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Nintendo's new IP, Code Name S.T.E.A.M.: Strategy for a new audience

Nintendo's new IP,  Code Name S.T.E.A.M. : Strategy for a new audience
June 12, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Creating a game that appeals globally isn't easy. By and large, Nintendo has always had global appeal, but sometimes, it misses instead of hits. Platinum Games' The Wonderful 101 escaped the press' notice at its E3 debut, and never recovered. To ensure that this didn't happen again, the company unveiled Code Name S.T.E.A.M., a new strategy game for the 3DS, at its own showcase event.

The game comes from Intelligent Systems, the developers of the Advance Wars and Fire Emblem franchises. It's a strategy game, too -- but unlike those games, it's full-on 3D and plays from an over-the-shoulder perspective, like a shooter.

The game's internal pitch discussion began with these words: "Steampunk Civil War," says creative director Paul Patrashcu. The game, he says, grew naturally from that. "There was so much depth to this, we just rolled with it. It was like jazz."

Producer Hitoshi Yamagami loves strategy games, but he's aware that players can have trouble connecting with the genre.

"I started thinking about why it is that people have this aversion to strategy games," Yamagami says. He started to talk to Patrashcu, an eight-year veteran of Intelligent Systems, who was attracted to the studio by a love of strategy titles himself.

"Why it is that such a wonderful genre like strategy games doesn't have more success? More fans?" The problem, says Patrashcu, is too much abstraction: "Too much abstraction between the player and the game world... And the interfaces we use to interact with these worlds are often quite abstract."

That explains the camera's placement behind the heroes. But the game's design also aims to bring new gameplay elements to the genre, which is also inspired by shooters.

Finishing maps in Intelligent Systems' strategy games is often done in "a linear fashion, almost like a puzzle game," says Patrashcu. Shooters are nonlinear -- you encounter problems in the map and then address them. "We wanted to bring this nonlinear problem solving into a turn-based format," Patrashcu says.

Art director Takao Sakai brought her love of Silver Age American comic artist Jack Kirby to bear on the character art, while the enemy aliens the player will battle were inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's work.

The game starts in London in the Steam Age, though with fantasy embellishments. The closest point of reference would be some sort of steampunk, comic book mash up of Sega's cult classic Valkyria Chronicles with X-Com.

The event it was introduced at tonight was billed as a showcase for a new IP for the 3DS and that's all. Nobody knew what to expect. All the same, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is surprising. It's a blend of East and West -- from its senior creative staff, to its art, and its gameplay ideas.

The design aims, in every way, to avoid grinding and abstraction and keep players moving through its maps: rather than having an overhead map, the player must use all members of the team to get a sense of the battlefield situation.

"The goal of this strategy game is to appeal to as many people as possible," Patrashcu said. "There's a lot of cynicism about the number of shooters in the world. But the reason they are popular is quite valid. The way you move and the actions you do are close to what you do in real life. There's instant gratification. It's very easy to know when you did something right, or did something wrong... We turned to the shooter to make it accessible."

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