Military Madness: Nectaris
Military Madness: Nectaris shipped in 2009.
Platform: XBLA / PSN WiiWare
Published by: Hudson Soft
Developed by: Backbone Vancouver,
Emeryville

Format: Digital
Military Madness: Nectaris a remake Nectaris, a 1989 strategy game for the Turbografx-16 / PC-Engine. It was well known in North America as Military Madness. The game clearly inspired Advance Wars and other console strategy games of today, but despite two sequel/remakes had never been updated to modern consoles. Our goal was essentially an HD remake, but with the UI and controls updated to modern standards, and a new multiplayer mode to show off the vs. play that the original was actually pretty good at.

 

Development

I led development of this project following the completion of Monster Lab. As with most downloadable titles, the budget and timeframe were pretty miniscule, but as an oldschool japanese game it was an exciting franchise to work on. Nectaris had a great (if limited) history, some really interesting design choices, and a small, dedicated fanbase. The original plan was to include a history of the series – making it a remake, but with historical context – but budget and size limitations (for example, the Wii had a 50MB limit!) made odds slim that we could include something. (Sorry,  Base Nectaris! Your site is awesome!) Our design pillars were three-fold:

  1. New Interface: Nectaris is playable, but also very unforgiving. Backing out of an action would end your turn, for instance. Advance Wars really set the bar on UI design and that’s what we set out to match.
  2. Revised Math: Nectaris has a lot of “gross math”. You could go into encounters as a dominating force and lose easily. The math was sometimes so flawed (or random) that some FAQs actually advocate restarting a level repeatedly to ensure a certain outcome. We didn’t want to simply throw out the randomness, but we did at least want a bedrock of reliability to it.
  3. Multiplayer: Any modern strategy game has multiplayer – heck, even the original game did – but it couldn’t hurt to add a dedicated mode with balanced maps and units. The pitch also called for a new “Commander” unit with different upgrade abilities. We also added a 4-player mode along with the usual achievements and leaderboards.

Aside from Base Nectaris for reference, we used a custom map editor to rebuild all of the original game maps and did our best with the math to figure out the intention and reasoning behind everything they did. In fact, before I left we were design complete – the only remaining thing I would have had to do was work with the team and make changes as the game was implemented.

Music

What can I say? Nectaris and Neo Nectaris have some really great music that is immediately alienating and original. Playing the game feels more like a Four Tet album than an 8-bit adventure. Our plan was to remix or re-use as much as possible. Unfortunately, Emeryville seemed to decide against that and instead went with some sort of bland synth-rock. I have no idea why. Sorry, fans…

Aftermath

Unfortunately, Backbone Vancouver was already struggling to survive by the time development hit full power. I’m told that a basic version of the game was playable before the studio shut down, after which the rest of the team was laid off and the game was shifted to Emeryville. It’s clear that some content was cut or built on a rushed deadline, but it is nice to know it did release. Multiplayer seems basically intact from our design, but the UI was completely changed.

As per usual with transferred projects, if you don’t finish, you end up in the Special Thanks section. And that’s where I am. This is the politics of game credits.