Post Human W.A.R

Art Director/Character Design: Gwenaël Manac'h, Game Designer: Anthony Deutsch, Game Director/Programmer: Gabriel Wink

Purposeful Humor and Fun in Post Human W.A.R

 

Developer: Studio Chahut Game Title: Post Human W.A.R Release: December 14, 2017

Website: http://www.posthumanwar.com/

 

 

EFG spoke with Studio Chahut about their work on Post Human W.A.R, a turn-based strategy game set in a universe where humans have gone extinct, leading to warring factions vying for control. The R-PATCH, the Anthropists, and the Wraaks all fight for control, with the robot R-PATCH faction consisting of sentient appliances, the Anthropists consist of primates and marsupials who desire to act human, and the Wraak who desire to destroy any remaining traces of human civilization. A player can win a match by killing all opposing forces or by killing the opponent’s hidden champion, in addition to conducting other tasks such as gathering bonus resource boxes and destroying the enemy totem for bonus damage.

 

When I played Post Human W.A.R, its strange humor and unique art style were readily apparent. Studio Chahut wanted the absurdity of their post-human apocalyptic world to shine through, especially in the strategy game genre, which often takes itself very seriously. For the developers, allowing their humor to show in the art and design was important.

 

ART STYLE

My name is Gwenaël Manac’h; I was in charge of the art direction and character design on Post Human W.A.R.

 

Art style and rules of design

It could be described as some kind of 90’s European comic-book style. I wanted it to be figurative, narrative, as well as fun and weird on the edges.

 

It was our first game, and my first-time art directing. I only elaborated on my style in order to apply it on the mood we wanted for the game. It’s a bit self-centered, but the style still changed a lot during production, so it’s kind of a good sign.

 

In terms of graphics tools I’ve set up a few tips and tricks for my co-workers to learn, so they could move toward my way to work. Some specifics shapes, colors, textures. I wanted us to use the same tools, but not necessarily to work exactly the same way. In my early design and illustrations, I worked with pencils, using high contrasting shapes. In the team’s work, I reused those shapes with a digital painting method.

 

I graduated in illustration. This has been used to build narrative images to display all the different characters.

 

How did you convey humor?

By creating funny and inventive kinds of costumes, tools, weapons (such as door handles), or even bodies (half shaved, etc.). I mostly wanted it to be absurd. In this game’s development, because we were childhood friends, we refused to put limits in our search for ultimate stupidness. Sometimes we argued about jokes, style or preferences, but it was never to seek “balance.” “Chahut” means bedlam in French, that’s our only guideline, the “bedlamness.”

 

I did make it my own by not trying to make it someone else’s. I never tried to go for particular trends. To me, as long as you keep questioning yourself, if you keep working with passion, it gives a unique feeling (maybe I’m wrong?). It was my own, so I was comfortable with it. Also, it was very fun and style-improving.

What was the biggest challenge?

Questioning it all the way, learning from non-drawing coworkers whose tastes have as much weight as yours.

CREATURE DESIGN

Describing the characters

Weird, funny (not willingly), clumsy, sometimes they are powerful, but never on purpose. I think all of my characters are humble, trying to do their best, secretly unconfident. There are twelve units per faction, so thirty-six in total.

Determining the right numbers of creatures

Hmm…if only I could decide there’d be less of them. We decided in discussion with the game designer and the game director.

The workflow and creative process

We started designing them from their class concept. Once we agreed on what should be the unit on the field, gameplay-wise, I was alone drawing the creatures.

 

We decided at first the classes in the team (archer, runner, etc.) then what will be the type of character (a toaster or a duster? A rat or a dog?) starting with my propositions most of the time. Then I decided alone how the unit would look, with feedback from the team. I wanted to use non-threatening animals to make war beasts. First, you pick the animal, then you modify it accordingly of its class, with no concern for its safety. Only one guideline: there is no rule but gravity and “be recognizable” as the starting animal or object.

 

How did you create a character with personality and a lasting impression?

With the “no rule” rule and the quest for the maximum “bedlamness.” If it’s original and fun.

Scrapped designs

It had a lot of waste, mostly because they were too confusing, not easily readable enough, or not funny enough.

Favorite and most challenging designs

It’s my baby; I love them all. If I need to put preferences, I really like the traffic light robot, the air balloon punk-monkey, and chicken-osaurus.

 

Maybe the huge washing machine tower [was the most challenging] because it needed to be big, hard to destroy, but not threatening.

CLASS DESIGN

Hi, I’m Anthony Deutsch, Game Designer of the game. I’ve mainly managed game and user experience regarding a lot of different things in Post Human W.A.R. I’m also the Level Designer and made some unit animations since I was a graphic designer before.

 

Classes and faction types

Class and faction aren’t the same things in Post Human W.A.R. “Faction” stand for what we could roughly call the playable species: the R-PATCH, the Anthropists, and the Wraaks. Each one represents its own playstyle, but also a specific philosophy regarding humankind and its place in the world. What we call classes refer to unit groups through the factions which have recognizable roles among their army (archer, runner, etc.)

 

There are around seven main categories: hand-to-hand fighters, long-range archers, flying units, runners, healers and “zone-damage” units. In some of them, you can find light and heavy variations of the same unit class (e.g., light fighters and heavy fighters). We knew the class number was the right one when each faction had an interesting playstyle based on the classes configuration, with strengths and weakness to balance each one of them.

 

In broad outline, each class is focused on specific statistics. Usually, a class has a main statistic in which it has a high value and can eventually have a secondary statistic to allow even more variation from the others. With this principle, it’s easy for the player to understand each class and build their strategy upon that. Furthermore, some units have special passive or active skills that ensure the differentiation from one another.

 

Determining the number of unit types

It was the way we determined the number of classes. We had to be cautious though. The more units we would have, the more confusing it could have been for the player, and the more the production would have cost. We had to find the right balance between a deep and rich game at one side and a complicated and expensive one on the other side.

Balancing

The relation between classes and specific statistics made the differentiation between all classes pretty easy to create. To ensure the fun, we created skills that bring deepness regarding the possibilities on the field.

 

We have a balancing system based on statistics, grading, and ponderation. Each unit has a power value generated with formulas allowing us to compare each one of them. The public alpha phase was a great way to test our balancing. We’ve changed a lot of things since then.

Class design workflow and process

The concept of a class may have born from the question “What could units do on the field?” or “What kind of unit could be the weakness of this powerful one?” After this, the class was rationalized into a first intentional draft statistic. Testing it while playing between use could lead to validation or iteration. Maybe we thought about one or two extra classes, but the production was big enough!

Favorite and most challenging classes

I like the runners. They can fetch resources on the field easily at the beginning of the game and then get back to the battleground pretty quickly. That offers a lot of possibility while playing.

 

Each faction has what we call specialists. It’s a bunch of extra units designed to reinforce the faction playstyle. The challenge here was to create units similar to existing ones, but with a true difference, so they could remain interesting to play.

LEVEL & MAP DESIGN

Map types

There is two type of maps in PHW. The “legit” ones and the campaign ones. The legit are used for multiplayer, so it’s important to design them symmetrically so they can be balanced while trying to make them interesting. That’s a real challenge. The campaign maps have fewer constraints; they can be unbalanced since players won’t fight with each other on those.

Design guidelines, process, and hex grids

Symmetry and balancing came first. Then each map has to offer a unique game experience based on one or several gameplay ingredients of the game, so the challenge could be easy to identify on each map.

 

 

First, we used pen and paper, then our homemade editor. Always on paper first with a bunch of keywords to describe the game experience of the map, so I could ensure that it was unique before I started to integrate it.

 

Hexagonal grids offer more possibility in a single turn with a single unit. Since we wanted to have a simple but deep gameplay, hex grid was the best choice for us. We wanted the character to be mainly one hex so the multiple ones could be more impressive. But it was also a technical issue that reinforced this choice: multiple hexes characters were more expensive regarding the game resource cost.

Map design and balancing

I work with extreme values. I know the slowest units and the quickest. Then I know the average in each statistic. From here, each pattern is created according to what could happen with those extremes on the one hand, and what will happen most of the time with the average on the other hand.

 

The location of starting camps was designed according to the navigation flow I wanted to create on the map. Their size and shape were a way to ensure that interesting choices could occur right at the beginning of the game (units positioning). In each map, there’s two type of resource locations: the one easy to reach, and the one you have to fight and expose your units to get it. This last group is obviously the more rewarding one.

 

The cover can be destructible or indestructible. They can let the projectile get through or not, according to the unit position and distance from the cover. Each cover is a combination of all those parameters.

 

If I can summarize with a few key words the unique concept of a map, then it could be enjoyable. Testing it with other players and gathering their feedback is the best way to be sure I’m right.

 

Favorite map designs

I liked the maps where the starting camp was divided into several parts. But it was more complicated to anticipate the possibilities. So I slowed down the creation of those to remain more traditional.

 

There was an iteration on some maps, but no scrapping [of maps] so far.

Encouraging exploration

Resources on the map were the first answer. Then we designed the invasion mechanics, that grant huge bonus strength to a unit walking on the opponent’s starting camp. A nice way to incentive the player to attack rather than defend.

Favorite and most challenging map designs

I like the huge bridge in the garbage world. A lot can happen on this bridge, many different strategies, even more, when you consider that long-range units can attack from the top and bottom borders!

 

The map with the divided starting camp, with each player’s totem not so far from each other [was the most challenging to design]. It was hard to prevent players to one shot the opponent’s totem and too quickly take a huge advantage.

COMBAT DESIGN

Combat encounters

They’re straightforward and mostly based on tactical skills and talent rather than luck and randomness. The attacking unit inflicts damages based upon its strength statistic to the attacked unit which loses this amount from its health points.

 

The player estimates the range and speed of their units and confronts them to those of their opponent. Then they will try to approach each other while remaining behind cover while they still can. Once the encounter has started, each class has its own playstyle; long-range units will shoot and go backward (or behind cover) while hand-to-hand fighters will go after them the fastest they can.

 

Rules and guidelines for combat design

No randomness. If something happens, it’s because one of the players wanted it to happen. So, everything has to be anticipable, and we had to give the player means to avoid complicated calculations. Every potential damage is displayed. The player can draw a line to see if a projectile could get through cover, etc. The only thing players have to think is how they will win and not how the game works. And the whole thing without any luck or excuses due to randomness.

 

Since the combat is pretty straightforward and the interface gives naturally a lot of information about what happened, there is no need to teach the combat with words. Maybe we mention it quickly in the tutorial, but I’m not even sure. Most of the mechanics are learned during the tutorial, but some subtleties can be found in the codex of the game. None in the campaign.

 

The champion is a true twist regarding games of the same kind [the strategy genre]. It creates a real experience of what we call psychological strategy. It’s not just a pretty marketing term. It describes the unique tactical gameplay in which you have to guess the opponent’s weakness while reading through their strategy and tactical choices.

Implementing resource costs and unit variety

It was a good way to create a time limit with PHW games and to ensure that each one of them would be different since you’ll want to try many things before you’re sure to find your favorite strategy.

 

We have a feature which allows the player to see the last composition of their opponent when there are building their army. From here, you could decide to keep the same strategy, but have in mind that the opponent had considered it while building their army.

Rewarding the player

We’ve put a lot of effort in attack visual feedback and unit death animations, which are designed to be as rewarding as possible, according to the unit’s power.

 

A player wins a match by killing the opponent’s champion. They can guess who the champion is among the opponent’s army, or decide to destroy the whole army if they haven’t any clue. Another solution is to get through the opponent’s army to reach the enemy totem and destroy it, so all the foes could lose health each turn.

 

We hesitated a lot about how much we wanted the Champion mechanic to be our core feature. Before early access, killing the champion would have the same effect as destroying the totem (with a combo if both was destroyed). Finally, we wanted more emphasis on this game genre twist. That’s why it has become our win/lose condition.

 

The combat balancing was done at the same time we were balancing units between each other. Alpha and early access allowed us to test all of it.

Combat design challenges

To be sure the player had anything they need to focus on their strategy and note how the game works.

GENERAL

Hello! For general questions, it’s me, Gabriel Wink, game director and programmer.

 

Early access

Early access had three goals: First, testing the game in real conditions and checking if all the mechanics work. Next, balancing units, iteration after iteration. It was very important because the game is focused on multiplayer. At last, building and expanding up this multiplayer community. Players made comments on Steam forums and our Discord. Not very abundant, but useful. Many game options have been developed at the player’s request. For example, setting the AI speed, or saving in the middle of a campaign mission.

Implementing humor

We love to have fun, who doesn’t? And strategy games have too much of a “serious” reputation. We wanted to break this vision, to attract people who are scared by strategy because they think it’s not possible to have fun cogitating. It’s possible!

Lessons learned

A lot of things. Each member of the team learned technical skills, of course, but I think we all learned a lot about the games industry. We met a lot of other developers, especially at GDC when we showcased the game at the Indie Megabooth last year. We knew how to develop a game, but after that, we have learned how to give it life.

The future of Post Human W.A.R

We’re currently developing a small update for this winter, but our goal is that a true community gathers around the game and supports the multiplayer for a while. If this happens, we have a lot of ideas for new updates!

 

Thank you for this opportunity! Is there anything you would like to add to this?

Have fun with our game; it’s the main thing. And play multiplayer of course, multiplayer is cool.

 

 

 

We thank Gwenaël Manac’h, Anthony Deutsch, and Gabriel Wink for talking about the development process on Post Human W.A.R.