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04 November, 2015

PAX Aus Diary: Forts Hands-On - Worms Meets Missile Command

Earthwork's indie game Forts for PC is hard to put down.

Forts sat in the centre of the indie pavilion at PAX Aus 2015; a PC game about strategy, subterfuge and out-thinking and out-planning your opponent. It feels like every game you used to play as a kid, like building pillow forts or castles in the yard, or playing dodgeball at school. Forts is being developed by Earthwork games, and this competitive multiplayer gem is hard to put down.

The build of Forts that I played was single player against the AI, but there is 8 player multiplayer and a single player campaign in development.

The aim of the game is to build your own fort out of wood and metal, harvest resources and then fire lasers missiles and bombs at the other player. It plays like Worms meets Missile Command, and I can see multiplayer matches getting hectic and complicated.

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The crux of the game is in building your fort: an accurate physics model means that the structure can tilt and lean like a palm tree in the wind. You view the map from the side and need to build your fort in triangles to keep it from toppling over. Placing weapons to wreak havoc and resource buildings to fund the havoc is as simple as clicking and placing in the open spaces of your fort.

Weapons range from snipers to missile volleys and lasers, all of which vary in price and effect. There are also defensive options, such as reinforced walls, sand bags and machine guns that can be used to shoot missiles out of the sky. I can see players easily developing favoured playstyles and rushing one weapon or another. I for one loved the missile launcher, but it's an endgame tech, so I was more open to defeat in the early game.

The physics of Forts makes a wonderful little balancing act (literally) as only the front facing rooms can house weapons without shooting your own structure, and that means going taller to add more guns. However, the taller structure is more prone to toppling like a house of cards, and taking your hard-earned weapons with it. To that end, the weapons that you can lob at your opponent's structure all do varying amounts of damage, with some peppering holes, some setting fire, and later ones blowing great chunks out of its side. The balance for the developers is in making sure that all of the weapons are fair as well as easy to use. The missile launcher, for instance, is balanced by the fact that it needs a sniper to paint a target on the enemy fort, or else it can't be fired.

Forts is being developed by a two man team, with a freelance sound designer working tirelessly in the wings. The game has been showcased at a number of smaller events in and around the team's hometown of Brisbane, but PAX Aus is easily the largest showing thus far. Artist Nick Smith said that the reception has been fantastic, with players finding new ways to win that the team hadn't come across yet. Programmer/Designer Tim Auld was frantically scribbling into an overstuffed notebook throughout the half hour that I spent with them - they really seemed to be soaking up the experience of having so many playtesters eager to try something new.

Eventually we would love to see an iPad version of Forts, as the controls just feel like they would flow well on a touchscreen. But for now, check out Forts at EarthWork Games website, which has test matches and development blogs to learn about the best strategies and failures.

The intended release date is between early and late 2016; Tim and Nick seemed to disagree on that.


Nathanael Peacock

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