From an early age, I’ve had this internal struggle with perfection. I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as OCD, but I definitely obsess about having certain things in order. The earliest example I can think of would be building LEGO spaceships when I was 6 or 7 years old.
My spaceships had to be symmetrical. If I didn’t have enough pieces to make the wings identical, I’d have to remodel the whole thing. If the cockpit couldn’t be perfectly equidistant from the tips of the wings, I’d start over. This drive for perfection progressed into my adolescence and adulthood, manifesting in different pockets of my life. Sometimes it means I spend far longer on minute details than I should, and sometimes the knowledge that I’ll never be perfect stops me from trying something altogether.
However, Into The Breach, last year’s turn-based tactical strategy hit from Subset Games, helped me to change my perception. Though the lessons I’ve learned will certainly be present in other games if you look closely enough, there’s a reason that this one, in particular, was so influential. I think it’s the deterministic gameplay that the studio strived for that made it stand out so vividly to me.
I’m a big fan of the XCOM series, so anything with turn-based strategical combat has me hooked straight away. But Into The Breach handles things differently than anything else I’ve seen before. The developers went to great lengths to ensure the player could understand what was happening at all times and make deterministic choices.
By clearly showing when and where enemies would spawn or attack, displaying concise damage previews, and so on, the game puts the onus on the player to mitigate the pending disasters. You know the exact repercussions of each move before you make them, and you’re even free to plan your moves before finalizing them. The ability to seamlessly undo moves and even reset an entire turn once per mission puts an unparalleled level of control into the player’s hands.
So how does this relate to my article, then? How does the game help me accept imperfection? Well, something Into The Breach teaches you early on is that you’ll probably never have a perfect run. There are going to be moments where you can’t stop an alien from attacking one of your buildings, or the only way to kill an enemy is by dealing collateral damage to an allied structure. You can still win missions and even the entire game, but there are going to be casualties along the way.
Sometimes, you even need to sacrifice a pilot to prevent catastrophic damage to your power grid or protect the objective. These tough decisions taught me that I can’t always be perfect, but that doesn’t have to stop me from reaching my end goal. You may have to, on occasion, abandon part(s) of your plans along the way, but that’s something you need to accept if you really want to succeed.
This lesson to prioritize what’s important so that you can progress was also mirrored in Into The Breach’s troubled development. In a recent interview, Subset Games explained that it wouldn’t be the success that it is today if they hadn’t discarded large portions of their initial vision. They dropped “maybe 60% of the game” to streamline the combat and provide something simple yet entertaining. This, again, was a wake-up call. If something as brilliant as Into The Breach can surrender smaller goals to be a success, then what’s stopping me from doing the same?
Though this was the most influential lesson for me, there are other, secondary teachings that I gleaned from its gameplay. For instance, a few of the pilotable mechs you control deal no damage at all. Instead, they rely on pushing or pulling enemies, sometimes reversing their direction of attack, or simply granting shields to allies. Though some tactical games like Fire Emblem may have healers, it’s unusual to see utility units such as these that are incapable of dealing traditional damage at all. These units show the player that hardships can be overcome in a variety of ways. Attacking a problem head-on isn’t always the best – or only – solution. By adopting a different playstyle, you can win missions by running down the clock or redirecting enemy attacks against each other.
Finally, when you successfully complete a run, the surviving pilots will jump to a new timeline and continue their quest to defeat the aliens. This is a device to logically explain why you should complete additional runs, which is somewhat rare in roguelike games. At any rate, it conveys the message that even though your hard work has paid off, there is always more to do. You’re congratulated and you should celebrate your success, but that doesn’t mean the war is over.
These examples may be reaching a little, but they’re still applicable to real life. There are different ways to approach your objectives and striving for perfection is unlikely to have an end goal. To put these into perspective, I used to be disheartened that I wasn’t slimmer or more muscular; thinking I’d never achieve my ideal physique made it difficult to bother trying to improve at all. Constantly comparing my current self to what I could be wasn’t a healthy way of approaching fitness, though. Once I started to take things slowly and set smaller goals, I was happier with my progress and happier in myself. By changing my attitude and perception, I was able to overcome the voice of doubt saying, “You’ll never look the way you want to, why even bother?”
Now, I’m not saying Into The Breach miraculously rewired my behavior. I still have the urge to alphabetize a charity shop’s DVD collection or keep the radio on an even number, but my mindset has shifted. I’ve learned to approach tasks from different directions, and constantly remind myself that the minutia doesn’t need to be flawless.
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There were certainly other factors involved, and I owe a great debt of gratitude to my fiancée, but Into The Breach undoubtedly played a key role in this. My hope is that by discussing these topics, people in similar situations will be able to see hope and support in unusual places, even if it’s from the philosophy behind a turn-based strategy about killing tiny alien bugs.