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Developer Interview: Philippe Thibaut

January 20th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Interview

Philippe Thibaut is a French strategy game developer best known for his design of the board game Europa Universalis. He helped Paradox adapt that design to the PC, and therefore had a crucial role in Paradox’s first huge hit.

He then began working on his own PC games, developing Pax Romana – a game full of great ideas but poor execution – and the still mostly unknown Great Invasions. His new game is Birth of America, a game based on that first great example of Franco-American cooperation, the Revolutionary War. He agreed to answer a few questions about his new enterprise and offer some general thoughts on game design.


Your first two games (Pax Romana and Great Invasions) dealt with the ancient world and used similar engines. Besides the obvious difference in subject matter, what will change in Birth of America?

A lot! First of all the engine is completely different, hence the gameplay. Second the approach of the gameplay is to have something very instinctive and straight to the point. This is feasible because the scope of the simulation is more limited, except for its military aspect where it is the contrary.

Have your experiences with Pax Romana and Great Invasions changed how you approach development?

They have indeed, in the sense that we have decided to build the design around a new generic engine that corresponds better to the current tastes of the consumer. My previous games were RTS because this was fashionable to be so (in other words, the publisher asked for RTS lest they refuse to take the game). A lot of technical and practical experience was acquired too, allowing us to develop our latest game with a much smaller team in much less time too. And the key lesson is that it is far better to have a small and efficient team of dedicated players-developers than a large team of people who are doing game development like any other computer development..

How would you describe the current market for strategy games in general and independently developed ones in particular?

It is a vast question. My feeling is that we have too many look-alike games on look-alike subjects, just as if you needed a WW2 or Napoleonic-era game to face the market. A lot of developers and almost all publishers make an error when choosing a new title, by jumping into the fashionable subjects which they feel will automatically be popular, but without really looking into what the game is supposed to bring as a new playing experience. Hopefully, independently developed games are here to remind the consumer that he can get a feel of something else than the Big Artillery stuff provided by the Big Guys.

How well has your boardgame experience translated to the computer arena?

I would say this is the basis of everything. My way of developing a game is rather old-fashioned and I usually do a boardgame model of every new project. I do play it extensively with friends and the development team, and once we are confident it is fun and interesting, we take a good time to see how we can adapt it to the computer. If the boardgame market wasn’t so dead, I would even like to publish those models (which are indeed complete games per se).

Birth of America has been almost a stealth development. There’s been very little discussion of or promotion for it in America even though it is about its founding war. Why such a low profile?

Secrecy is often key to victory! More seriously, the title was adapted from our latest engine some 4 months ago, after lack of financing and interest from major publisher forced us to shelve the original big strategy game project it was supposed to be (a game on the XIXth century, with all its aspects). We did not make any comments on the project until we finally collected the required funds for its development and also had something to show. We were just not ready to speak about it earlier.

What game would be the closest comparison to Birth of America?

I would say none at this stage, even if you could find similarities of engine with some recent successes like Dominions II. The theme and the detailed military coverage of the game is rather unique.

Tell me a little bit about Ageod.

Ageod was created to make sure we would be able to complete our project and deliver the game to the players in due time, without interference from publisher’s or retailer’s constraints that should not have to be borne by the customer, i.e. the player. I wanted to avoid some past know disasters where a game was dumped on to the market, un-properly finished, badly time released and lacking any follow-up, for reasons totally unconnected to the game or its intrinsic value.

And we want to share this experience with other independent developers as well: we want to have games for players, that we promote as best as we can, and not only our games! Every game is welcome, as long as it is interesting, fun and nice, and properly made by state-of-art professional teams. We will not be the guys pushing them to the wall with market deadlines: not one single game ever distributed by Ageod will be released unless it is deemed complete.

This of course does not mean there won’t be patches, on the contrary: this is a living proof a game can always improve and has the support of the playing community.

Have you already started work on your next project?

Yes, on two of them very seriously, even if we have not yet found all the required financing. And we have at least 3 other titles pending which we would love to have some time to pre-test.

As an independent developer, what do you see as the role of the press in gaining exposure for your work?

I’d like the press to report news from our projects as objectively as possible. Also I feel that once a project has made it to the test boards of press companies, there should always be at least 2 independent reviewers for it. I know it is tantamount to wishful thinking, but some un-cautious reviewers do speedy jobs that often miss the point but torpedo the project anyway. This is all the more true when you do games that are light-years away from the usual latest-Full3D-FPC and the likes….


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