This weekend at PAX South, conference rep Daniel Emmons interviewed PR manager Karol Zajaczkowski and writer Pawel Miechowski at 11 Bit Studios about their latest PC game This War of Mine. The interview included a look at the game's origins and a gameplay demo. TWOM is a unique take on the war survival genre. It focuses on the civilian experience rather than military ones.
The devs provided as much realism to the game's war-ravaged settings as it did to the practical and moral consequences of players' choices. It's a realism that is based upon actual historical places and events, specifically the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992. You can watch the full interview on PAX South's Twitch stream, but we've provided a breakdown that explains the highlights. The video interview begins at 26:40.
To survive in TWOM you must maintain a small group refugees held up in crumbling apartment buildings within a besieged city. Switch from one character to another allows you to assign tasks like sleeping, scavenging, digging, guarding, etc. The timeline cycles through day and night scenarios where survivors can rest within their protective structures safe from snipers, and then scavenge at night.
Miechowski stated that the team's depth of research was motivated by a need to pay a "proper respect" to telling a realistic story about the casualties of war. This research even went so far as to interview living survivors of the Sarajevo siege. Miechowski explained that many different approaches were implemented in TWOM's gameplay to bring about the realism of war. This included not only imagery and story line, but also other decisions like the absence of a tutorial. Rather than introducing gamers to the mechanics, they are left to figure it out on their own--much like real survivors.
In explaining the slow pace of the game, Miechowski explained how research of journals of survivors revealed that, "war was actually on one hand brutal, but on the other boring. In a sense there was a tension because you didn't know what was going to come for one day to the next." This was something the devs wanted to have players experience.
The game's devs also put a lot of thought into making players' choices have heavy moral consequences. You certainly don't have to be a "good guy" to win the game. Aggressive, thieving, and selfish actions can help you survive at times, yet there are real physical and emotional prices to be paid. "You can be a good guy or a bad guy, but when you see the consequences of your choices, you become your own moral judge," states Miechowski.
At one point during the PAX South demo, the character ran into the home of an elderly couple's with very little left to survive. Taking their last resources was physically easy but emotionally difficult. The devs seem to refuse to let you proceed with a clean conscience.
While moving throughout the couple's home, robbing them of their last possessions, the old man even followed the player around. He pleaded that his wife was sick, that the player was leaving them to die. In short, the devs never let you off the hook, shoving the moral implications of your actions directly in your face. It's an ambitious and quite extraordinary approach to gamer immersion within a platformer.
This War of Mine was released back in mid-November and is available on Steam for PC right now. Look for our full review of the game coming soon.