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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Unity of Command


Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, we figure nothing gets people into the holiday spirit like recreating World War II's Easter Front -- and 2x2 Games agrees. Their game, Unity of Command, recreates historical battles from 1942-1943, but more fun, as explained by the team, and developers Tomislav Uzelac and Nenad Jalšovec.

What's your game called and what's it about?

2x2: Unity of Command is a turn-based strategy game about some of the biggest Eastern Front battles in World War II. It's a game that tries to capture the essentials of traditional, hex-based wargaming without being excessively complex.

On the surface, it's your regular strategy fare complete with cute little toy soldiers and tanks. The UI is friendly, the information is clearly presented and the strategic challenge is plain enough: Take your objectives, fast.

As you go deeper, however, you will find there's a substantial historical and simulation component underneath. Hopefully by the time you master the game you'll have learned something new about the grim rules of war and/or the stern lessons of history.

What inspired you to make Unity of Command?

Tomislav Uzelac: Perhaps unoriginally, the original motivation comes from playing the Panzer General series. This is a 90s game that's a complete classic and has seen numerous sequels and remakes and lives to this day through a vibrant modder community.

I can't tell you why that game is so awesome or what made me so hopelessly addicted to it at the time. The fact is that 15 years later here I am with my first game and while it's neither a clone nor a remake, it still has a PG ring to it.

What's the coolest aspect of Unity of Command?

2x2: That you can have a game that feels and plays like the Eastern Front, but with really simple game rules like "armor will get you a long way in open terrain" or "being out of supply is not good."

The supply element in particular is an interesting twist. Your logistical network stretches like veins across the map, and your units need to stay close to it to remain effective or, in fact, alive. This creates ongoing tension as both sides are constantly at each other's throats, looking to form pockets of surrounded enemy units, or to break out of them.

In the end, you will find yourself striking at the enemy supply line almost as often as striking at their units directly. It's a mobile, back-and-forth sort of war where access to fuel and supplies is often the decider, and defeat and victory are sometimes just a mile, or a day, apart.

Nenad Jalšovec: Rumor has it the game's AI developed a criminal personality all on its own during the beta stage. Testers were getting disturbed about how insidiously it plays. Other than that, I'd say it's the look of infantry units which is probably something you've never seen in a strategy game before.

Why did you choose such a historically accurate setting? What does that realism add to the gameplay?

2x2: We always wanted to have a good measure of historical accuracy in the game. Units represent actual divisions and corps and the orders of battle are as close as possible to historical data as we could make them.

Even more importantly, scenarios are designed in such a way to accurately convey the challenges those commanders faced. So, different scenarios require vastly different approaches in tackling them and following the historical playbook often helps.

Do you see Unity of Command being used in educational settings, to help inform students about historical events?

2x2: I'm sure a lot of the players will appreciate the historical aspect. I would say that we did a good job if it gives you, as the player, the ability to visualise how these battles played out in space and time. It's a learning aid, if you will, in addition to being a good old-fashioned panzer pusher.

Anything you'd do differently?

Tomislav Uzelac: No, probably not. The thing is, we didn't know in advance that this game concept was going to work out as nicely as it did eventually. It took us a really long time before we felt that we're really onto something with the game, and from that time on we were fully commited. But no, apart from the long time spent in development, we have no real regrets.

Nenad Jalšovec: On the visual side, can't think of anything really. We gave it a lot of polish. The UI is both eyecandy and highly functional at the same time. We took special care to make all the strategic information as accessible as possible. Compared to other games in the genre I dare to say it can be considered "next gen," graphically speaking.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
This kind of thing is only possible with good internal communication and mutual understanding typical of small indie teams.

Nenad Jalšovec: Well, there are no established gamedev companies near where we live. We had no other choice really. Besides, it's always easier to explore new and interesting concepts in indie mode. The absence of the dreaded "this won't sell" mindset makes for a pleasant and productive development process. UoC broke some hard World War II strategy cliches and it ended up being a better game for it. This kind of thing is only possible with good internal communication and mutual understanding typical of small indie teams.

How did you get involved with the IGF and how has that experience affected your attitude toward indie development?

2x2: Nenad Jalšovec has long been connected to the indie scene through his previous games Rescue: The Beagles and Counterclockwise. With that background, IGF was always on our minds. We do have a great-looking game that plays well, so who knows, we may even make it into the finalists.

Other than that, we've only just submitted to the IGF so we only have experience of their submission form, which is adequate.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

2x2: Absolutely. The idea that anyone, anywhere in the world can create and distribute games is sort of naturally appealing to us. We are removed both geographically -- residing in Zagreb, Croatia -- and in terms of genre. For us, indie is the only way to go.

Sell Unity of Command in one sentence:

There are more explosions per minute than in any other strategy game you've ever played.

What's next?

2x2: We'll try to extend the historical focus to other battles and campaigns of World War II, as we currently only cover the Stalingrad Campaign of 1942-43. We're interested in covering other campaigns, but we've made no concrete decisions yet.

The way we do this is that we focus on a single campaign and then try paint a complete picture. We try to give a feel for the strategy, the forces involved and the general tension of that period of the war.

So, once we decide on a historical period or campaign there are things to do: historical research, 3D modeling of soldiers and vehicles, drawing a new map. But it's what we like to do and it's certainly easier than shipping the game in the first place.

Unity of Command is available now via its official website, on Matrix Games and on Gamersgate. Give yourself the gift of bringing your panzer-pushing skills to the next level this holiday season.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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