Longbow Games' Hegemony Gold is one of the best strategy games of the past couple years, combining vast scope and depth with easy-to-learn simplicity. Ancient warfare is not an easy thing to model, and Longbow not only made a very fun game but also one that is very insightful about its subject. Now Longbow is trying to top itself with the newly-announced Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar.
This sequel trades Classical Greece behind for the late Roman Republic and Julius Caesar's campaigns in Gaul. It's a significant shift in setting, and the development team was good enough to grant PC Gamer an exclusive interview to explain how Rise of Caesar, due in spring 2012, will be faithful to its predecessor while still capturing the unique flavor of the Gallic Wars.
PCG: So what drew you to Caesar's campaigns in Gaul?
Longbow: When we decided to do another Hegemony game, we discussed a lot of different options for the setting. We always wanted to remain true to the game's namesake; Hegemony was originally about Philip of Macedon unifying the Greek city states and eventually becoming the primary influence over the entire Greek world, even if it was at the heel of his boot. Of course we know in hindsight that Caesar would eventually become the most famous general in history, but at the time Caesar was, much like Philip, a relatively unimportant figure, and it all began here: when Caesar arrived in Gaul he found all the tribes warring with each other, and he would not return to Rome until he could confidently say omni Gallia devicta — all Gaul is conquered.
We also pride ourselves on our historical accuracy, so working on a well-documented period of history is great. This wasn't the case for all of the settings we were discussing, and it definitely tipped the scales in Caesar's favour. It's really interesting, because most of what we know about the campaign was written by Caesar himself — he's literally a man who wrote his own history.
PCG: It's a very different sort of war than what you covered in Hegemony. Hegemony was perfectly suited to dealing with individual city-states and tons of various leagues and alliances. But the war in Gaul has fewer major players and is much more asymmetric. How does this change your design, particularly with regard to diplomacy?
It's not as different as you may think. Caesar wrote that all of Gaul was divided in three parts, but it was really much more nuanced than that. In reality there were dozens of tribes in Gaul and Caesar would often play them against each other to gain a strategic advantage. At the same time, the Gauls themselves were most effective when they put their differences aside and allied against Caesar. That's not even to mention the British and German tribes. Rest assured, there will be no shortage of inter-faction diplomacy.
We were definitely inspired by some of Caesar's diplomacy, and we're currently working on some features to make the diplomacy system even better. We can't say too much about it yet, but we think you'll like what you see.
Hegemony was largely about heavy infantry, skirmishers, and cavalry. Will you stick to the same rock, paper, scissors structure? What new units can we expect to see, and how will they be different from what we're used to?
You can definitely expect to see some new units, including chariots, siege towers, and of course, Caesar's legions. There's a lot written about the specific legions that campaigned with Caesar, like the Fifth Alaudae or Caesar's favoured Tenth Legion, and we've been trying to emphasize their uniqueness both visually as well as through their skills and experience. In general, you'll find the Roman legions are better disciplined and also more adaptable than most units, but you're not going to have many of them, so you'll have to use them wisely.
You'll also find yourself using your units in new ways. For instance, the new siege towers are very slow, so you won't want to move them very far. Instead, you'll want to construct a camp outside your enemy's city and build your siege equipment there. The Romans were known for building their camps, so we really wanted to make it an important part of the game, and it really does add a lot — not just for sieges, but also for managing your supply and protecting choke points like river crossings.
Will there just be the one campaign? What other campaigns or periods are you looking at?
We've divided the game into four campaigns, beginning in 58 BCE when Caesar first steps foot in Gaul and continuing to 52 BCE when you eventually defeat King Vercingetorix and his alliance of Gallic tribes. Each campaign covers a distinctive point in Caesar's conquests, including the battles against the Helvetii and Ariovistus, the revolt of the Belgae, the landings in Britannia, and of course the grand finale with Vercingetorix. As with Hegemony Gold, you don't need to be into the history to enjoy the game but for those who do want to dig a little deeper there's a lot of research in the game to explore including an extensive in-game pedia with more details about important figures, places and events.
And of course the sandbox mode is still in there, so you're free to make alternate history by uniting the Gauls under Vercingetorix and conquering those tyrannical Romans! We're also looking into adding some dynamic objectives to the sandbox mode, which will add even more replayability to the game.
Hegemony was a masterpiece of simplicity, but it's also important for strategy series to evolve. How do you balance the need to retain what made Hegemony great with the need to give your fans a new, richer experience?
In the original Hegemony we definitely worked hard at making a game that appears simple to new players, but really offers a lot of depth for experienced players. It was a careful balance, but we're really happy with how it turned out. However, as great as the feedback has been for Hegemony Gold, there are of course always things we feel we could improve. So in Hegemony Rome we've worked to further refine some of the existing mechanics so we could have the freedom to add new features without the player feeling overwhelmed. For instance, we've overhauled the way that units level up in order to tie it into the new city upgrade system, so you'll be able to give your cities improved stats the same way you give them to your units — it's the sort of thing that makes a game easy to learn, but hard to master.
Another technique we use is to make sure that when we add a new feature, it's useful for multiple things. We've already talked about how you'll want to construct camps to build siege equipment, and to do that you'll need to create a supply line to your camp. Well, if you can connect supply lines to camps, why not use the camps to expand your supply network? Need to build a bridge? It's just like building a camp! Multi-use features like this make it a lot easier to learn the game without sacrificing any depth.
The wargame genre has always been a very complex genre, and it's always been really important to us to go the extra mile to make sure Hegemony is accessible to new players. It's definitely something that we're continuing to keep in mind when developing Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar.