4X

Aggressors: Ancient Rome Q&A

2018 is the year of small studio games. Explorminate has made a conscious effort to reach out to as many of these small studios as possible to find out more about their projects through a series of Q&A’s. That series continues today with Kubat Software and their upcoming title Aggressors: Ancient Rome.

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Could you start by telling us about your team at Kubat Software?

Well, we are a really small team – actually, we are just two people. I (Pavel Kubát) am the main developer and designer behind Aggressors: Ancient Rome and a founder of Kubat Software. My colleague Lucie takes care of all other tasks, including testing, that are not related to programming.

In the beginning it was purely a hobby, although even then I spent tens of hours a week on it. Later, when I quit my job and decided to work on the game full-time, I managed to get Lucie to help me out with some content work and text, and soon she was hooked, too.

There were two other developers who worked for us for a couple of months but eventually they left the team to work on their own projects. Apart from that, we’ve worked with another maybe eight people – UI and 3D designers, texture artists, illustrators, etc. All really dedicated, professional people from all corners of the world.

Are you contracting with anyone outside your company for art and/or music? Can you tell us a bit about them?

Yes, as I said, all core work was done by us but we contracted external professionals for tasks that were simply beyond our limits. We usually used the developer community or other online platforms to find the right individuals for the task. I know from my own experience that working with people on a remote basis can be tricky but we were really lucky in this regard, some of them really put their heart in the work. Actually, we still receive offers from people willing to contribute to the game – some of them just out of a passion for historical games. And I should not forget some of our testers who flood us with an endless flow of ideas!

What was the inspiration for your game?

Ok, I’ll try to tell this as a short story. As a teenager I created a couple of board games. One of them was called Aggressors. It was set in the time of World War II and one game lasted several days! No surprise that it was only played a few times. As far as I remember, we played it eight times. But I really loved the concept, so in 2008 I decided to bring the game into digital form. It was a hobby then – I started with the basics but the deeper I went and realized the potential the game had, the more absorbed I became.

My ambition was to build a framework for strategy games that would fully support mods for different types of strategy games with different rules, units and looks (historical, fantasy, sci-fi). All these mods would use the same core – a framework we call Aggressors today.

The game design and concept, a combination of 4X strategy and high-level tactics, was largely influenced by my favorite games – especially Civilization IV, Colonization, Panzer General and Centurion.

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Why did you choose the Roman time period over any other in history?

Actually, the decision was kind of forced on us. Modding was embedded in the Aggressors core from the beginning and to prove the stability and flexibility of the framework, we have been developing three mods of different genres and historical periods in parallel. As the complexity of the project grew over time, we had to become realistic about it and so we selected the Ancient Rome mod as the first to be finished.

But even then I did not want to release just one campaign map. I wanted to give players hundreds of hours of fun straight away. I started working on three different historical periods – the expansion of Rome, the conflicts between Sparta and Athens (and Greek city-states in general) and the fall of Roman Empire. Instead of parallel development of three mods, we started to work on three scenarios. 

Eventually even this became too much for the two of us and we had to decide if we wanted to have three scenarios done well or one scenario polished to perfection. I didn’t want to let it go but I am a bit of a perfectionist so eventually the second option got the green light. And then we still had to choose which of the three campaign maps will be the winner. Somehow, it seemed to us that the rise of the Roman Empire might be a nice metaphor to the first release of Aggressors.

What about the setting? Could you quickly summarize the storyline?

The game starts in 280 BC. Alexander the Great is dead and his generals and successors have divided the whole empire amongst themselves. Traditional Greek city-states are losing power and the whole region of the Eastern Mediterranean is slowly establishing a new balance of local powers. Carthaginian naval and trading dominance is felt all over the region and its naval supremacy has not yet been challenged.

By this time, the Roman Empire has established itself as a major power in today’s Italy and so far it has stayed out of international conflicts. But in 280 BC Roman leaders decide to test their power and enter into conflict with the Greeks to secure their hegemony in Italy.

We felt that this was one of the crossroads; a turning point in history. Fifty years earlier, Rome was still small and relatively weak and nobody could see the Roman tide coming. Fifty years later, on the other hand, Rome was already a powerful state and the fate of smaller nations was more or less decided. But in 280 BC, every nation could still take their chance to write their name into history books.

Are there multiple factions in Aggressors: Ancient Rome? Can you give us a few details about each one?

The campaign map includes 20 civilizations, ranging from already established empires with developed state infrastructure such as Roman, Ptolemaic, Carthaginian or Seleucid empires, through smaller city-states and kingdoms in Greece and Asia Minor, to a number of nomadic barbarian tribes that roam the less-accessible lands in Thrace, the Alps and the Iberian peninsula.

The player can choose any of the 20 nations. Each requires a different strategy to survive in the face of the fierce competition for power, which gives the player a unique game experience every time he/she plays.

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What is the objective of play in your game? Is there more than one victory condition?

The dream of every emperor is to rule the whole world, of course. Rule or be ruled! The ultimate goal is the Overall Victory but it is not the only way to win the game.

There are a number of victory conditions, starting from the typical conquest and victory points to cultural and technological achievements or absolute military superiority.

When one faction wins the game by reaching one of the victory conditions (except the Overall Victory), the player can always decide if he/she wants to quit or continue and fight for a different type of victory. This way the player can win one game in five different ways.

Let’s move on to combat. How will that work in this game?

I think that 4X strategies are often lacking in the tactical dimension, which makes it somehow unrealistic. On the other hand, I have never enjoyed the low-level tactics like in the Rome: Total War series.  

To survive in Aggressors, you need to plan the battle – map the terrain of the engagement, train your men for particular tasks, motivate them, organize supplies, etc. We wanted to create a simulation of a real military campaign where you consider many factors that come to play: attack and defense strength of the units, their army morale, general morale, loyalty, terrain bonuses or penalties, experience or special skills acquired through improvements, sufficient supplies, battle readiness, and many others. All these factors have to be considered in every single battle; overlooking or underestimating any of them can start the downfall of your empire.

So, we keep the tactics on a high level aspect. You are the supreme commander; you need to see the bigger picture and keep all the bases covered. The low-level “man-to-man” fight is the work of your army generals.

How does empire management work in this game?

Like in other 4X strategy games, building an empire does not mean only territorial expansion but also technological, cultural, military, and economic development.

On the macro-level it is naturally the system of government that has the most considerable impact on the effectiveness of economy, happiness of people and army morale. That goes hand in hand with resource management, as practically every action requires resources for its execution.

The wealth of the state is distributed throughout the empire; pretty much every tile counts. Urban centres are naturally more prominent, but as the state management is not city-centred (contrary to the Civilization series), you need to pay attention to all corners of your country. If connected and managed well, they work together and make a solid foundation for a strong empire. Isolated areas that are given little care not only drain the wealth of the state, but they can even become its weakness.

What is really important is the population, as it is the masses whose backs support the great empire. The populace is distributed in the cities that are the main recruitment centres and it is the source of all workforce and military recruits. Population growth can be increased by building new cities, supporting immigration as well as by stimulating higher birth rate through state and local grants.

But the masses are not “voiceless,” they react to all events that affect their lives – big or small. You need to take care of their needs and provide what they could call a peaceful home. Their satisfaction is indicated by level of happiness which shows the overall mood of the population. General and local happiness affects army morale, emigration rate and can even trigger revolts or civil wars if it gets too low.

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What are the limits to expanding one’s empire in this game? Are there any mechanics in place to limit or disincentivize city spam?

As I said, we wanted the game to be as historically accurate as possible. Introducing caps for resources or number of cities would only ruin the realistic feeling and break the immersion effect. Our advantage is that we have been working on the game for 10 years which gave us plenty of time to balance the game in such a way that extremes happen very rarely (like in real life). You simply cannot accumulate the ridiculous sums of resources needed for this because the growing empire requires more and more resources for maintaining its infrastructure, trading and supporting large populations. At the same time, more cities and big population use more resources and food. The country reaches its limits naturally, pushing beyond them would lead to crises sooner or later.

What about minor factions, quests, heroes, or random events? Are any of these in Aggressors: Ancient Rome, and if so, can you explain what they are like?

The game offers a set of side quests called Objectives separately designed for each civilization, which reflect the aspirations and hopes of the ancient nations. They include: territorial expansion; military campaigns; economic, cultural or political development; diplomatic relationships and many more.

When a player is down on his/her knees or a crisis grips the country, he/she can use a number of so called State Decisions. They act as a sort of an emergency break that can slow down the decline and buy you some time to amend things. They include a certain risk as their effect is not known in advance and they are quite expensive, so you will need to take a leap of faith if you decide to use them.

To spice up the game there are random events of two kinds: completely random such as natural disasters which you cannot control in any way, and semi-random such as local revolts that are partially random, but they usually happen as a reaction to the current situation. Again here, their effect can range from a minor nuisance to a major crisis. Basically, you constantly need to adapt … Or die.

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Could you describe the nature of Research in your game?

We use a linear invention tree where new technologies and inventions unlock the way to other discoveries and each technology brings a new element in the game in a form of new unit types, buildings, improvements, etc.

The difference in comparison with other strategy games is that the invention tree is dynamic, created anew at the start of each game. The sequence of technologies is mixed to create a unique path of scientific discoveries every time. Certain rules always apply (you cannot build warships before you can build simple boats) but the changing research path means that the game takes on a completely new coat and you will need to adjust your strategy to account for the handicap or advantage you receive.

You also don’t see the full invention tree just like the ancient people did not know what door the next discovery would open for them.

Research is directly linked to the level of knowledge you have. Knowledge points are generated in the cities where larger centers produce more knowledge as there is a higher concentration of scholars, academies, etc. Which means that having 10 cities with size one is not the same as having one city with size 10!

Outside of cities, will players be able to construct other fortifications such as bases, ports, observatories, etc.? If so, how will they affect play?

In short, yes. I mentioned already that the state management is not city-centered. You can build a number of buildings and structures outside of the city walls that have a great impact on the military, economic and social life of the country. To name some, there are temples, blacksmiths, shipyards, fortification structures, stables or patrol towers. Not all of them are available from the beginning; some you gain access to only later as your nation reaches the right level of technological development.

Can you describe the basics of diplomacy in your game?

Diplomacy is quite complex as you would expect from a strategy game. 

There are 11 types of bilateral agreements called treaties that include tile, city or unit visibility or more complex ones such as map exchange, support in supplying your ally’s units or an agreement to let foreign traders through your sovereign territory. Each of these treaties can stand on its own or be combined with others which allows both the AI and the human players to create unique relationships with every opponent.

Two of these treaties offer a real military and political alliance – the Defense Pact and a pact called “Brothers in Arms.” The latter is far more complicated, they are a pledge that you will stand by each other’s side in defense of your lands as well as in offensive military campaigns. Such alliances can have a profound impact on your foreign policy and the position your empire holds on the global stage.

Treaties and alliances allow states to enter into a number of agreements that suit their current needs and so create very unique and pragmatic connections. Most importantly, such agreements are forged between AI players as well, as they also follow their own interests and plans.There is also the possibility to merge two or more states in confederation or federation, or even peacefully absorb another state.

In general, the relations between players are determined by their attitude towards each other. Attitude is formed not only by major events such as war declaration but it is affected by pretty much every action, even those of a minor character.

The game simulates behaviors like “friend of a friend is my friend” (which applies for enemies, too), vengeance, or natural “meekness,” or “die-hardism” of some nations. The AI sensitively reacts to deliberate hostile actions, such as piracy, or dishonourable tactics, such as city sieges or declaring war on a friendly state. But, in the same way, it accepts and remembers friendly gestures such as good trade deals or loyalty.

Nations in the campaign map also have a “personality” based on known historical facts which include natural aggressiveness, which makes the AI courageous and willing to go into risky military campaigns or willingness to join forces and intertwine fates with another country.

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How much will players be able to customize their units, factions, and game maps in this game?

Actually, the player can change just about anything he/she wants. The game has been designed to support modding and it’s done in an easy way. You can change assets like maps, terrain, civilizations in the scenario, but you can even change the rules like types of units, improvements, governments. The built-in editor allows you to change the look of the map by adding or removing tiles and changing terrain, adding or removing map items, and designing a unique web of diplomatic relations in order to give you a maximum freedom in creating your own world.

There is a fully-featured, in-built editor for the players who only want to change bits and pieces in the scenario.The moddability of the game is now going through a stress-test – some of our beta testers already created their own worlds and have shared them with others to test them

What role does randomness play in your game?

What I despised in other games when I was younger and had time to play them was the lack of  logic. Absurd, nonsensical things would happen out of the blue and totally ruin the immersion effect for me. I wanted to avoid this in Aggressors. Everything should have a cause and effect. Saying that, some level of randomness is necessary to create variability to make it more fun to play.

Your site compares Aggressors: Ancient Rome to both Civilization IV and Panzer General. What key aspects from both are you including for your title?

Actually, both games are great and they really formed my way of looking at what good games should have. But none of them satisfied me completely. That’s why I started working on my own game: I wanted to go down my own path without copying other games.

Of course, some mechanics are similar but I built the game from the bottom up, like a pyramid. And whenever I noticed that the concepts were not connected or did not feel compact enough, I added a bit more “glue” so that it all works together in a logical way.

What does your game have/do that no other similar game currently on the market can provide?

Honestly, I think many of the concepts are original and especially the way they react with each other is quite unique, but I think this is something the players have to discover for themselves.
The very long development time of 10 years allowed us to review and polish the game countless times, tweaking the mechanics to fit the logical flow of history, and building new game concepts upon the existing ones to keep all the parts connected. That is what makes Aggressors really different from other games in my opinion.

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What do you hope to accomplish with  Aggressors? What do you hope people will remember most about it?

I don’t have much time to play now but whenever I save a few hours I start the game and still enjoy playing it even after hundreds of hours played. And my hope is that other players will feel the same.

On another level, such a long development taught me many things, and in a way I hope to be a good example for other crazy developers out there. To show them that even starting from nothing you can make a good game and push it to the market, you just need to persist and be patient.

Where does development of the game stand as of now?

The game is currently going through the final stages of beta-testing and we plan to release the game in Q3 this year.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the game’s development so far?

In two words – motivation and endurance. Ten years is a long time and there were moments when I wanted to give up, as it seemed like the work would be never finished. And it most likely never will be, but releasing the first scenario is an incredibly important milestone for us.

On what operating systems do you anticipate releasing your game?

We will release the game for Windows PC only. The game engine allows us to port the game onto other platforms as well but that will depend on how  the game is received.

Of all the aspects of your game, which are you the most excited about?

Right now, I am really excited to see how our testers took up the opportunity to mod the game and started creating their own scenarios and even mods.

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Before closing, is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans about your game or your company that we haven’t mentioned yet?

We started with the ambition to create a deep, complex, and yet fun strategy game. It was not always easy and the road to the first release was long, but here it is going to go public soon and we just hope that it will find its community of players who will have as much fun playing as we have had. Give us a chance, you won’t be disappointed…

We’d like to thank Kubat Software and Slitherine (who is producing the game) for their time. Aggressors is certainly taking shape, and we look forward to its release later this year.

2 replies »

  1. Also quite interested (although I confess I’d be even more interested if they had gone with the Peloponnesian War focus for the game). Many thanks for the interview!

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