Turn-Based Tattle: Battle Worlds – Kronos Interview

By Adam Smith on March 25th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

Battle Worlds: Kronos has almost reached its $120,000 Kickstarter goal with more than a month to spare. It’s the kind of game that is ideally suited to the crowdfunding platform – a turn-based strategy game that references the likes of Battle Isle, simultaneously exciting people like me, and causing publishers to purse their lips and tighten their purses. I spoke with Jan Theysen, co-founder and Creative Director of KING Art, to learn more about the company’s approach to crowdfunding, Battle Worlds history and the game itself.

RPS: Hello! We know KING Art as the developers of point and click adventure series, The Book Of Unwritten Tales. Battle Worlds is a very different project and based on a six-year old prototype, if I understand correctly. Are the same teams responsible for both games?

Theysen: Yes, indeed! The old Battle Worlds: Kronos prototype was the first offline-game we ever started developing. After it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to obtain outside funding for the project we focused on another of our favourite ideas and pitched The Book of Unwritten Tales with the same team. Now a lot of the BoUT people are back working on BW:K.

RPS: Could you talk about the prototype a little? What did it involve and who actually worked on it?

Jan Theysen: It was our pet-project for about two years. We did a lot of web- and community games at the time and wanted to do “a real game”. So we worked on it whenever there was time. Pretty early on we gathered some turn-based enthusiasts from all walks of the TBS community around us and developed the game together with them. The prototype was pretty advanced, actually. We got the first three missions of the campaign, we got playable multiplayer-maps (hot-seat & LAN), we got a basic AI, an editor… it’s still playable today and it’s fun.

When it comes to basic game-design, balancing, controls and stuff like that the old prototype is still our starting point for the new game. We didn’t use any assets or code, though. We actually started all over again in December.

RPS: Did you pitch the project to publishers over the last few years?

Theysen: We pitched the old game for about two years, and then basically had to give up. At that time it was impossible to get funding. Turn-based strategy was dead (at least in the eyes of the publishers). And there were other problems. I remember one publisher explained to us that our asynchronous multiplayer mode would be dead weight, as everybody would know, no one wants to play just a few minutes every day, but spend large chunks of time on it only. Anyway, it was widely known that we were still interested in doing this project, but whenever we brought it up in other project discussions with publishers, people got this blank stare that you get when you stopped listening a long time ago….

When Kickstarter became the phenomenon it is today we instantly knew that Battle Worlds: Kronos would be an ideal game for the platform. It enables us to do exactly the game we and our fans wanted to play for so long now, and we are glad that so many people responded. It’s still up in the air, but just maybe, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding tools will truly change the way games are made for good.

RPS: For those who might not be aware of the series, what are the features of Battle Isle that you’re particularly interested in reviving?

Theysen: Actually, while the name of the game is clearly a nod to Blue Byte’s great series, there is a lot of games we draw inspiration from when it comes to TBS, like Advance Wars or the SSI classics Panzer General, Fantasy General and so on. What we like about them and want to bring to the forefront of our game is the fact that these games do not require fast reactions but clever tactics.

We are also big fans of RTS, but when our art director Alex is slaughtering three of his colleagues in StarCraft 2, he is probably not the better tactician, but the guy who knows the production chain inside and out and can execute roughly one thousand commands per second (as a rough estimate). That’s skill, no question about it. But it’s far less tactical and strategic than you might think. Many TBS we like have very simple rules that can be learned quickly and easily. After a few matches, everybody knows the rules equally well. From that point on, the better tactics, the better plans will win.

RPS: Why do you think the time is right for this game? Is the rise of Kickstarter a large part of it, or do you think the success of big budget titles such as the new XCOM has brought a new turn-based audience as well?

Theysen: I think, gamers are generally curious for new gaming experiences. Battle Worlds can be played alone or with buddies in live multiplayer. However, Battle Worlds’ asynchronous multiplayer also allows for a type of multiplayer experience that has not been done right in years. To beat your friends in epic battles, maybe fighting 4 or 5 of them against several friends at the same time, and finally achieve victory after weeks of campaigning is new to many players. As a novel concept, however, it is exciting to think about from a gamer’s perspective, but frightening since unpredictable from an investor’s perspective. Doing it the Kickstarter way did not only allow us to present a TBS game, but to include modes like this without fighting zombie hordes of marketing managers reurgitating market data that does not show anything, because no one has dared to ask questions outside the box.

Surely it hasn’t hurt that XCOM is a great game and probably exposed hundreds of thousands of gamers to turn-based strategy for the first time. It’s a great example by a great studio, of how unconventional or “lost” genres can be honored to the benefit of gamers, developers and publishers.

RPS: Do you think that publishers will look at the Kickstarters that succeed and react quickly or at all?

Theysen: I’m not sure… I don’t think you’ll see EA making a new, isometric Ultima or Ubisoft bringing back Battle Isle as a boxed game. Successful Kickstarter campaigns are collecting enough money to produce small to medium-sized games and bring it to a few ten thousand to maybe about a hundred thousand gamers. That is not a scale that registers with the major publishers. However, for small and medium-sized publishers, Kickstarter campaigns might be interesting. That’s a good sign. There are projects that are well suited for Kickstarter, while others might not be as compatible with it. If those projects get financed by publishers who took notice of a project on Kickstarer… why not?

RPS: You have an arrangement with publishers for your adventure titles – what makes Battle Worlds different? And do you think there are differences from region to region as well?

Theysen: It’s essentially the size that matters. If we’d put a “Book of Unwritten Tales 2” on Kickstarter, we would have to raise over a million dollars (since after fees, taxes and rewards, there would maybe be 600,000 left, which is about what the first BoUT had as a production budget).

That doesn’t mean that we might not try to finance a bigger project through Kickstarter, but for our first Kickstarter campaign, we needed a smaller game, production-wise, that we could develop on our own dime to a significant state so that we felt comfortable pitching it in a Kickstarter. From the feedback we are getting to the pre-alpha video and screenshots, we seem to have been right about this. It’s also a question of countries… we are from Germany. To have a successful Kickstarter campaign, you can’t make a “German game” that only caters to the German gamer’s tastes. You have to make a game that appeals to as many people around the world as possible. We seem to have hit that nerve with Battle Worlds: Kronos.

RPS: How long have you been considering a crowd-funding campaign?

Theysen: It took about 2 hours from the start of Double Fine’s Kickstarter campaign? It was a revelation: to be able to produce a game without publishers, only because you know that there are enough fans out there who would like it? Wow.

RPS: Have you watched other crowd-funding campaigns and learned any lessons from them?

Theysen: Quite a lot of them! One of the most important lessons we learned was that campaigns are difficult to compare in the first place. If there’s a big name behind a project, it works differently from a campaign headed by nobodies like us. A well-known developer can stand in front of a camera and hold up three pieces of paper, and maybe talk a bit about their vision… and there’s a million dollars waiting for him at the end. As a small fish, you have to present your backers more than that. You have to excite them for your game, and you have to convince them that you will be able to deliver. This does not mean that big name projects aren’t well thought out in general, it just means that the road is a bit steeper if you are not a gaming legend. This is actually where the classic publishing model and Kickstarter are understandably similar, despite its democratic qualities.

Another underappreciated factor seems to be how the media react to Kicktarter. A few months ago, it was much easier to obtain coverage for a Kickstarter project. Today, it’s quite a bit of work. Some of the big websites seem to be cutting back on Kickstarter campaign reporting on principle, if there is no big name attached to them. I am pretty sure that many campaigns that reached their funding goals 6-12 months ago would not have the same chance today. You are just not getting the press coverage. With Rock Paper Shotgun being the shining exception to the sad rule. And it actually DOES MATTER. The success of a campaign still is connected with media coverage. I’d wish that more sites would judge campaigns by what they are showing and not by the names they are having connected with it.

RPS: Talking about the game now – how will the single player campaigns work? What aspects are carried across from one mission to the next?

Theysen: You could think of the first of two single player campaigns as a gigantic tutorial. Bit by bit, all the different unit types and game functions are introduced. You are the commander of the House of Telit, one of the factions that are fighting about domination on the planet Kronos. You rise to the top of the heap of heroic fighters for this faction, but – spoiler alert – will in the end be brought to your knees rather roughly.

The second campaign is about the story on the side of the so called Residents faction. While Telit and the other two “invading factions” possess lots of high tech units, and TONS of them, the Residents are fighting a guerilla war in the shade. Thus, players will have to learn different tactics all over again in the second half of the game. The individual missions are connected by a background story we are trying to make as diverse as possible. Wherever it makes sense, story-wise, surviving units will be taken from one mission to the next, including all their upgrades they already won.

RPS: You mention every unit having unique characteristics – could you go into more detail about how they vary?

Theysen: A few days ago, one of our backers wrote on Facebook that he would rather have less different unit types than more, since the best strategy game in the history of man only had 6 specialized units. I think he was referring to chess, and I think he has a point. 200 different units might just end up feeling somehow very similar and exchangeable. We want to make each unit count by differing in skills and behavior from all the others.

Each unit is supposed to have their own character by having individual strengths and weaknesses and special tasks to perform in battle. One of my favorite units is the rocket buggy we named “Bandit”. It’s a cool unit, because it can attack twice each turn, if you choose not to move it. However, the Bandit can only attack targets that are two tiles away, so he is extremely vulnerable in close quarter combat. That’s why it works best to pair it with a Cerberus tank or another heavy defensive unit that you can position between the Bandit and the enemy unit. But of course, the Cerberus is slow, so you kind of have to balance the speed advantage of a buggy against the protective ability of the tank, losing the speed bonus if you always play it safe… We continuously strive to give players something that they can fiddle with and tweak their tactics.

RPS: Will there be significant differences between the two factions?

Theysen: The Invaders and the Residents are the basic factions. The invaders, however, are split into three houses. All three houses play very similar, but each house has an own special ability that only they can use. The Residents feel decidedly different. They can use conquered Invaders units, but most importantly units welded together from metal trash and heavy infantry. Those “self-made” units are not as powerful as Invaders units, but they do have an important advantage: they can repair themselves with the wrecks of destroyed enemy units.

The infantry of the Residents can also cloak itself, which the infantry robots of the Invaders cannot. Cloaked units are only revealed if a unit is moved next to the cloaked unit or if the cloaked units start to fight. Naturally, this skill qualifies the Residents troops for ambushs.

RPS: It’s an attractive game, but do you use modern technology for anything other than the graphics? Are there things that it’s possible to do now that wouldn’t have been possible fifteen or even six years ago?

Theysen: The whole online-gaming aspect has become much more important than it was six years ago. We want to offer players a ladder system, a good match making system, tournaments and a platform for exchanging maps they built with the map editor. Some years ago we might have taken less interest in developing these community features. Back in the early days, writing a “clever” AI was a huge problem, especially if it was not to take up tons of processor time to make its next move. Today, we have a lot more processing power at our disposal, which can be used to make the AI much more powerful as well. The problem nowadays is to make AI play still feel like fun and feel “just right”.

RPS: Is there any base building or are facilities already on the maps to be captured?

Theysen: No, there is no base-building. That’s a decision we made even before we started development for the first prototype. The player is supposed to be able to concentrate on what is happening at the front lines.

RPS: There are tablet versions listed under the stretch goals, with cross-platform play proposed. Are you confident that moving to other platforms won’t hinder development of the PC version?

Theysen: Certainly. We will finish the PC version first and treat the tablet version as a true port. We do not believe that “one control scheme fits all”. You want to be able to use the right mouse button on your PC, as well as Keyboard shortcuts, even if this means we have to think of new ways to design the controls for tablets.

RPS: You actually have a reward tier that is called ‘the Notch edition’! And somebody backed at that level. Can you tell me if it was Notch or would that break some sort of digital secrecy act and end up with RPS shipped off to some sort of holding centre a mile underneath Buckingham Palace, being nibbled by attack corgis?

Theysen: I would love to see that. It sounds rather spectacular! But it won’t come to this, I am afraid. No, it wasn’t Notch who pledged. It was Klaas Kersting, CEO of Flaregames and co-founder of Gameforge. He is an old friend of ours and we knew he loved Battle Isle, but we didn’t know he loved it so much!

This is actually one of the most positive, uplifiting things we encountered in the first days of the campaign: Being supported not just by gamers, but by fellow developers as well. Brian Fargo and the guys over at Obsidian became our backers and did shout-outs on Twitter, and many developers shared our campaign and were actually campaigning for us on Facebook… Kickstarter seems to be one of those things that brings out the best in people, probably because it is so close to what all of us really want to do: Games we like ourselves for fans who like them too.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Battle Worlds: Kronos is Kickstarting right now.

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44 Comments »

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  1. Lev Astov says:

    Man, I’m really excited by the resurgence of RTS games of late. This one sounds pretty excellent and I’m particularly looking forward to the tablet version being a port from the PC. I need something more substantial like this for tablet gaming.

    • d3vilsadvocate says:

      Me too. I need new material or else I’m gonna be SC2 HOTS Master soon. And that’s kinda scary ;)

      Also, I loved their past games and really hope this is going to be a huge success for them. The old dev-publisher model is going to suffer, and I’m really looking forward to it!

    • Elma_Gupton says:

      what Chris replied I didnt even know that anybody able to get paid $5553 in one month on the internet. did you see this page… http://tiny.cc/lazy-cash100

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      Not RTS though. Assuming you made a typo.

      • valz says:

        Many gamers think TBS games are RTS games for some reason.

        • Vercinger says:

          And to complicate things further, this is a TBT, not TBS game. The developers are apparently not aware of that.

  2. Hoaxfish says:

    I really enjoyed the original Battle Isle(s), so I’m a bit disappointed they really didn’t discuss it in the question that specifically asked about it.

    From what I’ve seen combat is directly on the map as well, rather than the “combat” cut-scenes Battle Isle and Advance Wars use… Still fairly tempting anyway.

    I think the German industry stands to be quite interesting. Given the local censorship (not sure if it’s more relaxed now) it’s a unique thing to see how the local companies as a whole try to work around that (pushing less violent genres, etc)

    • Acorino says:

      with Crytek as the notable exception, of course.

    • Golwar says:

      Well that isn’t really the reason for the focus of the german games. The same genres have been popular for decades now, long before shooters got so popular or the display of violence got so realistic. They simply develop the kind of game Germans want to play, not what they are allowed to play.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        I wouldn’t really say it’s a focus, more one of those situations where the constraints force interesting effects (like the low resources on early computers forced artistic “tricks” in pixel art and coding) that can still be interesting. Often as not, what you are “allowed” to play can influence what you find you like playing.

        Of course, in the end, developers in other countries are still there to produce the bulk of popular genres, and overseas sales can dodge the restrictions anyway.

        • Vercinger says:

          What reason do you have to believe that censorship had any effect at all on the studio’s plans? And why do you think that not being allowed to play certain games (not that people won’t play them anyway, thanks to filesharing) makes people less likely to want them? The effects of censorship are almost always the opposite.

          You make it sound like, if there was no censorship, these guys wouldn’t make a TBT game and Germans in general would be less interested in the genre. If that’s really what you meant, it’s a stupid thing to say.

          Edit: Also, nothing stops Germans from making all the violent games they want. The restrictions apply only to selling, not to developing.

      • aepervius says:

        As far as I can tell there are very few stuff which is so censored in germany as to be forbidden. Even wolfenstein 3D had only minor change like cross being removed, mostly some games blood being changed color or removed, or being restricted to 18+ with age checks. The last game I can recall being down right not available through steam in germany was dead island, but you could always order everywhere the austrian version which made it a joke.

    • Vercinger says:

      “I think the German industry stands to be quite interesting. Given the local censorship (not sure if it’s more relaxed now) it’s a unique thing to see how the local companies as a whole try to work around that (pushing less violent genres, etc)”

      That’s pretty speculative. Why do you not accept that this game is what the team wants to make? Why must there be some ulterior motive to developing a turn-based game or a low violence game. You comment strikes me as coming from the type of person that would, if working for a publisher, shoot down the idea citing meaningless market data.

  3. Jorum says:

    The paragraph about starcraft and RTS vs TBS sums up my feeling exactly.
    RTS have mostly become about actions-per-second, and who knows and most efficiently implements a build queue. It’s definitely skillful, but very constrained in terms of strategic thinking.

    Despite being a massive strategy fan I haven’t really played any RTS since age of empires 2 I think because I have lost all interest in “twitch strategy”, and also synchronous multiplayer doesn’t fit with having young children.

    Bluebyte-like TBS and asynchronos multiplayer sounds damn good to me.

    • JustAPigeon says:

      I agree. One brilliant exception to this is Wargame: EE. Although it’s realtime, it has similarities to turn-based tactical games like Combat Mission. While there is a bit of micromanagement to be done, it’s less about reaction times and building large armies, and more to do with placing the few units you do have in the most useful places. Such a good multiplayer game.

      Anyway, I welcome any new TBS game, I’ve always preferred them to RTS.

      • Carbonated Dan says:

        I would like to vouch for this – I perform and average of nine actions (any click or key press) per minute in W:EE yet my win rate is still almost 90%

      • Premium User Badge

        dglenny says:

        Seconded. My APM in W:EE is about 6. This may help explain why my win ratio is closer to 70%!

    • Jorum says:

      Also I can sit back and drink cups of tea while playing TBS. The importance of this cannot be over emphasized.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      After a very lackluster experience with Dawn of War 2, I stopped playing RTS twitchers (with Shogun 2 being the lone exception) and have moved to TBS games exclusively for my strategy fix. Maybe it has something to do with the amount of reflexive brain cells I’ve lost over the years.

      Come to think of it, I haven’t played a decent RTS game since Myth II.

      • Vercinger says:

        Shogun 2 isn’t an RTS outside multiplayer though. As with the rest of the series, battles in singleplayer are essentially active pause. Along with the TBS campaigning, I find the games in the series rather relaxing. With the exception of the infuriating AI stupidity whenever it has to deal with roads or settlements.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          While it’s true that the empire-building sections of Shogun 2 are essentially turn-based, adding a pause function to the battles does not make them turn-based too.

    • Grey Poupon says:

      Company of Heroes and Men of War require more strategic thinking than C&C and Total Annihilation ever did. SC2 isn’t the only modern RTS. And actually SC2 isn’t exactly modern, the whole point of it is to be as similar to SC1 as it can without being the same game. So essentially it only shows how APM spammy the original was.

    • Premium User Badge

      Oozo says:

      I feel you!
      One question in that context for the hivemind:
      “AI War” is heavily discounted right now on Steam. For those of you who have played it, is it one of those rare RTS-games that might be interesting for somebody who got lost a bit on the genre’s way to absurd amounts of actions per minute?

      • MondSemmel says:

        AI War has tactical pause, so I wouldn’t really call it an RTS. Or if it is an RTS, that eliminates the problem everybody has with them. If you are willing to spend 5h+ to learn the game (and it really takes that long), you will be able to experience a tactical game on an absolutely epic scale. I liked it and played it for ~55h in total, so I don’t feel like putting in the effort to learn the game was wated.

    • Vercinger says:

      I agree. It’s a good thing we have pausable real-time games.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lamb Chop says:

      The real issue with games like SC/SCII is that there is a ton of strategy but it is locked behind a massive twitch skill wall. You have to think and act incredibly quickly to begin to unravel the strategy and tactical dynamics. Otherwise mechanical improvement is always the best choice. Although, the trick to increasing APM is really about automating strategic decision-making, so you’re staying at the command level and not taking up your cognitive resources on remembering timings (tell your fingers, “execute roach bust routine” and let that take care of business while you’re worrying about other strategy). I tripled my apm not by getting faster at moving my fingers but by getting faster at thinking. It is a huge investment just to have the freedom to think about strategic concerns that are readily available in TBS games though.

  4. Jimbo says:

    Do a snow map. Do it.

  5. wodin says:

    How come Massive Assault never got this sort of attention when released? As MA seems very similar.

    • Zeewolf says:

      It was a different time. RPS wasn’t around. “Everyone” believed that the PC was dying and the press was generally going out of its way to ignore everything that happened on it. Turn-based strategy wasn’t cool. Independent developers weren’t interesting unless they were called Introversion, and Massive Assault was from the wrong part of the world.

      At least that’s what I think.

      It doesn’t matter anymore. The question now is: Why don’t Wargaming.net use any of their millions to resurrect it?

      • Premium User Badge

        tigerfort says:

        It also had armies that were distinguished only by the graphics used for their units. And every battle seemed to devolve into tedious slugging matches at a couple of choke points unless your opponent was a complete idiot.

        • Premium User Badge

          Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          Yes. The ability to indefinitely choke up an army comprised of large numbers of top-tier units with a couple of low tier units freshly built each turn was a frustrating situation.

        • Zeewolf says:

          Yes, back to Chess. It was perfectly balanced because both sides had the same capabilities. I thought that was an something that made it more interesting, not less.

          I also don’t remember the battles turning into slugging matches, that didn’t happen very often for me. Use transports more, perhaps?

    • Moraven says:

      Massive Assault Network is great. Hard to imagine where Wargaming.net is now. I remember writing up a review for a smaller gaming site back in the late 90s.

  6. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Lovely to see how game devs appreciate and support one another’s projects.

  7. SuperNashwanPower says:

    I’m going to keep saying it until it happens: I wish someone would kick start a STALKER game (or something exceptionally similar)

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      That would be incredible. It’s also very unlikely, if only because of the 4-5 million needed at a minimum (maybe more).

  8. Premium User Badge

    Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I think there has been a shameful dearth of RPS commentary on an important facet of the resurgence of turn-based strategy these days: Do we pronounce TBS like “tubs” or “tibs”?

  9. Beelzebud says:

    Turn based games are dead, they said. Isometric camera angles are dead, they said.

    I only wish the crowdfunding craze had been there for the Fallout franchise.

  10. crinkles esq. says:

    The art direction is really nice; I wouldn’t mind seeing a RTS game in this universe.

    My biggest concern is the cleverness of the AI, as I would mostly be playing offline (waiting for some stranger to make his or her next turn is not appealing to me). It’s easy to make an AI that can steamroll you, but harder to make one that does ‘interesting’ things.

    • b0rsuk says:

      The art direction (scale, color balance, contrast…) reminds me strongly of Heroes of Might and Magic. Not to be mistaken with Heroes5 and Heroes6.