Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising Updated Q&A - Minions, Armies, and High-Level Battles

Design director Stieg Hedlund explains what it will be like to lead an army of minions in this massively multiplayer game based in ancient Rome.

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Massively multiplayer online games typically take place in high-fantasy realms where you play a persistent character who hunts down fairy-tale monsters with other players, while seeking fabulous loot and enough experience to grow more powerful. But Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising from publisher Sony Online Entertainment and developer Perpetual Entertainment will instead take place in a fantastic version of ancient Rome--a land where mythical creatures run rampant and the human race's only hope of survival is to put faith in the powers of vengeful gods. Among other intriguing features, Gods & Heroes will let players command a retinue--an army of minions that accompany them into battle. For more details, we sat down with design director Stieg Hedlund.

GameSpot: One of the most intriguing aspects of Gods & Heroes is the game's "minion" system, which lets player characters commission their own squad of followers that come along for the ride. Where did the idea come from, and why is it important in the game? How does it make Gods & Heroes unique?

Gods and Heroes' minion armies will grant you the poise and confidence of an ancient Roman general.
Gods and Heroes' minion armies will grant you the poise and confidence of an ancient Roman general.

Stieg Hedlund: Instead of making yet another vanilla massively multiplayer game, we wanted to explore some hybrid gameplay. Apart from my work on the Diablo series, I was also involved in Starcraft and worked on a lot of turn-based strategy games when I was at Koei--one of my first jobs. We wanted to capitalize on that experience and add some of those real-time strategy elements. The minion system adds a whole level of tactical and strategic combat that is not available in any other massively multiplayer online game.

GS: As players level up during the course of a game, do their minions also level up automatically, or can players customize each minion's leveling? Or, is it simply a case of going out and hiring tougher minions?

SH: Yes, minions do level up with you--but only when they're in your squad and fighting alongside you. If you just leave them in your camp, they'll stay the same level as when you hired them.

GS: Aside from your minions' power level, what other customization options will you have for your followers? Can you choose or even create designs for new standards for them to carry on banners and shields, or change their faces or skin tones, or vary their height, or change their armor...?

SH: We actually looked at a lot of this type of stuff early on in development and discarded it. So, instead of having a ton of random disposable minions, there is a very specific set of unique ones. Thus, Rufus Horatius, one of the first minions you can hire, will always look like Rufus. One big benefit of this approach is that it enables players to talk to each other sensibly about their minions. For example, a player can explain to another, "You're going to need big heals to beat this boss, so you should bring Rufus with you." This way there's a common language and understanding between players, instead of a need to break down the stats of random minions.

For the sake of simplicity, minions can be compared to equipment found in other games--in the sense that they are a specific and known set of items with different levels of quality that help different player classes and "builds"--the various ways that players can design their characters--in different ways. But of course they are much, much more than just mere pieces of equipment. Minions are separate entities that act on their own through sophisticated artificial intelligence and can be commanded by players. Not only do minions level up with you, they unlock new powers with experience, whereas a piece of equipment is only good when you're pretty close to its level and then it must be discarded in favor of something better.

GS: On a related note, do you have any control over your minions' inventories? Can you give them different weapons to use? Or, could you use them as "pack mules" to carry loot for you?

Your armies will carry issued equipment that you can upgrade over time.
Your armies will carry issued equipment that you can upgrade over time.

SH: Nope, none of that stuff. At first, managing the inventories and equipment of minions might seem like a good idea, but after you've collected more than 130 of them, you're probably going to feel less inclined to scrub through them all to see who has what--they'd be like bags inside of bags inside of bags, and you'd never know what you did with that one cool sword you received at level 10. We also wanted players to focus on the tactical benefits of having a squad, rather than using them like rented mules.

Instead, sets of equipment can be purchased through the "Custos Armorum"--the squad outfitter that lives in your camp. This equipment is bought for an entire minion type; if you buy an upgrade to infantry gear, all of your infantry minions will receive this upgrade. There will, however, be differences between those infantry minions as far as what that upgrade means to them. For example, a heroic-quality Gaulish minion might interpret a basic (but high-level) upgrade as a special two-handed axe and exotic armor.

The Care and Feeding of Your Minion Army

GS: Control of the minions is done through a control panel on the screen. Could you walk us through how you use it in a typical engagement? What level of granularity is there in the controls?

They who are about to die salute you.
They who are about to die salute you.

SH: I'd say there is full granularity, but let me take a step back from that. First, minions in our game have good "base" behaviors. If you have an infantry minion specializing in aggression, he knows how to run up to enemies and engage them, drawing them into fighting him instead of you, using the feats that he has learned, and so on. Because of this, you can fearlessly wade into combat and not worry about what your minions are doing. They'll take care of themselves...and you.

You can also set your minions into different stances and formations, enable or disable particular feats, set healing thresholds for healer minions, and so on, to help this behavior along. This gives your minions some of the basic parameters within which you want them to act. You have squad orders you can use to tell minions to do more specific things like engage enemies or hold position, as well as squad feats which are things you learn within your character class and use to order your minions to perform. And then, finally, if you really need to, you can access a minion's feats and tell them to use one of their abilities right now.

GS: How can you manage larger-scale adventures and player-versus-player battles among multiple characters with multiple minions? How does the game handle having so many characters onscreen?

SH: We don't anticipate this being a problem. This is the thing we knew we'd have to solve for the gameplay we've designed, so we've spent a lot of time making this a nonissue.

GS: How does having such populated battles with multiples players and minions affect monster encounters? Tell us about how Perpetual is balancing out battles against gorgons and hydras and other beasties that could be challenged by a lone character, a lone character and minions, a party of characters, or some combination of characters and minions. Considering that the majority of the game will not be instanced, how will the game scale the toughness of battles to account for party size?

SH: Essentially, the game is balanced with the idea that players will have the maximum squad size allowable for the zone and level of the content. You'd be at a significant disadvantage if you were playing without a squad when you should have a squad of three. Groups will have an advantage, but this isn't always the case, and there are logical counterbalances in place that make it easy for players to judge when and when not to group. The instances will, of course, be much easier to tune, as they assume full maximum group size and maximum squad size.

GS: Finally, is there anything that you'd like to add about minions and how they work in the game, or about the game's general state of progress?

You'll need all the help you can get to tackle the toughest battles in the game.
You'll need all the help you can get to tackle the toughest battles in the game.

SH: Minions add another layer of customizing flexibility--they play into your character's strengths in different ways, so you need to find out which ones will help your character the most, then search for them and do the quests you need to complete to get them to join you.

Also, squad composition can be altered based on what you're doing in the game. If you're soloing, you'll want a particular squad setup, while your needs will be quite different if you're grouped. And of course, you can build a squad based on the particular strategic challenges you expect to face in any given quest. I think people will find a lot of stuff to enjoy in the depth and intricacy of this system.

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