Revealed: Gratuitous Tank Battles

Today we got to see Positech’s sequel to Gratuitous Space Battles for the first time. Logically enough it was called Gratuitous Tank Battles, because it features a multitude of tanks, and even robots. However, it was very nearly called Gratuitous Trench Battles, and even “Over The Top”, and you can find out why by reading on, below…

Those of you who dabbled in Gratuitous Space Battles will probably recall that the experience was a little unusual. It was a space fleet manager, rather than the real-time strategy you might have been expecting, and that experience that threw a few people. This was a game where you were the admiralty, rather than the commander, and you simply set up your fleet and your tactics and let the game play out. Terrestrial sequel Gratuitous Tank Battles is a little more hands-on than that, because you can direct a little of where the action is going. The basic premise nevertheless remains the same: intense tweaking and customisation followed by epic, gratuitous battles. This isn’t about fleet battles in space of course, but gigantic assaults on the ground. It is about sending tanks, and mechs, and millions of tiny men to their deaths. It’s still based in the Gratuitous idea, but this time it’s actually a tower defence game. Sort of.

Gratuitous Tank Battles is a far more substantial offering than its predecessor. There’s a campaign mode right out of the gate, for one thing, but Cliffski is also talking producing a menu of game modes: “I want all the game modes I can think of,” he tells me, and that sounds like a lot of game modes. His references for this new game are diverse: the history of 20th century warfare on the one hand, and PopCap’s Plants Vs Zombies on the other. “I suppose what I really want is Blackadder Goes Forth with lasers,” he explains. What he is referencing, of course, is the final season of the classic British comedy in which ignoble servant of nobles, Edmund Blackadder, is doomed to serve in the trenches of World War I. In Cliff’s Gratuitous Tank Battles universe this war has never really ended, and now – in 2114 – two hundred years of war have resulted in trench warfare which is just as likely to see the deployment of hapless men with rifles and gasmasks as it is great stomping robots. Gratuitous Tank Battles is the whole of modern warfare and its sci-fi future. Tanks of all shapes and sizes are pitted against vast, mechanized defences: WWI style meatgrinders of the future through which your army must pass.

This means that there are two sides to every battle, and in the campaign mode you can choose whether to attack or defend in each scenario. As an attacker you must send in your army of tanks, soldiers, and robots, in a number of waves. Your plan is to wear down some of the enemy defences, and absorb the punishment they dish out, in order to get a certain value of troops out through the exits on the far side of the field. As your units travel you can direct where they fire, allowing you concentrate their efforts on particular towers, and sticking points that might be troublesome to pass. The real trick, of course, is to have made the right kind of customisations to your units in the first place. As a defender your have to set up your grid of towers in the most economical fashion, paying attention to firing arcs and potential kill-zones. Cliff illustrates some of the detail of both sides by slowing down time. He says he’ll even be leaving frame-by-frame tools he uses for development work in there for players to pay meticulous attention to what is happening in their battles.

The core of the game, however, is not the campaign but instead in taking on customised attacks or defences created by and downloaded from the community. This was arguably the most successful feature of Gratuitous Space Battles: being able to upload your fleet build to the game and download other folks’ builds to try your luck against. This led to all kinds of committed nerdery which Cliff is hoping to see repeated here. Only this time there are asymmetrical possibilities, since you can both attack and defend. Everything can be customised, and that goes for visuals, too. Even the tank turrets can be swapped out for something sexier, on your whim. Cliff is expecting people to produce their own visual motfis, so you might just recognise the pink and yellow liveries of the Rossignol mechanized cavalry from one user-made scenario to another. The real challenge will be in create impenetrable defences, or unstoppable armies.

The focus on vast battles from the off is largely due to Cliff’s own response to RTS and tower defence games. “I hate how usually these games start so slowly, with just a couple of units, or one tower,” he explains. “What you want is hundreds of units right away, and therefore hundreds of explosions. That just makes for a better game.” Cliff is also not a fan of the generic “upgrade” of many RTS or tower defence units? “Upgrade? What do they mean?” he asks. “That’s not specific enough for me, I might want to upgrade just the rate of fire, or the ranger.” This hunger for tinkering is reflected in the unit editing screens that sit at the heart of the game. This time, though, there won’t be 47 types of plasma missile to confound your decision making, and the selecting will be pared down. “No spreadsheet learning curve this time,” he promises. There will still be the trademark depth and complexity of army-management, however.

There are some big challenges ahead for Cliff – a balancing nightmare for one – but it’s looking strong, far stronger than the original game. We’ll be looking forward to see more in the coming weeks.

Gratuitous Tank Battles is scheduled to appear later this year, probably. And it will most certainly have a demo.


  1. BrainCandy_Yshaana says:

    Way to go Cliffski :D! It looks like a lot of fun.

  2. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Well this could be interesting. I could never get into GSB, despite it looking fabulous when battles are in full swing. Hopefully I’ll find this one more approachable.

  3. johnpeat says:

    Putting the word ‘Trench’ in a game’s name might not be terrifically wise right now…

    link to

    Is ‘Trench’ Portugese for ‘Edge’ perhaps? :)

    • Echo Black says:

      That would be “trincheira”

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      The stupidest thing about this dispute is that there’s already an iOS game called “Trenches”, which has been sold in Europe without any problem.

    • Dominic White says:

      No, the stupidest thing is that (as far as I’m aware), Microsoft have IP-locked a game so that even if you have access to the US Xbox Live page, you still can’t buy the game. Sony at least seem to understand this ‘region free’ thing.

    • drlemon says:

      But it’s called gratuitous TANK battles!

  4. Mr_Day says:

    I know how he feels about tower defence games, restart a level and you pine for when things were hectic.

    Also, if it has achievements, I would like one to be titled “Gratuitous Angry Houses”.

    • johnpeat says:

      Good Tower Defense always has a rewind/checkpoint system so it never gets too-much less hectic…

  5. karry says:

    So what you’re saying is Positech actually made something that resembles a real game for once ?

    • johnpeat says:

      I cannot wait to hear how GSB doesn’t resemble a ‘real game’ – or Democracy for that matter??

      I’ve not played the others and so cannot comment on those but clearly you have – so…

    • Dominic White says:

      Karry is our resident joyless troll. Ignore him.

    • ArcaneSaint says:

      Can we feed it?

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      When people use that sort of phrase, I always wonder what a ‘fake’ game is. You buy a game in a shop and when you get home you find there’s a Phil Collins CD in it? Maybe every game is potentially a fake game, but we only find out when we take out the disk and put it in our PC. Until then, of course, it’s 50% Phil Collins and 50% Darwinia.

  6. Taverius says:

    I hereby declare myself intrigued.

    Which is to say, he’s almost certainly got my money :D

  7. Fred Wester CEO of Paradox says:

    So no Gratuitious Tits and Boobies then? I am very disappointed.

    As are all my fellow ornithologists.

  8. Abundant_Suede says:


  9. TechRogue says:

    Cliffski, if you’re readng this, please show Linux some live this time around. :)

    • Tusque D'Ivoire says:

      GSB worked just fine for me “out-of-the-box” with Steam and PlayOnLinux

  10. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    Can’t wait.

    I loved GSB, and this seems to even out some of its weaknesses.

  11. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    If there are alternate strategies as DLC, Im not buying this. You shouldnt have to pay for counters.
    For example, for a good while of the time I played GSB, The Tribe were by far the strongest race.
    Who you had to paid extra ontop of the game to unlock.

    Great stuff.

    • johnpeat says:

      erm – that’s like saying there are things in Assassins Creed 2 which would have made Assassins Creed 1 easier/more enjoyable and that you should get them for free!?!?

      Should all DLC/Sequels only contain inferior things then? :)

    • Tusque D'Ivoire says:

      umm, granted, the GSB DLC was good, they were proper Expansions, new missions, new ships and everything that merits good DLC.

      BUT: DLC is not the same as a sequel. no, just no! If DLC boasts simply better content and beats people who don’t own that particular DLC it should be despised. Sequels may do that, as the content from a prequel doesn’t take part in it.

    • ArcaneSaint says:

      He’s not talking about sequels, but DLC. Say that in AssBro, there was n upgrade to your character that would enable you to win almost any multiplayer game with little to no skill required. The only way to acquire this “uberweapon” is as extra DLC. This way people who have only payed for the game itself are put in a disadvantageous situation to those who have paid for the optional DLC on-top of the game.
      In SP games I don’ t really minds such things personally, but when multiplayer games are clearly in favor of those who spend extra money I get a bit frustrated myself.

    • johnpeat says:

      erm – so you’re saying that playing against people WITH the DLC is unfair?

      TBH I didn’t think you COULD play against people who had DLC you didn’t – I’ll admit, if that’s true, that it’s a bit sketchy…

      Can you not choose to shun those who insist on spending more money???

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      You couldnt play against them, they could play against you,however.
      More, the DLC would effect people who didnt purchase it. Imagine in rock paper scissors (Or more of a 7 way one) where scissors is missing and has to be bought(In GSB there are 4 starting races and I think 3 DLC).

      Sure the game is balanced, and could be balanced perfectly.
      Unless you happen not to have bought scissors. Suddenly, paper is impossble to destoy, and paper never wins against rock, your only optoion is to pay for scissors.
      So, single player DLC is fine, but not multiplayer games, and not multiplayer counter based ones.

    • johnpeat says:

      That’s weird – I’ve never played it online, I just like making spaceships and letting them loose – but I’d assumed that all players would need the DLC for anyone to play with it – otherwise it’s unfair, as you say – :(

    • cliffski says:

      Everyone does need the DLC in GSB to play against it. You cannot ever play against a fleet that you yourself could not build

  12. Rii says:

    I never got around to GSB despite being mildly intrigued each time it came up. I’ve a similar reaction to this announcement. Hopefully it’ll all end more productively this time around.

  13. Dana says:

    Noo…not the tower defense…

  14. Tei says:

    I think Cliffski is on something here. No one before has done a really “militar” “strategy” turret defense game. Is like Cliffski was not tryiing to make a turret defense game, … it just “happened” and “made sense”. Day one buy for me :D.

  15. BathroomCitizen says:

    I like the graphics. They remind me of the glorious ’90s.

  16. Radiant says:

    Cliff ‘the other Cliff’ Harris

  17. The Innocent says:

    This looks excellent. I’ve really enjoyed some of Cliffski’s games, and this looks it’s bound to be the best of them.

    Any chance we RPSers become the beta and balance testers? Eh? Eh?

  18. MajorTomG says:

    This looks much more like it. I tried to get into GSB but struggled to play on after a few battles.

  19. Man Raised by Puffins says:

    Colour me intrigued.

  20. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    Speaking of which, is GSB with the expansions worth $40 on Steam? It seems awfully expensive for a little Indy game, or am I just being cheap?

    • wyrmsine says:

      I enjoyed it. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, fortunately, there is a demo.

    • jconnop says:

      It’s a great game for sure. Tbh though, I’d only pay about $10-15 for them (which I did, when they were on sale).

      They’ll no doubt be on sale again sometime, be patient or fork out full price now. Either way you should buy it.

    • Starky says:

      Honestly, no it’s not worth $40 – It’s a decent enough game (above average, but shy of been great). You can get a lot more gaming for your money than that price, not even counting crazy steam sale deals or such. Just regular retail for games about the same age will net you 3-5 games of equal or better quality for the money.

      Honestly I’d say it is worth £10 or $15 – below that you’re getting a bargain above that you’re paying too much.

      Of course fans may argue it is worth it – but if you compare it to what else that $40 could get you in gaming quality/hours it isn’t even close.

      Try the demo though and if you love that, it might be worth it for you.
      Of course fans may argue it is worth it – but if you compare it to what else that $40 could get you in gaming quality/hours it isn’t even close.
      Try the demo though and if you love that, it might be worth it for you.

    • Wilson says:

      I would say it depends on how much you click with the game. For me, I had plenty of fun with it, but I didn’t buy any of the DLC, and I wouldn’t say it was worth $40, for me. I wasn’t unhappy with the (I think) £15 or so that I spent on the base game. However, if you really get into it and spend a lot of time with the online challenges and stuff (which I never did) I expect it could be worth that.

    • mwoody says:

      It was less than half that in the Steam Summer sale, which ended yesterday. I’d wait for it to go on sale again.

    • skinlo says:

      I think Cliff goes for the strategy of selling less, charging more, as opposed to the opposite by most indies. I’ve forgotten the reason, but he did talk about it in a talk once, which there was a video for.

    • Rii says:

      “I think Cliff goes for the strategy of selling less, charging more, as opposed to the opposite by most indies. I’ve forgotten the reason”

      A distinct aversion to the idea of folks playing his games, perhaps?

    • Khann says:

      I think it was something like “My games are fucking great! Fuck you little indie bitches charging less than me and devaluing the entire industry.”

      Something like that.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      It’s not a crazy strategy. Jeff Vogel wrote this more than a decade ago, and he’s stuck by it. The difference, IMO, is that Spiderweb usually delivers value for money, whereas GSB doesn’t. It’s fundamentally the wrong type of game for a large-ish price tag, and it’s far from perfect even in achieving its own goals.

      Very much looking forward to GTB, though.

    • cliffski says:

      Every time I lower the price of my games, I makes LESS money in total. That is a FACT. You can argue about what the average gamer wants to pay, but from a pure business decision, it’s just impossible to dispute this, because I have the sales figrues at different price points and nobody else does.
      I do actually know what I’m doing in that area :D

    • jalf says:

      Every time I lower the price of my games, I makes LESS money in total. That is a FACT

      This isn’t the first time I’ve puzzled over this, but you seem to attach such a strange meaning to the word “fact”. I’m sure it’s a fact, just like it’s a fact that I’m sitting in front of a computer right now.

      But it’s not a very *interesting* fact. It only tells us what has happened when you adjusted the price of certain games in certain ways at certain times in the past.
      But you seem to want to use this to prove that “lowering the price of my games is *ALWAYS* going to make me less money”.

      And that is not a fact. Not even if you write it in capital letters.

      Yesterday, this was posted, highlighting the FACT that someone made more money by lowering the price of their game.
      Again, it’s an indisputable FACT. Just like yours.

      Your FACTS don’t give you a perfect model of “how much would I sell if I priced my game at X$”. And pretending it does just makes you look silly. They don’t (and can’t) take into account a vast number of important factors, Changing the price has an effect on sales, sure, but it’s also pretty important *when* you do it, what you do to let people know about it, how many people are still looking to buy your game and so on.

      The interesting question isn’t so much “if I decide *today* to lower the price of my games by 20%, with no consideration for other factors, and without doing anything else, will I make more money”, but rather “is there a way in which lowering prices can make me more money?”

      You’re free to price your games any way you like, and you don’t have to justify the price to *anyone*.

      But if you *try* to justify it, do it with serious arguments, and expect people to actually discuss those arguments, and try to find flaws in them.

      It might be a FACT that you didn’t make more money the last time you lowered your prices, but it’s not a FACT that you’ll get the same result the next time, and it’s not a FACT that “the lower price, and nothing else in my business model is the reason I make less money when I lower prices”.

    • cliffski says:

      Well I’ve been running positech for 14 years and selling those games at different price points over those 14 years, so I think I do actually know the right price points for my own games better than anyone else.

      Linking to data on some other developers games is so irrelevant it’s funny.

      You have NO IDEA how many copies GSB sold at different price points, and yet you are a bigger expert on data you have never seen than the person who actually has it.
      That’s some special magic power you have there.

      I don’t mind people criticising my games, I like to hear gamers views on them.. But saying I am WRONG when I say that lowering the price reduces my profits is just silly. I have tried what these people suggest. It did not work. How much more clearly can I express that?

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      I’m curious to know how many copies & how much money Terraria has made by selling at £6 (and £4.50/£3 during the Steam summer sale). It’d be quite interesting to see how that compares to Cliffski’s games.

      I purchased GSB with the first 3 DLC races a while ago when it was on a Steam sale. I was intending to buy the 4th DLC race & campaign mode DLC during the summer sale just to throw a few quid in Cliffski’s direction but it completely slipped my mind & I’m quite glad it did now after reading the preceding comments.

    • drlemon says:

      I would reccomend buying the core game if you like the demo, and if you want to, any expansion packs that intrest you. I would reccomend “The Order” dlc, because that is my personal fave.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      @Malibu Stacey

      I think it’s terribly unfair to compare Terraria to GSB. Terraria has a much broader appeal than something like GSB, the audience for which is sadly, distinctly finite. My sister plays Terraria for pete’s sake, and she tends to think of PC gaming as “minesweeper”. In Terraria, you jump around and shoot stuff, and collect mushrooms. That particular gameplay experience is deep in the genetic memory of any person raised in the last 30 years. She is not likely to recognize strategizing over the meticulous tweaking of equipment loadouts as a game, no matter what price it is. She didn’t buy Terraria because it was cheap. She bought it because it was Terraria, and would have paid twice the price.

      It’s difficult to qualify exactly what sort of a game GSB is, but it does fall vaguely under the strategy umbrella, and is fairly niche at that. Niche strategy games routinely sell at the upper range of such games, and don’t benefit from price reductions, because they know their audience is limited, and they know they offer that audience something they get in few other places.

      That said, with apologies to Cliffski, I probably would not buy the GSB bundle on steam at a non-sale price, now that the hand has been tipped and we see that significant discounts are likely from time to time. But that goes for any game on Steam. The non-sale prices on Steam are inflated, and rare is the game that has the power to make me buy it at full Steam markup. However, $40 for the complete bundle of an older game does feel like ten bucks too much, in my opinion.

  21. MrTambourineMan says:


  22. JB says:

    Certainly looking/sounding interesting. One to watch!

  23. icupnimpn2 says:

    As a follow-up to GSB, what I really want to know is will it let me have an apostrophe in my player name?

  24. pupsikaso says:

    Wait, it’s TD? Again?

  25. Chris Evans says:

    I approve :D Spoken to Cliff about this (not online yet) and it does sound very very good.

  26. Kakrafoon says:

    Cliff, you are the Master. Master of all armoured warfare, that is!

  27. Lazaruso says:

    GTB, eh? I bet it’s just GSB with guns.

  28. Jezebeau says:

    I’ll wait until there are also three or four ridiculously overpriced DLC offerings packaged down to less than Cliffski would deign to accept is a fair price for what he’s offering before I even consider buying anything further from Positech, especially considering how many bugs and balance issues still plague GSB.

  29. Retribution says:

    Wasn’t really taken with Space Battles, but this looks fantastic

  30. innociv says:

    REALLY awesome logo there.

    I enjoyed GSB. But, going back and worth with match setups on the net got boring after just a week.

    If this doesn’t have a more “real” multiplayer, I think I’ll probably pass or wait for a really cheap sale.

  31. Ovno says:

    Looking good and probably well worth the money…

  32. Bhazor says:

    Tower Defence? I totally called it.

    link to

  33. Temple says:

    I feel dirty clicking through to this from Kotaku.
    Just wondered what would happen :)

  34. Reapy says:

    I grabbed GSB from some of the indie steam sale packs back when. I really wanted to like GSB but I think I’m at a point where I just didn’t have the patience for learning how everything works. In a way I felt like GSB was like MMO raid post analysis where you look for crappy DPS and watch healing/damage spikes and what not.

    I love analyzing stats, but I prefer to spend more time in the action. So GSB was a really cool concept and I liked the style of it and everything, but I think coming in blank without knowing the weapons and not even knowing how to analyze properly was too still a cliff for me to climb without a huge pile of treasure waiting for me that I could see. Even the behaviors of the ships were confusing, you come out of the gate not knowing what is effective or what to do, and it is hard to understand what factors are driving certain behaviors of the AI.

    Anyway, this theme seems pretty interesting and it sounds like hes working to curb the barriers I had getting into GSB, because ultimately I do like the concept of heavily customizing a fleet/army, hope the game pans out well.

    • cliffski says:

      Your thoughts mirror exactly my aims with designing GTB. I’m aware iof the number of people who ‘bounced-off’ GSB because of the steep learning curve, and I wan’t to fix that with this game. Basically GSB tells you how the GUI works, and then leaves you to experiment, which is how I personally enjoy playing, but generally, these days gamers prefer a more explicit walk-through in terms of strategy, and explaining the choices available.

      One of my major aims with GTB is to get that sort of stuff right first time.

      Hopefully, with the game being similar in some ways to Tower Defence, a lot of people will get it much quicker, and not be thrown by the complexity.

  35. timmyvos says:

    Who’d notice another mad man around here?

  36. Shadowcat says:

    Have we actually reached the point where it becomes necessary to explain the phrase “Blackadder Goes Forth”? I am deeply saddened.