Strategy Informer's very own Mike Bowden recently had the chance to talk with Slitherine Software about their newly announced title - History Channel: Great Battles of the Middle Ages.
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Mike Bowden: What do you think elevates your titles from the standard strategy affair? What features can we expect to see that separate it from the pack?
Slitherine Software: Great Battles of the Middle Ages is a true blend of RPG and strategy game. On the quest map you can visit locations, but there is no preset order so you choose what to do and when. There is a high level story which progresses but there are lots of other missions which you can undertake or not – it’s up to you. This adds to the replay value as there will always be some combination you have not tried out. You have a massive number of customisation options. You recruit infantry cavalry & archers, but after that you make every equipment decision. What armour should they wear what weapon and shield to give them? These options all change the unit’s graphics so you can see every change in game. You also get the chance to level up your squads as they gain experience and give them new cool skills. These skills are based on the martial art of the medieval age and are taken from German fighting manuals from the period. There is an almost infinite number of combinations of equipment and skills. You can even tell your knights to jump off their horses and fight dismounted! No other game gives you such control over the customisation of your army.
Great Battles of Rome was a huge success, how confident are Slitherine that GBotMA can emulate this?
Slitherine Software: We’re very confident. We’ve improved the game in every way. The graphics engine is now cutting edge and looks great. The gameplay has been refined and changed quite dramatically to work with larger battles and give the game a unique feel. The free form campaign adds loads of replay value and the movies are going to be even better than before. All in all its going to be a great package.
How difficult is it to port the game over from the PC to the next gen formats? What challenges have the team faced?
Slitherine Software: We’re focussing on a X360 port initially as this is relatively simple in terms of technology. The X360 can do everything the PC can and the only issue is that we have to reduce the RAM footprint. The bulk of the work comes in making it feel more like a console game – making the menus very slick and adding in all the functionality that a X360 game has to have like buddy lists. The good news is that some of this work will feedback into making the PC version better.
Staying with the 360 and PS3 for a moment, I see in the game description that Multiplayer is enabled for LAN and internet. Does this include Xbox Live and Sony’s PSN?
Slitherine Software: Yes we’ll be using Xbox Live. We’ve got a number of great game modes planned that will add a lot of spice to the game. It’s going to be great fun to take your armies online.
Will the game run cross format? i.e. can Xbox Live players play with PC players? Or will each platform have its own separate network?
Slitherine Software: It’s possible but firm decisions haven’t been made on this yet. It’s probably going to come down to how important our publishing partner thinks that kind of feature is.
With the whole of world history at your disposal, how difficult is it to choose a specific time period? What inspires the team to settle at a certain juncture? Are you all history buffs too?
Slitherine Software: It is always tough to pick a new setting. When we started out the game was fantasy based, but we later changed it to a historical setting. We choose the medieval period because it is very familiar to people – everyone knows what a knight looks like and they are very cool. You don’t have to explain to anyone how a knight works – they just know. They are tough, fast and will ride down anything that gets in their way. It’s great when you don’t have to teach players how units behave. We have a certain amount of historical knowledge in the team, but our main source of expertise comes from our forums where we have hundreds of history enthusiasts who keep us honest! We’re concerned with making a good game and they make sure it feels realistic.
Mike Bowden: How will these historical events affect gameplay exactly? Are they scripted events or can the player have a say in how these pan out?
Slitherine Software: There are all sorts of events that can happen. Some are just for flavour while others may have large impact on the game. For example the black death hits Europe during the game and it can close off certain areas of the map.
Staying with the historical element, you say in your game description that, “Free form quest map that allows players to decide when and where to fight within a historical framework.” Can you elaborate on this for us?
Slitherine Software: As mentioned above there is a high level story. These missions have to happen in the correct order and these are the historical battles that everyone knows such as Agincourt and Crecy. Around these we have many other missions. The player can choose to try and progress through the required story missions or explore these optional missions – it feels very much like an RPG. As the story progresses you’ll move to new chapters and older sub missions will disappear and be replaced with new ones. The story missions will be relatively tough and most players will need to play a few of the sub missions to gain enough experience and equipment to progress through the story.
Tell us more about how the character animation and behaviour changes due to what equipment the player has selected. How does that play out?
Slitherine Software: The type of equipment you choose affects all aspects of a unit’s performance. For example if you equip your infantry with spears and pikes they will be very effective against cavalry, however they will not be as effective against infantry. Swords, battleaxes, war hammers and maces are more effective against infantry, but lack the reach of the spear, so are not as effective against cavalry. Unit’s animations will change to match the type of weapon they are equipped with so men with spears will thrust and swordsmen will stab and slash. Skills you learn are linked to certain types of equipment so if you teach your men the over hew skill (a medieval term for an overhead strike) then it will only work in conjunction with weapons that can make overhead strike – i.e. not spears, pikes pole arms etc. The idea is to pick a role for your troops and then give them the skills and equipment that best fit this role.
It seems like the options available to us in this game are staggering. On the other hand, sometimes too many options can confuse the player. How difficult is it to get the balance right between making the game easily accessible to the newcomer but still have all the options available for the hard-core?
Slitherine Software: The number of options doesn’t really make the game any less approachable to new players. Initially you’ll have limited options and as the game progresses you’ll be offered more. It’s all about pacing the release of these options to the player.
What kind of view will we be seeing the battles from? Is it a top down view or can we detach the camera and zoom in and around?
Slitherine Software: The camera is completely free form but we may want to add in some simplified camera controls for new players and let them go in to free look mode once they understand the basics.
How far are Slitherine along with Pocket History: Rome for the DS? Can you say any more about the title as to what we can expect?
Slitherine Software: The Pocket History range in now well in to development. We’re expecting the Alpha of Pocket History : Rome to be ready at the beginning of December. We love the DS and are really looking forwards to have a range of games available for this great new platform. It’s also great to work with The History Channel on another project.
I see that more handheld titles are on their way late next year, can you tell us more about these? Will they be spin offs of current titles like Pocket History: Rome or will they be brand new IP’s?
Slitherine Software: The initial plan is 4 titles in the Pocket History range covering different areas of ancient history. We can’t say too much about what happens after that at this stage.
Finally, GBofMA has been branded for a 2008 release, now that you’ve got us all excited by the game, how long do you think we’ll have to wait for it?!
Slitherine Software: The PC version is further along than X360 and we’re going to be going Beta with that in January 2008. We’re hoping to have both versions ready for release in Q3 2008, but release dates are not always under our control due to the publisher’s requirements and the submission process on console.