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How Chucklefish Designed Wargroove

Gaming article by Austin Suther on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 14:00
Feature
Developer
Chucklefish
Publisher
Chucklefish
Release Date
February 1, 2019
Genre
Strategy
Monetization
One Time Purchase
Purchase (Some links may be affiliated)
Humble Bundle Steam

It's been over a decade since the release of the last Advance Wars. With developer Intelligent Systems focusing more on its fantasy turn-based tactics series Fire Emblem, many fans had given up on seeing a Wars game any time soon. But some semblance of hope returned in 2017 when Chucklefish unveiled its latest title: Wargroove. 

Wargroove takes inspiration from the gameplay and aesthetic of legendary strategy games like Advance Wars. This studio went about designing it by taking what worked from the previous Advance Wars games and put their own twist on it. We interviewed Finn "Tiy" Brice, founder of Chucklefish and Game Designer for Wargroove, and talked about how Wargroove came to be.

 

Origins of Wargroove

Chucklefish is known for publishing games such as Stardew Valley and Risk of Rain, but the studio has some serious development chops: the studio created the sandbox survival adventure Starbound. Tiy himself even worked on Terraria. And now, Chucklefish's next in-house developed game is Wargroove. Chucklefish started out by making the game that the studio's employees wanted to play.

"We couldn't find a modern game that satisfied that desire," said Tiy, "so we set out to make one ourselves!"

Of course, you might remember another game that was being developed by the studio before Wargroove's announcement. Called Wayward Tide, it was a "co-operative top-down action adventure game" with a pirate aesthetic.

 
Sadly, we decided to focus on Wargroove and Witchbrook instead! Wayward Tide simply wasn't working out for us and there was a huge amount of passion in the studio for Wargroove at the time. It made sense for us as developers to be working on something we felt was special!
waywardtide
Maybe we'll see Wayward Tide in the future?

While the team at Chucklefish had prototypes of different units, mechanics, and art styles, Tiy says they had a "fairly strong idea" of the direction they wanted to take Wargroove from the start. "There were some petty cool things that didn't quite make it into release but might show up later on!"

Legendary Inspirations

Wargroove pays homage to some of the industry's most revered strategy titles, such as the obvious Advance War and on a lighter level, Fire Emblem. Wargroove, although having its own spin on the genre, still takes some elements from its predecessors.

"I think the most important aspect we've carried forwards from those games," said Tiy, "is their focus on accessibility, whilst still providing a game with a lot of depth and nuance."

 

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Tiy says he and the team particularly like Andy's games in the Advance Wars series, those being 1, 2, and Duel Strike.

Throughout development we didn’t really revisit AW to reference any particular mechanics or gameplay nuances, however Advance Wars was a great baseline for just how fun and accessible a strategy game could be.
Advance Wars and Fire Emblem can be difficult and even overwhelming on higher difficulties. Tiy notes that while strategy games can be intimidating, the aim of Wargroove is to "blur the lines between deep strategy and pick up and play party games."

Besides those two titles, the Chucklefish team are self-proclaimed turn-based strategy fans. Tiy says the team members are fans of games such as Wesnoth, Tactics Ogre, Shining Force III, and Disgaea. "Having a broad view of the genre helped us zero in on what was fun and what wasn't about the current state of TBS."

Advancing Turn-based Strategy

Wargroove's gameplay comprises commanding one of four factions (or a single one in the campaign) and strategically routing the enemy or fulfilling another objective to win. Units have advantages and disadvantages against the enemy's troops. This sort of works like Fire Emblem's sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword gameplay on a larger scale. There are commanders on the field that use powerful abilities called "grooves" that can, for example, heal units within a certain radius.

wargrovoe3
This dragon unit is doing a number on Greenfinger, a Floran Commander.

 

"With Wargroove, we aimed to make games snappier than existing turn-based strategy games," said Tiy, "which often grind to a bit of a halt when one player begins to win." Tiy says the addition of commander units and their groove abilities allow the ability for games to be won (or lost) quickly and can open up the opportunity for comebacks. "Games of Wargroove are very dynamic and often explosive, with clever plays turning the entire battle around."

Equally integral to gameplay are normal units. Tiy says designing these was an organic process, and, for the most part, there were only a few that saw any sort of significant evolution.

Luckily our engine allows us to plug in new units extremely quickly, often some placeholder art is drawn up and then we take these units away for some internal multiplayer testing. Once we have a unit that's fun and satisfying to use our testers get involved and the units are adjusted and balanced over time.

The Art of the Groove

Like Advance Wars, maps feature terrain that can affect gameplay. There are even biomes in Wargroove. Maps also serve as a complement to the story. "Maps are always designed with gameplay in mind first!" said Tiy. "The gameplay should be a metaphor for the narrative that's playing out and help the player relate to the character's struggles." Expect the story's content to reflect on the map. Tiy says that if the in-game player character is feeling overwhelmed, then the player themselves should too.

Indeed, Wargroove will follow a story. Chucklefish gradually introduced a narrative in Starbound, but Wargroove isn't an early access title. "We learned a lot about tone and deliver from Starbound (often from our mistakes!)," said Tiy. "Wargroove's story is a lot punchier with a much tighter and cohesive narrative."

wargroove3 2
Story is played out in cutscenes and during missions.

 

The team has even included an impressive amount of cutscene content in the game. With one main campaign and four different factions, there's a lot to see here. This story will revolve around Mercia of the Cherrystone Kingdom:

Wargroove's story follows Mercia as she suddenly finds her world turned upside down by conflict and is thrown into a role as queen that she's not quite prepared for. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to pet Caesar (Wargroove's premier dog Commander).
The story and gameplay all unfold to life with Chucklefish's signature pixelated style."Each time we approach a new title we really want to raise the bar on pixel art!" said Tiy. The aim with Wargroove was to be friendly, approachable, but also nostalgic. They've differentiated themselves from its inspirations by adding hundreds of frames of animation for the game's units.

Prepare for War

Wargroove's release is nigh, but not everything made the cut. It's just a part of game development. That means that Chucklefish cut units, game modes, and mechanics, but Tiy assures us that they could reappear later. One cut unit includes the assassin. This sneaky individual could kill commanders in one hit, but they would be incapable of surviving combat with any other unit.

There's also ups and downs to game development, and so there's bound to be challenges on the way. This is especially so when a developer is inspired by highly-revered titles.

Perhaps the most difficult part of developing Wargroove was attempting to build on a formula that's already so well refined and so unique in a way that drives the genre forward. I'm proud to say that we've done that and Wargroove really stands apart with its own rules and feel, whilst still maintaining the accessibility and depth that made games like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem so much fun.
But even if you're intimidated by the challenge that turn-based strategy games might offer, Tiy assures you that single-player offers customizable difficulty. "It's so easy to pick up and a joy to master," said Tiy.

Wargroove is launching on February 1, 2019 for PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, with the PS4 soon to follow. Stay tuned to TechRaptor for more Wargroove content.

About the Author

austin

Austin Suther

Staff Writer

I love to write, and I love to game. So, I've combined those two hobbies into one! Some of my favorite games include Fire Emblem, Halo, The Elder Scrolls, and World of Warcraft. Sometimes I like to read the occasional fantasy novel, too!