Upon entering the new millennium, strategy games started to struggle on consoles. Titles like Age of Empires, Civilisation, and XCOM lead the charge on PC, but struggles with adapting its UI for televisions meant that the genre began to get left behind as the Xbox and PlayStation markets began to swell.
Now, the strategy genre doesn't have to be restricted by the technological limitations of the past. Top down games can have stunning worlds that can stand against the latest open world escapades, or a narrative to rival the next great RPG.
Former Firaxis art director Greg Foertsch hopes to be at the forefront of the strategy resurgence with his new studio, Bit Reactor. Drawing other talent from the XCOM developer as well as other teams, Foertsch aims to build an outfit -- and later, a game -- that will bring the genre into a new era.
"The whole genre started to fall backwards while not having enough production values and it got dropped a bit," Foertsch tells GamesIndustry.biz. "Now, that's not a problem. Screen resolution isn't an issue. There are ways to tell stories and convey information that doesn't require a wall of text.
"That's what we're focused on -- bringing that to the genre, and really blurring that line between what a strategy game is and what an action game is."
Foertsch spent more than 20 years with Firaxis in various roles, before departing in 2018. After that, he had a small stint at Romero Games, which at the time was building strategy title Empire of Sin. For Foertsch, journeying from a long stint at a larger developer to a smaller one, to starting up his own studio, is all about setting his own parameters when it comes to developing a new game.
"The genre is so malleable," he says. "Look at Mario Rabbids and Gears Tactics, they couldn't be more different. But they all have the same DNA underneath them. There's a lot of flexibility in it.
"If you lead with story and immersion, I think you can find ways to just make a great game and not just make a strategy game."
A great game that transcends the barriers of the genre and rivals the output of bigger studios is aspirational, but it's something that Foertsch sees as achievable, just like XCOM: Enemy Unknown did a decade ago.
"We don't want anybody to ever look at our website, and even subconsciously think that they couldn't belong here"
"Our goal is to win Game of the Year; we expect to go head to head with Halo or whoever is out there, just like we did in 2012."
Another strength that Bit Reactor has -- that it wouldn't have had ten years ago -- is the evolution of cross-platform play. Numerous strategy titles have made their way from PC and console over to mobile devices, and cloud cross saving allows for seamless continuation across multiple platforms.
"I honestly think that tablets are going to do for strategy games, what consoles did for shooters, and there's a way to take advantage of that," Foertsch says on the subject of cross-platform development.
"We're super interested in cross play and being able to play the game on as many different platforms as possible, but right now, we're really focused on nailing the console experience and PC experience."
One observation often made when new studios are opened is that its founding roster is lacking in diversity. Foertsch assures that representation will be built into the company from the ground up, and hopes to communicate that from the start.
"I've seen a lot of these studios start and the first thing they do is put pictures up, and it can alienate people," Foertsch observes. "If you look at [Bit Reactor's] website, you won't find a picture of us, of me, you're not gonna find a picture of anybody, because the studio is more focused on 'we'.
"We don't want anybody to ever look at our website, and even subconsciously think that they couldn't belong here."