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"As a game design principle, we would sacrifice cool ideas for the sake of clarity every time. If it can be shown in a clear way, [then] yes, we can have that."
- Subset Games' Justin Ma, speaking to Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
FTL developer Subset Games' sophomore effort, the tactical turn-based kaiju game Into the Breach, is all about planning and positioning.
The game clearly communicates exactly what every unit on the map is going to do before it does it, and in a recent chat with Rock, Paper, Shotgun Into the Breach devs Justin Ma and Matthew Davis explain how much trial and error was required to maintain that clarity.
"Our requirement that the player has to understand what’s going on in any situation restricted our game design options considerably," said Ma, explaining that he and Davis ended up cutting unique, interesting weapons and firing patterns because they weren't easy to convey to playtesters.
"You could just see all these damage indicators all over the map," continues Ma. "We were fine with that because we knew exactly what every enemy did and knew who could do what, but it was very clear, as soon as we handed it to someone else, that we needed to make it very clear who was doing what."
What's so interesting here is that Into the Breach has earned remarkably positive critical acclaim since its debut last week, and much of it is aimed at how engrossing and satisfying it is to work through the game's missions as tactical puzzles. While Ma and Davis (like so many devs) recall cut features with an air of regret, the decision to "sacrifice cool ideas for the sake of clarity" seems to have paid off.
Devs may also appreciate how psyched the pair seem to be about one UI feature they believe makes the game much more approachable: animated tooltips which dynamically show how a given weapon works while being used by whichever of the player's units is most appropriate.
"It was so complex to describe some of these weapons. We’d watch a playtester investigate a weapon and they’d just be like, ‘What’ after reading three sentences and still didn’t get it," said Ma. “I still think it’s the most important decision we made about this. You could type out a hundred times, ‘Damages a tile and pushes adjacent tiles,’ but showing that little animation of them moving is a thousand times more effective."
The rest of Rock, Paper, Shotgun's conversation with Ma and Davis about the UI design of Into the Breach is well worth reading, even if you're not familiar with the game.
And if you're looking for more insight into the game's development, the writer of that piece also published a Gamasutra feature last week about how Into the Breach reminagines what failure means in strategy game design.