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Rob Zacny

Episode 204: Gate-Crashing the Roman Empire

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I haven't listened to this yet, but was Jon Shafer inspired by my first post on the Idle Thumbs forums? Either way, it's funded sight unseen. The fall of the Roman Empire and the so-called Dark Ages don't get nearly enough attention in games.

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hexgrid   

I'm backing it.

It's worth noting that there has been a fair amount of action in Kickstarter for 4X games lately; Predestination, Beyond Beyaan, Starbase Orion, arguably Maia and Limit Theory, M.O.R.E, Empires of Sorcery, and maybe others I've missed. That's just Kickstarter; I imagine Indiegogo has some too...

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hexgrid   

I should also mention Terminus on Indiegogo. It looks like kind of a city builder, but it's a pretty neat idea. Science fiction, the world is going to end in a couple of decades due to a Massive Space Cataclysm, and you're in charge of strip-mining the earth to try to build the best bailing-wire-and-twine colony ship you can throw together to save as much of the population as possible.

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sclpls   

I am really excited about this game. This is the first time I've backed anything on Kickstarter beyond the basic pledge to get a copy of the game. Looking forward to checking out the alpha and seeing how it progresses from there. I'm still not totally clear on how supply works in this game. I know from these forums that Jon is a big fan of Unity of Command, but I assume it will be a different thing just because of different gameplay and because of the historical setting... speaking of which I am also so into the setting for this game, which is an underutilized setting. It makes me want to reread Tacitus who is pre-fall of the Roman Empire, but he writes in this awesome apocalyptic mode as if it was the fall of the Roman Empire kind of not unlike the rise of declinism literature that is currently pervasive in the U.S. and France right now.

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Okay, I listened to the podcast and have more things to say. In particular, Troy's comments on the push and pull of the seasons on the Germanic tribes on Rome's doorstep made me think of Colin McEvedy talking about the "pulse of Asia" in his discussion of why the Mongols won themselves a steppe empire, rather than the Huns or Avars or Maygars or Pechenegs or Cumans or Turks. The notion of other tribes pushing you up against the Romans and threatening your annihilation, while at the same being necessary for your survival, excites me so much. Too many games incentivize a genocidal policy because less enemies and more land is always better. If you need other tribes' income to complement your own, that's a very interesting wrinkle on the gameplay.

I'm way too tempted to push for more historical features that may or may not be within Jon's remit, like the federation of two weakened tribes or the settling of a defeated tribe inside Roman borders, but I hope that similar measures exist to keep the pressure from both nature and man high through the whole game.

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Codicier   

Argggggggh so conflicted.

There's so much i like about what they are doing with this, but equally there's just one or two things that just bug the heck out of me.

In terms of theme its right up my street. King of Dragon Pass has been one of my favorite games on the iOS and it covered much of the same territory (admittedly from a semi-fantasy viewpoint).

I can't help projecting KoDP's systems onto AtG equivalents be it the the tribal politics, the seasonal weather, or the map exploration, but that's no bad thing since i got so much enjoyment out of those system in a game with a lot simpler base game.

Then you add all the possibilities that a randomly generated map allow and i see a possibility for replayability that KoDP sometimes lacked.

but....

The first 2-3 minutes of that trailer just seemed so similar to civ, which just feels wrong to me.

The conceit of the whole world being unknown worked for me Civ because we were supposed to be starting from the very beginning of prehistory, but this isn't supposed to be a prehistoric tribe. This is late antiquity, it feels wrong somehow to me that any tribe existing in this world would have no knowledge of the world or their neighbours.

I suppose the same conceit KoDP uses can work here too (that of a tribe being driven into a new territory), it's just with this game being grounded in real history i find myself giving it a much harder time than i would if it was just a fictional world.

I haven't listened to this yet, but was Jon Shafer inspired by my first post on the Idle Thumbs forums? Either way, it's funded sight unseen. The fall of the Roman Empire and the so-called Dark Ages don't get nearly enough attention in games.

Haha it's not far off what you said, perhaps you should charge John a consultation fee :D

Also do you (or anyone else) have any additional suggestions for good factual books about the era?

I will back it as well. Listened to Jon talk about it on podcasts for 4 hours today; Indie game media blitz!

I caught the QT3 part of the blitz as well as 3MA, and its also worth checking out with the bonus of John pulling Tom Chicks own trick on him.

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I am only halfway through but the discussion about the problem of early gameplay in the 4x genre was very interesting. I made a blog post about it. To summarize, I will provide an excerpt:

I think the reason why 4x games lose some of their charm and appeal after leaving the early stages of the game is that they are modeled to closely to wargames and warlike history. If you want a 4x game where you spend the entire game exploring and discovering new things without bumping into borders, obstacles, and wandering monsters, then you need to change the entire mood of the game. Instead of it being an inevitable slog towards victory as you fight countless battles with your war machine, the endgame needs to be revised totally.

You could make the objective to save your civilization from the wrath of an angry god by making sufficient sacrifices and heroic feats. You could have the game be about becoming the richest and most influential intergalactic corporation that controls governments like puppets and can change the fate of the whole galaxy.

More at:

http://www.shadowtig.../newidea4x.html

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sclpls   

Argggggggh so conflicted.

. . .

but....

The first 2-3 minutes of that trailer just seemed so similar to civ, which just feels wrong to me.

The conceit of the whole world being unknown worked for me Civ because we were supposed to be starting from the very beginning of prehistory, but this isn't supposed to be a prehistoric tribe. This is late antiquity, it feels wrong somehow to me that any tribe existing in this world would have no knowledge of the world or their neighbours.

I suppose the same conceit KoDP uses can work here too (that of a tribe being driven into a new territory), it's just with this game being grounded in real history i find myself giving it a much harder time than i would if it was just a fictional world.

. . .

Don't feel too conflicted! It was stated in one of the podcasts Jon was on (maybe a few...) that the blacked out fog of war would be an optional gameplay feature. You can also play where the map is totally visible, and so you have a better lay of the land.

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riadsala   

On a pendantic note, perhaps this is more of a 2X game? As, if they map is going to be uncovered by default, then there's not a lot of exploration going on. And it sounds like victory isn't linked to extermination.

:P

instead, we have adaptation, and, ... trying to think up another word beginning with a so I can be silly and suggest we call it an 2a2x game rather than a 4x game.

Sorry, there's isn't really a point to this post. Just silly wordplay :P

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I liked that you brought up Greed Corp because what Jon was describing, where you have a predictably changing map that eventually just depletes, is exactly what that game is about and does extremely well. I've definitely mentioned on this forum before that I'm not a big strategy game player at all, but clearly that is a game that succeeds in just forcing the player to adapt and ending the game without letting the map get stale (although I have run into late-game attrition warfare, but it's pretty fast-pace as far as turn-based strategy goes). Sounds like that Atlantis game is the same sort of deal, though less predictable and player-driven.

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Codicier   

On a pendantic note, perhaps this is more of a 2X game? As, if they map is going to be uncovered by default, then there's not a lot of exploration going on.

I think that actually depends on how the map models the changing seasons and depleted resources. Do we find out a river is frozen over or a herd of deer is still present as long as we uncovered that tile at some point, or is it more dependant on the sight radius of our unit. Some really interesting game play situations can arise when a player suddenly finds himself without a resource he was counting on (it's not necessarily fun for your tribe to starve to death, but still cant have it all).

The new X-Com's maps were a bit like that I think, sometimes you'd catch a glimpse of a enemy then base a plan around the idea that he'd stay put, then round a corner to find he'd buggered off :D (or that 3 of his mates have arrived). Having to use a scout as something more than just as armed cartographer was nice for once.

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sclpls   

Anyone else here on board for the alpha testing? Normally I don't mess around with stuff like that and just wait for the finished product, but since the gameplay video looked fairly polished, and I really want this game to play well I figured it made sense to try and check the game out as early as possible.

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riadsala   

All true, and sounds like a really interesting game. But I wouldn't call that exploring. Maybe scouting, recon, etc. But exploring? Na. Exploring is venturing out into the great unknown blank patches on the map and searching for the source of the Nile, heading out west across the new world, etc.

I think that actually depends on how the map models the changing seasons and depleted resources. Do we find out a river is frozen over or a herd of deer is still present as long as we uncovered that tile at some point, or is it more dependant on the sight radius of our unit. Some really interesting game play situations can arise when a player suddenly finds himself without a resource he was counting on (it's not necessarily fun for your tribe to starve to death, but still cant have it all).

The new X-Com's maps were a bit like that I think, sometimes you'd catch a glimpse of a enemy then base a plan around the idea that he'd stay put, then round a corner to find he'd buggered off :D (or that 3 of his mates have arrived). Having to use a scout as something more than just as armed cartographer was nice for once.

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Haha it's not far off what you said, perhaps you should charge John a consultation fee :D

Also do you (or anyone else) have any additional suggestions for good factual books about the era?

 

I'd meant to answer this a week ago but forgot, because it's not an easy question. I know a host of excellent academic works on the migration period and the decline of empire, but most popular historiography is still stuck exalting Rome as the glory of the ancient world, martyred to bring about modern Europe. Even when an otherwise capable historian like Bryan Ward-Perkins writes something like The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization, it's inexplicably shot through with silly theatrics about savage dirt-worshippers ruining civilization for everyone else.

 

Still, I'll try. For a good introduction to the period of Germanic migration and Roman collapse, I'd recommend Peter Brown's classic, The World of Late Antiquity. Peter Wells' The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe is a very readable take on early Germanic society, written by an anthropologist for a lay audience. For the migrations themselves, the classic trio I've always held close are Peter Heather's Goths and Romans, 332-489, Walter Goffart's Barbarians and Romans, AD 418-584, and Michael Kulikowski's Rome’s Gothic Wars from the Third Century to Alaric. Of these, Kulikowski's is the best, Goffart's is the broadest, and Heather's is the midpoint between the two.

 

I also understand Heather's written a brace of volumes in the past decade as a response to Ward-Perkins, The Fall of the Roman Empire: a New History of Rome and the Barbarians and Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development, and the Birth of Europe. I haven't read them myself, but they're written by a respected scholar, published by good presses, and reviewed well by peers. That might be where I'd start, actually.

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Thanks for the support everyone, and sorry for the late response! The past couple weeks have been, uh, intense.

 

 

I'm backing it.

It's worth noting that there has been a fair amount of action in Kickstarter for 4X games lately; Predestination, Beyond Beyaan, Starbase Orion, arguably Maia and Limit Theory, M.O.R.E, Empires of Sorcery, and maybe others I've missed. That's just Kickstarter; I imagine Indiegogo has some too...

 

Oh, this is just the beginning. I'd be shocked if you didn't start to see a lot more strategy games on Kickstarter here soon.

 

 

I will back it as well. Listened to Jon talk about it on podcasts for 4 hours today; Indie game media blitz!

 

That was a busy week, let me tell you. By the end of the circuit I actually lost my voice for an entire day, so I was fortunate that I didn't have any more to do!.

 

 

I am really excited about this game. This is the first time I've backed anything on Kickstarter beyond the basic pledge to get a copy of the game. Looking forward to checking out the alpha and seeing how it progresses from there. I'm still not totally clear on how supply works in this game. I know from these forums that Jon is a big fan of Unity of Command, but I assume it will be a different thing just because of different gameplay and because of the historical setting... speaking of which I am also so into the setting for this game, which is an underutilized setting. It makes me want to reread Tacitus who is pre-fall of the Roman Empire, but he writes in this awesome apocalyptic mode as if it was the fall of the Roman Empire kind of not unlike the rise of declinism literature that is currently pervasive in the U.S. and France right now.

 

Glad you like the setting! I really wanted to break some new ground with ATG and not tread the same path that's been done a million times already. I have some ideas for future games along the same lines, so if ATG is right in your wheelhouse you're probably going to be happy gamer!
 
As for supply, the basic concept is the same as Unity of Command (radii that extend from nodes), but the specifics are a bit different. In ATG, every tile has a supply rating which is based on the type of terrain and whether or not it’s within supply range of one of your settlements or supply camps.
 
Timing when your invasions take place is critical, and success usually comes down to holding out or cutting off the enemy’s supply, rather than the positioning of your front or who has the biggest stack of units. Think of it as a well-developed game of chess where each side is waiting for the other to provide an opening, and once one is exploited resolution comes fairly quickly.

 

 

Okay, I listened to the podcast and have more things to say. In particular, Troy's comments on the push and pull of the seasons on the Germanic tribes on Rome's doorstep made me think of Colin McEvedy talking about the "pulse of Asia" in his discussion of why the Mongols won themselves a steppe empire, rather than the Huns or Avars or Maygars or Pechenegs or Cumans or Turks. The notion of other tribes pushing you up against the Romans and threatening your annihilation, while at the same being necessary for your survival, excites me so much. Too many games incentivize a genocidal policy because less enemies and more land is always better. If you need other tribes' income to complement your own, that's a very interesting wrinkle on the gameplay.

I'm way too tempted to push for more historical features that may or may not be within Jon's remit, like the federation of two weakened tribes or the settling of a defeated tribe inside Roman borders, but I hope that similar measures exist to keep the pressure from both nature and man high through the whole game.

 

Never read Pulse of Asia but it sounds like I probably should!

 

There's definitely a strong incentive in ATG to fight limited wars - I need that iron mine, or to pillage a few cities for the wealth, but that's it. Biting off more than you can chew can really hurt you.

 

As for historical features, my focus is definitely on gameplay first. :) I'm drawing a lot of inspiration from history when deciding what mechanics to include, but ultimately the mechanics have to be fun!

 

- Jon

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Argggggggh so conflicted.

There's so much i like about what they are doing with this, but equally there's just one or two things that just bug the heck out of me.

In terms of theme its right up my street. King of Dragon Pass has been one of my favorite games on the iOS and it covered much of the same territory (admittedly from a semi-fantasy viewpoint).

I can't help projecting KoDP's systems onto AtG equivalents be it the the tribal politics, the seasonal weather, or the map exploration, but that's no bad thing since i got so much enjoyment out of those system in a game with a lot simpler base game.

Then you add all the possibilities that a randomly generated map allow and i see a possibility for replayability that KoDP sometimes lacked.

but....

The first 2-3 minutes of that trailer just seemed so similar to civ, which just feels wrong to me.

The conceit of the whole world being unknown worked for me Civ because we were supposed to be starting from the very beginning of prehistory, but this isn't supposed to be a prehistoric tribe. This is late antiquity, it feels wrong somehow to me that any tribe existing in this world would have no knowledge of the world or their neighbours.

I suppose the same conceit KoDP uses can work here too (that of a tribe being driven into a new territory), it's just with this game being grounded in real history i find myself giving it a much harder time than i would if it was just a fictional world.

 

As has already been noted, there's one game mode where you can see the terrain (which will probably be the default), and another one where everything is completely black, as in a traditional 4X game. I know people will want it both ways, and it's easy to accommodate. :)

 

I actually included the "start the game with the map visible" mode for more for gameplay than realism. With the importance of the seasons you really need to have some idea of what you're getting into, otherwise you might march an army into a completely hopeless situation. Sure, that might be realistic but it isn't very fun or strategic. If you don't have enough information to work off of it's basically impossible to make meaningful decisions.

 

 

On a pendantic note, perhaps this is more of a 2X game? As, if they map is going to be uncovered by default, then there's not a lot of exploration going on. And it sounds like victory isn't linked to extermination.

:P

instead, we have adaptation, and, ... trying to think up another word beginning with a so I can be silly and suggest we call it an 2a2x game rather than a 4x game.

Sorry, there's isn't really a point to this post. Just silly wordplay :P

 

The entire map isn't uncovered at the start, just the basic geography. We might also take the approach where you can see the outlines of the terrain, but nothing else. Gonna have to play around with some things and see what works!

 

And victory is very linked to extermination, as the only way to win is by capturing one of the Roman capitals. :) I've actually had to assure quite a few people that ATG isn't a wargame, but instead a full-fledged 4X game like any other.

 

 

I think that actually depends on how the map models the changing seasons and depleted resources. Do we find out a river is frozen over or a herd of deer is still present as long as we uncovered that tile at some point, or is it more dependant on the sight radius of our unit. Some really interesting game play situations can arise when a player suddenly finds himself without a resource he was counting on (it's not necessarily fun for your tribe to starve to death, but still cant have it all).

The new X-Com's maps were a bit like that I think, sometimes you'd catch a glimpse of a enemy then base a plan around the idea that he'd stay put, then round a corner to find he'd buggered off :D (or that 3 of his mates have arrived). Having to use a scout as something more than just as armed cartographer was nice for once.

 

Knowing what's going on in the world around you is very important in ATG, so I very much expect Scouts to be more than "armed cartographers" - although I really like that term. :D And to be fair, Scouts are basically useless in combat, so you really don't want to be using them to hold the line long enough for the cavalry to arrive!

 

- Jon

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