This War of Mine preview: war and peace

By Ozzie Mejia, Mar 28, 2014 11:00am PDT

Forget everything you know about war's portrayal in video games. It's not glamorous, it's not an adrenaline-rush, and it certainly isn't representative of real war. Until now, war in video games has been portrayed as a black-and-white struggle, where the main goal is to win. But there are no winners in war, especially when you're a civilian on the battlefield.

This War of Mine from 11-Bit Studios is a grim look into wartime from the eyes of civilians, an idea inspired by real-life events. The objective isn't to win, it's simply to survive. To learn more about the game, Shacknews got to take a first look at the game with senior writer Pawel Miechowski.

This War of Mine begins with the game's main objective, which is to survive over the course of 30 days. The game plays out over a 2D perspective with a hand-drawn black-and-white sketch art style. You control members of your family in your war-torn home. Family members are procedurally-generated and each come with different stats and different qualities in which they excel. For instance, one might be strong, another might better in the kitchen, while another might prove to be a better handyman and work better with tools.

Players must determine who can do what with the limited resources available. Miechowski showed me an example of one of the game's harsh choices, showing only one mattress available. The player would have to decide if they should keep the able-bodied adult well-rested or allow any of the younger members of the family to get some rest. Despite how this might sound, This War of Mine is not a tale about morality.

"We are not throwing moral choices at you," Miechowski said. "I am just giving you the tools in the form of a game to experience everything on your own. The experience is very important, because it's about war as seen from the perspective of civilians, how they suffer and what decisions they make. But I am not saying how you should behave. You should make those decisions."

Miechowski then showed me the scavenging element of This War of Mine. In the middle of the night, supplies begin to run low and somebody needs to go out and make a run for essentials, whether it be food ingredients, clean water, building tools, or weapons for self-defense. Players must then make a choice of who heads out to scavenge, who rests up at home, and who stands guard. The consequences are heavy and the choice is far from easy. For example, Miechowski sent out his most rested, strongest party member to forage for supplies. While he could have sent out a younger party member, his swiftness would have meant little, since he couldn't carry as many items as a stronger man.

Though the scavenging party member was able to bring something back, leaving a weaker party member to guard the camp turned out to be a mistake, because a scavenger invaded and stole some of the party's wood and sugar. A lot of thought is required, which Miechowski points out is a harsh reality of wartime.

It's also a stark reminder that the military isn't necessarily the biggest antagonist during wartime. Miechowski points out that when everyone is struggling to survive, everyone becomes a potential threat, which is illustrated throughout the game. However, that's not to say you shouldn't trust anybody at all. During Miechowski's supply run, he ran into somebody that lost his entire family and was on the verge of starvation. The player can choose to provide him with food, which could lead to him becoming a valued ally. The trade-off, of course, is parting with a piece of food, which is a valuable necessity. Refusing to help the stranger also runs the risk of the person turning hostile and potentially attacking with a concealed weapon.

Each new day begins the cycle anew. Players work with their supplies to make sure everyone's fed, nourished with clean water, and cleaned up with soap or other hygenic items. Characters can also use supplies to build new supplies. For example, Miechowski took some wood and build a bed to give some of his party members a better night's rest. Resource management can prove incredibly stressful, given the high stakes involved, especially when more than one action icon presents itself. Do you use your extra wood to build that bed or do you use it to build a fireplace to keep everyone warm? Choices will only get more stressful, as Miechowski points out that as time goes on, colder weather will begin to set in.

The intention of This War of Mine is to communicate the grim atmosphere of what it means to live through war. To this end, Miechowski points out that 11-Bit hopes to ship with the ability to place your own pictures to your characters, in order to help give sessions a more personal touch. It's a part of the game's overlying message.

"The message is that it could happen to your city, to your country," Miechowski said. "It doesn't matter if you're American, Japanese, Polish, Mexican, it completely doesn't matter. When the war breaks out, you'll need to fight for food, water, and such things."

This War of Mine appears to be early in development, but Miechowski is optimistic that the game will be ready for a 2014 release on PC.

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