"When Star Wars was new": Remaking Ogre, Steve Jackson's first game, for PC

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Ogre is a 40-year-old board game about a massive tank, bristling with guns, trying to smash through an army. On Thursday, it's coming to Steam. The project began life as a stretch goal for the Ogre Designer's Edition Kickstarter back in 2012, a massive boxset intended as the ultimate version of the physical game. The stretch goal included a (very optimistic, as it turned out) release deadline of 2014 for the video game version.

But even without that three-year difference, it had been a very long time since the game's last electronic version; about 31 years, actually. This is what it looked like back then.

"There has been a big hole in the Ogre line where a computer game should have been for a long time," original designer Steve Jackson told me. "Because that's the way that a lot of people like to play these days. And I think it will bring a lot of people to the game who have heard about it but have never gotten to play, maybe just because they don't have a local opponent."

What took so long? Well, turning a 40-year-old board game with intricate rules into a computer game is more complicated than making a 3D model of a giant tank with guns poking out from everywhere. Jackson said his company spent a while looking for the right developer, one that would have "an appropriate degree of faithfulness to the source material." Notice that he didn't say large degree of faithfulness. Making a good adaptation means knowing when sometimes - after careful consideration - to fudge it.

Auroch Digital production manager Nina Adams gave an illustrative example: in Ogre, you can choose whether or not you want to submerge your infantry units when they're standing in a space with water. This is a somewhat rare occurrence, but it's still a part of the game, with its own rules and choices that need to be understood and communicated by both players. But trying to implement all of that nuance into the speedy, rules-automated PC version would have "added probably about a month's worth of coding" that could have been better spent elsewhere. All for a minor edge case. So Auroch's version just does the math in the background to determine what's most advantageous, then it either sinks your soldiers or it doesn't.

If that sounds nitpicky, you should have seen the playtests upon playtests that Steve Jackson needed to do to get this weird idea of near-future, asymmetrical warfare right back when he was creating the first version. It was his first game, after all, long before the Munchkins and the Zombie Dice and all the others you'll find in your friendly local game store.

"The first pass was not spot on," Jackson readily admitted. "It took a lot of tweaking, back there in the dark ages when Star Wars was new, to get it. Because you're not just balancing Side A against Side B, you also need to balance all of the little units against each other, so it's not completely obvious that you should take 20 of this one and ignore all the others. They need to work together and support each other, and to not have any that are just unreasonably cheap or unreasonably expensive on points."

Back to the present, Ogre's video game version is currently only planned for release on PC. If it really takes off there, Adams said, Auroch might start some conversations about bringing it to consoles. And yes, the new Ogre does look better than the DOS version.

What a difference 31 years can make!