At our visit to the Microsoft booth at Gen Con 2002, we managed to spend some quality time with Rise of Nations, the upcoming strategy game from Brian Reynolds' studio, Big Huge Games. The game itself seems to be coming along well, and although it superficially resembles another strategy game that Microsoft has published--Age of Empires II--the game's interface seems simpler and easier to use. Rise of Nations will have a full set of hotkeys, as well as a simple point-and-click interface that will incorporate most of the common elements of conventional real-time strategy games. For instance, you can group-select a group of peasants by clicking and dragging, and then assign them all to chop wood. However, since Rise of Nations will have automated, self-starter peasant units, you can let them sit idle, and they'll gather resources on their own, or you can queue up projects for them, including building new structures or even founding entirely new towns.
As we saw, a good way for you to keep your civilizations growing is to grab resources from small bonus packets of resources that will be randomly scattered on the game's maps (like the "goodie huts" from Civilization). However, the best ways to expand will be to build new towns and conquer enemies. Building new towns is as simple as sending a worker to a new area and issuing a build order, though the most profitable way to expand is to follow your settlement with a newly built caravan unit, which builds roads between your towns and increases your income in gold. The other way to expand is, of course, through military conquest, and as we've seen before, the quickest way to conquest is simply attacking your enemy's main town center building--once it's sufficiently damaged, control of most of the town goes to the attacking player (so long as the attacking player's forces outnumber the defending player's). However, as we found out at Gen Con, you can also opt to destroy unnecessary enemy buildings first for a quick one-time bonus of resources. What's more, we found that Big Huge Games decided to alter capturing towns as follows: If, for instance, a Japanese army takes over an Aztec town, that captured town becomes Japanese, but may only produce Japanese units, not Aztec units controlled by the Japan player. However, we also found that conquering a town will only let the attacking player take control of nonmilitary units and buildings, as it would simply be an unfair advantage to suddenly gain control of both the defending player's town and armies.
As we've seen and mentioned before, despite Rise of Nations' grand scope, it will have very tactical combat. Infantry units will be represented onscreen by three soldiers standing in a row, which lets you quickly and easily visualize how to attack from flanks or from the rear. We also got a chance to see the general unit in action--you can recruit a general for your army that will let you use additional maneuvers, such as forced marches (which make troops move more quickly), setting ambushes, deploying decoys to lure enemy armies, and rallying troops (which provides armies with bonus morale). The extent of a general's influence will be clearly indicated by a glowing circle around the general, and the general pace of Rise of Nations' combat, while not slow, seems to be relaxed enough to let you deploy your general and give orders to your units to march in proper formation from appropriate attack points.
Rise of Nations will be a distinctive strategy game that will attempt to combine elements of classic turn-based games like Civilization with more fast-paced real-time games like Age of Empires II. The game is currently in development at Big Huge Games, a studio founded by Civilization II codesigner Brian Reynolds, and is scheduled for release next year. For more information on Rise of Nations,