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Feature: 'How The West Will Be Won' 2

For today's feature, lead designer Michael Bayne talks design and tactics on Bang! Howdy, the ...
For today's feature, lead designer Michael Bayne talks design and tactics on Bang! Howdy, the innovative six-shooting PC casual MMO title from Three Rings Design (Puzzle Pirates). Michael Bayne kicks off by explaining the inspiration for Bang! Howdy, which came by way of both the world of insects and the world of Peter Sellers: "One day, on a hike in the forest, I had the idea to make a strategy game where the units were different kinds of bugs. It seemed to me that people had an intuitive idea of bugs' capabilities and they'd make a natural mapping between their idea of a bug and the unit it represented. For example, an ant could be a basic soldier unit, a wasp a powerful air unit, a spider a ground unit and so on. Further, I wanted to work in their natural special abilities. An ant could carry leaves and use them to build bridges over small gaps. A caterpillar could eat through grass creating blades to be carried by the ants. Spiders could spin webs to lay traps for other insects. A stink bug could... well you get the idea. At the same time I was thinking about a way to get around the problems I saw with both real-time strategy and turn-based strategy mechanics. I felt that RTS’s had become overly complex and too fast-paced and had lost the approachability of turn-based strategy games where things were discrete and easier to understand. On the other hand, turn-based strategy games tend to suffer from the problem of being no fun when it's not your turn. With both these ideas in mind, I started working on a prototype that involved these insect units and the discrete cool-down timer-based mechanic that we're using. The game mechanic was working great but I was getting bogged down in the details of turning the insect world into a balanced set of strategy units. So I decided to give the bugs a rest for a bit so that I could explore the game mechanic and rewrote the prototype using a standard set of war game strategy units: soldier, tank, helicopter, artillery, which I called "Bang!" because of all the shooting. The first prototype was called "Bugs!" I guess I had a thing for punchy names with exclamation marks at the time. We played the prototype at the office a fair bit and it was a heck of a lot of fun. There were a lot of things we wanted to experiment with in our next game after Puzzle Pirates, and trying them in the context of a casual strategy game that would hopefully not take too long to bring to market seemed like a good idea, so we decided to move ahead and turn the prototype into a real game. None of us were particularly interested in propagating the same tired strategy game themes: war and men-in-tights fantasy. So we brainstormed for a while on what sort of theme would provide a rich source of inspiration. After thankfully rejecting ideas involving Atlanteans versus mermaids and Santa's Elves versus the Easter Bunny, one of our artists, Jon, suggested combining cowboys and steam-punk robots in a sort of fantastical Wild West. This immediately made me think "Bang! Howdy Pardner," a line from a hilarious Peter Sellers movie called “The Party”. We later shortened the name to "Bang! Howdy" after deciding to go with the theme." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the topic, including more on the game's "cool-down" feature, it's business model, and how to gear a strategy game to a 'broad core' audience (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

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