Despite having been around since the late 90’s, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if you’d never heard of Longbow games before. Indeed, arguably their first ‘major’ release was only last year with Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon, and then later Hegemony Gold which revamped the original title. Now they are making Hegemony Rome: Rise of Caesar, and we decided to talk to one of their lead developers to find out more about it…
Strategy Informer:For the sake of anyone who is new to you and your works, give us a quick introduction as to what Hegemony is, and what Hegemony Rome is specifically about.
Rob McConnell: The Hegemony games are historical strategy wargames with a focus on the tactical and logistical issues of growing an empire. The games each take place on a seamless satellite accurate map where you can zoom smoothly from a grand strategic view of your empire, recreated with board game miniatures on a 2D parchment map, right down to a full 3D battlefield where you can issue tactical commands to your units. This seamless transition between the strategy and tactical maps is one of the first things that grab people's attention when they see the game and we find it really helps unify the experience and keeps players immersed in the campaign. Central to the series is also its focus on history, and we've gotten a lot of praise for capturing the essence of ancient warfare while striking a good balance between challenging experienced players and remaining fun and accessible to novices.
Hegemony Rome is an all-new sequel to our last title, Hegemony Gold: Wars of Ancient Greece, and it follows Julius Caesar's conquests during the Gallic Wars. The game features four historical campaigns that culminate in the rebellion of Vercingetorix plus an open sandbox mode where players can assume the role of various Roman and barbarian factions for all-out conquest without specific missions or objectives.
Strategy Informer:Why did you choose Julius Caesar’s slice of history to focus on? The history of roman military exploits spans hundreds of years, and this period of history isn’t even considered Rome’s peak…
Rob McConnell: Following the release of the first two games, Rome was high on our list as it was probably the most popular request we had from players. So when we sat down to plan a sequel, amongst other topics we researched the entire span of Roman history from the unification through the Punic and Civil Wars right up to the sack of Rome. And although there are countless interesting stories to tell, the Gallic War stood out prominently as one that was not only often overlooked but was a great fit for a new Hegemony game. In terms of mechanics, Caesar's campaigns featured a lot of well documented events taking place in a continuous and relatively compact area that was similar in scope to the map of Greece from the first games. Further, although the republic as a whole was much bigger, Rome's initially small presence in Gaul, and its rise to eventual dominance of the region, we thought really captured the spirit of hegemony in a similar way to the Macedonian expansion under Philip II.
But what interests us in a period is more than just the battles and campaigns, it's also the personal stories. Not only were the Gallic Wars an excellent example of Caesar's brilliant generalship, but they were also a pivotal period in his life. Through the death of his daughter, his fallout with Pompey and the very personal betrayal of Labienus, Caesar was irreparably shaped by the events of this period and his resulting actions not only changed the course of the Roman Empire but likely all of western civilization.
Strategy Informer:Bringing back the point raised in the last question, as far as military RTS’ are concerned Rome is a treasure trove – how long do you think you’ll stay in this time period, and do you plan on continuing the saga through new games, expansions or DLC?
Rob McConnell: As I said, we did a lot of research before deciding on the Gallic Wars and we definitely have plans to continue with Rome as we did in Greece with Hegemony Gold. At this point those plans remain limited to outlines since all of our attention is focused on Hegemony Rome; however, I think players will be very interested in some of the other overlooked periods that we hope to bring to life after The Rise of Caesar.
Strategy Informer:Of course, it wasn’t all about smashing in the barbarians – even in Julius Caesar’s time, there was a lot of political manoeuvring, backstabbing etc… have you captured this element at all?
Rob McConnell: In keeping with the series, gameplay in Hegemony Rome is still focused primarily on tactics and logistics; however, those who play though the campaigns will also get a glimpse into the politics and manoeuvring going on back in Rome that helped shape the events in Gaul. We've put a lot more resources into telling the story in Hegemony Rome and we think players will really appreciate the fascinating relationship between Caesar and Pompey that both brought the republic to new heights and eventually shattered her forever.
Strategy Informer:A main feature of the game is the sheer size of the map, but a common complaint about the past game is that, when you get to the later stages of a game the potential size of your empire becomes a drawback as keeping up with all of the real-time events proves a challenge. Have you addressed this in anyway?
Rob McConnell: Since we always wanted the focus of Hegemony to be on strategy rather than reflexes, the game is built around the pause function. At any time you can stop the action and inspect your troops, plot manoeuvres or issue orders and, with precise movement previews, you can see exactly where your units will go when you un-pause the game. In Hegemony Gold, we further refined the gameplay to emphasize the strategic elements. Particularly with the introduction of the new recruits resource that significantly increased the consequences of each battle by limiting how quickly a force can recover after a loss. We also added a lot of new GUI options, most notably to the asset list, so you can quickly see the status of all of your units, cities and supply lines from a single screen. And of course there were the new diplomacy options in Gold that allowed players to form truces and alliances with neighbouring factions so they could devote more attention to a particular enemy.
In Hegemony Rome we're adding a few more significant features to help players manage their growing empires including the ability to construct forts and fortified bridges that can completely block access into an area, providing a more autonomous defence than using field armies. We're also play-testing some new automation commands for issuing standing orders and stacking commands like waypoints so that if a player chooses to focus solely in one area their other units will be better able to handle themselves.
Strategy Informer:Were there any other specific points of feedback that you took extra care to make sure you addressed?
Rob McConnell: In Hegemony Rome we definitely tried to fulfil a number popular wishlist items from our players including adding more upgrade and construction options as well as dramatically increasing the graphical detail. One of the more prominent requests was to have more aggressive AI in the sandbox mode. We started working on this feature in Hegemony Gold but unfortunately it proved too ambitious for the scope of an expansion. However, adding this feature to Hegemony Rome has been in the plans since the very start, so players can expect to go up against full-featured AI opponents in what will be a significantly expanded sandbox mode.
Although the mountains and narrow passes of Greece created very interesting terrain to campaign on, some players thought there weren't enough opportunities for large field battles. So, one of the biggest changes players will see in Hegemony Rome is the reduced scale of units on the map that allows far more room on the battlefield for manoeuvring your armies and will really give you the chance to test your tactics.
Strategy Informer:What elements of this new game are you most looking forward to players getting their hands on? What elements are you most proud of?
Rob McConnell: I think players are really going to appreciate the improved graphical detail in the game which brings ancient Gaul to life from the towering Alps to the dark forests of Germania. The new map world is lushly populated using the latest SpeedTree engine and I think players are going to have fun exploring the diverse environment and discovering famous landmarks like Stone Henge or the white cliffs of Dover. Players will also notice the world is much livelier than in the previous games now that you can see your workers in the fields and garrisons on the walls.
Additionally, Hegemony Gold was already praised for its accessibility but I'm really happy with how we've been able to further refine the gameplay in Hegemony Rome to improve both the consistency and intuitiveness of the mechanics.
Strategy Informer:Obviously there’s no multiplayer in this game, but is that ever something you guys will consider? Would it even work in Hegemony?
Rob McConnell: The original Hegemony: Philip of Macedon was an ambitious experiment for a tiny team, so from very early on we decided we had to focus on perfecting the single player experience rather than splitting our attention between multiplayer as well. With Hegemony Gold we had a chance to refine that single player experience based on community feedback. Given the critical praise it received, I think we did it pretty well, but we were still limited in how much we could do because it was an expansion that still had to work with the original game. So, given the lengthy wish list we still had from the previous games, we decided to stay the course for Hegemony Rome and use this chance to really polish the single player experience.
That said, we've definitely discussed the idea of multiplayer and have a few ideas about how we might handle it in a future release. One of the important parts for us is to make sure we capture the unique elements of Hegemony, like the scale and logistical focus, so that we're not just making another solely tactical multiplayer game like some of the others that are already on the market. So, assuming that players are receptive to Hegemony Rome and we get the chance to keep making games, I think there is a good chance you will eventually see a multiplayer Hegemony.
Strategy Informer:How is the indie market treating you guys at the moment? Were sales of Phillip/Gold as good as you’d hoped they would be?
Rob McConnell: Although critically well received, sales of the first two games have been fairly modest so far. Having started as a company in the late nineties mailing out games on floppy disks, we somewhat underestimated the amount of noise on the web when we launched Hegemony: Philip of Macedon in 2010 with absolutely no marketing budget. It didn't help that we had focused on an obscure historical figure or that it can be hard to convey with screenshots what makes the game unique. However, after a successful summer demoing the game in person at various gaming shows we were selected for the PAX 10 indie showcase.
Although this resulted in an embarrassing video of us in togas on G4TV, it introduced the game to a much wider audience which really helped our momentum and we had a pretty big Christmas that year. Hegemony Gold has had a similarly slow start and, as an expansion, faced its own challenges for getting attention. However, even though marketing may not be our area of expertise, awareness and appreciation of the games does continue to grow and we actually expect a few more announcements for Gold before Rome comes out.
Strategy Informer:As an indie developer with limited resources, what do you think is the most important thing to focus on in an RTS game? Some companies focus on depth as opposed to graphics – a la Paradox, other companies like to make sure their graphics are at least competitive with the standard of the day… what’s your take on this?
Rob McConnell: There's no question that gameplay comes first, but our goal has always been to make games rather than simulations, so it's never been just about adding more and more mechanics. Our ideal is to focus on the critical decisions that define warfare in the period and, if the reviews are correct, I think we managed to pull this off pretty well in the first two games. They both start off relatively simple but the strategy and complexity increase as the interactions between those core mechanics grow along with your empire. For Hegemony Rome we actually cut some of the underused features from the first games so we could add more interesting mechanics while maintaining a similar level of accessibility and complexity.
We've tried to take a similarly balanced approach with the graphics in the game. While we clearly don't have the resources to compete with the cinematic visuals in something like the Total War series, Hegemony is a game that in the end is meant to be fun and the visuals are key to immersing players in the experience and delivering those feelings of panic when a raiding party appears out of the fog or that rush of victory when the enemy's walls crumble from your catapults. Players of the previous games are really going to notice the increased detail in Hegemony Rome. We've had time now to refine our tools and I think the result is a really exciting and immersive world to explore.
Strategy Informer:Any last words for our readers?
Rob McConnell: We're really excited about Hegemony Rome. The original game was quite the learning experience for us and it's been very satisfying to have the chance to put that knowledge into a totally new game. As I've mentioned, we really value input from our community so we invite players to get involved on our forums and signup to our newsletter for info on upcoming betas. And of course, if they haven't tried Hegemony Gold yet there are demos all over the web and it's only 200MB so there's no excuse not to check it out.
Thank you to Rob for taking the time to answer our questions – the strategy genre relies on innovative indie developers like Longbow to keep it fresh, and to keep up the support from the fan base. We don’t mind saying, we are very much looking forward to going hands-on with this game.