It’s been a week since Brass Tactics Arena brought a preview of tabletop RTS warfare to VR, and today, we’re excited to announce the full launch of Hidden Path Entertainment’s clockwork masterpiece on Rift!
Yesterday, we shared an in-depth Q&A with Hidden Path Entertainment Lead Designer Patrick Lipo and Executive Producer, Co-Founder, & CEO Jeff Pobst. And to celebrate the launch of Brass Tactics, we’re sharing Part 2 of our exclusive interview.
What lessons learned from your team’s experience in game development both in outside of VR did you apply to Brass Tactics?
Jeff Pobst: Well, a lot of the strategy game experience comes first from working with Mark Terrano, lead designer on Age of Empires II back in the day. The company then worked on an Age of Empires II HD update a few years ago and has done several strategy games and offshoots of strategy (like Defense Grid 2) since. The team really gets complex systems of balance, economy, combat, and territory control, and you’ll find all those concepts throughout Brass Tactics.
There are some very new RTS concepts in Brass that some people maybe haven’t seen before. The game doesn’t have a fog of war. Instead, we let you see the entire map. At first, people believe this gives them all the information they need. Then, as they work with their units and manage multiple fronts, they learn about an implicit “fog of attention.” You can only look at so many areas on the map at a time, and even with the ability to see everything, it’s easy to miss things.
How does VR up the ante for RTS?
JP: When you can actually see your opponent and watch what they’re doing, you have another thing to worry about. Rather than wondering how your opponent is fighting back, you get some insight into their approach and their intent even before their units have started invading your territory.
We learned a tremendous number of lessons around making a VR interface feel more physical—giving you a comfortable experience where you’re grounded in a room, but also able to manipulate the table easily so that you can see the entire battlefield. There are literally hundreds of small and large VR lessons that have made their way into this game from our past experience—maybe those are best saved for a future blog post!
What kind of reaction have you seen while demoing the game?
Patrick Lipo: I was lucky enough to demo at multiple press showings where people played for the first time. I always feel anxiety when this happens: Will they feel comfortable with moving the table? Will they understand commanding units by dragging an arrow? It was amazing to see them quickly get comfortable moving around and then, almost every time, pull the table right up to their face to check out the little mechanical soldiers close-up.
We showed the game to tabletop players, who immediately compared it to their Warhammer miniature battles. We showed it to hardcore RTS players, who immediately dazzled us with their skilled micro play. We showed it to lapsed RTS players who wistfully spoke of their golden days playing Age of Empires, then enthused that Brass might draw them back into the strategy fold.
Players laughed as Aidan Gillen’s Zavolto reacted to their moves and tried to insult them. Friends challenged each other in multiplayer battles, and it wasn’t always the most competitive player who came out on top. There was even one woman who wouldn’t leave—even when they started tearing down the booth—wanting to play until it was the only kiosk standing. Their enthusiasm just drove us to do even more.
JP: For me, I think the highlight was watching the PAX South Omegathon players find out that Brass Tactics was the game they’d play for their final secret round of head-to-head competition and seeing two really skilled players at a variety of different games go at it in our game that was completely new to them. They jumped right in, figured out the controls in a few minutes, and then were playing out in-depth strategies on the same map that people can now play for free in Brass Tactics: Arena. Meanwhile, Mike and Jerry at Penny Arcade were on stage having a crazy time commenting on the game, the tactics, and the history of the players and how they did at PAX South. It was surreal to watch our unreleased game on a massive livestream with a real prize on the line for the winner.
What do you love most about developing games for VR?
PL: We started to experiment with VR just over two years ago, and I immediately fell in love with it as a medium. It was—and still is—a nearly blank slate, with very little established methods to interact with anything. What’s an ideal interface in this world? How does a player make choices? How do we convey complex information?
It feels like a return to another time, over 20 years ago when the earliest first-person shooters were being made. The control schemes were not yet established, and we were free to experiment and explore. It’s a vast frontier of possibilities, both daunting and tantalizing.
The best part of the “Wild West” of VR development is that everybody is pretty open and communicative because none of us know what the best way to do anything. Sharing is common, and everyone is humble and eager to learn from one another. It’s a refreshing place to be.
What unique challenges have you faced?
PL: The most challenging part of developing Brass was simply getting our head around the play space. We worried that players would react poorly to having a table “slide into” their bodies. We weren’t sure how precise our controls could be. We tried dozens and dozens of table configurations and movement methods, from long tables and turntables to globes and rotating barrels, until we came up with our “table-throwing” movement and “grab-and-point” command method.
Through all this, we maintained the maxim that we wanted our game to be as tactile as possible—and to not simply re-map the interfaces and menus found in 2D strategy games to a virtual space. We designed systems and unit controls that could accomplish the same thing, but they were always about movement and tactile feedback. While there were many challenges to make it feel right that we had to iterate on, we’re pleased with how all that effort paid off.
How would you describe a day-in-the-life at Hidden Path Entertainment?
JP: Hidden Path Entertainment is a group of about 40 folks working on multiple games at a time. We want to make really fun and engaging games that are easy to get into and typically have a lot of depth to them there for players to discover. While one group is getting ready to launch Brass Tactics, another is working on an early prototype of a completely different experience, while a third is finishing up pre-production on a third game that we hope to bring to players in the next year or so.
With all that going on, there’s a lot of creative conversation and a hum of activity around the studio every day. Artists, programmers, designers, and producers all sit together and approach problem solving from a variety of perspectives. Something that needs to be adjusted might be fixed with a programming solution, or a clever art change may make that programming solution unnecessary. A particular gameplay strategy might not be as supported as we’d like, and while a designer could change the fundamental variables of the game, another team member may have a suggestion that changes very little, but opens up that strategy in a new way. The kinds of conversations that you hear as you walk around the studio are really interesting, fun, and engaging.
We get to work with such a passionate, smart, thoughtful, and collaborative group, that it’s really fun not only to be making games for the audience, but making games with this team of people who all care so much about the fun that our players are going to have.
Thanks again for sharing your insights, Jeff and Patrick. We can’t wait for the VR community to weigh in with their thoughts.
Get down to Brass Tactics on Rift today!
— The Oculus Team