Morse, the strategy game that teaches you real morse code to win a war, has come a long way since we first wrote about it in 2015. What started out as a free flash game (and a makeshift telegraph key made out of a clothes peg) now has proper 3D graphics, a full team of developers behind it called Aljo Games, and quite possibly the most impressive custom controller setup I've ever seen. When I played the demo at EGX 2021 last month, not only had creator Alex Johansson made an entire telegraph machine for the occasion (together with custom controller designer Katy Marshall), but he'd also managed to source a pair of headphones from the 1930s to really hammer home the idea of being a wartime telegraph operator.
Obviously, you don't need a pair of 90-year-old headphones to enjoy playing Morse. A modern headset will do just as well. You also don't technically need the telegraph machine either, as there's an onscreen button interface you can click with your mouse. But let me tell you, pressing those morse code buttons in-game wasn't half as immersive as tapping out the commands on a proper dedicated machine, and I wish there was some way Morse could give everyone that experience when it finally launches in full.
You can see the custom controller in action in the EGX compilation video above. In it, convention-goers use the telegraph machine to tap out morse code commands in order to launch tactical artillery strikes across a grid-based battlefield. On the vertical axis of the map you've got a column of numbers, while on the horizontal axis you've got a randomly generated word. You'll need to tap the correct morse code for the correct number and letter to move the reticule to the appropriate square as enemy tanks, ships and planes approach from the east. Once the opposing unit is in your sights, it's simply a matter of pressing the other big button (or the red one onscreen) to fire.
Not all missles are the same, though. Some only cover a single square, while others will hit three in a row (horizontally or vertically), for example, or a block of four. You can see what missle types are coming in advance, as they stack up in a column over on the right hand side of the screen, so the game's strategic element is all about moving your reticule to make the most of your available artillery.
It can be a little stressful. By the time you've decided what square you want to aim for, looked across to the morse code map on the left and diligently tapped out two commands, your foe may have already moved further forward, prompting another hasty glance back and forth between the code sheet and the battlefield. For me, though, I found it was just the right kind of pressure. In the handful of levels I played at EGX, enemies moved slowly, but not painstakingly so. It was a good pace for getting to grips with the morse code, although there's not to say there wasn't still a fair bit of heated fumbling and rearranging as I got my bearings. The battlefields were all completely flat as well, making it easy to see where my strikes would land, but the trailer suggests there will be bumpier conflicts later on that add hills and trenches into the mix, too.
Even having only played a small slice of what's to come, though, Morse is already shaping up to be a novel and compelling take on real-time strategy games, and I'm looking forward to seeing how its more complicated battle scenarios affect the rhythm of its morse code commands. The thing I'm most excited about, though, is actually being taught some proper morse code. I love it when a game manages to walk the line between "fun thing you do in your spare time" and "secretly educational", and Morse looks like it's going to do that in spades. Indeed, my hope is that these number and letter combos will become almost second nature over time, allowing me to enter everything much faster and rely less and less on that all-important code sheet I clung to so tightly in the demo.
It's also why I so desperately want it to come with its own little telegraph button. Not the entire warchest setup like I saw at EGX, mind. That would be insane and wildly expensive. But cor, what I wouldn't give for a little USB plug-in peripheral that I could use with one hand while my mouse hand did the firing... That would be rad. It's highly unlikely, but educational tools are important, damnit, and I just know I'll absorb this information a lot better if I had the proper thing on my desk while playing it. I'm sure the full mouse and keyboard controls will be just fine, but I can dream, right?
Morse still doesn't have a final release date yet, but you can play a demo (sans telegraph machine) for free over on Alex Johansson's Itch page right now.