If you’ve ever played a Command & Conquer game, you’ve met Lou Castle. Not in the literal sense, but each time you made the foundations for a building, planned a coordinated attack, or eliminated enemy troops, you were interacting with Castle’s ideas and designs. As co-founder of Westwood Studios Castle gradually introduced the world to his vision of military flavoured real time strategy, and before long, we were hooked.
With years of experience spanning console and PC games, it seemed an interesting choice for Castle to switch to mobile. His latest project, War Commander: Rogue Assault is a collaborative effort with Kixeye, and is described as an immersive 3D battlefield experience with real time individual unit control. It takes place in the aftermath of World War 3, where the best form of defence is attacking your enemies. Castle believes that in order for an RTS game to be successful, it needs to be well-balanced, but it also needs to convince players their decisions have meaning and purpose—reflecting the essential DNA patterns of traditional RTS games.
1. What is your role as Creative Director of War Commander: Rogue Assault?
The Creative Director is responsible for making sure the overall game is a coherent experience. Kixeye is a very flat organization so I contribute to the day to day aspects of creating Rogue Assault. Everything from game balance to writing and approving specifications for features.
2. What were your favourite games growing up? How did they shape your game design/development journey?
I was always a table top gamer and still regularly play board games for entertainment and inspiration. I played lots of D&D and strategy board games growing up. My favorite digital games were on the Atari or in the Arcades. Games like Gravitar and Gauntlet certainly had me hooked on interactivity but games like Dragon’s Lair really inspired me for what might one day be possible in video games.
3. After extensive experience across PC and console, what inspired the leap to mobile?
My personal appreciation for mobile games as a consumer began while I was at Electronic Arts working with Steven Spielberg on Boom Blox for the Wii and evolved as I worked on web streamed games at IAC and social games at Zynga. I love mobile since mobile games can reach a far larger audience than dedicated game machine platforms.
4. In your opinion, what is the most important element in making a successful RTS game?
There are many important elements in making a successful RTS game. At the top of my list would be game balance. Whether playing against the AI or other players, a feeling of a fair contest is critical. Very close to balance is the ability to make meaningful choices in real time. This is one of the reasons why Rogue Assault feels so much closer to traditional RTS games.
“The ability to make meaningful choices in real time is why Rogue Assault feels much closer to traditional RTS games”
Commanders control individual squads of units during the battle which opens up countless possible strategic and tactical choices that are just absent with so many mobile games which just offer a plop a pray mechanic. I also believe setting and story resonate with players. This is the “why” component of the game. The visual presentation of Rogue Assault was chosen and expertly directed by our art director to communicate a serious look at post-apocalyptic Europe and North Africa. Our campaigns give the player’s context to the battles they are engaging in and help to fill out the entertainment experience. We also aspire to allow players to create their own narratives with alliances and collaborative play which is why there is such an extensive meta world map game in Rogue Assault.
5. What are your thoughts on the military RTS genre in current times (compared to the past)? Any predictions for the future?
I believe that the military setting, contemporary, historic and futuristic, will be evergreen for strategy games. The variety and complexity of the interactions in military conflicts is just an ideal setting for strategy games. When we moved to a military theme we had no idea the world would quickly reflect the kinds of stories we had just told in our game. Of course I’m hopeful the world does not head in the direction of Rogue Assault’s apocalypse but the creative conceit allows players to exercise their strategic thinking in a very clear model. I suspect we will continue to see the military setting of real time strategy games regardless of our times. The industry may generally retreat to historic settings if modern military becomes uncomfortable but the military aspect will likely always remain.
6. Are you planning on incorporating your development experience into making games for VR? Why or why not?
I am working on some unannounced VR projects. Kixeye was very early into the development of VR experiences and will certainly be ready when the market conditions make entry into VR a good business decision for Kixeye. Personally, I love the space and expect to see some really amazing games evolve as developers begin to understand the power of VR and AR.