Franz Felsl on Shattered Union

Adder: Hi, could you introduce yourself, and explain what you do at PopTop Software?

Felsl: My name is Franz Felsl. During the creation of Shattered Union I was initially the lead artist then became the lead designer.

Adder: Could you give us a brief overview of the game? What time period is it set in, and what civilizations will players be controlling?

Felsl: The place is the United States of America in 2014. The player will take the role of a military leader in one of 7 factions that have formed in the former US as it struggles during its second civil war. The player can chose to play The California Commonwealth, Great Plains Federation, New England Alliance, The Confederacy, Pacifica, The Republic of Texas or the European Union Peacekeepers.

Adder: Where did the idea for a game dealing with the post-breakup of the United States come from?

Felsl: One of those late night “what if” talks you may have had while in college. We were looking at the political race in the US in 2004 and started to talk about “what if” scenarios. The next thing you know, voila!

Adder: What type of gamer do you think Shattered Union will appeal to? Why did you decide to offer the game for Xbox as well?

Felsl: We tried to make sure that hardcore gamers could enjoy it as something casual, but intentionally tried to make it straightforward enough and uncomplicated to allow casual gamers that might like the topic a chance to get into strategy gaming. That desire drove the decision to make a console version. We felt that making something of this nature could have appeal to the gamers who use consoles.

Adder: What do you think is the coolest feature in Shattered Union? Why?

Felsl: Special Powers. Special Powers force you to not take things for granted. It’s like playing checkers then adding the ability to make a king out of any of your pieces, or making a piece immune from jumping. Stuff like that. They are fun to watch, too, but I really enjoy the twist they add to the game.

Adder: Can you tell us about the campaign in the game? What kind of challenges can players look forward to?

Felsl: The premise behind Shattered Union’s campaign is that you must reunite all of the splintered factions through the use of military means. That means you’ll have to control all 25 territories before you ultimately win. During the campaign you’ll find out the cause of the inauguration day explosion and find that you have one more enemy. With the campaign you’ll face more unit juggling and balancing than in a skirmish because the 42 units slot you have must cover all of your military needs. Capturing territories will earn you bonuses and money to further your campaign. All the while you’ll decide when and where to attack and the AI will do the same. Finally, you’ll be able to play only from one faction’s position at a time, exposing the difficulties and advantages that each faction has available.

Adder: What will the A.I. be like? Many of our readers are hard-core strategy gamers, so they like a good challenge, but SU seems designed to appeal to casual strategy fans too. How did you design the game to deliver a satisfying experience to either kind of player?

Felsl: We didn’t use simple cheating A.I. routines to make the game more difficult. We have 12 possible A.I. types that can be assigned to the strategic level A.I. and 5 combat-level A.I. types. The strategic level A.I. mostly comes into play during the campaign, when players choose when, where and how much to attack with. However, at the combat level, it takes the resources given to it by the strategic A.I. and uses them based on its motivations. On the toughest level, the A.I. makes few mistakes and focuses heavily on destroying your force. At the lowest level, it will regularly make bad moves or mistakes that can be exploited by a player. However, even at this level if you don’t understand the game it can still beat you.

Like chess or other simple but deep games, Shattered Union has simple rules but a huge variety of combinations. For the casual gamer, many of these will not be noticed and for the most part, be unnecessary. But like chess, the better your opponent is the more you have to work with strategy and tactics. The challenge is to optimize your unit choices with the strategic goals and proper deployment. This last aspect really shines when you play a live opponent. The deviousness of a real player really makes the game more enjoyable. So, as a casual gamer you won’t find Shattered Union particularly difficult as long as you don’t choose a hard A.I.; however I think that as a casual gamer you’ll quickly learn the value of optimizing play, and this will hopefully encourage them to try the game on more difficult levels. As for hardcore gamers, it’s always about optimizing, and you have that built in to the core of Shattered Union.

Adder: How long has work on Shattered Union been taking place?

Felsl: Approximately 17 months. There have been some major changes during this time though and most of what makes up Shattered Union came from the last design changes in January ’05.

Adder: I notice online support will be offered, what exactly does this entail?

Felsl: Xbox Live(tm), LAN, Hot Seat and GameSpy. Basically it sets up opportunities for head-to-head match making.

Adder: Why would you buy Shattered Union?

Felsl: My babies need shoes. No, because the game is fun and a great departure from the hectic FPS and RTS games that gamers have to chose from. It also has a mild learning curve. A few skirmishes and you’ll pretty much know how to play the game. However, it’ll take a while to learn the nuances and certainly will be a challenge against a live opponent. I also like the ability to customize the game. In skirmish mode you can handicap and turn on and off features, maps, direction of attacks etc. Therefore you don’t have to play the same way every time you play. Also, the price point is low, and we believe it gives the game great value.

Adder: Thanks for the interview!

Felsl: My pleasure.

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