IGF 2002: Hands-onRise of Nations

We got a firsthand look at Big Huge Games' first project, a historical real-time strategy game spanning 5,000 years of human history. Gameplay details inside.

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Earlier this week, we revealed the first details about Rise of Nations, the first project from Big Huge Games, a company founded by the designers of great strategy games like Civilization II and Alpha Centauri. Seeing Rise of Nations in action made it clear why Big Huge Games chose such a title for itself--Rise of Nations is certainly ambitious in scope. But in practice, the game looks distinctly reminiscent of other historical real-time strategy games, namely Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings by Ensemble Studios and the more recent Empire Earth by Stainless Steel Studios. Clearly, Rise of Nations is intended to appeal to fans of these games, and as such, it does feature a number of original ideas.

Rise of Nations will span the approximate 5,000-year history of humankind. You'll begin play in the prehistoric age and work your way up to the modern era of warfare. There are eight different historical periods in total, and the designers at Big Huge Games are intending for you to be able to see them all within a single skirmish. Average games are designed to last about an hour--a rather brisk pace, given the scope of the conflict. The game will feature land, sea, and air units and has a number of different resources you'll need to keep track of, including food, gold, wood, steel, oil, and a less traditional resource: knowledge. Knowledge will be acquired automatically from universities and will generally be used for researching new technologies during the later time periods. All the resources will be acquired differently.

Some of the other original features in Rise of Nations include the concept of national borders and infantry tactics. To give the game a more defensive, more deliberate pace, the designers implemented the idea of national borders that gradually expand as civilizations grow in power. You can never build structures beyond your national borders, which will prevent the possibility of players aggressively building near the cities of their rivals. However, spying on enemy territories, and mounting surprise attacks, will still be possible. Although Rise of Nations will not include the concept of supply lines, the designers noted that one civilization would have the unique ability whereby any enemy unit within its national boundary would automatically sustain damage over time.

For each infantry unit in Rise of Nations, you'll actually see three units onscreen to represent it. This will be more than just a visual detail--you'll be able to order units into different tactical formations, either to concentrate on enemies ahead or to spread out and protect their flanks. Flanking enemy infantry, or other units, can give you major bonuses to your attack.

Rise of Nations already looks good, even if its visual design is unmistakably similar to that of Age of Empires II. The game uses a fully 3D engine, though you currently can't rotate the camera (you can zoom in and out, however). The 3D units are well animated and quite detailed, though the scale of some of the units doesn't seem quite right yet.

Rise of Nations will include 18 different playable civilizations, each with two unique units and various unique technologies. The game will have five single-player campaigns, a number of different gameplay modes, more than 150 units to build, and dozens of technologies to research. The game is scheduled to ship in the spring of next year, which is surprising, in light of how complete it already looks. Big Huge Games will be using the time to finish the content of Rise of Nations and also to balance and fine-tune the game to be both strategic and fun. We'll have more information on Rise of Nations in the months to come.

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