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This War of Mine Writer Talks Tablets, Tough Choices

SAN FRANCISCO — Despite wide critical acclaim and it winning of the Audience Choice award at the Independent Games Festival, part of the concurrent Games Developers Conference (GDC) here, it seems 2D siege-survival game This War of Mine may not be done expanding and refining its bleak setting, grim tone and ambiguous morality.

The team at Polish game developer 11 Bit Studios is working to update the game with new content and characters, as well as creating a tablet version for iOS and Android. At GDC 2015, I had a chance to talk with This War of Mine developer and 11 Bit Studios senior writer Pawel Miechowski to discuss the game and where it's going.

Miechowski was happy to reveal that all future downloadable content for This War of Mine will come as free updates for all platforms. (The game is currently available for Windows, OS X and Linux.) I also got a chance to play an early build of the iOS tablet version running on an iPad Air.

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When it was released in November 2014, This War of Mine shocked players by flipping the traditional perspective of war-based gaming. Games like Battlefield and Call of Duty put the player in the shoes of a soldier, but This War of Mine examines the lives of civilians during conflict, as regular citizens try to survive in a war-torn city inspired by the four-year siege of Sarajevo during the 1990s Balkan wars.

During the game's development, the team at 11 Bit was nervous because it wasn't sure how players would react when forced to make difficult decisions — such as whether to risk running for food across a sniper alley, or to slowly starve instead.

"Our game is not just pure entertainment, it's not all about fun," Miechowski said. "We wanted to challenge the players with a different way of looking at war."

11 Bit created difficult emotional situations that might make players depressed, or not want to play the game at all. But the success of 2013's Papers, Please — a game that chronicles the daily toil of an immigration inspector in a fictional Eastern Bloc country during the Cold War — let the 11 Bit developers know they were on the right path.

In the past three months, sales of This War of Mine have raised just under $5,000 for the War Child charity, which helps children in conflict zones. 11 Bit has also added a Mac version of the game to the App Store.

Most PC-to-mobile ports have difficulty translating controls from mouse-and-keyboard input to touch input. But as I played the tablet demo, I found that the simple mechanics of This War of Mine actually lent themselves perfectly to touch input. Directing the characters to scavenge and look for supplies was a joy, and even though the art had to be simplified a bit for a tablet, the game's signature desaturated look shone through with style.

For the 11 Bit team, the real issue with the tablet port was philosophical. The company had to choose between the free-to-play payment scheme employed by many mobile games, in which the player makes multiple in-game purchases to advance, or a more standard, and potentially less profitable, one-time-purchase revenue model.

The notion of free-to-play was quickly extinguished when the developers imagined players being interrupted during a tense moment in the game with a prompt to pay up. Miechowski said pestering the player with micro-transactions would not only cheapen the player's experience, but ruin the story's emotional impact and compromise the entire point of the game.

While 11 Bit hasn't finalized pricing of the tablet editions, Miechowski said that new downloadable content for This War of Mine could come as soon as April, with the tablet versions following closely behind. Based on my short hands-on with the tablet edition, This War of Mine is going to just get better, for new mobile players as well as current owners looking for more content.

Sam Rutherford is a Staff Writer at Tom’s Guide. Follow him @SamRutherford on Twitter, and Tom’s Guide on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.