Jagged Alliance: Flashback ::: Interview

In the second half of our interview with Full Control we focus on their new project, Jagged Alliance.

In the second half of our interview with Full Control CEO Thomas Hentschel Lund we put Space Hulk to one side and focus on their new project. Funded through Kickstarter, Jagged Alliance takes an RTS of old and brings it into the modern day.

7outof10: With Space Hulk well planned out, your next project is a reboot of Jagged Alliance. Please can you tell us a little about it?

Thomas: The overall setting for Jagged Alliance is that you’ve two layers: a strategic layer that you can think of as a map with an overlaid chessboard, and every square/coordinate on that is a sector, and every sector is similar to an XCOM level. So you have a sector that could be the SAM site and if you take that you could free to transport your troops with helicopters within that area. There’s a sector that could be a mine and if you capture you’ll get additional income through the game. So every day you’ll get extra income from all you captured mines and what you then use that for is to hire mercenaries. You have multiple squads of mercenaries that you move around on this chess board taking sectors and playing out a story but overall it’s a free roaming world with around 120-130 individual sectors.

The best way of saying it is that every sector is an XCOM level where you have transportation between them and as you play the game you can capture trucks to drive on the roads instead of having to walk. You can capture the airport which means the helicopter becomes available, you can then fly instead of drive troops about. And if you get attacked down in a city which you took some hours before and the AI comes up with a squad of soldiers and tries to retake it you can have a ‘copter fly you into the city and actively defend it rather than the militia you’re training there.

So it’s still a turn-based strategy game on the lower layer with a further the strategic map-based approach on top of it. It was first made some time in the mid-90s and then at the end of the 90s they made a second version of it and after that not much had happened with it. Some years later Bit Composer bought the license and they made an RTS out of it and by itself it was an ok game but seen in the context of a turn-based strategy approach the hard core fan base hated it.

Sort of like how the fans reacted to the shooter reincarnation of Shadowrun a few years back?

Yeah, or if XCOM had a first-person shooter suddenly. It’s that kind of “what the hell just happened here?”

And that has in some ways alienated the community from the games that were made. As I say, they weren’t necessarily bad games but there was something else that people wanted. The old vocal ones at least. So what we did was say to Bit Composers that we wanted the license, and we wanted to try and take the old mechanism, the mechanics of the strategic layer and the tactical combat, with a new story. We want to then run a Kickstarter on that and try and engage the community to make the game that you failed to do.

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What was so special about Jagged Alliance to you?

It was one of those games that I played when I was young. Or at least younger. From the turn-based strategy point of view there were three games back in those games: you had XCOM, you had Fallout and then you had Jagged Alliance. With the two other ones they were flagships and they’ve gotten another life. Fallout was taken in a completely different direction, XCOM is now a shooter and a really good turn-based remake. Jagged Alliance got stuck somehow.

Meeting the Bit Composer guys and knowing suddenly that they had the license and I had access to, it was an opportunity that I knew I could do something with, something I had liked in my past if I pitched it right. They were very open to giving us access to the license and doing the Kickstarter with it. That turned successful and it was a great opportunity to go with.

Do you think they were influenced by your enthusiasm?

I think so, yeah. I mean for the Kickstarter we had to fight really hard. Very hard; we’re not going to be doing that again within the near future as it kills you.

I take it from that that it was hard work going through the process?

Not only that but it’s hard work before the Kickstarter goes public as you have to create game designs and have to negotiate licenses. Then when you engage with the community they’re asking for all this other stuff that you didn’t think about. We spent a lot of time on our website with forums and such like but nobody was using the forums, so all the effort that went into that was basically lost.

We should have done a small slice of a demo instead and during the Kickstarter we had to actually produce one on top of everything. Boy, that was tough. We made a still diorama scene in Unity so you could move around and see what everything looked like.

To give them a taster?

Yeah, that was what we came up with in such a short time frame. We couldn’t do any game mechanics in that time so what we ended up doing in this little 3D diorama scene shows a firefight in the art style that we thought could be really cool. We’re taking a realistic approach but tweaking the colour scheme to be more vivid to give it a cool visual style instead of going AAA photorealistic… kinda boring.

Did I say that?

We did it in about two-and-a-half weeks; we made all the models, all the textures and got it running. And we should have done this from day one instead of the website but you don’t know that until you’re sitting in the middle of the campaign with people screaming “what’s it going to look like!?”

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I guess you can sit and think of everything but there’s always going to be one more question

Yes, oh yes. I guess we didn’t know that the Jagged Alliance crowd was going to be so serious and if you look at other Kickstarters ours has 13,000 comments and with the same amount of backers they have about 400. Maybe because they have a much clearer product, but hey. If you come with a concept then people are going to be asking a lot of questions, especially with a game that they feel they have been burnt with earlier and where there is a lot of specific detail. Some guys want ammo to count in the weight, someone wanted you to sleep and drink and eat and that that should be a part of the game, other players are not as hardcore. I don’t want to go that hardcore. Though someone did send me a full six pages saying what they wanted me to do with this game.

How did they shaped up? Have you started on the detailed design yet?

We haven’t started up full production just yet as most of the team has been producing Space Hulk. What we’ve done since the Kickstarter up until now, based on the feedback, is concentrate on the the overall story. What is this game played about?, so when you see the intro all the way down to the outro of the main story that’s now in place. We’ve setup and created the map that is the strategic layer, so there is an island group and there’s transportation vehicles between them with boats and so on. Then we’re sitting down and seeing about making up this chessboard, plotting the key locations: you have a city here, a mine here, a capital right here and even saying that you’re going to go in and meet these mercenaries in these locations.

As part of the licensing deal we also got a load of the art assets that were used for the previous games so we’ve been through and catalogued those to see which ones of those are usable in the new game so we can see what we need to create. The lead guys from Space Hulk are now going to go over and flesh out the assets and gets artists up and producing so we can sit down and level design to get a vertical slice of this tactical game. We’re going to give it out to the backers and say “hey, this is how you’d play the game on one sector, what do you think?” And then we’d flesh that out.

So you’re having a dialogue. Asking those who’ve funded it what they think so far?

Yeah, that’s how we want to. That’s the spirit of the Kickstarter. Of course we need to control it somehow as if you asked a thousand people they’d have a thousand different opinions.

So we want to take it up to a level where we show it to people and get their opinion on some of the details, tweak it, twist it, make sure 80 or 90 percent of people think it’s cool and then we go finish the game based on that. So releasing it out to the community in small chunks.

There’s also the balance of not giving them the story, as you don’t want to give them the entire story script up front and tell them what they’re going to do. There still has to be some kind of surprise when you play the game.

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How long do you think this drip feeding will take place over? When’s the final release?

When you look at it from a budget point of view and a production plan we were looking at fall or winter next year for the final release. There are some factors that can tilt that in either way, for instance if a lot of the assets that we have can easily be converted into our art style and there are only so many assets that we have to create to build all the levels then it might go a little faster.

There’s also the option of releasing the game on Steam Early Access, maybe. And that would on one side give the game out to people faster, on the other as well give us more budget to make an even bigger game.

How easily is the Space Hulk engine transferable to Jagged Alliance? I guess if you’re reusing that it’ll save some work.

Yes. We have Unity underneath, a 3D game engine that we coded a turn-based framework on top of it. Space Hulk is the fourth strategy game that we have and we’re using that to add new features on so that we can make bigger and bigger games iteratively.

So in theory we could see a similar setup to Jagged Alliance appearing in a Space Hulk campaign?

Not really. Well, we could take the Jagged Alliance system and transfer it into the game that’s going to be after that. Bigger and better all the time.

Thank you very much to Thomas Hentschel Lund for taking time to speak to us. Space Hulk is out now through Steam and coming soon to iOS. Jagged Alliance is under development and scheduled for next year.

About James Thomas

I make my living as a programmer at a British games developer. In my spare time I try and spread myself between writing, gaming, drumming, goalkeeping, rolling dice and keeping my hair blue. Somewhere around that my wife fits in. Disclaimer: the views expressed are my own and do not neccessarily reflect those of my employer.