Rise of Nations is a new real-time strategy game that extends the overall scope, without losing the appeal of games like Age of Empires and Age of Mythology. The standard warfare elements are certainly present, and players will progress from the late Stone Age to modern-day technology, but the aspects of city building, trade, and diplomacy have been brought more into focus.
We're proud to present an interview with Tim Train, VP of Development at Big Huge Games, who also served as Executive Producer on Rise of Nations and did some design work on the project as well.
SE - How did Big Huge come up with the idea for Rise of Nations? It looks like it's using the gameplay engine from Age of Empires.
Tim - Well, it doesn't use the Age of Empires engine. It's an all new, proprietary, fully 3D engine that has some 2D elements in it. It's a ground up engine and basically we come from a turn based background. Games like Civilization 2 and Alpha Centauri we some of our other hits that we've done and at the end of that time we were talking about what we wanted to do next and what we realized is that most of the games we were playing were real time strategy games. We really loved that sort of fast pace and exciting gameplay. At the same time, we felt like we had a lot of ideas on what would make those games better and make them a little more interesting and take it to the next level so we decided to start our own company where we could really do that. And that's pretty much where we took off and running.
SE - So did you pick up a lot of people from Firaxis and other such turn-based companies?
Tim - Yeah we had about six people that come with us from Firaxis, and we got other people that we work with from the old Microprose (which now belongs to Atari). So that's pretty much the core team. The first six people to join were from Firaxis.
SE - And how big is the development team for Rise of Nations and how long has it been in development for?
Tim - We have about twenty-five people that are full timers and we probably have about another fourteen or fifteen part-timers or contractors that worked on the game in some form or another. So obviously a lot of man hours went in to trying to polish and tweak the game relative to a lot of the other games in the marketplace. And we've been in development for about three years.
SE - Could you take us through a typical game of Rise of Nations? Show us the game progression and some of the evolution elements that you've incorporated.
Tim - You start off and youre in the ancient era. You can see your city, some of the barracks, a university, a castle, a tavern, the people, which is some standard stuff in an RTS. You also have a Wonder of the World and some citizens to harvest the land. Starting off, it's really familiar to people that have played RTS games but frequently you'll notice some new things and one of those is a national border. National borders are one of the key things about Rise of Nations. It seems like a very simple idea, but it dramatically changes the way that real time strategy games are played. The reason is that you are not allowed to build any buildings outside your national border.
SE - What was the purpose of including a National Border in Rise of Nations?
Tim - Well, in one stroke, we've eliminated the whole I-Build-A-Secret-Base-Behind-My-Opponent's-Lines-Right-Behind-His-Mine-And-That-Means-I-Win-The-Game tactic. For us, that didn't feel very historical, didn't feel very fun and we wanted to get something in [Rise of Nations] that allowed things to have more of an ebb and flow. Fighting over key strategic points and those sorts of things.
SE - You pointed out the existence of cities. Something that doesn't normally exist in RTS's but is usually pretty prevalent in turn based games. What purpose do they serve?
Tim - In Rise of Nations, the cities are really important. In most other RTS's you have to start with a single base and it starts off slowly. In Rise of Nations, the cities are the center of your empire. In this game, cities don't get destroyed ever (except in very rare situations) they only get captured. And here, you see that I can take over this city here by sending in my guys. And as soon as a player captures a city, the national border shifts and after a period of assimilation, players will be able to use all the buildings there.
SE - Warcraft 3 has its spells and items, Command and Conquer has its Generals' abilities. What new things does Rise of Nations introduce strategy-wise?
Tim - Well, we've tried to add some actual tactics in combat. Say we have two armies squaring off, in most of the RTS games, combat centers around micromanaging your guys and doing a lot of focus fire and stuff like that. In Rise of Nations, what we've wanted you to do is make you feel like instead of a Sergeant on the line ordering individual guys around, we wanted to make you feel more like a General, somebody who's actually directing armies and troops. One of the ways that we did this was make every unit in Rise of Nations made up of three guys. What this means is that you have a front, sides and rear. Attacks from the sides and the rear are much more effective than attacks on the front. So a lot of the battles involve trying to get around the back of somebody's army. So if we tried to attack a line of troops frontally, they would most likely get wiped out, but if we send a group of Calvary in from the side and also attack with soldiers from the front we will win hands down.
We want to more or less try to avoid [the hero units/general abilities type gameplay]. There are generals units in Rise of Nations, but as opposed to the other RTS games that are headed towards a smaller focus with only a few units on the screen at one time. We really wanted to give [Rise of Nations] a more epic more strategic scope to the game so we wanted to avoid making the player "level up" his general or something like that. We wanted the player to focus on the clash of armies, advancing your technology, and those kinds of things. Especially in a game that's about all of human history, the ideas of "leaders" that live for hundreds of thousands of years is a littlenot realistic. If Napoleon survived up to the point where he was leading modern troops it'd be pretty hard to suspend disbelief.