World War On The DS

Nintendo's pint-sized gaming platform grows up with its new strategy offering taking on WWII

Nintendo's DS gaming system excels at presenting games that are easy to pick up, offering a low learning curve along with a high return on fun. Now that the gaming device is maturing, video game developers are maturing too. Turn-based strategy games, which were typically the stuff of PC games like Sid Meier's Civilization series, have found a home on Nintendo machines before with Battalion Wars. Now that the Civilization is coming to consoles and turn-based games like Carcassonne and Catan are finding new audiences on Xbox 360, Panzer Tactics DS hopes to offer DS gamers a deeper experience.

Recently, we talked with Panzer Tactics game designer Christoph Quas from the Austria-based developer Sproing just before the game released to retailers in North America on November 7, 2007.

While turn-based games seemed to almost fall off the map in regards to consoles, there seems to be resurgence of the genre on consoles. What does Panzer Tactics DS offer player?

Christoph Quas: So, accessibility, controlling and our easy-to-access multiplayer mode are definitely features that we could focus on. First, we benefit from the unique possibilities the DS is offering, such as the two screens and the touch screen. This [approach] makes controlling and navigating through the game much easier and would not have been possible on any other platform. Playing a hex-based strategy game using a gamepad still is an awkward thing. The only difference could be the Nintendo Wii, since controlling the Wii is more similar to using a mouse or the stylus.

Your game begins at the brink of World War II, how deeply into the war does it go?

Actually you can play through the whole course of WWII. In the first campaign—playing the German Wehrmacht—you'll start in 1939 with the invasion of Poland and end in 1943 with the Battle of Stalingrad. At this point you'll switch over to the Russian campaign and drive the Germans back to Berlin again. In the third and hardest campaign, you'll control the Western Allied troops, starting with the landing operations in Italy and the Normandy and finally ending the war in the heart of Germany in 1945.

Since the game is WWII based, are there only three winning conditions?

Your global goal will be to win each mission in a campaign, in order to win the campaign. Within a mission there are two types of objectives. A primary objective has to be fulfilled in order to win a mission. Besides that we offer secondary mission objectives that the player can go for, if he likes. If he succeeds, a secondary objective brings the player a bonus for the next mission. Such a secondary objective can be the assassination of an enemy officer, stealing secret documents and so on.

Will the game offer a tech tree of any sort that will allow each side to create more advanced weaponry as the battle gets longer?

Of course Panzer Tactics follows the same technical evolution that actually existed in WWII. E.g., as the Germans you'll start with three types of tanks, the Panzer II, Panzer III and Panzer IV. Later in the game, as the famous Panther Tank becomes available, the older tanks will automatically upgrade to the next level, and the oldest one gets dropped. Doing it that way, the player never has to deal with more than three types of tanks or any other unit category, which makes the game far more accessible.

Turn-based strategy games tend to be long. What kind of time commitment should DS players expect to spend with Panzer Tactics DS?

That depends on how experienced the player is, but smaller maps can be played within 30 minutes, whereas for bigger maps you might need an hour or more. Playing every mission of the game you might very well play 70-80 hours in total, not including the multiplayer, so I'd say that is a lot of game!

Since Sproing is based in Vienna, Austria, an area that was active during WWII, who would be more powerful—the Wehrmacht or the Allied Forces?

Having been included in the dark times of WWII we feel a strong responsibility regarding this topic. That's why we were very keen on offering the player a neutral, military view on the events of WWII without evoking any misunderstandings or political statements in what direction ever. WWII is a very sensitive topic for us, and so we treated that issue in our game.

Balancing a turn-based strategy game is always difficult, never mind doing one on a DS. But balancing four players over the DS has to present a large amount of difficulties. How did you resolve the multiplayer balancing issues and what are some of the features that they'll be able to play when they enter head to head battles?

As you say, balancing Panzer Tactics was tough work indeed. We offer more that 150 units in our game, and that's a lot when it is about balancing! Basically it was a lot of theoretical calculating together with intensive testing to find the optimal balance for that huge number of units. Having implemented an experience system, in which your units gain experience that makes them stronger with every fight, did not make the work easier. The same goes for our officers that raise the fighting power of a unit it is assigned to and all surrounding units.

There's an online ranking system to tell players where they rank globally. Does that only work through the DS or will users be able to view their status via PC/Mac too?

As far as I know, there actually are plans of displaying the highscore ladder on the Internet.

If you had the chance to get 30 seconds to tell someone to buy your game, what would you tell them?

If you like strategy games, especially those of the 90s, and if you had the feeling that the Nintendo DS does not offer enough grown-up tactical challenges for you yet, then Panzer Tactics DS is your game. Panzer Tactics DS is a classic-style TBS game, offering completely new and fun features, such as the behind-enemy-lines spy units as well as a huge multiplayer part including hotseat, LAN and Wi-Fi to match up with other generals all over the planet. Finally I can guarantee you a lot of high-quality gaming keeping you busy for a long time.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.