E3 2014: This War of Mine Preview: War is hell

War has been visited in video games for as long as I can remember. But as long as they’ve been around, I’ve seen little innovation on the side of storytelling.

There’s a chance you share the same sentiment about war games. In them, you’re always the badass. You’re the elite hero. No one can touch you when you’re at your best. So when I learned about a new war game aiming to tell the tale from the other side, I was eager to learn more.

This War of Mine is that game, and is also 11 Bit Studio’s upcoming production. Wednesday I sat down with senior producer Marek Ziemak to talk about the game and get my hands on 20 minutes of the action.

“The game is basically about civilians surviving in a besieged city,” Ziemak told us. “It’s inspired by many books and articles we’ve read about this problem, which turns out to be not only extremely dangerous or sad in many situations, but also extremely interesting. It’s like a psychological experiment."

This War of Mine

“These people are trapped usually. They are not soldiers. They were regular people. They could have skills in programming or cooking or stuff and now they’re in the middle of this totally demolished environment. They have to make their living somehow."

"People become different during the wartime, so it’s pretty dangerous outside in many ways. You have no resources you need.”

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with every aspect of This War of Mine. At its core, it’s a simple side-scrolling, point-and-click survival game. Describing it as such would be an injustice, though. A more appropriate description would be an elegantly detailed side-scrolling, point-and-click survival game where every action has a reaction that will likely tug at your conscience for hours upon end.

This War of Mine has no traditional story. In fact, the game doesn’t tell you what conflict you’re in at all. The most you know is that you’re a surviving citizen trapped in the middle of a war, trying to make it day after day.

The setting is explicitly vague. It’s up to you to create a story by every action. You do so in a traditional day and night cycle. Because of nearby snipers who shoot at everything that moves, you are forced to stay inside your refuge during the day. There you can explore, craft, and heal before the sun goes down.

This War of Mine Log

During nighttime, you choose which character you take to scavenge for supplies. The “missions,” if you will, are tense despite not featuring any combat. And whatever happens prior to sunrise, you carry with you to the next day.

It’s a vicious cycle. I was instantly brought back to my days of Oregon Trail on the PC where you’d be forced to make a character decision and live with it as the results played out in front of you. Like Oregon Trail, This War of Mine is simple to pick up. According to Ziemak, the team wanted you to be immersed in the game rather than spend your time fumbling around with the controls.

“As a company — as 11 Bit Studios — we are somehow focused on creating those games for the medium core audience. We believe controls shouldn’t be sophisticated because we want the games to be fun, challenging, interesting, but not too complicated because it would be limiting the amount of people playing the games."

"There was no reason to make very complex mechanisms here. It’s not a game about shooting and jumping and running. It’s more about planning your actions and making your choices and somehow facing the consequences of your actions.”

This War of Mine proved to be one of my favorite titles at E3 2014. It’s gut wrenching, narratively freeing, and its dark 2-D setting still finds a way to look absolutely gorgeous. PC, Mac, and mobile fans look to be in for an absolute treat when the game finally releases at a later date.