Pocketwatch Games is best known for its hugely popular stealth title, Monaco: What's Yours is Mine, a game that garnered positive critical acclaim across the board and has gone on to sell over 1 million copies since it was first released on PC and Xbox 360. Monaco offered a unique twist on the stealth genre, something that Pocketwatch wants to do again, this time with the real-time strategy genre and their next project, Tooth and Tail.
Just over a year ago Pocketwatch announced the follow up to Monaco over on its blog, at the time the game being revealed under the codename [ARMADA]. Only a month into development, it was very early days, but we did get a sense of what the studio were trying to do, stripping back the genre to the basics, and forming the control scheme around the controller instead of the more traditional mouse and keyboard combo.
Fast forward a few months and there was more news, with the project now being referred to as "Tooth and Tail" (after also going through a period of being called Lead to Fire, a name that was dropped as it didn't go down too well with all concerned). As you can see from the exclusive screenshot attached below, the game has a beautiful art style that does a great job of showcasing conflicts that star a cast of pixelated animals, the whole thing built around streamlined controls and accessibility.
With all that in mind we caught up with the founder of the IGF-winning studio, Andy Schatz. He and his team are working hard on this follow up to Monaco, and as such he had plenty to share regarding the development process thus far, as well as what the team hopes to achieve with Tooth and Tail.
Gamereactor: Monaco was a success for you, how did that change your life as an indie developer?
Andy Schatz: Monaco's success freed us up to make whatever games we want -- and as it turns out, we're building another game of similar scope with a similar team size. This is just how I like to make games.
More importantly, Monaco gave me confidence in the Pocketwatch approach to design: our games are simple on their face but are driven by complex machinery. With Monaco, we took the stealth genre and made it simple and fun without losing the complexity. We're trying to do the same with the RTS genre in Tooth and Tail.
As a game designer, what were the biggest lessons you learned from that experience.
AS: Good indie games -- good GAMES -- typically pick one thing and do it really well. In Monaco, we cut a Thief vs Thief mode, as well as a Cops vs Robbers mode. A slimmed-down game is not a missed opportunity, it's a game that has a singular and easily communicated vision.
Are there any plans to (maybe with a partner) ever bring Monaco to new platforms, or has that ship sailed?
AS: Our 8 (?) thieves may one day return to Monaco, but for now they are - as they say - in the wind.
How did you come up with the concept for Tooth and Tail?
AS: I've always loved Starcraft, but I hate micro. I get frustrated at how fast of a clicker I have to be to play competitively. Games can last interminably. I've always wanted a fun, friendly RTS that you can play on your couch that rewarded improvisation over build orders, strategy over speed.
Tooth and Tail matches are 5-12 minutes, with all the dramatic arc of a large-scale RTS. Most of the game is controlled with only two buttons - yet the game allows for incredible complexity. You command a single rat-general, so you don't have to worry about constantly clicking around the map. And yet everything about Tooth and Tail, strategically, feels exactly like a classic RTS. Tooth and Tail is an Arcade Real Time Strategy game.
And so we set about inventing an animal society in the midst of revolution - the squirrels, skunks, and rats are starving, and so they all turn to eating each other. It's animal cannibalism, and citizens of this crumbling animal-industrial society would rather be predators than prey.
Tooth and Tail is an Arcade RTS about animal cannibalism.
And how has that concept changed over time?
AS: Like with Monaco, we've spent a LOT of time experimenting with controls, game modes, and core design components of the game. The thing I never expected was how deep the game would be, so we've spent a lot of time implementing things like Replays, an Observer mode, random maps, and an editor to support long term players of the game. We've got quite a few members of our pre-alpha with hundreds of hours in the game already.
It's a quirky name, talk us through its meaning.
AS: Our animals are fighting tooth and nail so that they can feast on their enemies' succulent carcasses. But there's a more subtle meaning: The Tooth to Tail Ratio refers, in military parlance, to the relationship between an offensive force and the supply lines that keep it operational. Every classic Real Time strategy hinges on the Tooth to Tail ratio: your ability to manage your economy and fight a war at the same time.
What do you hope to bring to the genre with T&T? Or, perhaps, what do you feel is the biggest problem with RTS games?
AS: For hardcore fans Real Time Strategy doesn't need fixing. I'm not worried, hardcore RTS fans will love Tooth and Tail for the short matches and strategic complexity - tons of Magic: The Gathering fans also enjoy Hearthstone. But there are so many people that have been disappointed in RTS games for years. RTS games are often impossible to just pick up and play -- in Tooth and Tail, people usually feel like they are playing at a high level after just a game or two.
For other people, RTS games always push them into styles of play that they don't really enjoy. We put all of our design emphasis on rewarding strategic creativity, and in being able to tailor your strategy to your particular style of play. With random maps and completely customisable factions, no two games will be the same. You will have to react to the idiosyncrasies of your environment as well as your opponents unit choices and style of play.
With it being arcade focused, will you be concentrating more on action over base building etc?
AS: Not at all -- Tooth and Tail caters toward your style of play. At the beginning of the match, you choose seven structures or units for your faction. If you want to design a faction that is all about base defence and offensive containment, you can do that by slotting barbed wire, artillery cannons, machine gun turrets, sniper balloons, and landmines. If you want to go all offence, you can go with falcons, moles, snakes, ferrets, and owls.
One of the biggest problems we've ever had with the genre is unit identification, how are you working to address this?
AS: One of the big reasons we designed the world with animals in it is that players enter the game with prior knowledge of the functions and relationship between animals in the wild. Skunks stink, moles dig, foxes are hunters. And so in our game, Skunks throw gas grenades, Moles are sappers that can tunnel up behind enemy lines, Foxes are snipers. All of these natural connections make it much easier to learn and understand the purpose of our animals in battle.
Can you tell us more about faction and unit design?
AS: Players control one of four rat-commanders: Bellafide, leader of the aristocrats, Marrow, leader of the commoners, Archimedes, leader of the clergy, or Hopper, leader of the secret police. And when you start a match, you pick seven unit types to recruit from among twenty choices (at launch). Units fall into four categories: Tier 1 units are your cannon fodder, Tier 2 units typically play support roles, Tier 3 units are your late-game bosses, and defensive structures such as turrets and landmines. You'll want to pick a good mixture of cheap and expensive, offensive and defensive, general purpose and specialised. There's a huge amount of strategy and depth that just goes into picking seven units that have a good mix of abilities and that play to your style.
You're building this game around controller support: what challenges has this given you to overcome?
AS: We've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how much micro-level control the player should have during individual battles. In Tooth and Tail, battles should mostly hinge on timing, position, and composition, rather than micro control. But we do want players to be able to positively affect the outcome of battles. Balancing those two goals, while only controlling the game with 2 buttons, has been a challenge we've embraced, and hopefully solved.
Where are you in terms of development, how much more is left to do?
Even though we're closing in on a final polished version of the core game, I still haven't locked the scope yet. One of the nice things about having done so well with Monaco... and having such confidence in Tooth and Tail... is that we can make the game whatever we want it to be.
Can you tell us which platforms are confirmed, if not, can you tell us which platforms you'd like to see the game appear on?
We've only confirmed PC/Mac/Linux so far, but the game is great on a controller, and I'd love to see it on a console too!