Entering the new millennium, strategy games started to struggle on consoles. Titles like Age of Empires, Civilization, and XCOM are leading the charge on PC, but difficulties in adapting its user interface for TVs meant the genre began to be left behind as the Xbox and PlayStation markets began to swell.
Now, the kind of strategy doesn’t have to be limited by the technological limitations of the past. Top-down games can have stunning worlds that can stand up to the latest open-world escapades, or a narrative to rival the next big RPG.
Former Firaxis art director Greg Foertsch hopes to be at the forefront of the strategy resurgence with his new studio, Bit Reactor. By bringing in other talent from developer XCOM as well as other teams, Foertsch aims to create an outfit – and later, a game – that will usher the genre into a new era.
“The whole genre started going down when they didn’t have enough production values and they kind of went down a bit,” Foertsch said. GamesIndustry.biz. “Now that’s not an issue. Screen resolution isn’t an issue. There are ways to tell stories and convey information that don’t require a wall of text.
“That’s what we’re focused on – bringing that to the genre, and really blurring the line between what is a strategy game and what is an action game.”
Foertsch spent over 20 years with Firaxis in various roles, before leaving in 2018. After that he had a short stint at Romero Games, which at the time was building the strategy title Empire of Sin. For Foertsch, going from a long stint with a larger developer to a smaller one, to starting his own studio, is all about setting his own parameters when it comes to developing a new game.
“Gender is so malleable,” he says. “Look at Mario Rabbids and Gears Tactics, they couldn’t be more different. But they all have the same DNA underneath. There’s a lot of flexibility.
“If you lead with story and immersion, I think you can find ways to just make a great game and not just make a strategy game.”
A great game that transcends genre barriers and rivals output from bigger studios is ambitious, but it’s something Foertsch sees as achievable, just like XCOM: Enemy Unknown did a decade ago.
“We don’t want anyone looking at our website and even subconsciously thinking they couldn’t belong here”
“Our goal is to win game of the year; we expect to play Halo or whoever is out there, just like we did in 2012.”
Another strength of Bit Reactor – which it wouldn’t have had ten years ago – is the evolution of cross-platform play. Many strategy titles have transitioned from PC and console to mobile devices, and cloud cross-save allows for seamless continuity across multiple platforms.
“I honestly think tablets are going to do for strategy games what consoles did for shooters, and there’s a way to take advantage of that,” Foertsch says of cross-platform development.
“We’re very interested in cross-play and being able to play the game on as many different platforms as possible, but right now we’re really focused on the console experience and the PC experience.”
An observation often made when opening new studios is that its founding roster lacks diversity. Foertsch assures that the representation will be integrated into the company from scratch and hopes to communicate this from the start.
“I’ve seen a lot of these studios start up and the first thing they do is put pictures up, and that can alienate people,” Foertsch observes. “If you look [Bit Reactor’s] website, you won’t find a picture of us, of me, you won’t find a picture of anyone, because the studio is more focused on ‘us’.
“We don’t want anyone looking at our website and even subconsciously thinking they couldn’t belong here.”