Frozen Synapse: Beating Mike Gapper


There is more to Frozen Synapse than beating fellow games-journalist Mike Gapper, but I figure that’s as good an entrance point as any into its work of turn-based-tactical-manoeuvring. In lieu of a Verdict or a WIT or something, I figured I could try and explain some of the details of the game which make it so appealing to me, by yabbering over some video footage. Without a script. Or a plan. So, I set my newly-registered copy of FRAPS rolling and talked about the game. Go yabber! Go yabber beneath the cut!

You’ll probably want to up the resolution a little.

Oh noes! I totally forgot to talk about why Quinns and Jim aren’t so into it. Also mention that the game features direct-to-youtube uploading. I bet TotalBiscuit does this sort of thing with notes and thinking about it beforehand. I also didn’t touch on the multi-player or the game modes much, but that was kinda deliberate. They’re splendid, but it’s the core joy I wanted to focus on. Man!

Finally, to be entirely fair to Mike, here’s another game of his where he kicks-ass and takes names.

Though it must be stressed, not my ass or my name. But who would want my name? No-one can ever spell it right.

My ass is okay. It’s not beyond comprehension you may want my ass.

Oh if you’re tempted, there’s a RPS tournament being arranged over in the forums if you wish to join in the shootage. Hurrah!


  1. Unaco says:

    You can tell it’s been a while since Kieron wrote for RPS… There’s not a single pun in this article, let alone the title.

    Been tempted to pick FS up since I first saw it here on RPS… but haven’t got round to it yet, mostly due to my crippling social ineptitude, and inability to find someone I trust to go two’s on the pack with.

    • Temple says:

      Puns are not allowed in comi graphic novels. In all of Keeron’s work I never saw Thor say ‘I’m ‘thore’ after he bit his tongue. Chance missed.

    • Wizlah says:

      ‘you’re thore? i’m so thore I can hardly piss!’

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Wait… Kieron never had a registered copy of FRAPS while he wrote for RPS? But he does now.

      Welcome to the 21st century, KG! Guess what? Duke Nukem Forever is finally out! I know, right?

    • Shadowcat says:

      Wizlah: How on earth did you manage to mess that one up?

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    I should have probably talked about the pricing, shouldn’t have I?

    Pay the full price and just keep the extra copy. It’s a free copy, not two for the price of one. It’s totally worth the money.


    • Alexander Norris says:

      Keep it? No, give it to a friend so they can play with you.

      Also, you have never not sounded bunged up, Kieron. Even in a loud pub, it’s audible.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Well, yeah, give it away. It’s more of the “FREE TOKEN TO GET TRIAL ON MMO” voucher in the box.

      And, no, I’m perpetually nasal. I was born in a Midlands coalmine and have a nose made of soot.

  3. bit_crusherrr says:

    I proper love this game, the soundtrack is brilliant too. Hope it goes on sale in the coming months though as a lot of my chums think it’s too expensive so I have to play solo :(

  4. abigbat says:

    This was great Kieron, love the film/commentary format. Would definitely like to see more of these for other indie titles!

  5. Inverselaw says:

    I should probably mention The Frozen Synapse Cup being organised right now on RPS’s very own forum.

    link to

    Registration is until Friday with the tournament proper starting wednesday after that.

  6. Lambchops says:

    Good to see you’re keeping busy in the mid season break Gillan (oh, how we laughed!).
    I bought Frozen Synapse instantly after KG made me in his first post about it on RPS. I’ve played a bit of it on and off since that time, am still atrocious at it but find it rather enjoyable.
    Also this seems like a good point to mention that there’s an RPS torunament about to commence. There may still be places available (you’d have to ask the oragniser) but it promises to contain many wonderful plans of death!
    link to

    Ah, beaten to it and there are still place remainining. You know you want to.

  7. Baboonanza says:

    I think you’re about to get a lot of challenges KG…

  8. MartinNr5 says:

    I need to play this more than I do (which is not at all at the moment).

  9. karthink says:

    I would play online more often if I wasn’t rubbish at it (12-21). Love the game though; great soundtrack too.

    To people ruminating on the cost: It’s worth it, especially if you enjoy counter strike but don’t enjoy twitch gameplay.

    EDIT: The appeal of this game, I think, is that you can win by a stroke of good luck, but you can only lose if you play badly.

  10. McDan says:

    I’ll use my favourite description of this game: “It’s like cocaine, but in game version.” And I stick to that, as once I start playing during the day I find it extremely hard to stop. Also the music is excellent, although I wish it’d make its mind up as to whether it’s frenetic music or calming music, as I get into the mood for one and then the other kicks in, the relaxing stuff is the best. Join the RPS cup and shoot my dudes in the face people!

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      A line I normally say – but somehow missed out – is that if most tactical strategy games are cocaine, Frozen Synapse is crack. A good kind of crack, but the whole point of the thing concentrated into a short, intense high.


  11. Dinger says:

    So, as a RoboSport veteran, what changes can I expect?

  12. michaelgapper says:

    I’ve yet to win a game of Frozen Synapse against Kieron. Still having fun with it, or I was until he made a mixtape of my greatest shits and put it somewhere people might see it.

    Next time it’ll be Super Street Fighter IV and we’ll sort this shit out.

  13. Alphabet says:

    The game is superb. It’s frustrating until you realise that every single thing that’s causing your frustration (and your chain of losses) is your own fault. Then it becomes compelling and frustrating. Also it’s perfect to dip in to, and you can log on and make your moves, then log off again if time is tight. (Though I do wish there was a sort of speed chess mode, where you have a time limit to move; and the loading screens are annoying. But worth every penny.)

    • Indycisive says:

      Indeed, though I’d personally also like to play a mode in which the game took place in just one continuous turn so you had no chance to alter your plans; fire, fret and forget—any chances of a clean victory.

    • Omroth says:

      This is actually possible Indycisive: Create Game -> Advanced and set the turn length to like 30 and the turn limit to 1.

    • Indycisive says:

      Damnit :D I even went and checked before hand, thanks :)

    • Dreamhacker says:

      Your own fault? Did you overlook the random dice rolls for everything?

  14. mcol says:

    This game is bloody outstanding, I’m (quite unexpectedly) completely hooked. Feels polished and everything just works so well. I just love the way you can have several games on the go at once and just flip between them all almost instantly.
    Dark modes are my favorite, unbelievable tension.

    Being able to simulate your moves is a masterstroke in tactical gameplay, trying to guess what the other player will do, and the sheer JOY when you getting it right.

  15. Wizlah says:

    Hah, I was going to post a thread about it in the forums, just because we hadn’t had a WIT or whatever.


    Apart from trying out X-Com in the last year or so, I’ve been a long time away from this kind of tactical turn based game, so the pace has taken some time getting used to. But it’s very involving and the single-player is keeping me very happy. It’s taking me ages to get the hang of using the grenade launcher effectively.

    I’m scared to go online, mind. Maybe that rps tournament would be a good start.

    Also, it’s a small thing, but I feel the shotgun sound is awesome. Nothing more satisfying than creeping up to a window, popping up and shotgunning someone, then ducking down again, all in dark mode.

  16. Feet says:

    Oh Gillen, you temptress…

  17. Flobulon says:

    So, why aren’t the Quims into it?

  18. billyblaze says:

    Ah, look at that. I found the first person on the Internet who paid for FRAPS.

    • Donkeydeathtasticelastic says:

      Hey, I actually paid for it, as did one of my friends.

  19. Web Cole says:

    Watching through it now. It pleases me that professional game journo types still break enemies down into “Rocket launcher dude, machine gun dude” etc :P

  20. andrewdoull says:

    There’s You Tube uploading? Damn – missed my chance to publish shotgun dude taking out two machine gun dudes, sniper dude and shotgun dude by stepping through a doorway.

    Such a satisfying high…

    • Jugglenaut says:

      All matches are recorded on the server, so you can return to it and youtube it when you want to.

  21. Renfield says:

    It figures that a tactical dream-come-true like this would show up right when I’ve no money available to invest in it. Yet, like anything this skill-based, Frozen Synapse is great fun to watch as well – unless you’re Mike Gapper, or colour blind.

    I can almost imagine a future where competitive tactical games like FS have replaced chess as the ‘thinking man’s sport’, in the public mind. They’re certainly more complex!

    But alas: not likely to happen soon.

    • liance says:

      Renfield: I may have that free copy of Frozen Synapse to give away, being an internet man with no friends. I would be more than happy to let an RPS regular have it. Private message me on the forums if you’re interested.

    • Thants says:

      “I can almost imagine a future where competitive tactical games like FS have replaced chess as the ‘thinking man’s sport’, in the public mind. They’re certainly more complex!”

      Starcraft seems to be on its way there.

  22. Sarkhan Lol says:

    Lol at the dude turfing his own man with the grenade launcher in the second one.

    The radius is always bigger than you think it is.

    • Fumarole says:

      And that is why you run the sim again and again and again until you get the best result you can. That guy could have escaped alive in the replay above.

  23. Christopha says:

    If anyone has no friends, I’ll gladly take the free second copy.

    I have both no money and no friends – that’s what I get for having kids I guess…

  24. Mut says:

    A KG “Let’s Play?” What a nice surprise!

  25. thebigJ_A says:

    Why does this not have a demo? It looks interesting, but I’m not sure if I’d enjoy it, as I’ve never played anything like it.

    With a demo, I might like it and purchase. I’m not going to purchase on the chance I might like it, though.

    Silly devs. demo = chance of getting my money. No demo = definitely NOT getting my money. At least not until it’s disounted.

  26. checkers says:

    I beat you before it was cool! link to

  27. oilpainting says:

    it was a nice place

    link to

  28. medwards says:

    RPS made me buy Frozen Synapse today, and I do not regret it at all.

  29. wazups2x says:

    This game looks pretty good. I might get it if I can get one of my friends to pay half.

  30. Stomatopodal Pride says:

    Frozen Synapse is actually a very good game. It has its flaws, however: most significantly, the map generation and unit positioning algorithms need to be improved, as the server infrastructure does; I would also say that reading those dialogues and playing through the single-player narrative is quite painful, despite the sprinkle of not necessarily bad ideas.
    That said, I only have one recommendation: buy the game, and help them to improve it; also, don’t be afraid to ask questions during your first multiplayer matches, as the community is friendlier than what you might expect based on experiences with other titles.

    • Shadowcat says:

      I’ve enjoyed reading all of the story text. Frankly, it all came as a very pleasant surprise, both because it is actually well written for the most part, and because (as Total Biscuit pointed out in his first impressions video) it gives a campaign that could so easily have been sterile and faceless some genuine character. I was only hoping for good single-player gameplay, but the developers went well above and beyond my expectations.

      I’ve yet to go near their online servers, but with the campaign and the random skirmish options, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth.

    • Stomatopodal Pride says:

      I found the writing mediocre at best; I could explain my reasons, but we are merely judging by different metrics, I would guess.

    • Fumarole says:

      The game has a wonderful community.

      I’ve played ~110 multiplayer matches and have encountered just one smacktard in that time. The rest of the time has been filled with plenty of GGs at the end of games and several have produced memorable conversations and led to rematches even more enjoyable than the first game. I always message a compliment when my opponent does something particularly clever. One of the best aspects is that I can then watch the replay carefully to see exactly how my opponent executed and then add that knowledge to my own bag of tricks.

  31. danimalkingdom says:

    You know what would sell this game to me if it had it? Customisable colours. For the environments, your dudes and the enemy dudes. That’s it. If I could change the colours to look less less cyber-90s and a bit warmer (yellow maybe?) I would buy it.

    That is idiotic but it’s true. I would buy this game right now. But in the absence if fun colour-customising I’ll stick with all the other tactic games I have instead.

    • Shadowcat says:

      You can totally do that.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Wait… now I’m not sure. You can definitely change character colours, but I had presumed that the FC and EC options must be the environmental colours, but changing the values didn’t give me anything other than the standard blue.

  32. Shadowcat says:

    Finally, to be entirely fair to Mike, here’s another game of his where he kicks-ass and takes names.

    Talk about a back-handed complement. That was a game in which Mike’s opponent was dumb enough to blow up his own man with a grenade, which is 100% preventable in this game if you are simulating your turns.

  33. Cooper says:

    Having played the beta heavily about a year ago, then dropping out, I’m loving the motivation to get right back into it that the release has brought.

  34. Dreamhacker says:

    I’m going to have to be the first one to be negative here. Although this is an interesting game, there are several more or less critical flaws:

    -Although the in-game parts are very fast and fluid, the loading times really mess up the tempo. Granted, optimizing the AI move generation probably entails some heavy duty graph theory, but it would be nice to have faster loading, or atleast something to do during load times… a map? Tooltips? Death haiku?
    -The random map generation in the campaign, although a novel feature on the surface, renders the player unable to learn from his mistakes, as every playthrough, every restart completely wipes the game area. Fun on paper, disgustingly punishing in practice. I reccommend hand-crafted levels created with team-based CQB tactics in mind, either individually or as rotating sets of maps.
    -The random unit placement in the campaign, although a novel feature on the surface, not only throws 50% of the player’s tactical options out the window, but throws insults, gasoline, and incendiary grenades after said options.
    -Many of the close encounters seem to rely on a random role of who reacts first. Humans may react slow, but AI can react instantly, so why not take advantage of this?
    -On the other hand, many of the long range battles involving machine guns are entirely luck based. In a tactical game of one-shot-kills, getting lucky shots by full auto spraying across entire levels is not fun, it’s just masochistic and should have been spotted during 0-day playtesting at the latest. Shorter ranges on the fast-firing multi-projectile weapons will not only make the battles more fair and balanced, it will also make them more intense and close-quartered.

    There is a simple reason I prefer turn-based tactical games like Fallout 1-2 and Silent Storm to the FS, Jagged Alliance and X-com breed of TB tactical games: I enjoy it when a plan comes together and when I can learn from mistakes, not digital self-mutilation.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      There is no luck in the combat whatsoever, as elaborated at length in the vodcast.

      I suspect a key reason you’re having problems is that you believe that it is random. For example, the machine-gun duels you’re talking about aren’t luck. The same person will always win, every time in the same situation. If you run the simulation, you’ll see who wins. If it’s not you, you shouldn’t be in that duel. You should duck or take cover or something.


    • Shadowcat says:

      I agree with you about the loading times — I can’t help but feel that there’s something fundamentally amiss there. However, they should only be on the order of a few seconds (no more than 10 seconds on my machine, I would think). I did see someone in the forums complain about the game around a minute to calculate turns, however… if you’re seeing anything like that, I would think that either your hardware is seriously creaky, or you are unknowingly falling afoul of some kind of bug.

      I must disagree utterly about the randomness. Not only does it give the game tremendous replayability, but you’re completely wrong when you claim that it prevents you from learning from your mistakes. You can replay any or all of the past turns at any stage of the game, to see exactly what mistakes you made. That’s how you learn from your mistakes! If you took away the randomness you would take away both the replay value, and the requirement to learn, because winning would just become a matter of remembering what your opponent was going to do. It would ruin the game.

      Also, you are dreadfully mistaken about the role of luck in combat. To the best of my knowledge, there is no luck. The game calculates the victor based upon fixed rules, and applies those rules precisely the same way every time. If you are killed in the simulation, you will be killed if your opponent actually does that. And vice versa, naturally.

      Whoever has the mathematical advantage wins the fight. Machine gun fights are not random. Sure, the game sprays bullets all over the show, but that is just the game’s way of visualising the encounter. The results are pre-determined by the circumstances. So you can find out whether you are in danger from that distant machine gunner by simulating what happens if they aim at you. If they can’t hit you in the simulation, and they actually attempt the same thing that you simulated, then they will not hit you. This is absolutely core to the game.

      The in-game manual lays it all out clearly. Weapons, motion, cover, aiming, focus… these all affect the odds in a known way, which tells you exactly what to do to increase your chances in any given encounter. (If you didn’t read the manual, I hope you’re feeling a bit sheepish right about now.)

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Shadowcat: That’s exactly what he primarily means: “It’s impossible for you to avoid the error you’ve just made by knowing what to do next time”.