Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War Q&A - Introduction

The president of developer Stainless Steel introduces us to Rise & Fall and describes how you will have the chance to conquer the ancient world.

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Stainless Steel Studios has previously worked on sprawling real-time strategy games that have covered much of human history. The company's latest game isn't quite so sprawling, but it's perhaps even more ambitious. Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War is set in the ancient world, and you'll assume the role of some of the greatest leaders in history as you attempt to carve out an empire. Rise & Fall is by no means a traditional real-time strategy game, and it will introduce several innovative new features to the genre. The screenshots of the game are graphically stunning, and we can't wait to check it out ourselves. For now, we caught up with Rick Goodman, the president and founder of Stainless Steel Studios, and he filled us in on what the game's about.

Achilles is just one of the heroes that you can take control of in the game. We hear he's a heel.
Achilles is just one of the heroes that you can take control of in the game. We hear he's a heel.

GameSpot: Tell us about the game's setting, time period, and civilizations.

Rick Goodman: Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War is an epic, historical real-time strategy game that lets you command four of the ancient world's mightiest empires: Persia, Greece, Rome, and Egypt. During the game's massive battles, you'll command thousands of soldiers and formations, direct large-scale sieges against enemy cities, and command a navy capable of ramming and boarding enemy ships.

As your empire expands, you control every aspect of its growth. You collect the resources required to fuel your war effort, you build all of the buildings, walls, soldiers, and siege equipment. And everything happens in real time, including the exploration of the maps and the fast-paced, larger-than-life battles.

The truly innovative thing about Rise & Fall is hero command, which will be the key to your civilization's success. A powerful, heroic leader like Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Ramses the Great will perform incredible feats on the battlefield. At key, strategic moments in the game, you will leap into action and take personal control of your hero and cut a swath of destruction across the battlefield.

Rise & Fall's single-player game is divided into two full-length, story-driven adventures that take you all over the ancient world. The first chronicles Alexander the Great as he ascends to the Macedonian throne and wages war against his bitter enemies, the Persians. His campaign begins in Greece and then moves to Asia Minor, where you will relive some of Alexander's most famous battles, such as the Battle at Gaugamela and the Siege of Tyre.

The second campaign follows Cleopatra as she struggles to defeat Roman invaders, led by Octavian, who have conquered the northern regions of Egypt. Accompanied by Mark Antony, Cleopatra must fight her way down the Nile and retake Memphis, Cairo, and Alexandria. Although the two campaigns appear to be unrelated, Cleopatra was a direct descendant of Alexander through her Ptolemaic lineage, so there is a direct connection between the two characters and campaigns.

In multiplayer, there will be four playable civilizations--Persia, Greece, Rome, and Egypt. We are carefully balancing each civilization so that it will have its own strengths and weaknesses. The Persians, for example, will be able to field a large army, but their units are a little weaker than the other civilizations.

GS: Stainless Steel has previously worked on games that have attempted to cover all of human history; why did the team decide to focus on the ancient world?

RG: Gamers' tastes have changed over the past few years. Today they want a movielike experience, similar to recent cinematic epics like Troy or Gladiator, and that means giving gamers stunning graphics and a highly detailed and immersive world. When you're covering a huge slice of time, it's very hard to give any one of the slices the kind of in-depth visual treatment that it deserves and still match the scale of detail and immersiveness that consumers now expect in games.

With Rise & Fall, we didn't want to make those kinds of compromises, so we placed all of our focus and energy on bringing this ancient world to life and making the players truly feel like they're leading their forces into battle as Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, or Achilles. The result is an experience that places you directly in the heart of the ancient world's greatest battles.

GS: From the huge battle sequences we've seen so far, we know that battles will clearly play an important role in the game. Can you give us an overview of how battles will work? Will players be scrambling to amass enough resources to build the biggest army, and then guiding groups of soldiers into the fray, or will they be leading large companies of units with central control?

RG: One of the hallmarks of a Stainless Steel Studios' game has always been massive, earth-shattering battles. And Rise & Fall will continue in that tradition. The battles that you'll fight aren't little skirmishes without consequence--they're full-blown battles that'll pit the armies of the ancient world's mightiest empires against each other. There will be formations of units simultaneously fighting to the death, catapults raining down death from afar, and war elephants trampling enemies underfoot.

Ancient Egypt is in the game, and you can fight like an Egyptian.
Ancient Egypt is in the game, and you can fight like an Egyptian.

Battlefield formations let you group your soldiers into a single command, creating a very easy-to-control formation. All of the soldiers within the formation are still individual units--and they'll still take damage on an individual level--but they move and fight as a cohesive unit. This makes them a devastating fighting force.

In fact, we've even developed a special "army intelligence" as a part of the units' AI, which ensures that all your units know where your other units are located and what they're doing. So if you select several formations of different unit types, they'll automatically line up properly and attack in a unified manner.

Out to Sea

GS: Will the game favor aggressive players who always seek to attack first, or defensive players who prefer to lock themselves behind walls and develop their holdings a bit first?

Be careful; you might poke someone's eye out.
Be careful; you might poke someone's eye out.

RG: It's possible to rush in a multiplayer game, but we're balancing Rise & Fall in a way that the defensive player isn't totally helpless at the start of a match. Many of your buildings, such as the barracks, will be manned by archers who stand sentry over the building and the surrounding area. So the location of your first barracks is going to be very important, because you'll want to offer the maximum amount of protection to your fledgling civilization. A crafty enemy can still attack you, but he can't wipe you out in the very beginning.

GS: We've also seen that Rise & Fall's battles won't just be between swordsmen on the battlefield. Tell us about what's planned for the siege combat system, and how the system is planned to work in practice. We've seen that a key factor of sieges is siege ladders. Will the game model height such that units that get knocked off parapets fall to their deaths? Will the game physically model catapult stones and their impact on castle walls (and nearby soldiers)?

RG: Siege combat in Rise & Fall is going to be something really special. You will command huge catapults, siege towers, and ladders. To defend your city, you'll be able to build the defensive superweapon, Archimedes Claw, which will pick up and smash enemy siege equipment. Imagine thousands of units storming an enemy city as flaming arrows and catapult stones tear through the air and smash into the enemy's defenses. It's an exhilarating sight.

And because all of the buildings and structures in Rise & Fall are completely accurate in their scale, we can do some really awesome things during the sieges. You'll be able to knock men off of walls and other structures and utterly destroy the city you're attacking. We have a fully implemented physics system, so when men are hit with catapult fire, they pirouette into the air, their arms and legs flailing as they plunge to their deaths.

GS: We've even seen that the game will prominently feature a somewhat rare type of engagement in modern real-time strategy games: naval battles. How do you envision these battles playing out in practice? How important will it be for players to choose their crews for their warships from archers, swordsmen, catapults, or just outfitting ships with a ram?

RG: Many of the world's most epic and dramatic naval battles took place during ancient times, with Greek, Roman, and Egyptian navies clashing in battles that involved hundreds of ships and thousands of soldiers. In Rise & Fall, we place you in the heat of battle in the largest, most full-scaled naval combat you've ever seen. There are four primary aspects to our naval combat: ramming; boarding enemy ships; using your ships as floating barracks; and laying siege to enemy cities.

Ramming is one of the cool things that players have asked me about for years. Putting it into Rise & Fall was an absolute must, because it's something brand new to the experience. The way it works is if you hire a drummer, he will turn your ship into a naval superweapon. If you can maneuver into position, your drummer will work the crew into a frenzy and your ship will move at top speed and strike the enemy ship on its side, obliterating it and sending its crew flying. It's truly an awesome sight to see all those enemy units tossed into the air like rag dolls.

Boarding enemy ships is also really cool. Let's say an enemy has equipped his ship with archers, and you only have swordsmen. You'll be able to pull up alongside the enemy's ship, grapple it over to your ship, and then board it. This is a lot of fun, especially when you go into hero command and personally cut the enemy's crew to ribbons.

Because your ships can be used to recruit and train new soldiers, you'll be able to quickly replace units lost on the field of battle, and also adjust your strategy on the fly, as you change the outfitting of your ship to counterbalance the enemy's moves. Along those same lines, you'll be able to build giant onagers on your ships, which you can use to lay siege to an enemy city, or to bombard an enemy's fleet. The naval combat in Rise & Fall will be unmatched.

GS: Tell us about the hero command system, and how it will let players take manual control of their hero units in battle. Is the idea behind this system to give players a limited-time access to their exceptionally powerful hero characters so they can pull off powerful attacks and other maneuvers that will turn the tide of battle? Will players have to decide exactly when the right time is to use this new ability (or risk wasting their power until it can be used again)?

RG: Rise & Fall is the first real-time strategy game that places you directly in the heart of combat as a general fighting side-by-side with your troops. Get a never-before-seen view of history's most epic and explosive battles. Just as real-world generals like Achilles and Alexander the Great personally led their troops onto the field of battle, you'll need to take to the battlefield in person if you want to be successful in Rise & Fall. You'll actually take command of your chosen hero and fight alongside your soldiers. Hero command is an awesome feature that will change the way people think of RTS games, but it's also extremely precious. If you jump into hero command and start killing units for the hell of it, you'll lose. It's not meant to be used that way.

Rise & Fall will have sea battles the likes of which we haven't seen before.
Rise & Fall will have sea battles the likes of which we haven't seen before.

The best way to think of hero command is that it's Rise & Fall's ultimate superweapon. It's to be reserved for those key moments in the game when the outcome hangs in the balance, and the only way you can guarantee victory is if you unleash the full might of your hero. Also, at its core, Rise & Fall is a strategy game. Although hero command is an extremely important part of the game, if you're not successful in the traditional RTS mode, you won't be victorious, no matter how many enemy soldiers you butcher in hero command.

Glory and Stamina

GS: We understand that once a battle is over and a territory is conquered, that won't be the end of the matter. Tell us about the adviser system and the strategic choices players will make with their conquered territories. Can we expect to see increased loyalty in conquered territories that are left intact, and/or increased likelihood of rebellion in conquered territories that are ransacked?

It wouldn't be an ancient world RTS without elephant charges.
It wouldn't be an ancient world RTS without elephant charges.

RG: The cool thing about capturing territories is that it accurately reflects a dynamic from the ancient world. When Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar set off on their epic conquests, they'd capture territory and cities along the way. The more lands they conquered, the more soldiers they were able to recruit; in fact, by the end of his campaign, Alexander had more Persians in his army than Greeks. And we wanted to re-create that sense of conquest and accomplishment in Rise & Fall's multiplayer mode.

And that's why the gameworld contains many individual territories, all of which are extremely valuable. There are territories scattered across the map, and for each one that you conquer, you get a production bonus. Your civilization's barracks will produce three soldiers at a time, but for each territory that you control, you'll get a free extra soldier. So if you control two territories, you'll be able to build five military soldiers for no additional cost.

The territories that you conquer won't rebel once you secure them, but they will be initially defended by soldiers, so capturing a territory won't be a simple matter of sending one unit over there to stand in the area. And naturally, your human opponents will want to control the territories as well, so the territories will be the scene of some vicious fighting.

GS: Tell us about the game's resource and economic models. Will the game feature vulnerable resource-gathering units that tend to farms or mines? Or will the resource model be tied to conquests and tributes (or perhaps some combination of the above)? What role will advisers play in the management of resources and territories?

RG: Our economic system in Rise & Fall consists of wood and gold. However, there are two other resources that you must manage: glory and stamina. You earn glory by exploring the map, expanding your city, and defeating the enemy. You can use glory to level up your hero, hire advisers, or unlock new technologies. Stamina governs how long you can stay in hero command; the more stamina, the longer you can stay in hero command. As you level up your hero, your stamina increases. Out of all of your resources, this is the one you'll want to manage very closely, since hero command is extremely precious.

As for the advisers, there will be 18 for each civilization, and each adviser is unique. One of the cooler advisers is the marshall, who makes all of your defensive structures release double the number of troops. Some of the other advisers include the historian, who gives you extra glory for each unit that you kill, and the centurion, who helps you train swordsmen more rapidly.

Sieges play a big part in the game, and they look beautiful.
Sieges play a big part in the game, and they look beautiful.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Rise & Fall?

RG: Rise & Fall is going to be an awesome real-time strategy game. Hero command is an amazing new feature that lets you become a superweapon of the ancient world, something you've never been able to do before. And the naval combat is fresh and innovative as well, since it lets you do things like ramming and boarding. Those are the things that players have asked us for since the first game I worked on in 1997, and they're what will set Rise & Fall apart from other games on the market.

GS: Thank you, Rick.

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