Broken Lines interview: Exploring the grey area of war

Shacknews sat down with developer PortaPlay to chat about their upcoming story-driven tactical RPG Broken Lines.


We all know the history behind World War II. But what if the script were flipped and certain aspects of the historical event were changed?

That's exactly what developer PortaPlay hopes to explore with its upcoming title Broken Lines. It follows eight soldiers who find themselves having crashed behind enemy lines. You must help side them home while fighting off advancing troops as they continue to deal with the horrors of war.

Shacknews sat down with PortaPlay's creative director Hans von Knut Skovfoged to chat about Broken Lines' story, its gameplay loop, characters, and what we can expect to see from the game when it debuts. 

How would you describe the tactical gameplay in Broken Lines? Is there a game it's similar to?

Skovfoged: Our original ambition was to make a game that had the “Core combat of Frozen Synapse, the accessibility and customization of XCOM, and the storytelling and atmosphere of Banner Saga, or as we jokingly called it: Company of Heroes for gamers who like to relax while they play.

So while we like the style of Frozen Synapse’s combat, we tried to make something that was more streamlined and easy to play, while being more tactical. This meant we had to do a lot of work on AI, realistic combat mechanics (like ballistic and AOE damage simulation), weapon stats, and soldier customization for starters.

How many missions will be available throughout the game since they read as being "faster" (possibly shorter?)

Skovfoged: Well short is a relative word :) A typical mission takes anywhere from 25-50 minutes, depending on your playstyle. We also have a checkpoint system and a “retry” system if you want to replay missions to see if you can do better. So, if you’re someone who is determined to do the absolute best you can, then you’ll get even more time out of the game, as you can retry missions as much as you like.

It's a breath of fresh air that you've included a couple of female soldiers with Rosie and Brenda, though the character descriptions read that Rosie only ever gets close to Brenda. Is there a reason in the story beyond her being "guarded" for this, and does it hint at a relationship?

Skovfoged: Good question. I can reveal that, like a few of the other soldiers, they are not without their troubles and have a lot of “emotional baggage” they carry with them. They haven’t had the best of luck with the men around them, which taints their views on their comrades.

But, I won’t spoil what exactly can happen in the story. I can say that it is up to you as the player to decide how it eventually plays out. The same holds true with the development of the rest of the characters and the outcome of their journey - you are the invisible hand that guides them and decides their fate!

The campaign looks to play out in visual novel-like segments intertwined with regular gameplay. How did you decide to use this design rather than traditional cut scenes, if that's the case?

Skovfoged: That is true. We have combined some classic 2D cutscenes with a lot of illustrated text events and RPG-like dialogue between the characters. We really want to try and combine storytelling and combat as much as possible.

We have some classic structure - intro and ending cutscenes, as well as debriefings after a mission. But we also mix everything up with character dialogue and other in-game events.

This approach was a lot more flexible and cost-efficient than classic cutscenes. It meant that we could spend more time on tweaking the combat gameplay and storytelling.

Do you have any plans to come to consoles beyond Switch (and PC)?

Skovfoged: Yes - we are looking into it. We plan on porting it to PlayStation and Xbox eventually, and we might bring it to tablets. We can’t guarantee this yet, but we will make sure to keep our fans updated!

Can you tell me more about what makes the story an "alternate" version of World War II?

Skovfoged: The game is grounded in history and reality, but with added fictional elements. So there are no space-germans, alien tentacles, or magical artifacts. But we do take some liberties in other ways.

The game starts with a transport plane carrying a mixed group of veterans, reserves, field-medics, and engineers who crash-land in a fictional land somewhere in Eastern Europe. This land features a made-up language and opponents which may be neutral or might be hostile - you are not 100% sure. There’s also a mysterious, and sinister, fog creeping across the land.

Without spoiling the story, we can say that there is both a “plausible” story and a “mystery” hiding in the fog - and you as the player can choose which to believe. But we are pretty sure that fans of both classic WWII storylines and alternative-history fans will find something to like within the story.

What kind of "mental and physical horrors of war" will the squad be facing?

Skovfoged: We wanted to do a game about the “grey area” of war. In Broken Lines you end up in an unknown area, without a mission and no knowledge of the enemy’s motives. But one thing you do know - a lot of people have died and something weird is going on. The challenge is to choose what you believe, and act on it - while realizing the collateral damage you might be causing.

Squad infighting, skirmishes with masked and unknown enemies, weird weather and the fact that they might not make it home alive - all takes its toll on the members of your squad. They slowly lose composure, becoming more and more unbalanced and deranged. Soon, they start doing whatever it takes to survive, even if it means there’s “collateral damage” among the civilian population.

Should they steal valuables from a senile couple on the brink of death? Should they give food to one of their teammates, who is soon about to crack and desert them anyhow? Should you sacrifice one of the men, to possibly save a few civilians? These are just a few examples of the horrors they’ll face, and the choices the squad will make.

Broken Lines is a game that looks at what people do under pressure. And how fighting with purpose - for what one believes is “the right thing to do” - might mean forgetting about the possible consequences for others.

Can you describe what the typical gameplay loop will be like for an average play through?

Skovfoged: The game has a day-night cycle, where your men wake up in the morning and muse about the day that’s coming. You then have the option of going to the map - triggering different events and visiting the shop. Then you select one of the several available missions and listen to the soldiers' opinions on that choice. You can then select who goes on the mission, and customize their weapons loadout and supplies.

Starting the mission, the soldiers might chat about what they hope to achieve before they begin to explore. On the mission, the game mixes exploration with story events and intense combat. After completing the mission, you will see how much “salvage” you scavenged during the mission, what new abilities and extra equipment you unlocked, and if there are any casualties.

You then go back to the campfire, where you can customize your soldiers with scavenged weapons and any new abilities, which may trigger new dialogue between the soldiers, and then they go to sleep. However, the horrors of war take their toll, and some of your squadmates might desert during the night, if they are too worn down or deranged from their experiences.

How long will the campaign take players to complete?

Skovfoged: The campaign runs for 12 missions/days. It typically takes 8-12 hours to survive those 12 days and experience one of the possible endings.

However, there are many more handcrafted missions and story events for players to experience, character loadouts and tactics to try out, alternate endings, varying difficulties settings, etc — so the game has a lot of replay value.

Broken Lines is projected for a Q1 2020 release on PC and Nintendo Switch. Be sure to keep up with all the latest updates on its progress via the official website

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

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