Wot I Think: This War Of Mine

There are several ways conflict-from-the-civilian-perspective effort This War Of Mine could have gone. Maudlin, shoegazing dialogue piece; inappropriate And One Shall Rise hero saga; icy-hearted death toll calculator like Plague Inc or DEFCON. What I didn’t expect was The Sims During Wartime.

A surprising change of tack for Anomaly developer 11 bit studios, This War Of Mine sees you trying to keep a group of civilians alive in a country torn apart by war. Food, medicine and other supplies are beyond scarce, thugs and looters occupy the neighbouring buildings, venturing into the wrong area can get you shot by the military – and winter is coming.

And it’s The Sims, mostly, but transplanted from consumerist America to an unspecified (but apparently Eastern European) nation shattered by conflict. Your characters’ motivations, then, are not a bigger telly, a sprint up the career ladder or blurred-out nookie with the neighbour’s wife, but simply eating, sleeping, staying warm, not getting killed by illness or invader. Even toileting isn’t a priority here.

UI is minimal, so you don’t get a food meter or a sleep meter, but simply the damning statements of “tired”, “hungry” or “sick”. It’s on you to do something about that, and often enough you simply can’t. The key dilemma throughout is shared with Papers, Please – on which necessity for survival do you compromise today? Those parts Katya brought back from her last run into a nearby building could build a burner, or a water filter, or a knife, or simply be used as fuel for the rickety stove. Or they could be traded for food if one of the local opportunists stops by your shelter today. There’s never a right answer. Your survivors’ wellbeing will almost inevitably suffer whatever you decide to build them, or feed them.

And even during this desperate struggle for subsistence, luxuries are still needed. Your civilians will see and do terrible things – others’ suffering, others’ violence, their own violence to others – and their mental health will decline for it. A bad cigarette, a bottle of moonshine or a cup of coffee might help them function, but can you really justify the resources and effort necessary to obtain such indulgences when there’s no damn food or firewood?

Those are just the days. The days do become monotonous, because that’s the point. If you don’t have anything for your survivors to do – whether that’s cooking, building improvements or having a smoke – there’s nothing for them to do. They can’t go outside because they’ll be caught by snipers. All they can do is wait for night, when darkness grants some safety in their hunt for supplies.

They don’t talk to each other. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s nothing to say. They do talk to themselves, agonising over the choices they’ve made or despairing at their losses. They repeat the same sentences a little too often, and, aided by the side-on, ant farm perspective, perhaps become too much like insects rather than people. Deliberate, perhaps – scrabbling in the dirt – but the shortage of personality means there’s some unwitting inclination to treat these people as resources rather than humans.

This is never more true when the group grows or shrinks. Occasionally a refugee will arrive and ask to join you – another pair of hands to scavenge and defend, but another mouth to feed too. Just as often, there are losses. One wrong move on those night-time excursions and one of their small group is lost forever. Beaten to death by looters, or by those they attempted to loot, or shot down by soldiers. There’s no mercy here, because whoever’s responsible for this war long ago destroyed this place’s skin of humanity.

There’s no avoiding the potentially lethal duty of the night, however. Someone has to do a run for supplies. It’s primarily for food at first, and junk from which to build a couple of crude beds, but as the temperatures drop they’ll need to find space to bring back firewood too. Or building supplies. Or books. Books are precious, but they also make a flame.

Everything needs to be built, too – the stove, the crowbars and shovels with which to bypass collapsed walls or locked doors, the heater, the rainwater collector and its filters, the beds, the chairs, the radio which brings brief, chilling reports from outside, and the weapons with which the rest of group can try to protect their shelter from looters at night.

This building (rather than, arguably, an anti-war sentiment) is the heart of This War Of Mine. Everything is made from junk, everything only just does the job. Cooking food is building too – a meal needs clean water, firewood and ideally some vegetables as well as some manner of protein. None of these things are simple to obtain, or plentiful if they are found. This War of Mine is really The Sims as a survival game, and with the war itself backgrounded to some degree it’s hard not to intrepret it as more of a post-apocalyptic game than one concerning innocents in a modern-day conflict.

Of course, there I speak from my own soft, fortunate experiences, which are purely those of watching or playing war and post-apocalyptic movies and games. I interpret This War Of Mine as being like those because I haven’t lived in a war-torn place. Reading about the game, its developers have repeatedly stated wartime information such as alcohol being the most-traded item, or health declining because soap was so hard to come by. In any case, perhaps it’s only appropriate that it feel like making do after the end of the world. For the citizens of this blighted place, the world has effectively ended.

Back to the nights. When darkness falls, This War Of Mine stops being The Grims and becomes a fearful stealth game. You can only send one survivor to one place each night – perhaps slightly too arbitrary a restriction, given the group’s desperation – and you can never know quite what you’ll find. The location selection screen will give a few hints – more food, more parts, caution or danger – but these can prove inaccurate, especially as places change over time.

A church I visited in one game was staffed by a friendly, if cautious, priest who shared what he could with me. The next time, looters roamed it, bragging about how they’d murdered the holy man and cleared the place out. The nights are where This War Of Mine is most successful from a ‘game’ point of view, if you want to see it through such an unsympathetic lens, because they are deadly, unpredictable and require patience and planning.

Conflict is possible, but is to be avoided. Because the danger is immense. Because weapons are hard to come by or construct, and soon break down. Because, even if they succeed, your survivors will be haunted by their bloody actions, even to the point of refusing to perform their duties. At first, sometimes hiding in the shadows with a knife, lunging out at a thug’s back as he passes is necessary in order to get back home. Later, gunning other looters down on sight becomes simply the expedient thing. As the temperature becomes colder, so too do you.

There are flashes of light in the darkness – the armed man who invites you to help yourself rather than threatens you, the neighbour who stops by with food because you helped board up their windows – but trust erodes inexorably.

As does hope. Seasons come, seasons go, but the world does not improve. Sims move into bigger houses with bigger televisions. Not a lot of protein in a television, is there?

Whether This War of Mine truly succeeds in saying anything more than ‘war is hell’ I don’t know. Equally, I’m not at all sure it needs to. We play a lot of wars, and it is surely only fair to sometimes be reminded that war is not really about a muscle-bound American man saving the day. It makes its point very well, in that it is harrowing, it is careful, and its increasingly deadly Groundhog day approach supports rather than disrupts the atmosphere of extreme strife. It’s without doubt effective and impressive at what it does. Whether, though, you wish to subject yourself to despair in the name of empathy can only be your own decision.

This War Of Mine is out now.

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84 Comments

  1. Jim Rossignol says:

    This sounds like a fun time.

  2. Palimpsest says:

    Was expecting a more positive review from RPS on this one. Easily as intriguing and cool as Papers, Please and possibly a GOTY contender alongside Alien for me.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Oh, It’s very good at what it does, but I have some degree of dilemma about encouraging people to go spend money on feeling awful about everything, which has caused me to avoid using the usual superlatives of a positive game review. May write upon this dilemma in a separate post.

      Meantime, I tried to convey how the game made me feel (and how effectively it did that) and let people make their own decision from there.

      • paranoydandroyd says:

        Do that post. I’ve found myself in similar situations where I very much appreciate either the form or message of something, but I have some major reservations about actually recommending that someone else play/watch/read it. The film “Titus” and the “Watchemen” comic/film readily come to mind, but there are plenty more like it.

        • heyincendiary says:

          It’s a weird thing, with games. Like, I was a student of English lit, and I read a whole lot of very sad tracts, and I consider those sad things incredibly personal and important to me because they helped me explore a feeling I had, or gain a greater sense of empathy with somebody’s pain. But the thing with games like this – why I could only play Papers, Please or This War of Mine for maybe three hours at a stretch – is that I think that rather than make me empathize with another person’s version of that feeling, they rather make me feel that feeling. And for what might be considered, in entertainment terms, a long ass time.

          It’s like these games are drugs that balance your brain chemicals in just such and such away to get you in the mindset of a wartime civilian or bureaucrat or whatever, but like with drugs, you can’t really reflect about the trip ’til it’s over, you’re just in it.

          That said, my word of advice to people who buy this title: stick it out. The first few hours are stage-setting. There’s not really a tutorial so you just figure shit out, and that’s mostly gathering a bunch of resources, idiotically deciding to build some things because they look useful, finding out a bed would have been a lot more useful, and then restarting. The interesting things start to happen about day 6 or 7 or your survival.

          • Koinzellgaming says:

            It’s interesting as I have a certain Visual Novel (I know I know.) that pretty much destroyed me for a year and like 3-4 years since I went through it I still feel the feedback from what I experienced. It’s not exactly the same as normal games, but as in a Visual novel you do have choices and there is the small amount of interactivity, it just feels so much more personal and it turned me into a emotional wreck. And similar to you I would rather NOT recommend this to others because that pretty much broke me as a person. Though for the most part I’ve gotten far better than I was after playing it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
            A dark and tragic story is the worst kind of game to get invested in with your emotions.

          • 2Ben says:

            Koinzellgaming> may I suggest you to ROT13 the name of the Visual Novel you talk about, so that interested people can have a look? It sounds interesting.

          • Koinzellgaming says:

            Well you asked for this : Zhi-Yhi Nygreangvir

            Though I do think I got too into the story and characters so everything that happened there felt far more real then it should’ve for me. (Considering that most other people just went through the story without it really leaving that big of an impression.)

      • Palimpsest says:

        Fair enough. It doesn’t make me feel awful, but I’m not one for deep feels, especially from games. To anyone reading, I would say definitely get this and worry about feeling awful later.

        • Kitsunin says:

          Personally, I felt a sort of excitement similar to slightly less morally ambiguous zombie-survival type games (this being very similar to them, of course) interspersed with feeling bad about decisions now and then. It strikes a good balance in my opinion, where it’s engaging enough that you can often walk away feeling happy about your progress, but simultaneously reflect upon the actions needed to achieve such progress.

        • kalirion says:

          I remember trying to play an “evil” guy in the original Neverwinter Nights campaign – and what stuck with me the most is how bad I felt after killing a quest-giving NPC for his scythe+4 (after collecting the quest reward of course). I don’t really want to play a game that puts in that kind of position too often.

      • Kollega says:

        Do eet! Doo eet nao! I feel that in this day and age of indie games all about hardships and suffering, this is a very important matter, because some people are more aware of the world issues and/or more easily depressed than others and might not want to pay money just to be reminded of how miserable the world is.

      • Melody says:

        I find that the portrayal (and communication) of negative experiences, and the courage to make the player feel bad (not just in a Spec Ops kind of way, but also, for instance, in a Cart Life way) is vital to the maturity of the medium. As long as games remain slaves to catering to the simple need of enjoyment, games will remain towards the “childish escapism” end of the spectrum.

        Experiencing negative/painful emotions in a virtual space, as proved by every other form of art, is not only an exercise in empathy, but can be a cathartic and valuable aesthetic experience. Would you not recommend, say, a sad song, a tragic play, or a tragic film (e.g. Dancer in the Dark) just because it’s not “enjoyable” in the immediate and shallow sense of the word when applied to games?

        From Liz Ryerson’s blog
        game culture is so thoroughly built around identification with your character avatar that seriously challenging surface reading comes off as a direct antithesis to the conventional wisdom that exists within it. and that’s not to say that big budget games haven’t tried (and failed) to muddy these waters ala Bioshock Infinite or Spec Ops: The Line. but they failed in part because of a large part of the ideology of corporate game design is that players are never allowed to feel serious pain for more than the shortest period of time. and i don’t mean pain to your character avatar, but pain to you, through design ideas which challenge your assumptions or your patience or your perspectives. often people approach games as some sort of sacred escape space defined by a complete lack of ideology. the almost spiritual, religious fervor that gamers approach games with makes it an excellent breeding ground for intense ideological indoctrination. this isn’t rigidly and aggressively applied, but one that is seen as natural and normal state of games to occupy. but that level of deep, almost spiritual comfort games provide make it even easier to actively ignore how strongly constructed that idea of ‘enjoyment’ is in the first place. it also makes that much harder to wage any kind of serious, sustained counter-current against it.
        link to ellaguro.blogspot.com

        Anyway, I’d love to hear your take on the subject, Alec.

        • Garek says:

          Well said. And thanks for the link, very interesting to read.

          I play This War Of Mine only in sessions of like 40 minutes, because it get’s too depressing. But than while I’m sad, because the characters are hungry, and tired, and it’s never enough, at the same time, I’m excited because a game actually made me feel that way. And that game is actually build with a lot of details handcrafted to transfer it’s message. There are sadly very few games which manage to do that.
          I really think we need more games like this.

          Also the comparison to other media is really interesting I think. How many great books, films, etc. are there, which have e.g. a ‘bad’ ending, and are better for it? How many games?

        • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

          Aye, that’s the stuff. Liz is of course the author of Problem Attic, which goes out of its way to be difficult to read and to harass the player, not out of a desire to be difficult by itself (like I Made This. You Play This. We Are Enemies, which on a surface reading might be considered a similar game) but because it is a game about feeling lost, confused and beset by things you don’t understand. I personally couldn’t play Problem Attic (and even took months to figure out it was a pun – woe is me!) but I think it’s a very important game, since the huge misconception it tries to fight requires a huge effort to be tore down.

      • RQH says:

        I can understand that tension, I suppose. But at the same time, it’s hard for us to read your mind, as to whether your recommendation is more muted because of some flaw with the game, or simply because it’s heavy material. I could see how it could be either. Isn’t the beauty of the long-form review that you can express the full complexity of “This is an excellent game, but emotionally difficult” and also that you can trust us, your readers, to decide whether this game about wartime survival is going to be a jolly time, or perhaps something more challenging. Or is “challenge” in games only okay to recommend if it refers to difficulty level?

      • Jad says:

        “I have some degree of dilemma about encouraging people to go spend money on feeling awful about everything”

        A couple of years ago I was reading lots of books, and talking to people in my life about them; recommending many of them and convincing people to buy the ones that I thought were worthy. Then I read We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch, a non-fiction book about the Rwanda Genocide. It was — and still is — one of the most heartbreaking, thought-provoking, brilliantly written, profound, mindset-changing, memory-searing books I’ve ever read.

        I wanted to talk to everyone about it and no one, I wanted everyone to buy a copy of it but didn’t want to tell anyone to do it. When people would ask me “So what have been up to? Read anything good recently?” at a party, I knew that I was about to really bring the mood down.

        So anyway, while I don’t recommend it carte blanche, if anyone reading this feels they are up for it, We Wish To Inform You is an extraordinary book. It will stick with you for a long time after reading it. Just be aware that it will not be a fun read, to put it mildly.

        And on that note, perhaps I should pick this game up. Most of my gaming nowadays is very much of the throw-away escapist variety, but its a good idea every now and then to try to expand one’s mind and emotional consumption.

      • jezcentral says:

        Alec, what about a game like That Dragon, Cancer? Of course, it isn’t done yet, but while I want that game to be out there (I’ve even backed it on KS), I will never want to play it.

      • paralipsis says:

        I’m wondering if hedging one’s position when talking about a game that is supposed to be confronting tacitly minimises it, and by extension serves to reinforce the widespread (and I personally think erroneous notion) that games are only good for escapist entertainment.

        If it does it’s goal really well, I don’t feel like I should have to find that only ever explicitly stated in the comments section rather than the article itself.

        This seems like the kind of game one sits down to play only if you’re in the mood. I don’t know many people who whip up some popcorn and share a few beers over a lazy afternoon’s watching of Schindler’s List, but that doesn’t stop some film critics saying that it’s a good film, even if you do walk away from it feeling a bit shit for some of the unspeakable things people do to one another.

  3. GreatBigWhiteWorld says:

    I went to the effort of logging in, just to say that this game is quite fantastic.

    Pavle and Katia are solid. I actually have developed a crush on both of them given my last successful game and the adventures we went through together.

    Sending Cveta on suicide missions brings some comedic relief to an otherwise hopeless situation. (She claims to be ‘good with children’, but man can she crack a skull with a crowbar when she wants to)

    • heyincendiary says:

      And this is why this game is so perplexing. I just found out from your comment that the crowbar can even be used as a weapon.

  4. Wowbagger says:

    I didn’t find this to be much of a review, in terms of pros and cons, rather a description of what the game is supposed to be like.

    • hbarsquared says:

      That’s kind of what they do here, though. Hence the moniker Wot I Think rather than Gaemz Reviewz Plz.

      • Wowbagger says:

        No it isn’t – not having your reviews marked with arbitrary numbers is one thing, but presenting no actual useful information on how it plays isn’t an RPS thing in general.

        • SMGreer says:

          + Makes you feel awful / – Makes you feel awful

          There, does that help?

        • Alec Meer says:

          You’re exaggerating unfairly, Wowbagger. It’s true that I’ve consciously avoided some traditional dissections or pat conclusions, but criticism and praise is in there.

          • Jakkar says:

            I must agree, to some degree; I read this review through and still have very little idea of whether or not it is worth playing, even by your very specific standards. It wasn’t poorly written as an exploration of how certain features made you feel, but that was it – a vague exploration of feeling.

            I clicked on the article because I wanted to know ‘wot you thought’, after you’d considered ‘wot you felt’, and that was missing. I’d like to read another exploration of this game, if it’s in the hearts of RPS to give it a little more time.

          • jpm224 says:

            What I got from it is….Wot he thinks is that he’s not really sure wot he should think about a game like this. If that makes any sense.

            For what it’s worth, I agree with Alec’s argument that it feels strange to recommend something as “enjoyable” or “good”, when it is specifically designed to inspire feelings of guilt and sadness in the player – however effectively it may achieve that goal.

          • eggy toast says:

            I clicked on this article because the game was a top seller on Steam and I know nothing about it. I read the whole article, and while I know more about it now than I did before, I still have no clue if I would like it or should get it. So, from my perspective, nope not enough.

          • zeep says:

            I feel the same, This article didn’t tell me much.
            It’s like you just write for the sake of making phrases here at RPS sometimes.

          • Doganpc says:

            Ultimately with this review I was left asking myself, “but is it a game?”

            I can appreciate it’s systems, it’s uniqueness in theme and it’s social implications. However for me I don’t think it qualifies as a game. Similar to ‘Papers, Please’ which my friend got and I was curious about. After a while I asked him about how the game played and he felt it was too mundane, too much of a grinding experience. In a way it was like work. Which reminds me of another game, Paranoia. Where the “game” element was in the jackassery around proper corporate procedure and when you work 8 – 10 hours a day living that corporate procedure that system doesn’t feel like a game anymore.

            So while I’m not trying to survive in a war zone, my daily struggles to do meaningful work during the day so I can acquire the things I need to survive very much makes games such as these feel like… not games.

            Thanks for the insight Alec, as I come here to make the best use of my money.

          • LordMidas says:

            I’m pretty sure Alec told you everything you need to know. Do you really need him to tell you that YOU should spend your money. That’s for you to decide. Do you need to be told something is amazeballs first? You should be able to decipher from Alec’s lovely prose whether this is worthy of spending your money or not.

            And is it a game? Well he did say “The nights are where This War Of Mine is most successful from a ‘game’ point of view”. This says to me that nights are more stealthy and require a more traditional gaming mind set. The rest of the ‘game’ is about decisions and concern about how you survive and how to treat your fellow man. Fun times…

          • aerozol says:

            This kind of open-ended writing, about what the author WANTS to write about, is exactly why I’m at RPS, and not at X other gaming review site/ magazine that does purely ‘informative’ reviews. They’re a dime a dozen and I don’t understand why people aren’t reading those if they’re complaining about the way RPS is doing it. Maybe it’s not for you, and even if it’s ‘wrong’, RPS is plenty successful doing it ‘wrong’ as far as I can tell.

            Doganpc, whether or not you enjoy something has nothing to do with whether it’s a ‘game’ or not. Saying “this doesn’t look fun so I wont get it” is perfectly valid of course, but basically if you have a system of rules that exist only in the gamespace and (any) objective, it’s a game. Minus the objective and the title of ‘game’ is debatable, but if there’s a set of rules, it meets the criteria of ‘play’ (regardless of if it’s for fun or not), which some people seem to misunderstand. Semantics, yes, but maybe good to keep in mind that your definition of ‘game’ is not the same as the universal definition and expectation of ‘game’, and using your definition ‘not a game’ as a put down certainly has little relevance if it’s being misused :)

        • heyincendiary says:

          It plays well. The mechanics of balancing your needs vs. available supplies makes you perpetually nervous about what you’re bringing back from your midnight raids, to the point I vaguely considered keeping a notepad by the computer like a shopping list. The raids themselves have this fuckin’ fantastic quality, where circumstances behave like they should in real life.

          An anecdote: around day 7, I decide to try something drastic when I badly needed food. There was an old man and his son that lived in a mechanic shop, and they had tons of valuable resources like hatchets and sawblades to trade, but only for valuable medicine. I knew that if the son, who was standing out front doing the trading, was carrying commodities like that, they must have a stockpile of wonderful shit in the garage out back.

          So I rested up my most athletic survivor, armed him with an axe, and decided to sneak by him to go to the garage. I got ready to jump on the roof, and he came out of the front door and spotted me. Normally, he’d greet me and offer to trade. He normally wouldn’t even mind if I just casually climbed up top. But because I sprinted up there to avoid him, he took notice, followed me up, and threatened me with a pistol. I went to move past him to jump down off the roof to de-escalate the confrontation, and he interpreted it as an aggressive motion and started shooting.

  5. revan says:

    Well, as someone who has actually lived in the besieged city (Sarajevo), I can tell you they’ve portrayed some things accurate, others not so much. First of, judging by some of the pictures in the background during loading screen (UNIS Tower and Parliament, you can see it here: link to en.wikipedia.org), Sarajevo was definitely inspiration if not the place.

    Stuff was indeed made from junk or re-purposed from other, less useful things. Most valuable commodity was not alcohol but flour, coffee, beans, powdered milk. If those were not available, people made their own substitutes. Lentil instead of beans. God, I hate lentil. All kinds of things instead of coffee. I remember my father bringing me a can of Pepsi. I looked at that thing for a week before opening and drinking it, all the while feeling sad because it was gone. There were no drunk people in those days.

    Other completely unrealistic thing in this game is the night time scavenging. People did not break into houses to steal stuff. First, there was curfew in effect, and you would be liable to get shot by your own soldiers thinking you are the enemy. Second, this game portrays people as getting colder and more selfish as the time went on. It was exactly the opposite. Everyone shared everything. People helped each other in ways they would never do today. Notion that someone stole or killed from others is laughable. You have people on the hills shelling you with up to three thousand shells per day, trust me, breaking into someone’s place is the last thing on your mind. You need help. You ask, others will share. Plus, police was more effective in those days then they are today.

    To conclude, this game is a different view on war. There are some mostly accurate parts. Most of it is missed by a mile. Good job on trying, but until you’ve lived through such a thing yourself, you’ll never know what it truly means to be caught in such a situation. I truly hope no one else ever does.

    • Volcanu says:

      Thanks for sharing that, it was really interesting to read the reaction of someone who has lived through an analogous situation. And dare I say it, somewhat heart warming to hear that most people aren’t bastards when it comes down to it.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        “And dare I say it, somewhat heart warming to hear that most people aren’t bastards when it comes down to it.”

        The bastards were up in the hills with artillery.

        • BlackeyeVuk says:

          For war to have, you need two sides.

          Remember that. Goody two shoes.

          • revan says:

            That saying is a load of bull. I remember president of our country saying the same thing in 1992. It went something like this: “Sleep peacefully. It takes two to make a war.” Guess what? It only took one willing to attack another.

    • GreatBigWhiteWorld says:

      Pretty sure the original working title for this game was ‘Kosovo’

      • tanstaafl says:

        Interesting. Thanks for the insight. Their launch trailer specifically references Sarajevo so that is definitely their inspiration.

    • Shadow says:

      Thank you for sharing. I have to agree it’s heartwarming to hear humans don’t always turn into proper bastards in times of extreme need.

      And about the game, well, the vibe I’m getting from it is that it’s the framework of a zombie survival game (Zafehouse Diaries comes to mind) but without zombies. “Durr, so it’s a survival game,” you might say, but the concept seems largely copy-pasted from zombie-related post-apocalyptic designs, thinking the situation would be the mostly same in a war-torn context. And, as revan described, that’s not quite the case.

      • revan says:

        For me, it was Project Zomboid which came to mind. Building a base, scavenging etc. I know one is essentially a side-scroller while the other is isometric, but I felt similar vibe from both games. Haven’t played Zafehouse Diaries so I can’t comment on that.

        Regardless if the developer portrayed things accurately or not, I’m really touched they’ve decided to tackle this topic and in doing so bring it to the attention of gamers worldwide. I look at Aleppo today and my heart breaks because of the hell they are going through.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Thanks for that, Revan. Yeah, as I alluded it sort of feels more post-apocalyptic than wartime, but I didn’t feel qualified to simply state that it was inaccurate in any way.

    • Niko says:

      Thanks for sharing! The part about people getting kinder is especially interesting. Makes one think whether depictions of post-apocalyptic societies are realistic or just projections.

      • Shadow says:

        I suppose things could be different in a post-apocalyptic scenario. I mean, if society’s completely destroyed, it’s easier for hopelessness to set in and drive people particularly nuts. Wars tend to be temporary, so it might be easier to hope for an end to scarcity and a return to normalcy, which is far more distant in a true end-of-the-world context.

        • BlackAlpha says:

          The problem with DayZ and similar games is that the humans effectively turn into blood thirsty zombies themselves. In real life, people don’t really want to attack each other and they will often group up and work together. DayZ and similar games have virtually none of that.

          At least in this game, there are very few people who kill other people. Even the messages of the raids on your house say that you drove the attackers off but you haven’t necessarily killed them. The biggest bandit in the entire game is you, if you choose to kill people. You can also choose not to kill anyone. So I don’t think it’s fair to put this game into the same category as DayZ and other post-apocalyptic games.

          Also remember that this is still a “game”, it wouldn’t be interesting if exciting things only happened once every week and the rest of the week you had to do mundane things.

          As for the OP, good points, but what must be considered too is that there were people who were worse off. You could argue that in this game you play as one of those people.

          • derpinator says:

            Correction. You can choose to group with other people but you can’t trust them… just like in real life. It is actually effective to play the game that way since you get more man power just like real life, you know strength in numbers and all that (bandits do this). The problem with being to many in a group is that you have more people to look after and it can be hard to manage a large group… like: how are you going to share the limited ressources you find? How are you going to hide from other people who wants to steal your stuff (the more you are the more visable you are)? How are you going to trust those people? Who will lead the group or do you assume people will organize themselves? You cannot and I repeat you cannot trust everybody on the planet… there are shitty people on this planet and to assume that everybody would help you and join you is naive and quite frankly stupid… If you view reality that way then you must really have a flawed and naive view on life and Society. And you will most likely be one of the first to DIE if/when the world goes to shit…

            DayZ and games like it get it right… you choose to tackle the situation the way you want and the people around you response in unpredictable ways (since “people” are more complex than scripted A.I). True… people do kill each other a LOT in DayZ, but who chooses to kill? A A.I programmed by the developer? NO… real people just like you and I. It is quite fascinating if you ask me. It is less predictable and more dynamic than a game like “This war of mine” were everything is scripted (I assume). So DayZ and games like it manage to show how real people (player like you and I) would react to anarchy and survival rather than scripted A.I and DayZ (and games like it) provide the tools and freedom to showcase that in the best way possible.

            I am sorry if I insulted you in anyway I truly am, but damn…

        • Niko says:

          Yes, I still tend to think there’s quite a bit of… fantasizing in those scenarios.

    • Chiron says:

      Sounds terrifying, thanks for sharing.

      I was reading some reviews of this on Steam earlier and sounds like a hell of a lot of murdering goes on in it, which put me right off. Sounds more like Dayz than anything.

      • revan says:

        I’ve been playing it for two days now. It’s addictive. I’ve actually murdered only one person so far. Even that by accident. It’s really up to you how much murder you see and commit. Question this game asks is what are you willing to do to survive and how far would you go? In keeping with that, it’s really up to you to decide if you’ll kill steal or help and trade.

    • Atrocious says:

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. I have not played the game yet but it instantly reminded me of Sarajevo. It must have been hell back then and most of us are lucky not to have experienced anything like it. It’s good to know that normal people stay normal and try to get on with their lifes, instead of turning into vicious killers. I honestly didn’t think it would be like it’s depicted in the game. It’s just the post-apocalyptic image that popular culture likes to draw.

    • slerbal says:

      Thank you for posting. That was really interesting to read, though ‘m sorry you or anyone has to go through that.

      So far I’ve “enjoyed” This War of Mine, though perhaps it is more the sense of tension. I’m not surprised the game fails in some elements but I am pleased it has been made and while not perfect I think it does challenge some of the traditional presentations of war. I definitely enjoy it in the same way I enjoy Papers, Please though one thing for sure: even if this game tries to force my hand at any point to become a monster I just won”t (just as I hope I would retain my humanity and compassion in real life)

      As an aside I sold my RPS Horace Hat to buy the game.

    • Hex says:

      Yes, I was hoping the game would be more in-line with what you describe. I recently watched a Rick Steves’ Europe episode which took place in…Sarajevo, I believe. Rick spoke briefly with a local tour-guide about her experiences during the occupation, which were much more in line with what you describe.

      It’s too bad. I think it could have been a great, uplifting-in-the-face-of-the-horrors-of-war kind of game if they’d focused more on a bonding human element as opposed to nothing but horror heaped upon horror. One of the nice things about our species is that generally people are inclined to band together and face trials as a community, not fragment apart and revert to a free-for-all animal mentality.

      :/

      • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

        It’s weird to think that a game that went that way, and showed people getting kinder as conditions became harsher, would probably be seen as wishful thinking or sentimentalism. I was reading something just last week about how darker, more negative experiences are seen as better or more real, but I don’t remember where (Meritt Kopas talking about what games she choses for forest ambassador, I think?) and this game is, I think, a reflection of that mindset. The devs wanted to do something real, so they went as grim and dark as possible because they think that’s closest to real.

        • B.rake says:

          There is a way forcing an oppressive grimness into art is its own sort of falsified maudlin sentimentality. Like revan points out, often its the hardest situations when people are at their best, and often the way people resolve pain is through humor. Recalling some of the best art/work i’ve encounterd on the subject, its often strung through with humor and glimpses of hope or dignity or grace without becoming mawkish. I guess if the explicit aim is to convey the misery and hardship that arise from conflict, the avenues to do so are somewhat restricted. When something is so overwhealmingly grim it starts to lose sight of the things that give that grimness relevance. I was going to say ‘meaning’ but I guess another valid point about war is how utterly meaningless and absurd it appears when contrasted with peaceful day to day life- which I guess is what this game is really about.

      • revan says:

        I believe the main problem with this game is that it presents you with total anarchy, not a siege. It’s important to note, at least in the case of Sarajevo, that there was law and order in the city. Government functioned. There was an entire army corps defending the city. True, most of those people weren’t really soldiers in the beginning, but by 1993-1994 it was a professional army, augmented by pre-war police. There wasn’t really a place for anarchy, even if someone had a desire to commit crime. Simple fact is, if the city had turned on itself, like in this game, it would have fallen.

        And as someone already said, people were expecting things to stop, hoping for it. You would hear rumors that NATO would intervene any day now, or that the army would try to break out. These things were a false hope in most cases, especially the first, but they would lift you up and give you strength to endure a little more.

    • sirax says:

      To be fair: the whole “curfew” thing might depend on the actual situation. I’ve heard the inspiration for this game came from this interview:
      link to silverdoctors.com

      And in that guys city there was no police or curfew, so going out at night makes sense.

      It’s nice to know thought, that even in a situation like this humanity doesn’t always resolve to barbarism…

      • revan says:

        Yeah. It’s possible. This sounds like total anarchy and I’m not sure to which city he is referring to. He mentions 6.000 people which led me to believe it could be Žepa or Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia region, perhaps even Velika Kladuša or Sanski Most in Western Bosnia. But then he says there was an airport nearby. There are four civilian airports in Bosnia (Sarajevo, Tuzla, Banja Luka – under Serb control at the time – and Mostar). All those are big cities. Maybe it’s a military air base. I really can’t tell where this is exactly.

    • Kacper Kwiatkowski says:

      Hi,

      it’s Kacper, one of the game designers. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We’re aware that the game doesn’t accurately portray the situation in Sarajevo, but it was never the intention. Sarajevo was one of the inspirations, but not the only – other include Chechnya, Kosovo or Warsaw after the Uprising. Unfortunately not everywhere people can count on the others like it was in Sarajevo, but we did our best not to focus exclusively on the cruelty, but to show the solidarity as well (for example it’s reflected in the premise of the game, which lets you control the whole group).

      In a way we combined our knowledge about varied real events in one fictional story, where the siege escalated more than in Sarajevo, to the point of an anarchy. So the goal wasn’t to be accurate to any particular historical conflict, but to create a scenario that is probable, taking into account the means specific to the medium.

      But at the same time I’d like to think that what we’ve depicted in This War of Mine is a worst case scenario…

      All the best,
      Kacper Kwiatkowski

    • Wojciech_Setlak_11bit says:

      Thank you, Revan, on behalf of This War of Mine team – I’m one of its members.
      While the siege of Sarajevo was the most obvious inspiration behind the game, it was not the only one. We also drew on our grandparents’ experiences during the II World War (the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944) and many, many other sources.
      So while This War of Mine is inspired by all these events, it does not try to portray any single one of them. In this instance, the biggest differences between the siege of Sarajevo and the situation in This War of Mine are twofold. In Sarajevo the order in the city was maintained by the legal authorities – here the rebels are defending the city against the army and are hard pressed to maintain the control of it, let alone police the streets. And while the Sarajevo citizens were brought closer together because the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ ran generally speaking along the front line (I know it’s a terrible oversimplification) , in This War of Mine the divide can very well run across neighborhoods and even some families, because some people support the government, some support the separatists and the majority doesn’t support either and just wants the war to end. Hence the general mistrust and less cooperation – especially between strangers. Finally, please note that members of the local community (the neighbors in the game) do try to help each other and cooperation is rewarded.
      Once again thank you for your insight. It’s invaluable to us.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Quite honestly, I sincerely believe one gets more out of reading this post than playing the game.

    • LavaLampGoo says:

      Thats really interesting. I’d love pick your brain and write up your story if you’re interested. I think its worth telling. Please let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in.

  6. Jamesworkshop says:

    makes me think of two decades of dignity from family guy

    Peter: [reading a gamecard] For whistling at a white woman, go directly to jail. Aww, man doesn’t anyone ever win at this game!?
    Cleveland: You don’t win. You just do a little better each time.

    • Shadow says:

      I was about to ask. Is there a chance for a positive ending? Or do you just endure until it becomes impossible to survive any longer?

  7. Laurentius says:

    Maybe I don’t deserve good games but there are games that I can’t really imagine myself playing due their theme: most striking contemporary examples will be this game and Prison Architect. I just can’t even though I don’t have any personal experience with war or prison but somehow there are sunjects there are too much for me to handle in video game.

  8. Cyrius says:

    I think the game is great. It forces impromptu decisions in every scenario. I think it is this kind of compromise that more than any game probably evokes the feeling of civilians in wartime. Sure, may not be 100% realistic. It also might not be representative of every conflict, but I think the compromise idea is what seals it for me.

    Do I build that heater? Pavel is getting slightly sick… but we are all hungry. Do I send the expert scavenger for his extra backpack room or the person who can sneak quietly. Its dangerous but we need more stuff… FFS Marin, don’t die. I will get you the medicine. You save on building mats!

  9. Billzor says:

    Is there an end to it? If you survive x amount of winters, does the war end?

  10. WhigBullMoose says:

    “Of” or “of?” I don’t know why but that’s driving me crazy. I mean I know “of” is what is technically correct but the 11 bit website says “Of” (I guess they’re allowed to name their game with the inappropriate capitalization) and everywhere else says “of” but the logo is all caps.

    Anyways, I think I’ll probably get this. Sounds interesting at the very least and I’ve enjoyed the few games from 11 bit I’ve played before. If it does make me feel like Papers Please I suppose that’s a good thing as I couldn’t stop playing it even despite the sense of dread every new day.

    • Neurotic says:

      That’s an interesting point. It is because of traditional newspaper headline writing that we usually follow the ‘lower case articles and prepositions’ rule, although one may possibly be able to argue that it’s not a universal constant.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Whenever I see this title I think

    “This little war of mine,
    I’m gonna let it shine…”

    Guess I’m just terrible.

  12. mlaskus says:

    Fantastic choice for the trailer music by 11bit I must say. Though due to language barrier it’s meaning is lost on most people.
    It’s a Polish song from the early 70s, the lyrics are a metaphor for death. It’s clever enough that I wouldn’t be able to translate it properly.
    Anyway, here’s a link to the full thing: link to youtube.com

    Edit:
    I found a pretty good translation, here it is:

    Purple Watchmaker of the Light

    And when it finally comes to meet him,
    Purple Watchmaker of The Light,
    Who will mix colours in my mind,
    I will be waiting set and bright.

    All of the days will go right through me,
    And everything will disappear,
    I will just throw a final gaze,
    And I will go to unknown place.

  13. DanMan says:

    Looks very much light Deadlight. Is it?

  14. islipaway says:

    What I find disappointing is that at no point in this game do you get the option of asking for help. You are asked for help often. Once you have raided all the safe/empty places you have two options – steal from people who won’t attack you (the old, the homeless) or try and attack a base held by guys with guns, which invariably leads you to combat.

    I’ve had two play through attempts so far, and this has created some interesting story. One character was shot by a sniper helping a man reach his baby, it didn’t kill her but she lay in bed for days and days afterwards consuming all manner of bandages, taking up space in one of my beds, leaving other characters tired and worried about her worsening state, another guy got stabbed saving a girl from being raped. The game really punishes you for taking risks with your characters but if you let these things go on without helping your characters become depressed, it’s an interesting system.

    I found the game got stale after about day 15 on each play through and I’d go through the motions for a few more days then send my people off on stupid missions just to see what the other locations looked like and see how the combat mechanics worked. Is it possible to ‘finish’ a game?

    I think the dollhouse section is the weakest part. It takes too long for characters to do actions, they block each other on ladders the limited space is frustrating. I like the idea of safeguarding and improving the house on a time limit, I just think having to physically move the characters around it is awkward and irritating.

  15. Umberto Bongo says:

    Surprising how many similarities to The Sims it has. Gods Will Be Watching springs to mind, too. Before I played it I didn’t even know whether it was point & click, or keyboard controlled like Mark of the Ninja or something. I agree with the fact that it’s not ‘fun’ in the traditional sense, but I still find it completely engrossing and often play for far longer than I had planned. Whether the gameplay mechanics are actually successful or not, this is possibly one of the most convincing attempts at survival I’ve ever played.

  16. Teal_Blue says:

    Although it is true that artistic aesthetic is something just beginning in games, and that games as a medium deserve the same degree of depth and seriousness that other forms of literature, film or art enjoys, it is also true, that an abstract aesthetic, is rather shallow if we are talking about real depression, real people losing their way and going off the deep end into oblivion.
    For those not so inclined, art can be compelling and deep. For those that harbor sicknesses, or weaknesses, one more element in the world could be the push over the edge.
    I don’t want to belabor this point, I simply work with and know people that this seriousness is deadly for, and so we avoid it at all costs.
    The question for the larger audience is do we do this as an artistic endevor, to enlighten, or do we try to protect those that can not deal with these kinds of things, no matter how hand-holding or reality masking it is.
    Also, just a thought, but it is easier for me to accept this, when it is people I don’t know out there being affected. Less so if my mother has gone down the dark road and I have to take care of her everyday. Even false light in that respect, is still light.
    -TealBlue

  17. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I think you conveyed, very well, that this game isn’t typical and is interesting. I’ll be picking it up of the back of that, it seems to me it succeeded at being what we all wanted it to be – not a fun wargame

  18. Neurotic says:

    For me, the people in the game do indeed have a lot of character. You’re right that they don’t talk to each other unprompted, but when the icons appear over their heads, they can be fed, comforted or talked to. The character comes from the updates on their ‘postcards’, which provide their reactions to various situations and events. For example, Marko, the fireman, reveals himself as a highly principled man, who usually applauds when you help your neighbours and is affronted when one of the group does a bad deed whilst scavenging. The character portraits also blink sometimes, in the manner of those gifs animated with one tiny detail, which is a really nice touch. And whilst their on-screen thought balloons do tend to repeat, they do also express their inner feelings quite well. It’s easy to fill in the blanks yourself and really empathise with the people.

  19. Palimpsest says:

    I just found a huge game-breaking bug, unfortunately. Probably won’t happen for everyone, but at around day 18 I visited the central square and found I could trade with people to get whatever I wanted for just one lump of sugar or a bit of coffee etc. Other people seem to have come across the same problem and say the devs are working on a fix. Obviously I could just not go there but it’s kinda hard knowing this to then risk my character’s lives scavenging elsewhere. So, if not game-breaking, it’s at least tension-breaking.

  20. reptilianbrain says:

    Is there an iOS version coming?