Detailed review of “Little War Game”, a HTML5 RTS game (updated)

Recently, due to my familiarity with the RTS genre I was asked to review the game “Little War Game”, which can be found here:

At first, I hesitated since I wasn’t planning on advertising others’ games on this blog. But on reconsideration, since the game is made by an indie developer and is from a related genre to Play the Field, I decided to review the game after all.

As this post is fairly long and detailed, I’ll just give the punch line here: I highly recommend any RTS fans to try this game out.

The game’s biggest selling point is that is created using HTML5, which means you can use it on any browser, on any OS, at least in theory. This is great for users since they don’t have to have a specific setup to play it, though I think this point is best appreciated by a game developer. Conversely, since a browser language like HTML5 conceptually would be a bit farther from the hardware, from the start I set my expectations low for the graphics and performance. [Note: I have only vague familiarity with HTML5]

In spite of the supposed platform independence, my first experience with the game was a bit awkward. I attempted to open up the website on my iPhone’s Safari browser, and after playing with it for a little time I couldn’t get it to start. To be sure, mobile browsers probably have many limitations not found on desktop machines, and maybe with a little more poking around I could have gotten it to work. Regardless, for the HTML5 aspect to really shine, it should function well on all common mobile device’s browsers – though I acknowledge how difficult that might be. At minimum, I would hope the page detects I have a non-supported browser and lets me know early on.

But on to more fun stuff – When I tried it on my MacBook Pro’s Safari, the site loaded up quickly and I was able to get a game started in only a minute or so. The initial menu screens have a strong nostalgic retro feeling, reminiscent of some classic console games, especially because of the blue color gradient.

LWG has several modes, including a live multiplayer with one or more users logged into the site, and also a single-player version. In both cases you can choose the level and add computer player(s) as needed. There seems to be a good assortment of different levels.

I didn’t explore the menu system completely, but I didn’t come across a single player story mode. Though one can argue most users spend the greatest percentage of their time in the multiplayer modes, I feel that a story helps bring you into the world and familiarize you with the various units. As good story writing is difficult I wouldn’t expect a great deal from an indie developer, but 5-10 levels of story mode would really do the game good in my opinion.

The game itself is a traditional RTS set in what looks like the medieval period. You have catapults, mages, wolves, archers, and probably many other units I didn’t get far enough to play with. Purposeful or not, I feel it took some influences from games like Blizzard’s Warcraft series (the RTS one, not the online one), though this is by no means a bad thing. The game flow is very typical: build miners, get resources, build buildings, train units, explore, attack, expand, etc. This is both a strong point, since it is familiar for most gamers, and a weak point since there isn’t that much creativity to neither the gameplay nor the universe the action takes place in.

The graphics are reasonably good, given they we going for the ‘retro’ feel, though of course it doesn’t compare to a game like Starcraft 2 whose graphics are close to a work of ark. That not a fair comparison anyway, because games like Starcraft are written by a massive studio with insane budget.

As a side note, some of the game’s graphics like the minimap and shading algorithms reminded me of my last desktop RTS game, though LWG has much better visuals. Again, there is a good explanation for this since LWG’s credits states five people worked on the art. To the developer’s credit, he seems to have done all the coding himself, which is an impressive feat.

Though I had the sound turned off most of the time, I would say the sound effects were so-so, with the music fairly well made.

Retro assets are great and all, but if you’ll allow me to wane critical again I think the game’s popularity would go up if the visuals were revamped to be more modern, with higher resolution. If certain browsers can’t take the load for high-density images, the LWG developer can make several versions of the tiles and all selecting the best set (either automatically, or by the user).

The game worked relatively well, but I did come across a handful of bugs. The most annoying of these is when the explanation text shown in the top right window was consistently cropped to a single line, in some cases hiding valuable information. Also, one time when I left the game running in the background while I opened up WordPress in a separate tab, my browser froze for a few seconds, twice, because two scripts were not responding (IIRC “event.js” and “game.js”).

In terms of the RTS elements, there were a handful of fundamental things that appeared to be missing, like the ability to create groups and to add waypoints [Update: I have been told both of these are supported though have not verified myself, check the Settings page of the game], both critical to any serious RTS gamer. Some of the visual design was also a bit wordy and hard to understand in a brief glance. For example, the capacity of mining was shown with a number instead of a horizontal bar, and it took me awhile to find the building to give more control since I had to read all the text. For this second issue, traditional RTS games usually have little icons indicating the amount of control needed or produced so reading through text isn’t required.

The overall control was mostly intuitive, but I ran into one frustrating problem over and over. I habitually did a double finger drag on my MacBook in order to try and scroll the field, but in LWG this instead zooms in or out. I imagine this could be tricky to address since HTML5 is used, but I would rank it as a pretty serious issue to try and sort out.

The performance was reasonable, though a little on the slow side. I think there should be a setting for speed – if there was one I didn’t manage to find it yet.

Overall, from the eyes of a game developer this is a pretty impressive indie game project, very solid in many areas. I am not sure if the creator is open to adding more developers to the project, but it looks like a fun endeavor to code, especially for a classic RTS fan. From a brief look at their website I saw they were making some APIs to allow customization, so anyone could potentially contribute this way.

If you’re just an everyday casual player, while the game is fun I think some people will have a hard time getting hooked to keep playing. Besides the improved graphics or story mode I mentioned, adding things like achievements, ladder play, or more races (there appears to be only one) could go a long way here.

For the hardcore RTS players, its virtually guaranteed that you will get a better experience in terms of graphics and performance on native platform code (say, code written in C/C++ compiled for Windows). So the Starcraft fanatics might never quite get addicted to this, however if LWG’s creator can beef things up with extra elements it can become an even greater game.

All things considered, I highly recommend checking out Little War Game.

For a final note – if you enjoy RTS games and happen to have an iPad, consider checking out Play The Field why you are at it. It’s a game that evolves the RTS genre for mobile to allow for shorter games while testing your tactics. Here is the link to download it from iTunes:

(Note: I spent roughly 30-60 minutes playing the game before writing this, so surely there are some things I missed. I’ll update the article if I receive any new information.)

(Update: I had originally alluded to a team of people working on this game but was told there was pretty much only one person doing development and making frequent updates, so have updated the review content to reflect this. According to the credits page on the website there was several people who worked on the tileset, which is why I had written “team”, but I was told they have not been active lately. Having said that, I think their contribution is important since I know how difficult it is for a developer to make a good tileset)


15 thoughts on “Detailed review of “Little War Game”, a HTML5 RTS game (updated)

  1. “The overall control was mostly intuitive, but I ran into one frustrating problem over and over. I habitually did a double finger drag on my MacBook in order to try and scroll the field, but in LWG this instead zooms in or out. I imagine this could be tricky to address since HTML5 is used, but I would rank it as a pretty serious issue to try and sort out.”

    “due to my familiarity with the RTS genre”

    How can you be an RTS fan if you don’t even know the basic controls and mechanics? Saying that a classic mechanic of RTS games is a “pretty serious issue” kind of ruins your credibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, thanks for the comment.

      It’s been quite awhile since I played this game last but I’ll explain as best as I can.

      I’ve played probably thousands of hours of Starcraft and Starcraft II, but all of them were on Windows machines with a standard mouse or trackball. So I’ll admit any comparison I am doing is not completely fair.

      Having said that, from what I remember “Little War Game” was zooming when I did an gesture that corresponded to a pan. I use a Mac’s trackpad daily, and am used to the actions of zoom and pan. I believe when I had last played the game, doing a action that I expected would do a scroll (and does in other applications, at least non-game ones) was doing a zoom instead.


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