The Continuum (GenCon 2008)

The Continuum (GenCon 2008)

Online collectible wargame

Seven Lights, LLC

GenCon 2008 gave me the opportunity and the pleasure of meeting the fine people of Seven Lights, LLC and seeing their new game, The Continuum.  It is a game that combines the concepts of an online game and a collectible miniature game and adds in some options that you can not do with a collectible miniature game.

Tim Harris of Seven Lights introduced me to The Continuum with a thorough demo.  The game has been out for a month and currently has over 20,000 active players with over 30,000 games played.  The game itself has its roots in table top role playing as well as table top war gaming, as the designers are long time gamers of both with a strong vision for their online game.

The Continuum is a Flash-based game that really stretches the abilities of Flash gaming without making it cumbersome to the client system.  Seven Lights, LLC, based out of Chicago, has 8 top-notch developers, some from EA Games, expanding and enhancing The Continuum constantly.

The game itself has many of the standard trappings of an online massive multiplayer game, but in many ways it sets itself apart from the MMO games out there.  For one, you do not have to play for hours on end to get anywhere.  The game is played in challenges and one challenge could be just a few minutes, depending on the size of squads and armies.

The game also has the trappings of a miniature game, from the concepts of building armies and squads to point values and statistics for each type of unit.  Figures represent creatures from various realities that are colliding into this one battleground.  They can be humans, elves, shapeshifters, the bear-like Ursa and a number of other races, from realities like the Vampiric reality or the magical Manifest reality.

The story behind the game is supported through a series of comic books, available in paper form or in PDF.  The Continuum is a place where realities have collided and the armies of these realities have joined together to fight.  Each comic book release introduces a new reality.  Not only do they support the game with a great comic book, but they also use the comics to release secret codes to get special content for the game.  Imbedded somewhere in each comic are a number of secret codes used to do this.

The web site is extensive, with a lot of background material, game play descriptions and general information about the game.  Launching the game, the player starts out in the Lobby, where he can get a general summary of who is online and what is going on in the game area at the moment.  Beyond the Lobby, there is the Challenge area for head to head play, the new Single Player area, and the new Tutorials area.  You also view and manage your collection of characters, and visit the Marketplace.

In Challenges, a player can challenge another player in combat.  Once the challenge is accepted, each player forms their armies at the squad level from the units available to him.  Starting out, a player gets around 10 characters as part of their starting collection. The Continuum is based on the classic collectible paradigm where you buy starters and boosters to expand your armies.  Also, like in standard collectible games, there is a range of rarity – from common to legendary or heroic.  There is no subscription fee.  The user only pays if he wants to buy more characters.

Where it goes beyond the standard miniature game is with the ability to advance your characters with a leveling mechanic and add equipment to them during game play.  This is something you simply could not do easily in the real world.  So this creates a much wider range of characters that one might be facing in the game and a level of depth you simply can not get from face to face games.

Once a challenge is accepted, the armies must be built in the army builder.  Each player can build as many squads as he wants, but not more than 20 characters can be on a squad.  With the armies designed, players must choose the battle ground from a variety of locations on the game map displayed in the challenge screen.  Once a location is agreed upon, victory conditions are set, and the final touches to the armies are made, the fighting begins.  The map is laid out in squares and each side has a starting position.  As they draw closer, fighting can begin.  Each player is moving units at the squad level when starting out, but once fighting begins the screen zooms down to the squad, showing the individual units.  In this sense, there is a certain level of fog of war.

Each player then decides what each unit is going to do in this round of combat by giving orders.  There is a time limit that can be set by the players, if they both agree, that limits the amount of time one can take to give orders to each unit.  Combat is handled by the system and the results are displayed in detail afterwards.  They go through 3 rounds of combat before they move again.  Combat ends when the victory conditions are met or one side is wiped out.  The graphics at this level are very well done.  They are sort of ‘cartoonie’ rather than 3D, but still look very cool.

One additional interesting aspect of the battles is Loot.  Throughout the map, based on the settings agreed upon by the players, the characters can find equipment and other items.  There are varying degrees of the type of equipment the players can find, some very powerful while others very common and only moderately useful.

Once a game is over, each player gets a complete game summary of what happened, which they can use to analyze their strategies and make changes for next time.  There is an incredible record keeping system in the system, where one can see the complete battle history of each player, from the number of kills to the damage each character took in a given battle.

The game supports a wide range of battle sizes.  Most games are simple, small-army combats, one on one, but some of the more advanced players have been engaged in huge epic battles with dozens of armies. 

What is amazing about the game and the people behind it is the amount of player input they accept into the game.  From allowing them to create content for the site, like a complete equipment wiki, to characters in the game being included in the comic, Seven Lights is amazingly open to the players and what they have to say about the game.  There is even a RP forum where players have been role playing in the game universe, and some of that has been included in the game storyline.

Seven Lights continues to succeed with this game, building on it and advancing the technology as the load requires.  They are also planning a sci-fi version of this game, based on the same model but with a sci-fi storyline to it.  I truly look forward to seeing that.