Perhaps it is just me, but when I think of war games I either think of FPS or RTS. Your Battlefronts have their fast-paced, individualized action and the ability to pull off heroic feats usually reserved for The Avengers. Your Command & Conquers give you the ability to take control of the whole battlefield; managing resources, building your base and hand picking your troops. But there is very little in-between.
Enter Foxhole; an MMO sandbox wargame with a difference. A few of them actually.
You play a soldier, controlled in the third person, and pick your faction. The Wardens, an amalgamation of French and German forces from the era, are defending their homeland against the Colonials, a union of US and British troops. But whereas other games in the genre restrict the action to a defined time limit or to completing a certain task, players of Foxhole live, fight and die in a solitary and perpetual war. A single instance for all global players in a conflict that last weeks in real time; months and even years in game time.
And it is not only the perpetual nature of war that is mimicked either, but also the need for support. Not just from your squad but also from the logistical teams farming resources, producing weapons and bring them to the front line. It is here that Foxhole starts to bridge that gap between the immediacy of an FPS and the strategy and management of an RTS. In doing so, Clapfoot Inc has created something not only interesting but also rather compelling.
I asked Max G, a Community Manager and Level Designer at Clapfoot Inc, about their process and inspiration in creating Foxhole:
When we first drafted up the design documents for the game, we didn’t have a clear idea of how we were going to do everything. Instead, we drew on specific scenarios. A lot of those scenarios we feel drew heavily on war-films like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. In the most recent implementation of sniper rifles, for example, we wanted to have a very similar feeling to the sniper duel in Saving Private Ryan. Two soldiers heading off at max range in the quiet rain. We felt if we could implement a weapon that emulated that feeling of anticipation that we got from watching that scene, we’d have succeeded.
This already sounded like the type of game I wanted to play. But as eager as I was to try Foxhole, I was equally as worried. Too often I have seen a game streamed, become excited, and realized only too late that the reason it was fun is because the streamer was playing with friends. This is not something I do often. I have friends, just … but … never mind.
I loaded with a sense of trepidation; fearing a group of trolls or veterans with no time for inexperienced recruits. But I did not expect what happened next; perhaps the most helpful and welcoming group of gamers I have ever met.
As soon as I enter the game, I hear a friendly but authoritative voice offering a run-through of the basics. He teaches us how to run, shoot, hide in bushes, build a truck and many other things. Other vets join in, passing on their experiences and expertise. Another takes us out on a tour of the current map, showing where we can pick up resources. And the Discord is just as helpful, perhaps in part because the developers use it too:
I think in general a lot of game companies forgo proper community management. It’s about being genuine. People can always spot a fake. Many companies I think view their community management as a subsection of their Marketing department. For us we think that’s backward. The people we have are the most important thing we have, not the people we think we can add to it. I end up spending a lot my time in private messages with lots of people from the community.
So, two hours in and I may not have seen an enemy, let alone shot at one, but I knew how to play and, more importantly, I knew that this was a community that wanted me to play. Who’d have thought it?
And it was here that I learned what made the game different. Have you ever wondered, when playing wargames, how you seem to have almost unlimited ammunition and easy access to heavy machinery and guns? No?
It isn’t magic. Foxhole embraced the logistical side of war as much as it does the actual combat from the very beginning of development. If someone isn’t making the rifles and ammunition, then they don’t exist. If someone doesn’t build and drive a truck with those resources to the front, then it will be defended with a thorny stick and a smile. War is won or lost on its supply lines. Foxhole gets this and thrives because of it.
You see, its because there is a player-based supply line that the community is as good as it is. At least in part. Two hours spent in the logistics team taught me that I need to work with others to win this war. Going in guns blazing is just a quick way to lose a gun, ammo and anything else I happened to be carrying. And the enemy can pick my stuff up and use it against us. This is the same with gun batteries, tanks and other forms of transport. They don’t respawn at base; they are part of the world and we are responsible for them.
I asked Max whether he felt the same:
Oh I think so, certainly. The design, unintentionally we feel, married two different kinds of players. There are those players who play games like Minecraft, who love to just build things. But it suffered from one critical piece in that when you were finishing building things, you couldn’t share them with anyone. Foxhole combines the kinds of players that like to play strategy, RTS, and even to a smaller extent FPS games, and gave them a footing for not just meeting those builder-types of players, but needing them.
And so when I finally get to the front, I don’t rush out. I decide to join a squad. I listen to the officer and I follow orders. I thank the logistics team for their work and promise them I won’t lose their wares easily. I chat with my teammates. We tell old war stories and we make jokes about the enemy. It is perhaps ironic that in one of the more realistic portrayals of how war is fought that I found a group of gamers who just want everyone to have fun and enjoy the game the way it is meant to be played.
Sign me up.
Foxhole, developed by Clapfoot Inc, is in early access and currently on sale in the Humble Bundle store for $12.99 here. Foxhole is also available for download on Steam for $19.99 on PC.