Nintendo have announced a brand new game for the Nintendo 3DS—Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. It’s a turn-based strategy game with elements from action games. Specifically, the action elements draw from third-person shooters.
S.T.EA.M. takes place in a London that’s entirely steam-powered. In this world, wireless technology such as radios are a new invention. The game’s main character is named Captain Fleming and players command the Unit S.T.E.A.M., an elite fighting force created by Abraham Lincoln.
S.T.E.A.M. is being developed by Intelligent Systems, the developer of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. Paul Patraschu is the creative director. Takako Sakai is the art director.
The game is produced by Hitoshi Yamagami. He’s the Nintendo producer on games like Xenoblade, Fire Emblem and Style Savvy. During the presentation, Yamagami said that people have a kind of timidity about turn-based strategy. He’s been thinking about why it is that people have this aversion to these games.
Patraschu said he’s been with Intelligent Systems for 8 years. He joined the company because of their strategy games, and he shares Yamagami’s worries as to why it is that strategy games don’t have a major following. Perhaps, he suggested, there’s too much abstraction between the player and the game world in strategy games.
Perhaps the disconnection between the player and the world feels intimidating, Patraschu said. His solution to this was taking the point of view of the player and putting it down into the battlefield at the level of the units you command. One concern Yamagami had regarding this was how players would understand the condition of the battlefield without having some sort of overhead view of it. The solution—to allow the player to explore during their turn, eliminating the need for a map.
Takako Sakai then decided the game would be steampunk-themed.
Nintendo said the “move, attack, select new unit” format doesn’t work for this kind of game. They wanted to bring non-linear problem-solving to the turn-based format. Your turns in S.T.E.A.M. are essentially limited by how much steam you have on a little bar on the bottom of the screen. Until you’ve performed some kind of action like an attack, even if you move, your steam won’t be completely depleted.
The fifth mission in S.T.E.A.M. is titled “Liberating Boston”. The mission started out with 9 units on the Nintendo 3DS’ bottom screen. One of them looked like it has a pumpkin for a head. Another looked like a… tiger… thing. Nintendo said that each character has unique characteristics and powers. We wanted to make it easy to tell what kinds of powers characters have just by looking at them.
Even if you aren’t very good at Math, you can still enjoy this game a lot, the game’s developers said. This also means that you won’t be grinding for experience to boost stats—instead, you’re focused on expanding the team and making the team itself stronger. You’ll get new characters as you go through the game, and new weapons that allow for different ways of attacking. There’s no way to grind your way into an all-powerful character, and there’s no all-powerful weapon waiting at the end. Your victory depends on how well you can use the powers of your team together to defeat each map.
Creative director Patraschu said that S.T.E.A.M. employs an element that has been in a lot of strategy games of late, he said—an “overwatch attack,” where instead of attacking on your own turn, it’s an attack you make on the enemy’s turn.
In order to balance the game, the overwatch attack has been made more meaningful, more powerful. You have the ability to stun the enemy. It depends on the weapon, but because enemies are quite durable, you might take a risk with an overwatch attack. There’s a tracking period before these attacks connect—you might have a chance to run away from an attack, for example.
Nintendo wanted S.T.EA.M.’s characters to be iconic. The artists on the development team at Intelligent Systems drew inspiration from Silver Age American comic books. Sakai said that what she really loves about American comics is the positive nature of the art—the liveliness, the vivid colour schemes. She cited Jack Kirby as one of his favourite artists.
Intelligent Systems paid close attention to colour and shading in the game. They also used pixel art for the terrain, so that no matter what distance you look at the textures from, they maintain the same visual style all the time. The goal is to make it so every map is some place the player feels they’ve never seen before.
Another influence, surprisingly, was H.P. Lovecraft. The aliens that are attacking the earth are all original creations in S.T.E.A.M., but Intelligent Systems said you can see the heavy influence of H.P. lovecraft in their work on the game.
Intelligent Systems have said that there will be no permadeath in S.T.E.A.M. You’ll be able to use Medals you collect from defeating enemies to restore health and steam at checkpoints. There will be one difficulty throughout the whole game.
S.T.E.A.M. stands for “Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace”.