The full digital recreation of Undaunted: Normandy, developed and published by Bookmark Games, is available now on Steam Early Access. Read on to hear from the developer all about the design process and what you can expect in Early Access...
I remember first picking up a copy of Undaunted: Normandy in the summer of 2019. I was immediately impressed with the way it combined a couple of different genres – deckbuilding and wargaming – in a really neat package. A game that was simple to learn and play but at the same time offered a fantastic tactical complexity and depth. Around this time I’d just finished working on a digital adaptation of another David Thompson game, Pavlov’s House, and was looking around for a new project to work on. I had a couple of different thoughts and ideas, but once the opportunity to work on Undaunted: Normandy came up that was always going to be my number one choice. The lovely people at Osprey Games were very helpful and supportive (as they have been throughout) and the project all came together very easily.
Undaunted: Normandy Digital is built using Unity. It’s such an easy tool to use and we were able to get a prototype up and running very quickly. From a development point of view, I always think this is really important. I like to work in a very agile fashion – this means you can make changes quickly and easily, and if something doesn’t work then you can change it straight away rather than being too far down the build process. It also means you can share the build very early on and get some useful feedback on things like the UI and AI. We also had a multiplayer build up and running very early so that this could be tested.
Bookmark Games is a very small development studio. A lot of the development of Undaunted: Normandy Digital happened during Covid lockdowns which was actually a good opportunity to get through a lot of work, since we couldn’t go anywhere. From a technical point of view, there were a couple of challenges. A lot of work has gone into the AI and will continue to do so. I’ve played a lot of games of Undaunted: Normandy, probably hundreds now over the course of the development lifecycle. And in this I’ve learnt that although the luck of the dice helps, a good player will always win. I know this because my brother (who helped out with the multiplayer testing) beat me on a regular basis, and it didn’t matter which side I played. However, for the multiplayer (and the machine learning solution specifically), a bit of bad luck can make the AI look like a poor player and a bit of good luck can make it look unbeatable.
The Early Access build contains a self-taught AI solution. I’ve sunk an enormous amount of time into running this (largely because I love a technical challenge). The idea is that it plays itself, and over thousands (and thousands) of games learns how to play well. Imagine you’re learning to play tennis, and maybe you can play a fairly decent game. If Roger Federer turns up and thrashes you, you probably won’t learn anything. Equally if you play against a complete beginner and win easily you won’t improve either. However, if you play against an opponent who is just a little bit better than you, then you’ll improve. This is how the AI solution works. However, the element of luck that exists in the game makes the AI learning process a real challenge. For now, I’ve left it in for the first scenario. It’ll play some stupid moves – it’ll play some outrageously clever moves. In addition, there’s a decision-engine-based AI that works for all scenarios.
I’m delighted with the way that a number of additional aspects of the game have turned out. I mentioned the machine learning AI solution above, and when it beats me I’m amazed that something self-taught has been able to do that. The engine itself is also super flexible, so it’s very easy to add more scenarios (which I will do during Early Access). I’m also delighted with the music – it was composed especially for the game by my son who has just completed a Master’s degree in composition for film and TV. The music captures the tone of the game perfectly. I’m also very happy with the multiplayer in that it seems pretty robust.
So, what does Early Access bring? In the first instance, I love the feedback that players always give. Sometimes you can be so embedded in a project that it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees, and so I’m excited about sharing the game as it is and seeing what people think. With this sort of thing there are always a bunch of requests, and I’ll try and respond to (and implement) as many as possible. Beyond that and other general improvements, the campaign mode will be added, and eventually the game will be released for iPad as well. And maybe (but no promises) there will also be a scenario editor.
And on that note, many thanks for taking the time to read this, and I sincerely hope you enjoy playing the digital version of Undaunted: Normandy as much as I’ve enjoyed making it.
Undaunted: Normandy Digital is available from Bookmark Games
on Steam Early Access for PC & Mac.