Battleships Forever

IGF-Nominated Real-Time Tactics in Space

Type:
Free Download
System Requirements:
Win 98+/ 256MB RAM/ 64MB VRAM/ 1.5GHz CPU
Developer:
Sean Chan

Battleships Forever -- a finalist in the "design innovation" category at this year's Independent Games Festival -- is billed by its designer, Sean Chan, as a space RTS. Actually, it's real-time tactics rather than strategy -- no diplomacy, no resource extraction or building construction, and here at PTT!, we are nothing if not anal in our identification of (and support for) obscure genres.

It's also very nice indeed, despite the occasional crash bug (but it's not yet up to version 1.0, so we may hope these will be taken care of).

It's a 2D game; the ship images look as if they're generated by vector graphics (I suspect they're not, and that the appearance is a design decision). During play, it looks, and to a degree feels, rather shmup-like; lots of blazing fire streaking across the screen, and a huge number of weapon types with different visual effects. However, you're typically controlling a flotilla of spaceships, rather than a single one, and you never give explicit fire orders; instead, you move your ships, and they automatically fire on opponents they're capable of targetting.

Any tactical space game faces one great challenge: Space has no terrain (unless you simulate the effects of gravity wells), and so lacks the main factor that makes for interesting strategic challenges in a game played on a planetary surface--the need to take advantage of cover and elevation.

To make a tactical space game interesting, you need somehow to make maneuever important (as it is in naval warfare). In a game set in the era of sail, you have the importance of the weather gauge, and also the fact that ships fire broadsides, so the relative facing of ships is vitally important.

Battleships Forever solves the problem of making maneuver important by dividing all but the tiniest ships into multiple sections, and assigning different weapon systems (with different fire arcs) to some, thrusters to others, and (sometimes) allowing you to assign shields to some sections that make them invulnerable. The result is that facing, and maneuver, suddenly become paramount; you want enemy fire to hit your invulnerable sections, and to engage the enemy effectively, you must be careful about which way you face. Flanking maneuvers suddenly become a viable tactical option.

Combined arms is also an important gameplay dynamic; for instance, one ship (available starting in the third scenario in the campaign game) is largely defensive, with weapons that destroy incoming fire, but moves more slowly than most other ships, so that using it effectively requires some planning and thought on the player's part. One nice touch; a shield available to high level battleships that allows you to draw your defensive arc however you wish (within range limitations).

In addition to a campaign game, there are four "skirmish mode" scenarios -- no multiplayer, unfortunately, but then, playing the game optimally really requires you to pause frequently and consider your next maneuver (orders can be given to ships while paused). And a ship construction application comes with the game so you can build your own custom ships (and share them with others on the developer's site).

Flaws? Well, the occasional crash bug. And there is a bit of a learning curve -- despite the game's real-time nature, players who like strategy rather than skill-and-action are likelier to enjoy it. It doesn't help that the text in the second level that explains the use of disruptors is grey against an almost-white background and damned hard to to read (at least to my middle-aged eyes). The main flaw, perhaps, is that you wind up wanting more -- more scenarios to play... But that's really a recommendation rather than a flaw.

Nice indeed. And playable under Wine, apparently, for you Linux geeks.


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Multiplayer

If there's no multiplayer, I'm confused as to how some people have been managing to run tournaments.


Pause?

'P' seems to pause both the simulation and the interface; I can't issue orders while paused like you mention, and boy, I wish I could! Am I doing something wrong, or are you thinking about another game?