tales that can stick with gamers after the sport leaves the desk.
How It Started
In fall 2018, I learn Andrew Wheatcroft’s The Enemy on the Gate, a e book in regards to the 1683 siege of Vienna. The siege pitted the complete pressure of one of many biggest empires in historical past (the Ottomans) towards a weaker rival (the Habsburg dynasty). The Ottomans outnumbered the Habsburg defenders 10:1, however Vienna was effectively protected with trendy fortifications and the result was removed from sure.
Ottoman and Habsburg troopers battle amidst the rubble throughout the siege
For greater than two months, either side fought with muskets, cannons, grenades, mortars, swords, spears, arrows, and mines full of explosives, usually from trenches mere meters aside. The Ottomans made it proper as much as the ultimate line of protection and had been solely hours from breaching the partitions when a German-Polish aid pressure arrived and swept the attackers away.
The e book was a compelling learn, and it received me fascinated about how I might create a sport primarily based on the siege that was enjoyable, dramatic, and even academic.*
(*It goes with out saying the siege was a nightmarish expertise for the individuals who lived by way of it. It’s solely with the privilege of greater than 4 hundred years of historic distance that we are able to look again and discover the subject an entertaining and even applicable topic for a sport. I focus on a number of the points with representing the siege, together with the politics surrounding it, in my designer’s notes for the sport.)
Questions Get the Ball Rolling
To proceed with the design, the primary query I needed to reply was what the sport’s focus could be. The geopolitics surrounding the siege, with worldwide alliances and energy struggles? The large-scale sweep of armies touring and combating throughout tons of of kilometers? The logistics of shifting and provisioning tens of hundreds of troops, and supplying and feeding the besieged inhabitants of the town? Or the battle in entrance of the town partitions, the place attackers and defenders struggled for each inch of floor gained or misplaced?
I made a decision to focus on the ultimate possibility as a result of I felt it supplied wealthy potentialities for tough choices and dramatic outcomes, and therefore participant engagement. Also, the main points of gunpowder-era siege assault and protection are fascinating and have not usually been lined in video games, and I believed they may attraction to historically-minded gamers.
The subsequent determination was how you can focus and depict the bodily and decision-making areas of the sport. Traditional wargames usually use maps with a lot of hexes and counters that allow you to transfer your troops round on the board. Since sieges are contests of attrition reasonably than maneuver, sometimes specializing in particular, well-chosen weak factors in a metropolis’s fortifications, I did not really feel this conventional “hex and counter” strategy was proper.
Instead, I made a decision to strive a “climb the ladder” construction by which the Ottoman participant must seize a sequence of key places as they moved up every “rung” in the direction of the town wall. Each of those key places would begin with a sure variety of hit factors that could possibly be worn down by the Ottoman participant by way of bombardment, mining, and assault, and restored by the Habsburg participant by way of defensive actions. There could be advantages to capturing or recapturing a location, measured in morale, which might be one of many currencies within the sport.
Here’s what an early prototype of the sport regarded like in November 2018:
Hmm. Not a lot to have a look at but. Maybe it’s going to flip into one thing?
The sport makes use of a card-driven mechanism. Each participant attracts a hand of 5 random playing cards from a novel deck, and every card could be discarded for actions, performed for particular occasions, or used as bonuses throughout battles. I felt a CDG (card-driven sport) strategy was a superb match as a result of it simplified varied “bills” (cash, provides, ammunition) into decision-making factors for gamers as they weighed the chance price of utilizing a card for short-term acquire versus saving it to advance their longer-term strategic objectives.
I additionally determined that, not like many wargames, there would not be chits or miniatures on the board to symbolize troops. There had been just a few causes for this. First, I favored the thought of hidden info. By utilizing troop playing cards as an alternative of counters, gamers would not know the way highly effective a pressure they had been dealing with was till the battle started, in order that they’d need to make educated guesses about their opponent’s capabilities, intentions, and even psychology. For instance, a participant might launch a weak assault to pressure their opponent to exhaust their good troops, then comply with up with a powerful assault. The playing cards additionally allowed me to introduce a 3rd financial factor: Once troops had been spent, they might not be used once more till a brand new spherical started, so gamers must fastidiously plan their assault and protection.
Map of the siege, exhibiting Ottoman trenches operating proper as much as the inside wall; this map turned the inspiration for future variations of the sport board
Another essential design query was how you can cope with tunneling and mining, which had been essential ways used throughout the siege. I made a decision to strive a sort of “hidden motion” mechanism by which the Ottoman participant might put playing cards of various values face right down to kind a tunnel. Once a sure quantity was reached, the participant might blow up the tunnel, eradicating fortifications from key places. Of course, the Habsburg participant would have methods to counter this.
The closing query at this stage was deciding how lengthy play ought to final. Since the sport lined a restricted situation, I needed it to be comparatively quick enjoying compared to some epic wargames, so I made a decision on a set variety of rounds, after which the aid military would arrive and the sport would finish. Initially, I allowed each gamers to control this clock by way of using playing cards, both rising or reducing the period of time remaining. I later deserted this concept as a result of it felt unrealistic and “gamey”, and it fell outdoors the size I’d chosen for the sport (tactical reasonably than grand technique).
I playtested this tough prototype with a small group by way of October, November, and December 2018. The suggestions was constructive, however my intestine informed me one thing was lacking, so I put the design away. I figured I’d get again to it in just a few weeks.
Two Years Later…
Fast ahead to October, 2020. My second sport, Stilicho: Last of the Romans had simply been printed by Hollandspiele, and I felt the itch to get engaged on one thing. I’d continued studying about and researching early-modern siege warfare and the historical past of the Ottoman-Habsburg conflicts, and I began fascinated about my Vienna design once more.
One day, whereas I used to be out for a run, one thing clicked. Various methods to simplify the sport started to happen to me. I additionally had the thought to make the sport modular, in order that the items could possibly be mixed in several methods to mannequin totally different historic sieges. When I received again from my run, I grabbed my artwork provides, design package, and a retractable blade. After a bit of labor, this was the consequence:
Hexes however no counters!
I’m a agency believer that that you must create a bodily prototype of a sport as quickly as doable. Handling the items and shifting them round could be very inspiring! Sometimes, I’ll take random bits of wooden or meeples and simply put them on playing cards or maps to see what concepts they spark. The results of messing round with the bodily elements was this:
The hit factors (previously represented by the cube) are gone, changed by wood items that stood in for various sorts of fortifications. This received me fascinated about new methods to make use of the fortifications apart from as stacks of hit factors. For instance, I made a decision the cylinders, representing everlasting stone defenses, could not be added to or repaired as soon as the sport began, and could possibly be eliminated solely by way of using artillery or explosives. Seemingly small adjustments like this started to actually add to the sport’s tactical sophistication.
I used to be excited to start out playtesting once more, however Covid meant face-to-face video games had been out of the query. I created a Tabletop Simulator model of the design in order that I might proceed playtesting on-line with of us from my gaming group.
I name this the Klingon Battle Cruiser model of the sport
In three months, the sport progressed extra rapidly than it had in two years. Development usually occurs like that, particularly if you end up a part-time designer. Overall, I used to be very inspired by my playtests, and after quite a few experiments, tweaks, and checks, felt I had a stable design by way of mechanisms and theme. I started to consider approaching a writer.
Out of the Blue
As destiny would have it, I received an e-mail from Clay Ross, president of Capstone Games that December. He informed me he’d performed and favored Stilicho, and he needed to know whether or not I had something comparable in improvement. What nice timing! I pitched Clay on Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna. After a number of conversations and playtests, we determined to work collectively.
The significance of collaborating with a supportive and considerate writer and developer cannot be overstated. To start with, we each agreed the design was a stable basis however might go additional. Clay had some nice suggestions, which I felt confirmed he actually received what I used to be making an attempt to do. We additionally noticed eye-to-eye on what we felt the attraction of the sport could possibly be: a tense, comparatively rules-light sport steeped in historical past that might attraction to of us who do not usually play wargames, in addition to gronards who actually know their method round a paper battlefield.
Clay beneficial we transfer away from a modular strategy in order that the sport might seize extra of the specifics of the historical past and be fine-tuned for the particular situation. He additionally steered some adjustments to the sport board, which I agreed with. The new board created new potentialities, such because the inclusion of cannons as bodily sport items, and guidelines for the management of adjoining areas (which within the sport enhance the offensive energy of the Ottomans).
Early conversations and playtests with the writer/developer resulted in an expanded sport board
Playtesting and Final Changes
Working with Capstone meant I might playtest with a bigger, extra diverse group, and I spent the following a number of months accumulating information and tweaking the sport in response to feedback and survey suggestions we obtained from on-line gamers.
Sometimes, what is not stated within the suggestions could be simply as essential as what’s. For instance, I needed the battles within the sport to be thrilling and tense, and whereas no one stated something adverse about this side, gamers weren’t singling it out as highpoint both, so I made a decision to make fight right into a sort of mini-game, with much less math and tighter integration between the bodily elements and the outcomes. Once I made the adjustments, I began getting nice suggestions in regards to the battles, which I really feel have turn out to be one of many sport’s highlights.
During this time, I linked with a gaggle of avid gamers in Istanbul who joined the playtest. It was actually essential to me to make a sport that “Western” and Turkish gamers might take pleasure in and really feel represented the historical past and tradition pretty and precisely. With their assist, I used to be additionally in a position to make clear some historic high-quality factors and terminology. I additionally made some new pals, and I’m actually grateful for his or her contribution.
Graphic Design Is More than Pretty Pictures
During the late part of playtesting, Domhnall Hegarty got here onboard because the graphic designer. I first noticed Donal’s work on Fred Serval‘s wonderful Red Flag Over Paris. In addition to being a tremendous graphic designer, Donal has a love and respect for historical past I really feel is tremendous essential for a sport like this.
Donal did extra than simply give the graphics a complicated, skilled makeover; he really influenced the design in some locations. For instance, Donal steered tiles as an alternative of playing cards to symbolize the tunnels dug by the Ottoman and Habsburgs. This was a terrific concept as a result of it simplified the sport interface in a logical and significant method, whereas additionally making the sport extra attention-grabbing. Plus you get to attract tiles from a bag, which is at all times enjoyable! I really like concepts like that, and I’m excited once they come from collaborators and companions.
By mid-summer 2021, the sport had nearly taken its closing kind. On TTS, it regarded like this:
Wait! We’re Not Done Yet!
Of course, a sport is not completed even as soon as design and graphics are accomplished. Jonathan Bobal got here onboard to shine the rulebook and participant’s assist, and did a fantastic job at organizing and presenting the foundations in a transparent and easy-to-follow method. I additionally spent a number of weeks researching and writing the historic notes and essays that accompany the sport. Because this sport is in regards to the conflict between two empires (Ottoman and Habsburg), I felt it was essential it depict the historical past in a truthful and balanced method. Alongside Western European sources in regards to the siege, I sought out works by Turkish authors and translations of Turkish army and social historical past.
You may find yourself proudly owning a pile of books whenever you design a sport primarily based on historic occasions!
The sport is known as partially for the e book Fire & Stone by Christopher Duffy, a traditional historical past of siege warfare.
The Home Stretch
By mid-summer 2022 every little thing was lastly performed. Clay obtained a manufacturing unit prototype of the ultimate sport:
The closing sport elements — a good distance from
handwritten notes on scraps of paper!
After 4 years of analysis, design, improvement, playtesting, artwork directing, and modifying, the sport is lastly prepared for its launch at SPIEL ’22!
My Design Process
With three printed video games and several other extra at varied phases of improvement, I’ve began to consider my design course of in a extra systematic method. If I needed to describe it, I’d say it is hourglass formed. Once I’ve decided the final scope and scale of a sport, I accumulate all of the concepts I believe are attention-grabbing or that I wish to check out, then stuff them into the preliminary design. What follows is a technique of discount, of stripping issues away till I get right down to the sport’s essence.
For me, the “North Star” to discovering that essence is simplicity. Note that simplicity shouldn’t be the identical as simplistic; for me simplicity implies logic, economic system, and class. When designing a sport primarily based on a historic scenario, these qualities should additionally align with my understanding of the particular occasions.
How do you inform if you’re attaining simplicity? Playtesting. Playtesting is sort of like telling a narrative. Players’ reactions let you know what’s working and what is not. Even solo testing could be actually useful. If you discover one thing complicated or boring, otherwise you discover you retain skipping over part of the sport, it is greater than probably your gamers will really feel the identical. Like I discussed earlier than, typically what is not stated by gamers is simply as essential as what’s.
At a sure level, I discover the sport begins to get nearly too easy; in different phrases, it verges on simplistic. This normally means I’m by way of the slim a part of the hourglass, and it is time to begin increasing issues once more, however this time in a extra directed, targeted method. By now, hours and hours of growing, accumulating information, and listening to suggestions have given me a good suggestion of what belongs within the sport and what would not, and choices I make from this level ahead begin to really feel extra pure and “proper”, and fewer like photographs at midnight. To me, this alerts the sport is approaching its closing state.
Thank you for taking the time to learn this diary! I hope you discovered it attention-grabbing, and for those who design your individual video games that you simply take some encouragement from it. Remember that “two steps ahead, one (or two) steps again” is par for the course, and inspiration can come from many locations: a e book, going out for a run, just a few wood items randomly positioned on a board, an out-of-the-blue e-mail, and most significantly, enter from trusted collaborators.
I’m excited this a part of the journey is completed, and I am unable to await Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna to lastly make its method into gamers’ palms.