Mark Terrano, chief creative officer and founder of Hidden Path Entertainment, is already pretty good at making real-time strategy games. He’s the lead designer of Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, one of the most highly-regarded RTS games of all time. But for his next project, Brass Tactics, his goal was to refine that genre for virtual reality. To do it, he and his team took their inspiration from tabletop wargames.
“We tried really 30 different prototypes for movement of the table alone,” Terrano said. “We spent six months on it. That was one of my agreements with our publisher, Oculus. No hard-to-lift rules for six months, and we would be allowed to just figure out how to get the controls as perfect as we could make them for RTS.”
The result is an elaborate, immersive experience that might be one of the finest wargaming experiences ever brought to VR. Here’s how it works.
Imagine owning the most elegant hand-made gaming table from a company like Geek Chic. Fill it with custom-made terrain, including paper-craft trees, layered wooden plateaus and rocky outcrops. Now, combine it all with a standing desk, giving you full control over the height of the table and its position in space.
Since it’s VR, imagine that you’re incorporeal, that you can pull the table to and through your body to give you ultimate visibility of your miniatures from any angle. That’s the kind of experience that Brass Tactics gives players with the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers.
“I had a vision of how it might work and we tried a lot of different things,” Terrano said. “We wanted to make it comfortable for people to play for an extended period of time, if they wanted to. No nausea, or anything like that. We wanted to really make it a physical thing.”
Concept art of the warrior unit in Brass Tactics. | Hidden Path Entertainment/Oculus
Brass Tactics also excels in its user interface. Selecting units is as simple as drawing a box on the table and pointing where you want your forces to go. To build an outpost, just turn your hand palm up to reveal a palette of options. Grab the structure you want with the other hand and drop it on the table. Base management works the same way, with upgrades portrayed as wooden blocks within a fortress-like diorama.
For its animations, Terrano said that his team was inspired by the cinematic intro from Game of Thrones.
“When I saw that beginning in Game of Thrones — with its clockwork, expanding buildings — I said, ‘I really want to make that RTS.’ ... I wanted to play in that universe. It was so compelling just to see things unfold and change.”
Brass Tactics will feature a campaign mode, a cooperative mode against computer-controlled AI and head-to-head multiplayer. Players will be able to compete in the same virtual space, with their in-game Oculus avatar visible at all times.
“That’s not something you get in a traditional RTS,” Terrano said. “It really raises the emotional tension, when you see somebody in there doing something in their corner of the table.”
Brass Tactics will be available in October 2017 on the Oculus store. No word yet on pricing.