The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome Q&A

We sit down with the development director to find out more about the new real-time strategy game.

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There's no denying that real-time strategy games seem to do it for a lot of people. There's also little doubting that one of the greatest empires in history is of general interest. On paper, the two make for a great combination; thus, it's no coincidence that there are a bunch of games already out there that cover the ground well enough.

So to find out what the History Channel license is going to bring to the party, we spent some time with the game's development director, Iain McNeil, and put a few questions to him.

GameSpot UK: Where does the emphasis lie in this game, the action or the strategy?

Iain McNeil: The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome is all about the battles, so it's a real blend of action and strategy. Before a battle starts, you have the chance to create a battle plan, which is where the strategy comes in, and your men will carry out this plan in battle. Some players may choose to wing it and skip this section and jump straight into the battles. Once in the battles, it's fast-paced action all the way. In the larger battles, there are thousands of men giving the game a truly epic feel, which has not been seen on consoles before. In addition, you've got 30 great movies, which really bring the Roman world to life. When you play multiplayer over the PSP's Wi-Fi connection, you're in for a fast-paced and exciting game!

GSUK: Can you tell us about the different armies you can play as?

IM: There are three campaigns in the game. The primary campaign is about the rise of Rome, from its birth to the assassination of Caesar and the formation of the Empire. You get to control a small band of peasants and craft them into an elite fighting force. You'll be able to recruit legionaries, praetorians, war elephants, auxiliary archers, and cavalry--all the troops available to the real Roman army. Once you've completed the Roman campaign, two bonus campaigns are unlocked. The first is the Celtic campaign, which puts you as the opposing force to Rome in many situations. This is a much sadder story, telling the tale of the fall of this once great race. You fight a defensive war against Rome and the Germanic tribes, steadily being pushed back from France into Britain until only the mountainous regions are under your control. As the Celts, you can recruit tribal warriors, noble cavalry, and the feared, naked fanatics. The third campaign is the Cult of Mithras--a mythical addition that bolts on to the end of the Roman campaign. This sees you take the war onto the mystical plains of Elysium, meeting many strange and wonderful units.

GSUK: How are the battles resolved?

IM: Your men are organised into squads, and we think of each squad in the same way you would a character in a role-playing game. Each has attack, defence, armour, morale, and more (around 100 stats per unit). These stats are used by the game model to calculate casualties inflicted and received from combat and shooting, then what effects these might have on the squad's willingness to fight. To win a head-to-head fight, you must break the enemy army's morale, even if that means actually taking more casualties than received. In the campaign, each scenario has its own victory conditions so you may find yourself outnumbered and trying to cling on until reinforcements arrive or tasked with defeating the enemy before sunset can mask their withdrawal.

GSUK: How long has the game been in development?

IM: We first started work on the game back in 2005. We prototyped everything on the PC first, even the user interface. And then when we were happy with the gameplay, we started the console development, which began mid-2006.

GSUK: How important is the History Channel license?

IM: The History Channel license has been important for two principal reasons. Firstly, they have thousands of hours of high-quality footage, which we were able to search through and use to create the movies you see in the game. These really add to the atmosphere when combined with the superb music and voice-over, allowing the player to become fully immersed in the period. Secondly, having a well-known license like the History Channel brings the game to the attention of people who might otherwise have missed it. It has also allowed us to do a lot of TV advertising, which has not been possible in the past. The History Channel has been really supportive and it has been great to work with them.

GSUK: What is the long-term strategy for the franchise?

IM: We can't say too much about that at this stage, but with the success of the initial game, we are certainly looking at ways to extend the relationship. You can expect to hear more about this in the coming months.

GSUK: Who would you consider as the competition for this game?

IM: This is a tough question. On the PC, there are obvious competitors, though they have a very different gameplay feel, (for example, Commander & Conquer, Total War, and so on). On consoles, there is very little competition to the style of gameplay. The game is a blend of role-playing and strategy game but on a scale not seen before.

GSUK: What are the challenges in putting together a strategy game for consoles?

IM: The main technical challenge was performance. As mentioned above, we wanted really epic battles with thousands of men, and this is something that pushed the console to its limits. In addition, we had to design a gameplay style and user interface that allowed people to play a real-time strategy style of game without a mouse. This was probably the toughest challenge and required designing the game from the ground up to work around the limitations of a gamepad. In addition, we allow the player to plan their strategy before the battle starts, meaning they have fewer things they need to try to control once the real-time battle kicks in. We spent a large portion of the time making the controls as intuitive as possible and think they turned out pretty well.

GSUK: Thanks for your time.

Discussion

21 comments
Ligertear32
Ligertear32

Don't get too excited, guys and girls. I love history channel as much as anyone, but their games, to put respectfully, are almost always a load of garbage. Don't get your hopes up yet. Sorry!

Hidden_Assasin
Hidden_Assasin

hmm massive scale real time strategy? COUNT ME IN!

Echo2222
Echo2222

Sounds like rome total war to me.

Hindle_1
Hindle_1

Great! The History Channel shows on Rome are really good, hopefully the game will be too

ascalon94
ascalon94

sounds good might get it im a big fan of the Roman Empire

black_arrow88
black_arrow88

I'll buy it but it looks like an incomplete Total War game without the empire building elements included =/

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

A RTS on the the PSP? This could be interesting hopefully it can handle it without dropping to a unplayable framerate.

thebubbleprince
thebubbleprince

Histroy Channel rules! I love their games. I love Modern Marvels :)

klemetti88
klemetti88

I have to say I'm questioning massive battles on handheld devices, but as psp has proven its way I'll look into the moment of actually trying this. Also if the game happens to lag as I predict overclocking the psp should take care of that.

pauldominic1014
pauldominic1014

Finally a massive army control for the PSP console maybe this will be laggy.

deadmeat59
deadmeat59

looks good hope they remake psp so it gives me a reason 2 replace my busted one

overachiever92
overachiever92

I'm really interested in this game. I love medieval or older warfare, and it's a real treat for me when it's not rated M, like most of the games based in this time period are. The last History Channel games was mediocre, though. I wish this one better luck.

pugkiller
pugkiller

I don't know how well this will work on the PSP. Mine chugs on a much less ambitious game like Generations of Chaos. I would hate to see what it is going to play like.

halohelldaddy45
halohelldaddy45

This game looks just like Legion Arena, well, it was made by the same people. Please dont confuse this game with RTW, RTW gives you much much more freedom when you are in a battle. I must admit though, i did enjoy the Legion arena games, and this doesnt look half bad. If you want a rough idea of what this game is though, just go buy Legion Arena, or if you want a better game, buy RTW :D

illuminatirexx
illuminatirexx

might be interesting, althou the screanshots look pathetic, almost like Rome:Totoal War, which was ok at it times, but nowedays its graphics aare dated. but maby the HCh is just in early development

AceCometh
AceCometh

Time to find out if something licenced by the History Channel can actually be any good.

lilmp89
lilmp89

I hope this is pretty good. Quite interesting and on the PSP.

Pastehunter
Pastehunter

Im pretty excited about this game . Hope that it will turn out OK :D