We interview two game designers at Haemimont Games about their upcoming title Imperium Romanum
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Imperium Romanum is a city building game set in Ancient Rome. It is the successor of Glory of the Roman Empire, but it is not the same game - it features an improved graphical engine and a host of new gameplay mechanics, including new economy system, new battle system, fortifications, crime and so on.
Mike Bowden: How excited are the team right now? With the game’s release so close, is there a different buzz about the place?
Haemimont Games: All of us are very excited about the upcoming release of Imperium Romanum. Even though the last few weeks were very intense here in the office due to the approach of GDC we always found time to read the latest preview and even to visit the forums and read the peoples’ impressions and expectations about our game. Having been game journalists for several years before we joined Haemimont Games, we were very thrilled to see the release of Imperium Romanum from the developer’s point of view.
Mike Bowden: With so many other strategy games out there, with maybe your closest rivals being Total War, how will IR differ from that experience? Why should we invest our time and energy in your title specifically?
Haemimont Games: In our opinion the greatest thing Imperium Romanum has to offer is the freedom to choose and the opportunity to play at your own pace and style. This is most evident in the History Mode. During testing we discovered that players utilized three different gameplay styles – some preferred to draw a single tablet (take a single objective) resolve it and move forward. Others favoured a more aggressive approach drawing the maximum number of tablets at once, trying to accomplish several objectives at once. The third type of gamers tried to develop a stable economy and a flourishing city before taking any objectives. The ability to choose between peaceful and military missions is another thing that allows players to feel right at home with Imperium Romanum.
Mike Bowden: Our preview by Emmanuel (Manny) Brown praised the high level of detail in the game. How important is this in a game from your experience? Isn’t a good strategy game all about the engine?
Haemimont Games: We at Haemimont Games are extremely proud with our game engine and the amazing sceneries it can create. Being game designers ourselves, we must say a good strategy game must always have an entertaining an involving gameplay. However a great strategy game must have both great gameplay and immersive and beautiful graphics. Having said that we have to congratulate all of our level designers, artist and engine developers for the wonderful job they did in Imperium Romanum.
Mike Bowden: One thing Manny did report was that in the build that he played, he found that there was a distinct lack of historical background present. He hoped that it would be added in the final version. Can you confirm this? Will our immersion be heightened by a solid back history?
Haemimont Games: Soon after we decided upon the tablet mechanic for the History Mode we agreed that each of our 16 missions will resemble a mini-campaign both in the amount of objectives as well as the story. Many of the tablets which comprise the History Mode missions also provide historical information about events, prominent Romans or the everyday life of Roman citizens. Naturally, some missions give a more complete historical background while others focus more on the gameplay. It is of interest to note that Imperium Civitas 2 (the Spanish and Italian version of the game) has received a commendation by the European parliament for its educational value.
Mike Bowden: We found that the decision to enable the residents to automatically aid the weaponsmith with wood for example, was a masterstroke, enabling the user to quickly build up an arsenal and get involved quickly. How did this come around? Was it borne out of frustration playing other strategy games, or was it a conscious design decision?
Haemimont Games: The principal gameplay mechanics of Imperium Romanum are based on those of its predecessor Glory of the Roman Empire (GotRE). We learned a lot from the first game and there were many things we wanted to address in the sequel. While playing GotRE we often found ourselves playing at the triple speed and waiting for something to happen. Thus our main design goals was to give the players more options and add more depth to the gameplay.
Mike Bowden: Manny found the combat to be slightly too simplistic, was that again a conscious decision or will we see more options in the finished game?
Haemimont Games: From the beginning of the project we knew we were making a city-building game and that we will focus mainly on the economic aspect of the game. We didn’t want to fall into the common citybuilder stereotype of hastily made and somewhat neglected battle mechanics. We wanted a simple yet attractive combat system. We chose to group the units into squads and avoid point-and-click interface as much as possible. To this end all of our units have a basic attack and retreat command – they know where to go and who to attack. We’ve chosen to give the player the more important options of choosing the composition of his army will and the tactical formations his squads will use. The player also has to monitor the morale of his squads as demoralized soldiers fight less effectively.
Mike Bowden: Tell us about how crime plays a role in your world. I find that particular idea rather intriguing.
Haemimont Games: When a citizen becomes poor he may become a criminal and start causing trouble in your city. There are several ways to counter the crime - for instance if you employ enough prefects, they will try to arrest the criminals or put out the fires set by them. Another thing to try is to donate money to the poor families in your city, so they don't have to turn to crime. Of course an even better thing is to set up your city economy so efficiently that your citizens do not become poor in the first place.
Mike Bowden: Also the interactive mission mode sounds exciting too. Care to elaborate any more on that?
Haemimont Games: We already mention the "Tablets of Fate" a couple of times. These tablets are an innovative way to present the player with objectives, bonuses or disasters. Each of the 16 historical missions has 20 such tablets and if the player manages to resolve all of them, he wins. Some of these tablets are optional - the player may discard them or try to complete their objective for a reward. The player decides when he is ready to draw a new tablet and he is able to draw several such tablets at once.
Mike Bowden: Sometimes when my work is adjudicated, I always feel that certain important points are missed out, what other gameplay elements do you feel should be highlighted that maybe Manny missed?
Haemimont Games: The new economy system is one of the gameplay features that we are most proud. The player accumulates money (Denarii) and may spend them for buildings or special actions like holding a chariot race in Circus Maximus or instantly completing a crucial construction. The residents of the city also accumulate money and each family has its own family wealth - working citizens make money and every citizen spends money when satisfying his needs. The player is able to appropriate the wealth of a rich family and banish them from the city or to help a poor family by donating Denarii to them.
Mike Bowden: Will we see any downloadable content in the future? If so, what kind of things will the team be focusing on?
Haemimont Games: Definitely. We believe that there will be several scenario maps made available for download via the games website and, who knows, the future may hold even more surprises. As for our goals - we will strive to create a unique gameplay experience on each map, utilizing both the tablet system as well as the base mechanics of the game.
Mike Bowden: How about the next-gen consoles? Strategy games are starting to slowly crawl into the 360’s line up for example, could you see a possible port on the horizon?
Haemimont Games: We don't believe that doing a "straight port" is the right way to approach the 360 audience. We are certainly thinking in this direction and when we have an offering it will be a unique console experience which takes advantage of the specific user interface and the console play patterns
Mike Bowden: What part of IR are you most pleased with from a developer’s point of view? What thing that might appear simple on the outside to the user, was actually quite a task to implement?
Haemimont Games: As game designers, we are most proud of the new gameplay features - in particular, the economy system and the "tablets of fate" mechanic that we described in previous questions. We had to revamp them several times, but in the end they turned out great and made the game better than its predecessor.
Mike Bowden: Finally, we at Strategy Informer wish you every success with the title and will ask you one last question: Being Bulgaria’s largest developer, how much pressure does that entail? I mean, as you are sitting pretty at the top of the tree in your country, is the pressure greater to deliver?
Haemimont Games: Actually, since all Bulgarian game developers pretty much aim for the international market, we don't tend to compare ourselves or compete on a national level. We all strive to make quality games and, trust us; there isn't a better job in the world!