First look: Valiant Hearts for iOS explores World War I's human side via puzzles, love letters, and cartoon visuals

03. September 2014
Many games dig back into historical conflicts for context, but World War I isn't a hugely popular subject--it presumably doesn't offer as many memorable moments or such clearly defined foes as the second World War, nor does it have the divisive legacy and more modern setting employed by Vietnam War-inspired experiences. Regardless, whenever a real-life war is tapped for a game setting, you're usually armed with a weapon, pointed at opposing soldiers, and told to kill. That's war.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War sees things a bit differently, acknowledging the human side (and toll) of such battles. It's a cartoon-like game with fabulous hand-drawn characters and settings, no intense gore or realistic depictions of death to be seen, and it unfolds via puzzles and simple interactions. To top it all off, the game was inspired by real letters that soldiers and their loved ones--the developers' great-grandparents in many cases--exchanged nearly 100 years ago.

Expectedly, it's also a very interesting game--one that's alternately sad, charming, heartwarming, and thought provoking. Following a well-received console debut in June, Valiant Hearts is launching on iPhoneiPhone and iPadiPad on Thursday, and the slower pace and simple interactions make it an ideal fit for mobile touch devices. I spoke with Ubisoft Montpellier's Yoan Fanise, content and audio director of the game, to discuss its intriguing origins. Alles zu iPad auf CIO.de Alles zu iPhone auf CIO.de

Heart to Hearts

Montpellier is one of mega-publisher Ubisoft's key internal studios, located in the titular city in the south of France, and in recent years it has been tasked primarily with creating gorgeously hand-drawn 2D games using the UbiArt engine--notably the vibrant and hilariously fun Rayman platform-action titles. Why shift towards putting that game engine to use for such a grim, miserable setting

"World War I is a subject that matters for us, and it's a subject that was not treated often in video games--there are so few video games that talk about that," says Fanise. Some of the team members' ancestors had either served in the war or lived through it a century ago, and the employees were able to source letters that their great-grandparents had sent and received along the way.