Word leaked out last week that Full Control — the Danish devs behind Tactical Soldier, Frontline Tactics, and the forthcoming Space Hulk — were getting ready to reveal their next project: a reboot of one of the turn-based tactical world’s most beloved franchises, Jagged Alliance.
Jagged Alliance 2 — the 1999-vintage game that is the best remembered of the series — cast you as a soldier of fortune contracted to depose a cruel dictator from the fictional banana republic of Arulco. You were free to conduct your war of liberation as you saw fit, hiring mercenaries on fixed-term contracts, securing local resources and tangling with Arulco’s armed forces. It was a massively ambitious game that’s never known a peer. It’s still being played and, in a way, still in active development. Fans continue to release and refine mods for JA2 almost 15 years post-release. If anything, the cut-throat world of Jagged Alliance is actually a better fit for the austerity 2010s than it was for the optimistic, budget-surplus days of the late 1990s that gave birth to it.
So woe to he who would dare to reboot Jagged Alliance without the proper reverence for the source material. Last year’s Jagged Alliance: Back in Action for the PC blasphemously shoe-horned real-time combat into the JA formula and removed staple mechanics like fog of war. The game was all but ignored by fans and savaged by critics.
Thomas Hentschel Lund and his Full Control team are launching into a Kickstarter next week to raise the funds to secure the Jagged Alliance license and create Jagged Alliance Flashback — what he’s calling a true successor to the seminal strategy game. In our chat, Lund stressed that this new Jagged Alliance is a PC-first game, and that any iPad version would be a stretch goal. But if a successfully Kickstarted JA Flashback doesn’t appear on iPad, I will eat my hat. Mark my words.
I talked to Lund on Tuesday to get a sense of what his vision for Jagged Alliance is. Our conversation is after the jump.
Owen Faraday: I don’t think it’s a secret that the key to a successful Kickstarter is nostalgia factor. JA seems to a very big following — it probably rivals XCOM in terms of people’s fondness for it.
Thomas Hentschel Lund: For me personally, it was one of the three original games that defined my youth. You had Fallout, the original X-Com, and you had Jagged Alliance. The turn-based godfathers.
OF: So you’re after the Jagged Alliance license because you’re a fan.
Lund: At the same GDC where I met Ian Livingstone [from Games Workshop] — the GDC where Space Hulk came out of — I was also pitching Frontline Tactics to different publishers. I came across the guys from BitComposer there, they were the guys who had the rights to Jagged Alliance. So we had some conversations after that: would they be interested in making a turn-based Jagged Alliance? They weren’t too sure, and then we signed on to do Space Hulk anyway so I put the idea away for a while.
Then last year, after the commercial success of XCOM and the big Kickstarter for Wasteland 2, suddenly turn-based games are back, and we started talking again.
So we’re taking the pre-production team from Space Hulk now that that phase of development is done, and we’re setting them to work on Jagged Alliance. A proper, turn-based Jagged Alliance. It’s too good a chance to pass up.
OF: Did Bit Composer develop that real-time Jagged Alliance from last year, or did they license that out?
Lund: They had somebody make that for them. It was a mixed bag. Looking back on it was like that shooter that 2K was going to make in the X-Com universe. Well, maybe not that bad. But you can’t have real-time combat in a Jagged Alliance game. It was good that it got a lot of new players in, I’m not dissing those guys for doing it. They went with what was the safe route at the time. But after XCOM, they saw that the market was ready for turn-based.
We want to stay independent, not work for hire. And that’s what this Kickstarter is all about. We’re going to license the Jagged Alliance property and make a new Jagged Alliance game the way it should be made.
OF: Tell me more about that. What should a Jagged Alliance game be? What’s your vision for what you’re making?
Lund: A Jagged Alliance game should have Jagged Alliance 2′s core systems: the hybrid of moving your squad in real-time in an open world and then switching to turn-based when you get into line of sight with the enemy. We want the humour and the cheesy dialogue and the squad interactions.
But we’re not just going to re-skin Jagged Alliance for a modern system. We want to make a new game, a prequel that tells the story of the AIM mercenary organization and gives you the back story of the mercenaries you hire in Jagged Alliance 1 & 2.
OF: Is there anything that jumps out at you when you play JA2 that makes you think, ‘I can improve this, I can do this better?’
Lund: Not straight off the bat, no. But we have to go back through it — it’s such a big, complex game. There’s a lot of systems to look through.
The primary thing we’ve been talking about is accessibility. Jagged Alliance is such a difficult game to get into. Once you get past that learning curve it opens up and it’s like, ‘wow — this is a cool game.’ When you look at what Jake Solomon and those guys did with XCOM with the optional ease-in tutorial, that wasn’t a boring ‘click on this’ tutorial. That’s what we want to do. But besides that, our goal is to keep the game as hard core as possible. That’s what the community is going to want.
OF: Have you played the 1.13 fan patch? The one that adds like a thousand guns and that huge weapon customization system.
Lund: Oh man, yeah. It’s incredible. I’m not sure I like every bit of it.
OF: It definitely has a ‘more is more’ philosophy to it.
Lund: I like the way they tried to modernize the interface. But there’s a lot of stuff in there. Part of what’s cool about the Kickstarter is that we’ll be getting people’s input into what they want to see in the game, so that’s a cool opportunity to see how much is too much. The finished product won’t just be my personal opinion or my game designers’ opinion, but the community’s opinion, too.
The Jagged Alliance Flashback Kickstarter kicks off next week.