Haemimont Games interview

Bulgarian Haemimont Games, like Serbian Eipix, show us that quality games can be made on the Balkans too. Haemimont Games has had a longer run, considering their first game was published in 2000., the real-time strategy Tzar: Burden of the Crown. After several expansions, the team turned towards Rome, which is the thread that binds all their later games together. After Imperium Romanum, which achieved some success, Haemimont Games continued down the same road – Grand Ages: Rome is their most ambitious title yet.

We had a chance to talk to Boian Spasov, the lead designer, who explained the new features we can expect from Grand Ages: Rome.

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1. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little about your background and your job at Haemimont Games?

My name is Boian Spasov and I am the lead designer of Grand Ages: Rome. I've been working at Haemimont Games for two years, before this I was a game journalist. "Game freak" would be an adequate description for me – I am crazy about all kinds of PC and board games; pen-and-paper role-playing games being my favorite pastime.

2. Grand Ages: Rome is effectively a sequel to Imperium Romanum. Can you explain the key changes between the two games?

It would not be an overstatement to say that Grand Ages: Rome is a completely new game – both the visuals and the gameplay are completely new. We learned a lot from Imperium Romanum and wanted to do so many things different with our next game that we decided it is best to start from scratch. We kept the Roman theme, but otherwise Grand Ages: Rome should offer a different experience than its predecessor.

3. Imperium Romanum was criticized for simplified combat mechanics, and you have definitely focused on improving that aspect of the game. Can you explain the kind of changes the new battle system will bring?

We put much effort into the military aspect. With the introduction of cooperative and competitive multiplayer in Grand Ages: Rome, we felt that the battles are a key feature, and definitely not an afterthought to the actual gameplay like in so many city-builders. There are 16 different player controllable military squads in the new game ranging from Roman Hastati to War Elephants. Both Roman and Barbarian squads may be recruited. Every squad has two unique abilities – one active (used by the player) and one passive (automatically used). Your soldiers will gain experience and become better with time. There is a morale system that affects the combat abilities of the squads. Last, but not least, there are naval battles in the new game.

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4. You have also announced an epic, non-linear campaign for the game. What does this mean for the player? How much choice will he have, and will choosing one thing in one scenario have repercussions later?

The campaign offers approximately 40 – 50 hours of gameplay and is set up during 79 BC – 30 BC – in the times of Caesar, Cicero, Cleopatra and Emperor Octavian August. Your character will be introduced to these and many other key individuals during his career. All of them offer different missions and sometimes you will have to choose a side. There are totally 40 missions in the game, but it is not possible to complete them all within a single play-through, because some missions will render others unavailable.

5. You've promised a complex economy. Has this aspect been changed much since Imperium Romanum, and if so, in what ways?

The new economic model allowed us to introduce a larger number of new resources and game mechanics. The player now feels the effects of his actions almost instantly and is able to concentrate on his long-term strategy, since he is not as dependent on trivialities such as deliveries and stockpiling resources.

6. The available screenshots look excellent. What kind of improvements, graphics-wise, can we expect?

All models of buildings, environment art, citizens and military units are new. The realistic proportions of buildings and units make the visuals of our game unique within the genre. The art is more varied and detailed than in any of our previous games.

7. We all know it's the little things that really impress the gamers – could you describe your favorite new gameplay element?

I very much like the fact that the player is able to choose a family for his character and develop it, not unlike in a role-playing game. There are 5 Roman families with unique strengths. You will have to choose up to 20 special talents for your character (the total number of talents is over 100 for all 5 families). He is also able to accumulate personal wealth and use it to buy estates that supply him with "free" starting resources.

Aside from that, the thing that I like best in Grand Ages: Rome is the sheer variety of features – we have research, trade, character development, city-building, complex military system, cooperative and competitive multiplayer and even shared city control (allowing two or more players to control the same city and armies).

8. While there's a lot of competition in the Roman city-building genre, you are obviously doing well for yourself, with Grand Ages: Rome the third game in the series. What makes your games stand out from the crowd?   

We at Haemimont have a bit of reputation of being obsessed with Rome. We always try to represent the events and individuals in our games as historically accurate as possible. The campaign in Grand Ages: Rome is based on one of the most turbulent periods in Roman history and we did a lot of research as we wrote the story for the missions.

We always try to make our games unique and different from the other titles in the genre. We never tried to make a "clone" of another game, but instead aimed to create titles with their own identity.

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9. How do you feel about the city building genre in general? While Haemimont Games started with RTS games (the excellent Tzar series), you have since switched to the city building genre, and are even working on the third sequel of the Tropico series. Does the genre as a whole have a future? What kind of changes would you like to see?

As long as there are people that want to play these games, the genre has a future. Of course, the city-builders will have to evolve according to the new expectations of the gamers, just like all the other genres out there. I would personally very much like to see a city builder with more pronounced online community-oriented features.

10. You've been in the business for over 10 years, since 1997. Is it hard being a video game developer in Bulgaria? Do you have any advice for Serbian teams?

In my opinion, being a game developer of Bulgaria or Serbia is not significantly different than being a game developer anywhere in the world. My advice for Serbian teams is not to be intimidated by the international competition. Start with a good idea of what you can create with the resources that you have available and try to do your best! It is always best to work on a game that you are passionate about and would like to play yourself, not just on a title that you think will sell well.

11. For the end, is there anything else you'd like to add?

There is, but El Presidente forbids it for now 🙂 See you in Tropico 3!

Thank you Boian for your time, we wish you the best of luck. Grand Ages: Rome is set to be released on March 17th.

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