From Philip to Caesar – Longbow Games on Hegemony Rome

EntDepot (Interview) Longbow Games - Hegemony: Caesar - Header

Toronto, Canada-based Longbow Games—or, if we’re being formal, Longbow Digital Arts Incorporated—is a decade-plus old now, founded in 1998 by Seumas McNally. The indie studio has released a number of titles since its inception, including Triangle Trifle and Independent Games Festival’s 2000 Grand Prize winner Tread Marks. But it wasn’t until 2010 when Longbow made its mark on the strategy genre with the release of a unique real-time strategy game based around the exploits of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great as well as the mighty military machine he inherited, Hegemony: Philip of Macedon. The studio followed up on Philip of Macedon with a refined and expanded re-release, Hegemony Gold: Wars of Ancient Greece.

Hegemony and Longbow are moving forward a few hundred years with the next entry in the series, Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar. Based on Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War, The Rise of Caesar follows the future dictator in his role as proconsul, a term that would end with the subjugation of Gaul in the name of the Senate and People of Rome. As with Philip of Macedon, the goal of the game is not to expand a vast empire but to instead lay the foundations for one, by conquering nearby enemies, harvesting resources, creating a network of cities, and keeping those cities (and their garrisons) supplied through the creation and maintenance of supply lines. Players will be able to take part in four new campaigns, promote officers and assign governors, construct bridges and forts, and lead one of a dozen factions in a separate sandbox mode.

Longbow Games’ Rick Yorgason, a jack of all trades at the six-person studio, took some time away from his duties as designer, programmer, and lead writer to shed some light on what would-be conquerors can expect in their role as the Divine Julius.

EntDepot (Interview) Longbow Games - Hegemony: Caesar - Map

“Cicero observed: ‘When I notice how carefully arranged his hair is and when I watch him adjusting the parting with one finger, I cannot imagine that his man could conceive of such a wicked thing as to destroy the Roman constitution.'” – Anthony Everitt (Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, p. 135)

ED: Striking the right balance between historical accuracy and commercial viability seems to be a particularly difficult act for studios. What concessions do you feel are acceptable when working on a game based on actual events, and in particular one based on a specific work (Caesar’s Commentaries), when trying to draw in the core and general audiences without alienating either?

RY: We’ve always tried to remain true to history, and Hegemony Rome is no exception. The biggest challenge I’ve found when writing the game is how to handle the gaps in the history. All things considered, we have a very detailed depiction of the war as written by Caesar, but there’s so much more that we can never know. What was Caesar’s relationship with Titus Labienus like? How did Caesar and Pompey react to the death of Julia? What you end up with is a series of isolated events that are very detailed with a whole lot of gaps between them, but as challenging as it is to fill those gaps, it’s my favourite part of the writing process, because it’s in these spaces where I can get creative and weave a narrative without ever contradicting history.

But I don’t think that being historically accurate and being commercially viable are antithetical to one another. I’ve found that we’re never forced to contradict history, and the only concessions we have to make are regarding how much historical detail to include. Sometimes this is to keep the game moving along — we can’t have a ten-minute cutscene explaining Roman politics before Caesar is sent to Gaul — and sometimes it’s simply because our time is best spent on other things. Walls of circumvallation are a good example of this; we wrote a design for that feature, but we decided early on that it only really affected a couple battles in Caesar’s campaign, and that we should focus more on features that had much broader applicability to the gameplay. So we decided to leave out that detail, and instead focus on some other details, like how Caesar would build fortified camps when preparing to siege, how he was able to send baggage trains out into the frontier, or the incredible bridges that he built.

When basing a game around a central figure, how much thought goes into tweaking the in-game character’s stats to reflect their historical counterpart? Or do you feel it is even viable? Given Caesar was known as being incredibly lucky, as he himself notes, and surprisingly fast, it seems as though attempting to model such abstractions as luck might lead to a slippery slope, however important a part of their character it might have been.

There were definitely some specific points in history where luck played an important role in Caesar’s victory. My favourite example is during the Civil War, when Caesar said “Today victory would have been with the Pompeians if only they had been commanded by a winner.” I believe Plutarch then followed with “Oh snap!”

But Caesar suffered bad luck just as often as the good, most notably in Britannia, and more often than not his victories were due to his strategic prowess rather than luck, so I don’t feel that it would be worthwhile to model a luck system. It would also undermine one of our design goals, which is to try to avoid making the player feel compelled to reload an old save, even if they lose a battle; if the player lost a battle because they didn’t have good luck, that would feel terribly unfair.

As far as tweaking the stats, we’ve always tried to make sure the stats we give to characters are fair representations of the historical figures they represent. Maybe some of our choices would have been different if we weren’t making a historical game, but the difference is never so much as to unbalance the game. Part of the reason for this is because we didn’t want to make a game where you get to a certain level and then just steamroll over everything. In Hegemony, strategy is king. The stats will give you an edge, but you’ll always have to be on your toes.

We’re also reworking the brigade upgrades so that instead of spending points on different skills, you’ll be given a choice of different officers you can promote, which will in turn give you different skills. This is an excellent place for us to add lesser-known figures and make their stats historically accurate, with absolutely no worry about making the game unbalanced.

EntDepot (Interview) Longbow Games - Hegemony: Caesar - Legion

“At the core of Caesar’s success was his quickness of action at both the strategic and tactical levels, the legendary Caesariana celeritas. For not only did Caesar always move his forces with amazing rapidity, but he also acted quickly to gain the advantage in any opportunity that presented itself.” – Chris McNab (The Roman Army: The Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World, p. 99)

On that note, delving into the machinations of tribal politics also seems especially risky. Caesar was often able to successfully play the tribes off of one another in order to secure supplies, reinforcements, or a stable frontier (e.g., his invitation for neighboring tribes to plunder the land of the Eburones as punishment). Diplomacy was taken head-on in Hegemony Gold, so what changes can players expect in that area given that the nature of alliances is so much more transitory in Gaul?

First off, I’m definitely going to play up some of the tribal politics during the campaign. There were a lot of intriguing deals between Caesar and the tribes, and I’m really excited about implementing them.

The diplomacy system is something that I’d love to spend more time on, and I hope we’re able to fit it into our schedule. On paper we have a new design that’s focused on trading, so instead of paying for an alliance, maybe you can agree to attack one faction if your ally attacks another, or maybe you can trade a political prisoner in return for a truce. This is something that Caesar did a lot, and I’d love to get it into the game. So I can’t promise anything yet, but I really hope we find the time to work on this, because we have some great ideas.

Supplies often factored into Caesar’s decisions, and supply lines were a prominent feature in Hegemony. In fact, aside from Haemimont Games’ Nemesis of the Roman Empire (The Punic Wars: A Clash of Two Empires), I cannot recall another game placing such a strong emphasis on the hands-on manipulation of supply lines—which added a nice layer of macro strategy to boot. Has the supply system evolved since Hegemony Gold? Possibly with some buildable depots, or additional diplomatic options?

Emphasizing the importance of supply logistics in warfare was one of our primary goals when designing the Hegemony series, and Caesar’s numerous references to supplies in his Bellum Gallicum was one of the main reasons we chose the Gallic War for the new game. Our approach to designing Rome was never to simply replace the hoplites from the original games with legions, and this philosophy carried over to logistics as well. We wanted to find out what made logistics unique in Roman warfare and fortunately Caesar gives plenty of examples in his writing.

One of Caesar’s frequent tactics was to heavily load his legions for the march into an area and then build a fortified camp to store those supplies while he campaigned in the area. To accomplish this, one of the changes we’ve made is to allow you to choose how much supply your legions should carry, so if you’re planning to make the trek to a remote location and set up camp there, you can load your troops with more supplies for the long haul. Of course, you could also reduce the amount of supply your legions are carrying if you’re in a situation where you need to move swiftly.

Once you’ve reached your destination and built your fort, you’ll be able to create a supply line back to another friendly fort, farm, or city. To make it easier to campaign, we’ve significantly increased the resupply radius around camps, forts, and cities so there’s more room for manoeuvring without worrying about getting beyond resupply range, but we’ve also made that resupply zone smarter so that it extends further into open terrain than it does across rivers or into mountain passes.

We’ve also made it easier to manage your supply lines by focusing more on end-to-end transfers to make it easier to see exactly where your supplies are going. For example, when you select a city there’s a new trade tab in the GUI that will give you a quick list of the farms that are supplying the city and you’ll be able to see the route they’re travelling on the strategy map.

EntDepot (Interview) Longbow Games - Hegemony: Caesar - Germans

“Caesar sent back frequent messages calling for the Aedui and Boii to bring him fresh supplies of grain, but the latter were few in number and what they could supply was swiftly exhausted.” – Adrian Goldsworthy (In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, p. 227)

Auxiliaries were always an interesting component of the legions. How will they be handled?

Roughly speaking, Caesar used two kinds of auxiliaries: those he hired from abroad, and those he hired from within Gaul. The latter kind you’ll be able to hire as you see fit; all you have to do is conquer an enemy city, and you’ll be able to hire their people as auxiliaries. This adds a nice bit of variation around the map, because different factions will offer different auxiliaries. The really interesting auxiliaries were the ones he brought from abroad, like the Balearic slingers and the archers from Crete and Numidia. You won’t be able to build these unique units; instead, they’ll be among the many rewards you receive as you complete objectives.

Caesar had some notable legates, including Mark Antony and Titus Labienus, and skilled subordinates. Are there any plans to bring the wider military hierarchy (centurion, decurion, etc.) into play?

You’re definitely going to see some of these familiar faces in the campaign, and you’ll see some of these ranks in the officer system I mentioned earlier, but we decided against building the military hierarchy directly into the game mechanics. In an earlier design, we actually wanted to split the legions into their individual cohorts and centuries, because there were some instances during the campaign when Caesar split up his legions to spread them out, but we decided that this just introduced too much micromanagement.

Of course, you also have to remember that there’s going to be a sandbox mode where you can play any of the factions, so we’re very careful when making design decisions that only affect the Romans. I’ve seen some games where they try to create more depth by adding rules upon rules, but I think the better approach is to have fewer rules with wider consequences, which is generally the approach we’ve taken. That has the obvious advantage of making the game easier for new players, but I think it also makes the game more interesting for veteran players, because instead of just memorizing a huge list of rules, you’re more focused on the interactions between different rules.

EntDepot (Interview) Longbow Games - Hegemony: Caesar - Roman City

“Whenever the granaries were full he would make a lavish distribution to the army, without measuring the amount, and occasionally gave every man a Gallic slave.” – Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars, p. 13)

In many instances, the legions were significantly outnumbered, even when factoring for an exaggerated enemy count. There are numerous situations in which the odds seem insurmountable. When approaching such scenarios, how do you design around the seemingly inevitable in order to give players a fighting chance?

The odds may seem insurmountable, but obviously that’s not quite true, since Caesar did it. The key here is asymmetrical warfare, and this is where single-player games really shine. It frees us up to make a playing field that is purposefully designed not to be level. Where the Gauls have numbers on their side, Caesar’s troops were of much higher quality, which makes the factions very different to play, and that’s something you don’t see in many strategy games.

I suspect we’ll have to play with this balance a bit in the sandbox mode so that all the factions are interesting to play, but if some factions are more difficult to play than others, that’s perfectly fine, because Hegemony has, at its heart, always been about asymmetrical warfare.

Of course, there were a few situations where the odds really were insurmountable, and Caesar lost. Now, I can’t break history by forcing the player to win a battle that Caesar didn’t win himself, so how do you make a battle engaging when the player is permitted to lose? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for this, and each case will have to be dealt with individually, but the basic idea is to make sure that the battle is epic enough that you still feel like you accomplished something, even if you lose.

EntDepot (Interview) Longbow Games - Hegemony: Caesar - Gallic Town

“On the following day they [the Gauls] paraded their strength in a plain clearly visible to the besieged [Alesia], the cavalry spread over three miles and the infantry behind.” – Adrian Goldsworthy (In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, p. 235)

While the Hegemony series focuses on the birth of empire, I cannot help but imagine the system being used for some exciting and lesser-known scenarios. The ability to zoom out to map level seems like a great fit for the far-flung campaigns of Emperor Aurelian or Belisarius. Are there any plans to expand the scenarios to encompass such large-scale operations, or possibly DLC to expand the timeline?

Exciting is the perfect word to describe it. Obviously we’ve been reading a lot about Roman history lately, so I can’t stop thinking about how each period would fit into the Hegemony series. I don’t want to give too much away, but rest assured that it’s very, very likely that we’ll see DLC in the future. To follow all the developments, be sure to watch our webpage. Of course, we also have Facebook, Twitter, and a newsletter.

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