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June 10, 2008
The Continuum

by Linda “Brasse” Carlson

A short while back, I was given the grand tour of an interesting collectible game called “The Continuum,” part collectible game, part wargame, all strategy.

The Continuum has been running under the radar thus far, possibly because Seven Lights is such a small, new development studio. What they’ve managed to come up with in terms of gameplay deserves a wider audience and more attention than it has been getting.

If I had to describe it in one word, it would be DEEP. So deep that I needed a tour guide. Enter co-founder and CEO of Seven Lights studio, Tim Harris. Within a short, 45 minute session, he had demonstrated all of the features of The Continuum in such a way that left me eager to play it.

There is no up-front purchase price or subscription fee associated with the game. It is strictly a choice to purchase packs of units when you wish to, which makes it very economical.

The Continuum is a flash-based game, played on a web client. That means it will take up no space at all on your hard drive. However, unlike many flash games, this one, even in beta, runs very smoothly, in spite of the massive volumes of statistical data that it has to track for each player.

I will not lie and say that it The Continuum easy to pick up; you can’t just press play. It has a steep learning curve and even once you get the hang of it, there is a tremendous amount of detail and micromanagement involved. That is precisely what makes this game fun and interesting for those who appreciate a highly customizable and complicated environment.

My profile page, showing my small, but respectable collection. I got very lucky with rares.

The game is based on your buying packs of cards, consisting of random units. As with all such games, they range from common to rare. Each of these units has its own set of attributes, but you can modify them over time by adding equipment and gaining experience, both of which are done in battle. You never have to buy packs hoping for equipment, but rather pick it up during play. Equipment is never locked to a particular character either—you can move it around to another character whenever you manage your units.

The player profile page is your command central, where you can keep track of a dizzying array of data, accomplishments, and read up on the latest game news. The Continuum is very fond of lists and leaderboards: collect accomplishments, titles and other awards, check your list of recent battles, and set goals, all on your profile page. You can also view your units from here, with your ten most powerful characters listed by default.

On my profile, I can keep track of and follow links to details of any and all battles I’ve ever fought – like this victory over the CEO! Ok, so he let me win…

Better still, as you assemble squads for your army, you can suit your particular playstyle by mixing and matching units. Each unit can be renamed whenever you wish, so that you can use labels to help differentiate them, particularly as they gain power and items. You wouldn’t want to mix up your run of the mill captain with your uber captain of doom… whom you may wish to call “UberCaptain of Doom.”

This game is a database developer’s dream (or nightmare) as you can easily collect several hundred units, and then customize them in hundreds of ways. Each unit can equip a weapon, armor and a special item. They can be assembled into squads and then moved around from squad to squad whenever you like.

This is where you manage your units and armies – for something so complicated, it is remarkably intuitive and easy to navigate.

The lobby for finding matches is very well designed, and offers everything that you’d expect, including a chat function. Here you will challenge others to play… and the fun begins.

Battles are set up based on a point system that will be familiar to anyone who has done tabletop war gaming. Players will decide how many points to assign to a match before playing. If the point value is 1200, for instance, you may only assign up to 1200 points worth of units to fight for you. This prevents players from simply walking overtop of people with less advanced units – just put more out there to match his high-point big guys!

The battlefield: old-school but certainly understandable – and terrain has a strong, tangible effect on your movement!

The playing field is pretty old-school, divided into squares. Elevation and terrain do affect movement here, so the first thing you should do is assess the landscape and plan your routes to collect treasures and find yourself defensible lands. Each squad will have a movement rate based on their slowest character, so be sure to plan your groups accordingly. The fun thing is that you can actually break your squads up while in the battlefield, so that you can send a couple of fast moving units to grab goodies while the rest of the squad advances at a more deliberate pace. They can join together again later on.

To battle! Your units can be assigned to move and attack (or range attack). Selecting any unit will display its abilities and special attacks, if any.

The battles are turn based and can last quite some time, although typically turns will be limited in duration by the players themselves. The combat process and resolution is, like much else in the game, intuitive. This really takes the edge off the complexity when put into practice. Your attacks can be offensive, defensive, spread out, or concentrated… if you really want to get rid of a dangerous opposing unit, you may wish to concentrate a lot of your units on its destruction. Strategy will play a very important role as you discover exactly what your opponent is up to.

The Continuum has an accompanying comic series that defines the story arc of the game, and should provide players with a lot of background on the direction of the game’s evolution. The comics are downloadable right from the site, under the tab “Legend.” You do not need to have a game account in order to read or download the stories, so go have a look!

Two sample pages from different editions of the Continuum comic series.

The devs will be releasing new content on a steady basis as the storyline evolves. Tim said they would release small expansions on a short cycle, with some ten to fifteen units at a time. As he put it, “It will be episodic, not epic.”

The Continuum presently has a little over 1,000 people in closed beta, but open beta is coming, and Seven Lights expects to see a few thousand more join in at that time. Want to join in? Let me know – we have 5 beta access keys for you, courtesy of the devs.

If you like detail, depth and challenge, and no monthly fee… this is YOUR game.

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