Jagged Alliance 3 Developer Diary #1

Haemimont Games and THQ Nordic bring us the first developer diary for Jagged Alliance 3. To kick things off, they introduce us to their vision for the game, its simulative turn-based combat, its roster of colorful mercs, and its strategic elements. Plenty of good stuff in there.

Check it out:

Welcome to the first Jagged Alliance 3 DevDiary!

The DevDiary is a place where we can discuss specifics about the game, share some insights about the development process, and offer perspective on what game-shaping decisions we make and why. We’ll do our best to talk about cool, interesting topics, of which we’d love to hear your feedback! Hearing your suggestions will help us make the best game we can, and also understand what our fans care about.

It was really hard for us to keep silent for so long, since there is a lot we want to share about Jagged Alliance 3. It may go without saying, but thank you for all the love and patience, we really appreciate it!

Jagged Alliance 3: Our Vision

Hello and welcome to the first DevDiary of Jagged Alliance 3 in which we will present our vision for Jagged Alliance 3 !

Since many of us in the dev team are lifelong Jagged Alliance fans it is easy for us to assume that many readers of this article will also be intimately familiar with JA1 and JA2, however we will try to avoid this trap and present the information in a way that is accessible to newcomers as well. Overall, our goal is not only to introduce you to our game, but also to the principles that led us through the years-long development journey. We don't plan to focus on details just yet, there will be time enough for this in upcoming DevDiaries down the road.

Ever since the first pitch document we wrote we were certain about one thing - there was a particular feeling from Jagged Alliance 1 and 2 that made them special and we wanted to recapture it in our sequel - a unique combination of simulative turn-based combat, colorful characters, strategic management and the exploration of an open RPG-inspired sandbox world. A true sequel should rely on all of these pillars in order to recapture the charm of the first two games, so let's visit each of these points in turn.

Simulative Turn-based Combat

If we have to describe our combat philosophy in a single sentence, it would be "deep turn-based combat that takes a realistic approach and allows a fine level of control." There's a lot to parse here, so bear with us while we dissect this sentence...

"Deep" means that our goal is to offer interesting decisions and no single right answer to any given situation. Sid Meier once famously said that good gameplay is a "series of interesting decisions" and this is a statement that we very much get behind. We want to reward mastery and creative thinking, to have many moments that make you stop and wonder how to proceed, weighting pros and cons and visualizing possible outcomes in your mind's eye.

"Turn-based" should be self-explanatory, but it must be mentioned because it is so central for Jagged Alliance. While historically there have been some experiments with real-time gameplay in the world of JA, this was never a direction we were interested in or considered for this project.

"Realistic approach" doesn't mean that we want to necessarily simulate reality in every minute aspect, but rather that we aim to keep things grounded in reality - both in the visuals and the gameplay aspect. Weapons can jam or break down, simulated bullets can penetrate materials and bodies to cause collateral damage and severe wounds persist for days instead of being magically healed in an instant. We like to think about our approach as "action movie" realism where guns feel like guns but the good guys can still kick ass against seemingly impossible odds.

While many recent turn-based games have chosen to become more "abstract" and limit each character to 2-3 significant actions per turn, we went the opposite way. Jagged Alliance 3 gives you much more detailed control over every combat decision. Our Action Point system allows this precise management and mechanics like stances, aiming, body part shots and weapon firing modes allow you to customize your approach for every single shot.

The Heart of the Game - our Mercs

Jagged Alliance was always about the mercs! No other game from that era has such a humongous cast of fleshed out and detailed main characters as Jagged Alliance 1 and 2 did and we are certain that everyone who played the old games remembers their own favorites. We knew that the heart and charm of Jagged Alliance is closely tied to this ragtag bunch of unlikely heroes that always manage to feel alive, talkative, witty, and full of character, and we tried to bring back as many as we could in Jagged Alliance 3.

There are around 40 mercs in the new game - most of them are old favorites but there are many newcomers as well! More than just pawns in the player’s hands, the mercs are rarely indifferent to what happens around them - they interject in conversations, form relations, make jokes, hold grudges, react to the combat situation and always tend to find a way to express their personality.

Some of the hardest, but also most rewarding decisions in the project wеre who to keep from the original cast and who to sideline for potential future content, how to make these classic characters feel authentic and how to create new mercs that can stand on their own next to them. There is no single main character in Jagged Alliance, or rather each merc is a potential main character, so all of them should be worthy of this role!

Other than the character and personality of the mercs we had to consider their mechanical representation as well. We didn't want to put our characters in a narrow box so a classless combat and character development system seemed most appropriate. Even if a particular merc advertises himself as a "Doctor" or "Explosives expert", they can develop in any direction and are not limited by a predefined combat role or an artificial "class".

Beyond their raw mechanical stats (such as strength, marksmanship, leadership, etc.), mercs are further differentiated by various quirks and perks. Some of these are predefined for the particular merc (such as "psycho" or "claustrophobic") while others are gained as the merc levels up, allowing a degree of customization and specialization as the campaign progresses. We are itching to share more details, however this is a subject worthy of a separate "deep dive" DevDiary later on.

Since our characters are so important, we knew we wanted to get the voiceover and their voice responses as good and authentic as possible. The decision that every line in the game will be voiced was made at the start of the project, but the final recordings are always done closer to the end. After making a proof of concept test with recorded voices just for a few characters, we used a software solution to generate "proxy" voices just to be able to test the game and iterate quickly without recording voice overs at each cycle.

Strategic Gameplay in an Open World

"Grand Chien is a hellhole..." - this phrase quickly became a running joke in the dev team since these were the first words from a placeholder introduction we had in our developer build for a long time. The text itself is no longer in the game, but the country of Grand Chien is still very much there.

Grand Chien is a fictional third world country, facing turmoil during the early 2000s. The time period and the setting itself were carefully crafted to convey a somewhat nostalgic "old action-movie" feel. This is reflected to a point in all aspects of the game, from the gameplay and visual style to the user interface. Beyond timeline considerations and tactical combat gameplay, we needed a world to accommodate the strategic and RPG elements in the game as well.

Our satellite view map offers a bird's eye view on this world[...]

From here you manage the strategic aspect of the game - organize your mercs in squads, travel around, capture territory, clash with enemy patrols, and intercept convoys with valuables. Time is the most important resource here - even when idle, your mercs can be put to good use in special operations. Healing wounds, repairing damaged equipment, organizing defenses, and scouting for valuable intel all take time, and since most of your mercs are operating on a contract, time is money!

After a brief initial sequence, there is no imposed order in which we are expecting you to go through this vast satellite map. The world is meant to be open and not to railroad your experience in any way.

Each sector in the Sat View map corresponds to a unique handcrafted map where both combat, area exploration and interactions with NPCs happen. A significant part of our gameplay takes place in non-combat situations and focuses on exploration, choice and conversations. Even though Jagged Alliance 3 is not a full-fledged RPG, our goal was to create a persistent world that responds to your actions and is changed by your decisions, much more than in the typical tactical game. This ties nicely with the individuality of our characters that we already talked about, allowing us to offer different content and opportunities depending on which mercs are in the current group.

In Conclusion

To recap all of the information above, here are the pillars of Jagged Alliance 3, as our team sees them:
  • Deep turn-based combat that takes a realistic approach and allows a fine level of control
  • A large cast of quirky and unique mercenaries
  • Strategic gameplay on the satellite view map
  • A vast handcrafted open world to explore and shape with your decisions
We hope this article answered some of your questions about our vision for Jagged Alliance 3 and planted the seeds for many future DevDiaries! What aspect of the game excites you and resonates with you the most? What would you like to read about next?