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Former Zynga engineer Kickstarts sci-fi military game

Slade Villena is a military man. Before going to university to study game design, he was in the Marine Corps specializing in artillery. He learned maneuver warfare theory, he studied Marine Corps doctrine, he received an honorable discharge, and then … he went to work for Zynga.

His time at the social games behemoth as a software engineer was short-lived – there were too many clashes in goals and opinions, too many game design disagreements and, some time after his departure from Zynga, he’d release a slew of scathing criticisms of the company on Reddit. After serving Zynga for seven months, Villena discharged himself. Instead of coding crops and cows, he is returning to his military roots with a sci-fi military strategy game that he is hoping to launch through the crowd-funding service, Kickstarter.

“I come from a military background where we played war games everyday, and I wanted to utilize some of that knowledge,” Villena tells Polygon. .

“It’s something that’s already second nature to me and I want to bring it to a fun player environment.”.

That game is FleetCOMM: Vigrior, a real-time strategy game planned for PC, Linux, iOS, Android, and PS3 set in a sci-fi universe that follows military doctrine.

“The game engine and the controls are something I take directly from precise military formation,” says Villena.

“Our game is 2D because we don’t have 3D capability yet, so I came up with a small control scheme for a strategy game that allows you to control battle maneuvers with one click.

“Most military weapons are designed for Joe Six-Pack, and because Joe Six-Pack doesn’t know everything about the insides of a gun, you need a trigger. I designed this thing like a trigger where if you click once, boom, everything happens.”

By combining maneuver warfare theory learned through the Marine Corps with a real-time strategy game, Villena believes that his team can create a game that is truly strategic, where players focus on battle formations and strategies rather than rushing their units.

“What I noticed about most strategy games is all they seem to do is keep pumping out more and more units and they’re basically the same thing with a different character on it – that’s not really how the military operates,” he says.

“You don’t really want to have a very bulky force. You want to have a set of people with really concentrated skills and you use them that way. Marine Corps doctrine operates that way – we operate on maneuver warfare.”

Villena says that what he and his team at Mercenary Games are doing isn’t new and other strategy games have focused on battle maneuvers before, but he wants to bring it back in such a way that players can think of a FleetCOMM match as a football playbook. He wants players to be able to go in-depth and discuss complex strategies and analyze matches based on tactics rather than the speed at which someone can click their mouse to produce more units.

Villena is also hoping to implement additional tools such as a YouTube video recorder so that players can record and share their in-game maneuvers. He wants players to feel like they own a piece of the game. In a similar way to Farmville players being able to plant their crops and place their cows wherever they wish to design their own farms, Villena wants people to design their own battle formations and feel a sense of ownership.

Villena is also taking lessons learned from his time at Zynga and applying them to FleetCOMM. For a start, he has designed the FleetCOMM game engine from the ground up – something he claims Zynga never did in his time at the company. He says that Zynga either bought or cloned engines from other studios before adding and expanding their own features, making the game’s coding “unmanageable”.

“Zynga games were easy to make – it’s not the core game that’s complex, it’s everything they’ve piled on top of it. That was a leviathan machine right there,” Villena says of the Zynga game engines he worked on.

“Every button on a Zynga game is going to have some marketing tracking technology on it. It records the time you clicked it, what you clicked before it, and it records it all on the backend server. It’s constantly parsing all this data: where you click, how you click, what influenced you to click. The game engine just looked ridiculous to me.”

With four days left on the FleetCOMM Kickstarter campaign, Villena is hoping his team will be able to raise the final $3600 to get them over the finish line. He describes Kickstarter as the real social game because of the time and money people invest into projects, and he jokes that he is now in a social game trying to make a video game.

“Right now we’re at 326 backers and we haven’t lost ground on our project yet, we’ve always gained a backer, so I’m kind of proud that people believe in what we’re doing,” he says.

“It’s a real social game. You should join in.”

By Tracey Lien


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