Armchair Game Design: Thunderbirds

Armchair Game Design: Thunderbirds

So, Thunderbirds is back and to my complete astonishment I quite like it. Despite abandoning the traditional puppets in favour of more flexible CGI characters, I still found myself feeling just a little bit emotional the first time the trees flopped back and a redesigned Thunderbird 2 trundled down the runway.

Now I’ve been made all excited by giant flying machines again, I want a Thunderbirds game. The problem is, there isn’t one, at least nothing recent nor playable, so until someone makes one deserving of the title I’m going to indulge in a spot of armchair game design and explain exactly what I want from you developers. I do the hard work of thinking things up and you spend millions of pounds and years of your life making it – that’s how it works, right?

First of all, whilst I love Thunderbirds, I’m even more in love with the idea of International Rescue; an organisation operating without borders and the capability to deploy anywhere on the planet within a couple of hours. That’ll be the organisation you command – a small but highly efficient team that relies upon technical superiority to make up for its lack of numbers. In this hypothetical game, IR exists in a near future world not too dissimilar to our own – where large corporations dominate the globe and people tend to get into accidents an awful lot.

Like X-Com, your first action will be to place your home base. Where you chose to call home will have a massive impact on the game. Will you situate yourself on land, risking detection by governments and other shady organisations eager to get their hands on your technologies, or do you isolate yourself on an island minimising the chances of discovery at the cost of possibly being too far from an incident to help?


Regardless of your choice, once you’ve built your home base you’ll spend a few minutes setting out where to construct your facilities and choosing what to research. So far, so X-Com, but the core of International Rescue has always been its machines. Hulking great VTOL rockets that will take up large areas of your home base and cost millions, meaning you will only ever be able to field a small number of them. Each ship can be fully customised with a variety of colour schemes and decals to allow a personal touch, but you will also be selecting what equipment to assign to your vessel’s limited number of hard-points. As a result, it’s up to you whether you specialise each machine to cover particular roles, or go with more flexible overall designs at the cost of efficiency.

The loss of one of these machines will be catastrophic. With so few at your disposal and each representing a huge cost in both finances and time, you need to weigh up the pros and cons of exposing them to danger. Do you hover directly over fires to extract the victims as quickly as possible? Or do you land at a distance to attempt a safer but slower approach?

We could sure use the help of a massive great hovering rocket ship right now...
We could sure use the help of a massive great hovering rocket ship right now…

Whilst your overall strategies and decisions will occur on the global map, actual missions will be conducted in an RTS style, similar to that employed by the Emergency series of games. However, whilst the Emergency series had large numbers of specialised units like police officers and paramedics, your team will be smaller in number. Your ground teams are massively flexible – all experts in fire-fighting, engineering and even combat. Over time as they gain experience you will be able to train individuals with special abilities that will assist them further in the field. Again, with so few agents in operation, you’ll have to carefully weigh up the risks you’re exposing them to.

As time passes on the global map, emergencies will arise. You choose where to send your teams and what equipment to allocate them in the field. Here’s where potential conflicts arise – Whilst rushing to the aid of earthquake survivors in the third world will raise your public perception, it will come at the cost of the corporation whose ship you let sink to the bottom of the Pacific. Without corporate support, technical advancements come slower and sponsorship funds dry up. So who do you help? The wealthy and influential, or the poor but helpless?

Up to you Virgil, cheese, ham or jam, but you need to make a decision on lunch.
It’s up to you Virgil – cheese, ham or jam, but you really need to make a decision on lunch.


Whilst the public may love you for putting them first all the time, your ships and tools will become dated and less efficient, making rescues harder and the potential for casualties to rise. If your corporate standing falls too low, they may become distrustful of your organisation, or even attempt to steal your technologies and equipment.

But what about the end-game? Thunderbirds had the Hood, a sinister, manipulative figure with a goal of world domination. In our hypothetical game a similar threat will slowly grow over time. Whilst at first his or her presence will be hinted at via cryptic warnings and minor crimes, over time the schemes will grow in magnitude with the eventual goal of true global domination. Only by gathering intelligence and global support will you be able to finally defeat the villain and return the world to a state of admittedly accident-prone peace.

So anyway, that’s my take on things. Knowing AAA publishers, the only chance we’ve ever got of a Thunderbirds game will probably be a third person cover-based shooter, but that doesn’t stop me daydreaming.



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