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ICBM: Escalation - Dev Diary 8 - Campaign Mode

Published on July 08, 2024

Hi everyone!

This dev diary is going to be covering something that seems to have garnered a lot of interest ever since it was first mentioned, and now that we’re far enough into development that it’s starting to bear some fruit, we think it’s finally time to spill some more details on it. Now, I would argue that ICBM is always better with friends, but a lot of people enjoy it solo. And what better way to complement a single-player game, than with an all-new single player campaign mode?

Now, at a first glance, you’re probably wondering how a single-player campaign would even work for a nuclear war game. You know, level 1, you destroy the entire world, level 2, you destroy the entire world, again…? But, that’s not going to be the case here. Well, not if you play well, anyway.

There’s not a lot of room for continuity if everybody dies immediately. So, the campaign is going to run a little differently from your average ICBM match…

So if you don’t just glass the entire planet in an hour, how does it work? Well, it’s simple. Nuclear annihilation isn’t the goal, it’s a consequence. Let me explain. Firstly, this campaign mode in particular is actually quite unique in terms of its chronology. For most games, a campaign story might span, say, a couple weeks that your hero is in combat, or the few dozen months it takes to complete a military operation, or maybe it lasts a few years if there’s a lot of exposition. Our campaign, however, is going to last decades. That’s right, we’re going to be taking you on a ride through history’s near-nuclear hotspots, from the start of the cold war, to modern day and into the hypothetical not-so-distant future. And it’s your job to 1) Achieve your nation’s goals and objectives and 2) Not accidentally cut all of human history short in the process. Now, you’re probably wondering how that works, so what better way to illustrate it than by taking a peak at the first mission?

The single-player campaign starts where the tech tree does, and arguably where the cold war did as well. 1950. And I’m sure many of the history buffs out there will recognize this as the start of the first confrontation between the East and West: The Korean War.


Players will have to command UN forces to repel the North Korean invasion for an hour of in-game time, ensuring that Seoul is free once the timer is up, and that the communists never reach Busan. Doing so will accomplish the primary objective and lead to (a pretty lackluster) victory.

Of course, things can get more interesting than that… ICBM is a game built by and for nuclear weapons. There’s nothing stopping you from using them other than the consequences of your own actions. If you want to unleash your inner Douglas MacArthur, this is your chance. Just remember, the Soviets detonated their first nuke in 1949, and in the world of ICBM, the Cold War isn’t quite as frigid as real life! Tempers are hotter, nukes are more accessible, and war crimes are less like felonies and more like misdemeanors. You can push the enemy farther than you could in real life, but you should expect them to push back even harder as well. So, if you wanted to take the relatively standard conventional Korean conflict of 1950 and say, spice it up by using mustard gas and nuking Pyongyang, the only thing stopping you is your conscience and whatever mysterious, faintly radioactive deliveries the Soviets have been moving into their airbases.

Just like WWI, If you’re a fan of utilitarian ethics, attritional warfare and human suffering, then chemical weapons can be a great way to stop human wave tactics. Just mind the collateral damage…

On the topic of pushing your luck and poking the bear, the campaign also comes with another neat feature: You decide how hard you want to win. Going back to the Korean War mission, the bare minimum for success is that you can’t lose Busan and you need to control Seoul by the time the smoke clears. You can just repel the attack and keep the war relatively small and contained, but for players that are feeling a little more audacious, you can settle the border dispute once and for all by completely invading and occupying North Korea, if you’re ready to deal with China’s response… And if you REALLY want to make your point, you can invade China itself and force a ceasefire if you succeed, while bearing in mind that the Soviets aren’t going to be happy, and things are probably going to get ugly. The harder you push and the more successful you are, the better you’ll score and the better off you’ll be for the next mission. Just be careful not to bite off more than you can chew, especially once Washington is within nuking distance.

Okay, so MAYBE things got a little out of hand…

Speaking of risk and reward, all the technology you gain during a mission will carry over to the next, so your strengths, doctrine and tactics will ultimately be decided by what you invest in. As mentioned before, your performance in a mission will contribute to your score, which in turn means more technology. Since every mission will require a different approach, it’s probably best to think about your overall strategy carefully. The mission following the Korean War is going to be the Cuban Missile Crisis. A ‘guns-blazing’ approach might work, especially if you’re not a fan of Florida, but maybe something more tactful would be more appropriate…

The campaign is still a work in progress and our testers are poking away at it right now, but we’re excited to see how it evolves as we get more feedback. Right now we’re aiming to have a mission for every decade from 1950 to 2040, so there should be plenty to keep you busy once it’s done. Who knows, if there’s enough interest, maybe we’ll add a second one someday… But, until then, we’ll be hard at work on this one, and we’ll see you next time!

Target Games
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