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New StarCraft rival designing an approachable RTS with 10-minute games

We spoke with Uncapped Games about its StarCraft RTS rival Battle Aces at Summer Game Fest, and learned all about its approachable design.

Battle Aces Summer Game Fest interview: a woman in a sci-fi mech looks up

RTS games are one of the genres that can be hard to get into as a new player. Titans like StarCraft, Command and Conquer, and Homeworld rule the roost with their years of lore, long matches, and complex systems. This is where the upcoming Battle Aces comes in. As the debut release from Uncapped Games, the team is made up of RTS veterans who want to make the genre more approachable, so we ask them how they’re doing just that at Summer Game Fest.

When Battle Aces launches, we’re told that a campaign or story mode won’t be a part of the experience. Developer Uncapped Games is made up of 37 people, so art director Ted Park tells us that “at the moment, we’re concentrating on one vs one and two vs two [modes].” This doesn’t mean Battle Aces won’t expand its offerings down the line and potentially include some sort of campaign though. “We really wanted to concentrate on the core gameplay loop first, and then once it gets out, we may expand the scope of everything as we go.”

Just looking at Battle Aces you can clearly see how the titan of the RTS game genre, Blizzard’s StarCraft, influenced what Uncapped Games is trying to build. “So many of our team are ex-Blizzard. I am myself,” Park says. “Everything we learned working on [StarCraft], we definitely carried some lessons over. The way we apply readability on units, the way we design units for directionality. We are definitely carrying some of that fundamental philosophy.”

It’s not just StarCraft, however, as Uncapped Games is also made up of developers on games like Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, with others coming over from Relic Entertainment as well. “We’re not just trying to make just another StarCraft game necessarily. We’re trying to make a strong RTS,” Park says.

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The Uncapped Games mantra for Battle Aces is one of approachability. So much of the RTS genre can be ultra-hardcore and incredibly difficult to get into, so the team is making the genre much more welcoming in its overall design.

“The story modes are very accessible [in StarCraft] in a lot of ways, but the multiplayer side can be quite hardcore. With this game, we wanted to create it in a way where hopefully anyone can jump in. We simplified some things, so it’s a little bit easier to understand ‘I make units, I can select them all, and I can move them.’ But as you play more and more, you realize timing is important, positioning is important.

“Our goal is to reduce some of the tedium, and then we want to help concentrate, hopefully, on what we consider to be the fun, which is a lot of combat.”

Part of this approachability comes down to time investment, as Battle Aces offers a ‘ten-minute game mode’ where instead of pushing toward an hour for one match you can be in and out in no time at all. Park tells us that Uncapped Games wants the timer to give players “a higher chance of having a positive experience” while getting more matches in during the same amount of time.

Battle Aces Summer Game Fest interview: a top down shot of RTS combat

“Our engagement level is quite different too, because the combat starts almost right away sometimes, and so you’re still getting the fun of controlling a lot of things, making a lot of decisions. But then once you’re done, and maybe you’ve lost, it’s like ‘oh, okay, that was five minutes, I’m just going to queue up, get right back in, and then hopefully win.’”

Battle Aces also adopts something called the Unit Deck, where you pick eight unique units before a match, each with varying tech tiers, in an effort to mix and match the perfect combo to win your next quick game. This is why Battle Aces doesn’t have races, like StarCraft’s Terrans or Zerg, as you’ll instead be customizing with an array of manufacturing companies.

“It’s a deck-building game,” Park explains. “We have to make sure that a player can combine and mix and match any units that they want together.” There are seven manufacturers to help you build your Unit Deck, each with its own design aesthetic. Different manufacturers can then be paired together, and they all have different abilities on the battlefield to take into consideration too, so it’s not just looks.

Battle Aces Summer Game Fest interview: the game's Unit Deck screen

“For launch, we’re aiming a little bit more towards accessibility, knowing people will have to acclimate to our game, but in the future, we will likely add a little bit more complexity,” Park says in closing. “Beginner players will likely want to build one deck and just stick with it and learn it. [But] we want players to see those strategies in their opponents, and then hopefully pick it up themselves.”

The Battle Aces closed beta starts later in June of this year, and you can sign up for it right here.

If you want something a little similar, we’ve also got some brilliant grand strategy games and city building games, to keep the same RTS part of your brain engaged during play.

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Additional reporting by Lauren Bergin for PCGamesN at Summer Game Fest.