By now, you may have watched the stunning teaser trailer for This War of Mine
from 11 Bit Studios. What at first appears to be yet another Call of Battlefield
first-person shooter quickly shows itself to be the other side of the story -- the side of war that video games rarely visit.
"You can read about war in books, and you can see the war in movies, but you're just a spectator," 11 Bit's Pawel Miechowski tells me. "In this game, we are breaking the schemes."
The studio is best known for its Anomaly: Warzone Earth
"tower offense" series, but when Miechowski and co. began reading articles about those civilians who have survived wars in Sarajevo, Syria and the like, the studio's next project was clear.
It was an article called 'One Year in Hell'
that first started the team's obsession with the topic, and after reading many more similar stories via Amnesty International, Miechowski was convinced that their stories needed to be told through the medium of interactive video games.
"When the city is besieged by military, the people just need to survive," he notes. "What we are making with this game is a translation of these real situations. You don't craft things -- you create necessary items like a rainwater collector, soap, a crowbar. You cannot leave your shelter during the day, and you can only leave during the night. All of this we found is how it works in, say, Sarajevo or Syria."
"This is not our vision of war, but a translation into games of war as seen from people who survived," he adds.
In a demo shown to Gamasutra, a group of survivors had found shelter in an abandoned building, and now needed to find the tools and resources to survive during the daytime. This involved sending one person out every night to scavenge the nearby areas, hoping to avoid traps or other survivors.
"We are not throwing moral decisions in your face, but we give you tools to experience everything on your own," he says, "and that's where you decide whether you're good or bad. This is your experience."
Since you have the ability to make these decisions on your own, Miechowski argues that video games are the perfect medium for educating people on such topics.
"You can just give the tools to experience the perspectives, just as you like," he notes. "You can be a cruel guy, or a supportive person - that's your point of view. What we're making here is a game about these situations. We're fully aware of the fact that it's a huge challenge to deliver this, but I'm pretty sure we're going to make it."
"People survived wars, and we're just trying to make it more or less similar to what we know about that. If it turns out people want to talk about the topic, we're doing a good job."
In the game, each survivor has a specific skill set that they bring to the table, and must work together to keep each other alive. As survivors become hungry or fall ill, it's up to the remaining group to keep them in the best shape possible.
Says Miechowski, it wasn't just survivor stories which spurred on This War of Mine
-- the release of Lucas Pope's Papers, Please
also had a great effect on the 11 Bit Studios team.
"It had simple graphics, but very important topics, especially for people from Western countries who can learn what it's like for people getting into poorer countries," he notes. "That game was amazing."
Seeing a game tackle such topics showed 11 Bit that This War of Mine
could easily be a reality. "This is why I talked about breaking the schemes," he adds. "First we broke the scheme with the trailer -- you see this Call of Duty
, yet-another-FPS-style, and then bang, it's not another FPS -- it's the other side."
"Then in the game we are breaking the schemes on another level - we're giving you the tools to decide for yourself what's right and wrong. This is the way we are breaking these schemes. It's time games started doing this."
Miechowski respects that players can opt for whatever experience they choose, and he's not looking to convince young Call of Duty
players that war scenarios can't also be translated into entertainment.
"But I will give the tools to experience the other side," he notes. "If they understand it or not, it's not up to me. I don't expect teenagers to change their minds, but if they do, that would be brilliant."
"Wars will continue to happen, and we should be talking about these important things," the dev says. "People survived wars, and we're just trying to make it more or less similar to what we know about that. If it turns out people want to talk about the topic, we're doing a good job."
This War of Mine
is due for release on PC and mobile later in 2014.