One Man Left
The turn-based iOS strategy title Outwitters is simple, weird, and free to play
Outwitters is the second iOS release from One Man Left Studios, the two-person indie team responsible for Tilt to Live, one of 2010’s most popular game apps. Outwitters is cute, cuddly, and features turn-based strategic warfare with one-eyed pink elephants sniping at one-eyed fish pirates. Moves, attacks, and units cost “wits”, and you have five to spend per turn. Make the most of your wits to take out your opponent’s forces and then their base.
Outwitters is bright and cheerful. The art is as crisp and colorful as it is cutesy, and each of the three factions has at least one unit that will put a smile on your face. The only default faction available, the Scallywags, are anthropomorphic sea creature pirates. They include hook-legged seahorses and musclebound weresharks. The Feedback are blue-eyed robots that incorporate synthetic spiders and floating brains. The Adorables are rosy pink and, well, adorable. They fill their ranks with lumbering teddy bears and chubby narwhals.
Like the game’s visuals, the Outwitters music is simple and charming. It wouldn’t feel out of place in Rayman, full of uptempo beats and the ting-ting of piano and strings. The main theme in particular is catchy. There were several instances where I actually set my phone down just to let it repeat several times before I played my next move.
One detail I have to confess: I suck at Outwitters. I haven’t won a match yet. I’ve been outflanked, had armies of heavies run me down straight through the middle, then I miscalculated every step and cost of wits in my retaliation. Wits are a precious resource, so don’t take them for granted. You’ll also need to defend your spawn points; the smartest players can cripple you by blocking these, and even if you manage to remove your opponents, you did it at the cost of a turn. It can be frustrating and hard to turn the tide, but it’s fun. More than that, it’s a reflection on Alex Okafor and Adam Stewart, the men behind One Man Left, and the studio they’ve created.
It all started on a spreadsheet
The game itself is based on a very simple rule set, one that originated in an Adobe Illustrator project created by Adam Stewart, One Man Left’s artistic half. Alex Okafor is the metaphorical left hemisphere of One Man Left’s brain, in charge of programming and development. For both men, simplicity has been a chief tenant of design, even since the days of Tilt to Live.
“Simplicity is king in the iOS market,” Okafor told the Penny Arcade Report. In the case of Outwitters, the goal was “to simplify the game as much as possible.” Neither Stewart nor Okafor had any experience with turn-based strategy games, though Okafor is an avid fan of real-time entries to the strategy genre. Then again, One Man Left isn’t known for planning ahead or sweating the small stuff.
Tilt to Live was imitated and released to Android platforms shortly after its initial release on iOS, but Okafor and Stewart said they’re not concerned about copycats due to their “lesser caliber,” nor do they feel a need to enter Google’s market right now. “Being a two-man team, we don’t have the resources to hit every device,” Okafor said. “When you’ve got as many different Android devices as they’ve got, a lot of different resolutions, sometimes different hardware, it becomes a headache to be able to create a game that works reliably. “I don’t want to deal with that headache.”
Okafor described flying by the seat of their pants with Tilt to Live, and that attitude continued with Outwitters. “We talked awhile ago about just making the driving force, ‘Let’s make games that we would like to play.’ If it’s a game that I would download, and that I would have a lot of fun playing,” Stewart told me. Even the game’s aesthetic choices were justified with a shared sentiment between Adam and Alex. “It just seemed funny at the time,” they said.
How to squish fish and fry circuits
Every faction has the same five units: Runner, Soldier, Sniper, Medic, and Heavy. Each faction also has a sixth class unique to them. The Scallywags have a mortar cannon, the Feedback have a brainwashing platform, and the Adorables have a teleportation whale. I was initially hesitant to see these sixth classes as significant enough of a difference between factions, but after a few more matches it became evident that while each faction will control the same, the manner in how you control them changes drastically based on their sixth unit.
“The special units for our game tend to encourage a certain play style for each team, so the units aren’t necessarily different,” Okafor said. “But the way you play, for that particular team if you wanna be successful you tend to actually have to use your special unit.” With so many similar units between each faction, the use of the special unit is the key to victory. It’s also how One Man Left is hoping to make their money; extra factions cost money, while the game itself is free to play.
I dove into Outwitters knowing and accepting this, but even so, initially I wasn’t fond of the game. The presentation won me over, but I was concerned over the minimal differences between factions. Outwitters is simple compared to other, more robust turn-based strategy games, and could even be described as slight. The simple controls and cheery design are better suited to a friendly game with friends over lunch, and in fact I had more fun passing a single iOS back and forth between friends than waiting for people to play their turn online.
“We’ve discussed it, but we haven’t really discussed it. For the time being, it’s just gonna be us,” Stewart said when I asked about the studio’s future. Right now, the two aren’t even sure what’s next. Well, they do have one goal. “Adam wants a helicopter,” Okafor said.