Heavy: This War Of Mine Is A War Game About Civilians

By Nathan Grayson on March 13th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

“In war, not everyone is a soldier.” That’s This War of Mine‘s tagline, and while you wouldn’t know it from playing videogames, it’s definitely true. 11 Bit Studios is designing a game around that idea, with a core focus not on mowing down every gun-toting, evil-mustache-twirling ultra-terrorist in your way but instead on simple survival. You control a group of a civilians in a wartorn town, and the rest, well, that’s up to you.

No real gameplay yet, unfortunately, but here’s the basis of how it’ll work:

“During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, offering precious time to craft, trade, upgrade your shelter, feed and cure your survivors. At night you can scavenge nearby areas in search for food, medicines, weapons and other useful items.”

“In TWoM you have to make life-and-death decisions based purely on your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them in order to prevail; there are no good or bad decisions during war. There’s only survival.”

The game was apparently inspired by real life events, so that ought to lend some interesting perspective to the proceedings.

Previously 11 Bit worked on solidly unique games like Anomaly: Warzone Earth and Anomaly 2, but this sounds like quite a departure from RTS-ish tower-defense-but-in-reverse antics. I’m interested to see more, and do that I will during GDC. Hopefully I’ll also have Yoda extracted from my brain during that time.

This War of Mine will be out sometime this year. There’s tremendous potential for both thrills and chills in its concept, so I’m crossing my fingers for something special.

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60 Comments »

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  1. DanMan says:

    Intriguing concept. I’ll make sure I put them on my radar.

  2. FleeingNevada says:

    That is a stunning trailer. People often misuse words like “game changing” and “revolutionary,” but the concept, coupled with the perfect video would at the very least suggest that the makers have tapped into something new and provocative.

    Definitely went to the top of my most wanted games list.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Indeed. Beautiful trailer, extremely good idea. I hope they dig deep.

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      Harlander says:

      If they can make the game evoke as much as the trailer did it’ll be really something.

      (Anyone else get a faint King Crimson vibe from the soundtrack? Just me? Oh well.. *wanders off*)

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      Just like the Dead Island trailer.

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        jezcentral says:

        It put me in mind of the Mobius trailer from Metro: Last Light.

    • mouton says:

      Trailer is very nice and the concept is a new world for games, but until there is an actual game, it is meaningless.

    • SuicideKing says:

      I think this is one of the best one-minute anti-war videos i’ve seen.

  3. JimmyG says:

    Kind of unexpected — I didn’t think 11 Bit had survived the Bit Wars.

  4. Eight Rooks says:

    I found the Anomaly games technically fantastic but shallow and pretty dull in execution, so I’m hugely surprised to see 11 Bit are the first ones attempting something like this, but hey, if they can pull it off, more power to them. More studios definitely, definitely need to take this sort of approach to the subject matter (without just making lo-fi artgames that make headlines for a couple of weeks and then quietly disappear).

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    Philopoemen says:

    similar premise to the old DMZ comics, and they were quite successful for DC/Vertigo.

    Be interesting to see how the devs approach this. I’m a big fan of games being dramas rather than action movies.

    • gravity_spoon says:

      I recently started reading DMZ. Quite like it. Also like the premise of the game.

    • mouton says:

      DMZ was quite good, but boy the ideology there. Anarchist utopia! We can feed everyone by growing food on roofs! blergh

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        Philopoemen says:

        Yeah, It had some hit and miss moments for sure, but the premise (Manhattan as a warzone) and the art were well worth a look. There was one storyline regarding soldiers from both sides partying together before someone stuffed it up that was very poignant, and reminiscent for anyone that’s served.

        • mouton says:

          Yeah, it was totally worth it despite the flaws, Brian Wood is an excellent writer. I heartily recommend his Northlanders too.

          I hated DMZ’s ending, though, it felt completely unnecessary. Feeling guilty is one thing, martyring yourself is another.

  6. Bull0 says:

    Bit jarring that the soldiers at the beginning are 3D and then the actual civilians are 2D.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Maybe you realise this, but that is indeed the point. Its leading you down one path of expectation and making a switch. 3D soldiers shooting, wearing lovely gear and weapons with great lighting effects? Thats what we know and expect. It sets up an expectation of what we will play, see and feel. Arma. BF4. Mediums of victory and fun.

      The switch to hand drawn is more comic like, story like, mediums of drama. Less typically game-like, and the whole point of this is that you’re in a war, yet not a soldier. For me the switch conveyed in a second something that heavy handed, overly ponderous exposition would have taken much longer to accomplish.

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        cpt_freakout says:

        Well put!

      • P.Funk says:

        Its saying something about how much energy we put into crafting believable soldiers, but in the end the people who make up 99% of those affected by the conflicts in the streets we play in are flat, forgotten, given no face or story, utterly forgotten by us.

      • Bull0 says:

        Except that everyone’s being linked to the trailer from articles that say “It’s a wargame where you play as the civilians”. So the idea of it being a bait and switch is kind of lost.

        Tin foil hat time, I think they were probably making a generic military game and changed course, but carried on using their old stuff.

        • The Random One says:

          That’s one hell of a theory, but I don’t think it’s less believeable than “the civilians are low-res drawings as a commentary on our attitudes towards depictions of war in interactive media”.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            So… they ran out of pixels and just did it in acrylic?

          • Bull0 says:

            Oh, no, I agree totally. It’s either really shrewd artistic license or they cobbled it together.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            I was hoping Pawel from 11 bit might chime in on how they arrived at it (he’s commented below). Would be interested to know!

    • Convolvulus says:

      It’s because you’re meant to identify with the civilians. People tend to objectify photorealistic characters and relate to simplified ones. The more details you see, the more external a thing becomes. As images become more basic they drift away from the physical world and approach the realm of ideas and beliefs, which is where your self-concept lives. A cartoonish drawing could represent you, whereas a realistic soldier probably owes you money and maybe deserves one in the kneecap for that thing he said about your sister.

      • MajesticXII says:

        This is one of the best comments i’ve ever read in my life.

      • MrUnimport says:

        You think so? I identify with people who move and look around more than I identify with flat scribbles.

  7. Kaira- says:

    Interesting theme but the description makes it sound like a reskinned zombie survival game.

    • sinister agent says:

      Yeah. I heard the concept and thought “That is a brilliant idea”. Then I read about “crafting” and “trading” and “upgrading your shelter”, and ugh. Seems like quite a waste.

      • P.Funk says:

        Unless the moral choices are inserted into the gameplay in such a way that we aren’t bothered by the bland survival mechanics.

    • 11 bit studios says:

      @Kaira – that’s absolutely not the point. That’s exactly the game about the war as seen from the perspective of civilians. And that’s what they do at the war – they trade, they maintain shelter, they hide from snipers during the day and leave only in the night.

      thx
      Pawel from 11 bit

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      RedViv says:

      Well, why not be experiencing the misery that happens because of the real situation in which millions of people each day have to resort to that, instead of displaying that under the premise of a completely fictional threat?

    • SillyWizard says:

      I just recently watched an episode of Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door (tee hee) where he was in…I think maybe Belgrade?

      He had a friend there who described the brief war leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia, and what she described sounded exactly like what they’re going for in this game. (Which I think sounds brilliant.)

      Hopefully the crafting remains thematically sound and is kept to simple, believable items which will help the poor civilians struggle through another day — but either way, the concept is extremely compelling.

      The woman in the Rick Steves episode talked about exactly this — snipers making it a death sentence to go out during the day, and how people would try to meet up with each other at night, and how night was the only time anyone could go out in relative safety to scavenge for food and necessities.

      Sign me up! (To experience it vicariously, from the safety of my climate-controlled office, thank you.)

    • derbefrier says:

      and that will be the real trick. If they cant keep the tension and the thematic element and it ends up playing just like your now dime a dozen survival game the unique premise will be lost.

      was a cool trailer though. I read the comments first and watching the first part I was all like what the fuck are these people smoking? looks like another miltary shooter then it switched over and i was all like ohhhhhhh!!!

    • The Random One says:

      I thought the same thing, but there’s no reason why the survivor genre can’t be used to create a more emotional, involving game.

      Also, NO JOHN YOU ARE THE ZOMBIES heh heh heh

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      LogicalDash says:

      Zombie survival games were “ripping off” concepts from actual survival situations all along. What do you want?

  8. Hunchback says:

    The concept is simply brilliant. Once i read about it, i instantly wondered “How come no one has made that yet, since 9000 years ago?”

    The trailer is very well done. I really, really hope this game will turn out a success, it definitely has the concept potential to be extremely interesting.

    • P.Funk says:

      Nobody ever makes these games because John Q Origin User will angrily tell you that he wants to be entertained, not made to feel guilty about enjoying CoD/BF’s shallow perspective on human conflict.

      • Hunchback says:

        Nah, don’t think it’s that.
        I mean, i do enjoy BF, i’ve played a ton of CoD before it went to shit (read, until CoD 4). *shrug*
        Doesn’t mean i don’t very seriously want to play this game in the making, showing another perspective on things, somewhat more mature and realistic and… horrible.

        But yeah, i guess you are right more or less, it’s not the actual concept of the game but “serious” games as a whole that tend to suffer from neglect, because the majority of the population are sadly, retards. *sigh* (Yes, i am aware that this sounds extremely elitist. Sorry if that offends you, the reader, i am simply using my freedom of speech.)

        • Turkey says:

          I think it’s more because survival has just recently become a thing in video games. Developers have probably had the idea before, they just didn’t know what to do with the actual gameplay part of it.

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          equatorian says:

          Well, they weren’t talking about you, they were talking about John Q. the stand-in for certain vocal segments of the BoF/COD playergroup, who will angrily yell on the internet that he’s stressed IRL and want to be entertained when he plays games and win victories and feel awesome. I’m not saying that they are a major part of military shooter gaming culture, but they’re definitely there, even sometimes on this very website (which tends to lean the other way in general) and they can be loud and righteous when they want to be. No need to take a hit for them.

          And COD before 4 was a very different beast, really. The Modern Warfare CODs have became mostly about the brotherhood of soldiers and patriotism. The WWII CODs were mostly about the tragedies of war and triumphing in the face of it, despite of it. If you like CODs back then, you’re the audience for the kind of thing This War of Mine says it is.

          Unless your name is John Q. Origin User, then yeah, that was uncalled for. (I think the jab at Origin users is unnecessary, though. Sure, it’s the platform for EA games, but what does the platform have to do with it? Maybe John Q. only uses it for Mass Effect.)

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          Harlander says:

          What, is it “everyone is stupid except me” month on the RPS comment threads?

          Oh, silly me. That’s every month.

    • Josh W says:

      Yeah, I’ll definately be keeping an eye on this. I’ve felt like molydeus sometimes bringing up games like this in the context of other war games seeking realism, and I’m really glad to see someone is taking that design challenge on.

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  10. Fumarole says:

    I wonder if the developers have read My War Gone By, I Miss It So. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a look into just how terrible war can be, especially from a non-military perspective.

  11. morgofborg says:

    But war, war never changes.

    Seriously though, it sounds like the game I’m always trying to tweak FO3 / New Vegas into being.

  12. jonahcutter says:

    There’s a lot of very very interesting potential here. But some serious pitfalls too.

    How much is the conflict abstracted into two warring sides and civilians caught in the middle? Essentially neutral to any real world representation.

    Or will cultural and religious differences factor in? Is one side the “home” side, and the other an invading/occupying force? Are there more than two “sides”.

    Take Iraq. Invading/occupying force are the U.S./western troops with their own motivations. Then the “home” side is in reality two main religious factions (from a religion different from the invader/occupiers) who themselves have a difficult and sometimes bloody history between themselves. And even that description is a simplification of the realities of the Iraq.

    But that is a representation of what civilians face in modern warfare. And that’s one of the pitfalls I think this might face. The essential “neutralizing” of all parties for the purpose of not raising the inevitable inflammatory, real-world comparisons. So no one has any cultural, ideological or religious concerns that themselves may be in concert or conflict with the immediacy of survival.

    If they “neutralize” everything, they run the risk of not doing justice to the realities of real-world conflicts. Of exploiting the horror of real-world suffering for what as others have pointed out could be essentially a re-skinned zombie-survival game. But if they don’t neutralize the social, religious, economic and ideological forces at work, they run the risk of propagandizing and justifying real-world behaviors that might be murderously unethical.

    Either path could be exploitative. It’s fascinating. I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle this.

    • The Random One says:

      If you and your family are trapped in a war between a foreign invading force and two local religious militia that don’t recognize you as one of them, the precise reasons why they are fighting are meaningless to you personal story. All you care about is that they see you as an enemy.

      • sinister agent says:

        Not necessarily. Their motivations etc. could be useful if you ever encounter them – you might be able to negotiate a checkpoint or anticipate whether they’ll remain in an area or move on, or even just talk your way out of trouble if you happen to run into a lone soldier.

        Granted, you likely wouldn’t care about their cause or have a preference for who “wins”, and on the ground I’d guess a lot of ideologies and politics become meaningless. But knowing their situation could be highly relevant to your survival.

        • MrUnimport says:

          Yeah, I would find this more interesting, trying to survive between two groups of armed men who want mutually incompatible things, rather than trying to survive between two groups of interchangable baddies who will shoot you on sight.

  13. OJ287 says:

    I was reading an AMA on Reddit by a man who had been in a besieged Sarajevo when he was a child. He said that anybody who didn’t have family to watch out for them didn’t last long. Small cuts could easily get infected and without antibiotics were often fatal. His family had a cat that would bring home dead rodents and birds that would give them some much needed protein. Grim stuff.

  14. Arglebargle says:

    Interesting. Could be terribly poignant. Wonder if they have a ‘run for it’ mechanic. Reminded me of my early teenage years, living in Vientiane, Laos during a fairly ‘hot’ period. We and a neighbor family had a plan evacuation in case of a serious, shooting style coup, with routes preplanned. The goal being to get to the Mekong and float/swim it to Thailand.

    Definitely a game to watch. I wish them luck and inspiration. Could be something special.

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      equatorian says:

      One of my uncles actually was a political prisoner during one of Laos’ ‘hot periods’ and did escape indoctrination camp and swim across the Mekong to Thailand. It’s certainly a grim undertaking, knowing the Mekong.

      I think a game about fleeing and being refugees can certainly be interesting, although I’d like to see it more King of Dragon Pass-styled. Banner Saga was close, but wasn’t quite.

      This game is certainly something to watch, though, I agree.