Splendid streamlined strategy game Into The Breach was almost our favouritest favourite game of 2018, delighting with its honed focus on big robots smashing bugs in turn-based tactical action. It was once a far bigger, more complex game than that, mind, with a sprawling metagame of research trees and rebuilding the last cities of Earth and… it didn’t work. These work-in-progress versions worked so badly that creators Subset Games have revealed they almost gave up on the game entirely. Thankfully, in this timeline they cut all that back down and successfully finished making the game.
Matthew Davis and Justin Ma of Subset explained their missteps to Jason Schreier on Kotaku’s Splitscreen podcast.
“It was literally years of just banging our head against the wall, trying to get something to work and be fun,” Ma said. They twigged that the game’s combat was interesting, he explained, “And then we spent forever trying to make a meta-game around that. Is it XCOM? Is it other types of tactic games?”
Which are questions they explored with five “completely different” iterations, most of which ended up in the bin. At this point, I’ll turn you over to Kotaku’s transcript.
Justin: We had city-building. We had multiple squads. All that sort of junk. The closest thing to our eureka moment was just literally, ‘This part of the game works. This part of the game doesn’t work. Cut all that, and just focus on the part that does work.’
Jason: Which parts didn’t work?
Justin: Everything besides the combat. So maybe 60% of the game, we just dropped it all and say, ‘Okay, it’s just a bunch of missions in a row. Screw it.’ We know that the actual combat, which is the entirety of the game as it has released, that was 30% of what we were hoping.
Matthew: We were hoping for that more XCOM experience where you have lots of missions popping up with times and alerts, and your people get hurt, and you have to devote resources and time to fixing them or healing them.
Justin: Repairing the city.
Matthew: We had huge research trees, repairing the cities.
Justin: We had the FTL text events where your equipment and your mechs would change the options.
Jason: And what wasn’t working about that stuff?
Justin: All of it. It was just terrible.
Jason: So you’re just playing it and it’s not fun? How do you even know, ‘It’s not fun because this isn’t working’?
Justin: That’s the challenge.
Matthew: There is an element of just an intuition that this doesn’t feel right.
Justin: Matt would be largely the gut check person. You were coding the whole thing, and so I would be in the trenches of trying to iterate and iterate on micro-design, and then Matt would have a chance to boot it up to play and be like, ‘This is all terrible.’ And we were like, okay. Back to the drawing board. Scrap all of that. Let’s see what we can do.
Reader, they did good. The idea of Into The Breach with a broader metagame is an interesting one but, as is, the game works because of its tight focus. This may be the first proof that our own timeline isn’t wholly cursed.
Having saved Into The Breach for us, presumably Davis and Ma are now preparing to warp to one of the other timelines where they had given up or it just wasn’t that good, lending support and perspective to steer development away from disaster. Opinions vary on whether they’ll ever save everyone or are even just creating more flawed timelines, but they have to believe they’re doing the right thing. Godspeed.