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Morale system in Classified: France ’44 by Absolutely Games adds humanity to tactics

Absolutely Games recently released Classified: France ’44 on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms. Amidst the vibrant and colorful backdrop of France, players take charge of a special forces unit collaborating with the Resistance to disrupt and sabotage enemy forces before D-Day. The game introduces fresh perspectives to the turn-based tactics genre with innovative features.

Absolutely Games was set up at the very end of 2019 and started growing during the Corona years. The company moved into an office in Guildford, England where it expanded to a team of 28 people. There’s a healthy mix of experienced and fresh talent that worked on their debut game Classified: France ’44. “The founders and several of the team members have been in the industry for over 25 years”, says CEO James Brooksby. “We believe very much in the values and culture of our company and have a strong ‘no BS, no politics’ rule. Over the last 4 years we have built a lovely team and we are very proud of what we have made together.”

When the team members came together to discuss a game set in World War II, it quickly became clear that they wanted to tell stories that hadn’t been covered sufficiently before. They all agreed that players had stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day possibly one too many times in other games.

In the end they decided to weave two separate stories together. One was the account of the Jedburghs, an early special forces operation that sent saboteurs into France to support D-Day. The other was the story of the French Resistance, and their struggles during the occupation. “So, a turn-based-tactics game based around sabotage and assassination operations felt like something fresh to us”, says Senior Game Designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood.

Find the game

Another cliché the team aimed to eliminate is the tendency to depict every World War II game and film with a desaturated, grey-brownish look, a trend that has persisted since Saving Private Ryan. “We wanted a past that was a little more colourful than that and balanced the visuals accordingly”, explains Brimmicombe-Wood. “We definitely wanted to create a rich-looking environment that felt authentically French. We used a lot of period references to try and get this right. The colour palette was also key.”

“There’s always overlap between the different disciplines in our studio. Many course changes during development came from within the team.”

With the story and art direction locked in place, the game actually went through several changes before it settled on the final gameplay mechanics. “Sometimes it takes a while to ‘find the game’. And you’re often doing this while under pressure to deliver to various deadlines”, says Brimmicombe-Wood. “The concept and emphasis has shifted over time as we learned more about what people expected from a game on this subject. Our solution has been to be flexible, avoid dogmatism, and most of all, be prepared to ‘kill your babies’ in the search of the game as it needs to be.”

Morale system

The team also learned to listen to feedback from users. “The trick is not just to take in their feedback but to dig down to the ‘why’ they gave you that feedback. Sometimes a problem a user highlights might not be the thing that needs fixing, but is a symptom of a completely different problem. Diagnosis requires a lot of careful investigation to get to the root of things.”

“Everyone plays the game during development, so we have plenty of opportunities for everyone to feed back on the game and shape it.”

One feature that received positive reactions from players is the Morale system. Turn-based-tactics games have traditionally had an issue with combat being based on probabilities. By adding morale as a factor, it enhances the experience beyond a simple binary outcome of success or failure. “In Classified: France 44, all attacks, even where they miss, also do damage to a target’s morale. If morale can be reduced that target is suppressed or even paralysed by fear, and they become more vulnerable to attacks. In addition to reducing the impact of random ‘dice rolls’ on combat, this adds a whole new dimension to the game: trying to fire to suppress enemies  before moving to kill them. It’s actually a lot more realistic and is reminiscent of real-world firefights.”

Hero bands

So, can we expect more games under the Classified moniker? “We’d love that, if we can find the right subject”, says Brimmicombe-Wood. “The thing with Classified is that in theory the concept (special forces operations/insurgency) can move forwards or backwards in time. Every era has its hero bands, commandos, and bravos you could build a game around.”

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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