This Could Be Good

Champs: Battlegrounds

Choose Unwisely

The upcoming mobile strategy game Champs: Battlegrounds makes a bid to sidestep the “paradox of choice.”

By John Teti • July 26, 2013

Preview events offer only brief glimpses at big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

One of the more resonant pop-psychology ideas to take hold in the last decade is what Barry Schwartz called “the paradox of choice” (in a book by the same title). Schwartz, a psychologist, argued that when shoppers were offered a wide array of choices for a given purchase, the pressure to make the “right” choice made them more anxious, to the extent that the added choices weren’t providing much of a benefit. I feel Schwartz’s thesis on a personal, non-shopping level every time I start up a game and it offers me a blitzkrieg of character customizations. The menus—oh, the menus—ask if you are you a bruiser or a gadget nerd? Do you prefer to fight with ninja stars or laser guns? What color hair do you want for your dude or lady or dude-who-looks-like-a-lady?

A few weeks ago, I got a hands-on preview of an upcoming game for iThings and Android whatnots. It’s called Champs: Battlegrounds, and I was expecting it to be rife with this same type of choice-induced paralysis. After all, Champs was described to me in advance as a “cross-platform 1v1 real-time strategy game,” a series of letters and numbers that exist on the loneliest outskirts of meaning, so I steeled myself for a preview characterized by the same gobbledygook. Instead, my brief spell with the game (on an iPad) proved to be one of the more stimulating demos I’ve seen in a while.

Champs: Battlegrounds

Each round of the game takes place on a battleground, as you might imagine, with a chess-like grid overlaid on top to keep your troops’ movement orderly. The object is for your warriors, magic-users, and other members of Fantasyland Central Casting to defeat the enemy squadron across the way. Because there are so many different varieties of fighters, each of them with their own repertoire of attacks, a round of Champs: Battlegrounds could easily become mired in choice-induced paralysis. This is a complex game, and even in my short demo session, I could feel the strategic implications of the battle system blossoming in my head—a nice sensation. Two fundamental design choices kept me from succumbing to choice overload.

The first is an obvious one: touch. Instead of attempting to map a PC-esque menu system onto the iPad—the quixotic approach that so many other developers have taken—Champs: Battlegrounds uses simple command menus that encourage you to keep tap-tap-tapping. You tap to shuffle your fighters around the board and tap to unleash, say, short-range flurries of swordsmanship or long-range volleys that wear down your foes. As in any battlefield strategy game worth its salt, positioning matters a great deal, and I found it more pleasurable to rearrange my front line directly with my hands rather than with a keyboard or gamepad.

Champs: Battlegrounds

The second important design choice is speed. The studio isn’t kidding when its marketing materials tout the “real-time” aspect of their game. While the designers were clearly inspired by games like Final Fantasy Tactics, they’re also eager to emphasize that they’re cutting out all the waiting that those turn-based games usually entail. Yes, there is a panoply of choice at your disposal during a fight in Champs, but the battle simply happens too fast for you to dither too much over any one decision. Judging by my 15-minute glimpse of the game, the fighting is less about improving your elaborate decision-making process and more about developing an ingrained feel for broader strategies. That way, with practice, your first instinct will be a good one.

Champs still has its fair share of menus and configuration options. There are a bunch of different characters who can fill your ranks, and each of them can be upgraded in different ways, et cetera, et cetera. (This applies to both the single-player campaign and the multiplayer mode, but my impressions pertain only to the former—when I got my demo, the developers hadn’t settled all the online multiplayer details yet.) But what I found so appealing about Champs is that it presented these options in the spirit of experimentation rather than treating them as do-or-die decisions. Maybe that, after all, is the answer to the paradox of choice: Just try something, and go from there.

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7 Responses to “Choose Unwisely”

  1. DrFlimFlam says:

    This sounds interesting. So much of the mobile/tablet gaming world is the same old junk with Pay to Win stuff thrown in. I want something meatier.

  2. “iThings and Android whatnots” should just be the title of all mobile-related articles on Gameological.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      “Available on not-consoles and not-PCs, so tough luck for you, Boreanaz!”

      • Jeremy Ong says:

        Full disclosure, I’m a developer for this game.

        As a PC gamer and console gamer myself, I’m wondering what harm there is to trying to bring the gaming experience to other platforms and mediums. If you had to ask why we can’t just press a button and make the game play just as well on platforms without a touch screen (which the game was designed for from the ground up), I’d tell you the button simply doesn’t exist.

        The button for the reverse procedure doesn’t exist either, which is why FPS and arcade ports from console/pc to mobile have historically not panned out.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          Hello there!  Sorry, it’s more of a running joke (maybe only to me) at this point.  I regularly comment on not being able to play smartphone/tablet games that sound fun.  I have a PC, XBox 360 and Wii, but can’t afford a smartphone or tablet
          because of the monthly charges associated with them.

          I totally understand that there’s a big difference between touchscreen games and PC/console ones.  I’m sure your game is a lot of fun.

  3. Chalkdust says:

    I just wanted to say that Devo beat this Barry Schwartz guy to the punch by 24 years.

    Freedom of choiceIs what you gotFreedom from choiceIs what you want

  4. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    Upgrade to Dark Knight: $ x 1000, * x 700
    Upgrade to Axe Cop:     $ x 5000, * x 2800