Why Trosnoth?

Reminder: in October 2018, I’m pygame.org’s artist in residence. You can ask me questions about Trosnoth, support me in my Trosnoth development, join in online alpha testing, and follow this blog for articles about Trosnoth and what I’m working on.

What’s so special about Trosnoth?

There are so many video games out there—it’s easy to come by reasonably priced, high quality indie games in today’s market. Sure, there weren’t so many indie games back in 2006 when we started the Trosnoth project. But even so, why another game? In this article I’ll talk about why we started the Trosnoth project and a few of the things that make Trosnoth Trosnoth.

Grown in community

The Trosnoth project was dreamed up in a community. It was the spring of 20061 and a group of us had just finished running a fun but exhausting Christian technology camp. We were debriefing the events of camp and someone said, ‘We’ve played the same old video games on camp for years and years.’

Someone else replied, ‘Yes, but it’s really expensive to buy licenses for 60 people to all play a recent game.’

‘And we need a game that parents won’t object to their kids playing,’ interjected another person.

‘And we like our gaming sessions to teach people teamwork and strategy.’

It was at this point that I spoke up. ‘We have this argument every camp, and we still keep playing the same old games. But I’ve been thinking… since we have in this room people with many different skills in technology, couldn’t we make our own game?’

The idea intrigued everyone. A dozen people signed up to help in various ways. And so the Trosnoth project was born. We brainstormed ideas and game rules on a wiki, and finally nutted out the game in enough detail that we could start working on it.

Many of the original contributors are no longer regularly involved, because one can’t be a university student forever2. But the project continues to be integrally tied to community. When we’re considering big changes, past contributors still chip in with their ideas. And our release cycle includes getting user feedback by play-testing, sometimes online and sometimes on the very camp we originally created Trosnoth for.

Humans vs. Machines Trosnoth match, June 2018

Teamwork trumps skill

The fact that Trosnoth was grown in community has heavily influenced the game’s design. For instance, we encourage teamwork on camp, so we developed a game that would reward teamwork. When we made design decisions for Trosnoth we kept this in mind, and the result was a game in which communication and teamwork are essential. That’s not to say that skill means nothing in Trosnoth. It helps to be good at aiming, dodging bullets, and quickly getting around the map. But if you’re playing against a team which coordinates its attacks and communicates well, your individual skill will mean very little.

This need for teamwork is mostly enforced by one game mechanic: Trosnoth is a territory control game, but you cannot capture a region of the map unless your team has more living players in the region than the defending team3. In practice this means that an unskilled player can defend a region against one attacker by staying away from them and staying alive. I’ve seen this used to effectively remove the skilled attacker from the game for as long as that attacker spends unsuccessfully trying to kill the pesky defender. But if a team works together, all it takes is a second attacker and the region is captured.

(As a developer I often test features by playing Trosnoth on my own against bots. This has taught me the really bad habit of not communicating with my team. I’ve lost a number of matches with humans as a result.)

High pay-off risks

Because of our emphasis on teamwork, Trosnoth has a game mechanic where a team cannot control two completely separate areas of the game map. This means that if the opposing team somehow manages to split your team’s territory in half, your team only maintains ownership of the larger half. The smaller half becomes neutral.

As a result of this design decision, there is a huge pay-off in trying to split your enemy’s territory. Your enemy stands to lose up to half of the area they control. The trade-off is this: in order to split your enemy’s territory you always need to leave your team’s front line, which usually exposes your own territory to being split. There are times in any Trosnoth match where there’s only a very small chance of this actually paying off. But now and again there’s a better opportunity, and you have a fraction of a second to make a choice: is it worth the risk?

Situations like this often make Trosnoth matches very intense. When someone on your team takes a risk, things can turn around very quickly, for better or for worse.

Scrupulously fair

I often compare Trosnoth to a team sport. Like a sport, a Trosnoth match requires two teams of equal size, and teams have to work together in order to achieve their goal. But even in a physical sport, there are usually uncontrollable factors: the wind is blowing in a certain direction, and the sun is shining in one goalie’s eyes. We designed Trosnoth to avoid this kind of thing as much as possible. If a team wins, they can’t blame it on unfair conditions. To this end, Trosnoth generates maps which are perfectly symmetrical, and avoids randomness wherever possible.

You could think of Trosnoth as a team sport with a referee who is undeniably free of any bias.

Easy to edit

Trosnoth is open source. As a philosophy, this encourages innovation. People can pull apart the game and experiment with any modifications they can imagine.

We’ve used the game to teach Python programming on camps. We’ll set a challenge like adding an item to the game, or writing an algorithm for a computer-controlled player, then we’ll use the process to teach programming concepts.

Because of this, we strive to keep the Trosnoth source code readable and understandable. We’ve sometimes failed at this, but it’s still always our aim.

Where does that leave us?

Of course there’s much more to Trosnoth than just these five factors. But I think these five things paint a good picture of what Trosnoth’s about. It’s fast-paced and risk-filled, but also fair and team-driven. And it’s all built in community.

Watch out for more Trosnoth-related blog articles throughout this month.


1 Spring runs from September to November of course.

2 I have met people, as I’m sure you have, who try to disprove the idea that one can’t be a university student forever. None of them have yet succeeded in arriving at the ‘forever’ part.

3 There’s an upper limit to the number of players you need, but it very rarely comes into play.

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