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Developer Interview: Jim McNally

May 5th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Ancients, Indie Games, Interview

Longbow Digital Arts is a Toronto based developer best known for its arcade games, especially the very addictive Breakout clone DX-Ball. So what do you do next? You make a strategy game based in Ancient Greece, that’s what. Obvious, no?

Jim McNally answered a few questions about Hegemony.

Longbow Digital Arts has focused, to this point, on arcade and light action games. Hegemony looks like a modern historical strategy game. Has this been a difficult adjustment?

I’ve always wanted to do more historically based games, so most of the adjustments have been with scaling up and developing our new game engine. The transition has been helped by consolidating development in-house and making a number of arcade games to hone our skills. In essence, the arcade games were stepping stones rather than a passion.

Ancient history has been pretty well trod in computer games, and some would say exhausted by titans like Age of Empires and Rome: Total War. What will set Hegemony apart?

I don’t think that ancient history has been exhausted. At the risk of oversimplifying, my take is that action games, utilize ancient history as a skin, the best example is God of War, while mainstream RTS games have their harvest, build, zerg-rush and destroy, then repeat on a new map, formulas. Although these formula RTS games are very popular and successful they still have a tendency to grossly caricature any historical time period they encompass. On the other hand, the more historically researched wargames tend to be niche, and often use outdated 2D technology engines as extensions of proven board-game concepts, or use a simplified strategy-map with battles fought on more detailed battle-maps (e.g. Rome: Total War). There’s still plenty of room for innovation and historical interpretation.

Now assuming that ancient history hasn’t been exhausted, Hegemony sets itself apart by having all gameplay on one big continuous, satellite based, 3D map with a movement and supply system that focuses strategic and empire building decisions as the logical extensions of local geography.

Philip’s wars in Greece often play second fiddle to the better known and better documented wars of his son, Alexander. What are the challenges and opportunities this presents?

I started out researching Alexander then discovered that his father Philip had created the army and built the Kingdom from which Alexander launched his campaign. Philip took over a defeated kingdom, on the verge of being destroyed and assimilated by its neighbors. This makes Philip an ideal subject for a rags-to-riches wargame.

A lot of people find hoplite warfare boring. It’s just pushing and poking with sharp sticks. What is the appeal of this type of battle to a developer?

There’s a lot more to the era than simple hoplite style battles. First you have the somewhat autonomous Greek City-States in a constant state of war. Then you have Philip introducing the Macedonian Phalanx as the core of his battleline. Add in the development of torsion catapults and more aggressive siege techniques, plus Philip’s use of cavalry to aggressively pursue defeated enemies after battle, and you have the basis of logistics, combined arms battles and siege-craft. A less flashy but extremely significant evolution during the 4th century BCE was the increasing importance of light infantry Peltasts for reconnaissance in force and raids. Add merchant shipping, battle fleets of triremes and plenty of piracy based from the numerous island City-States of the Aegean, and as developers, we have plenty to work with. Researching around the origins of modern western civilization is an added bonus.

One screenshot shows a zoomed out view of a mountain pass and a minimap. This implies some sort of strategic overlay. Can you say a bit about the strategy side?

The minimap is always present as an aid to navigating and jump-moving on the game-map. Other than the awe effect, the more zoomed-out view will have map overlay information labels to aid in play.

Philip had a plan to invade Persia, and was setting the stage when he was murdered. Will the player have this opportunity?

Yes, one of the requirements to be declared Hegemon of Greece is for Philip to capture 10 cities of the Persian Empire and control them for 2 years. The Persian Empire controls 35 cities in the game, from the Asian side of the Bosphorus and Hellespont southward to cities such as Cnidus and Helicarnassus and Sardis. The player will be able to take them all, although a sizable Persian army supported by a Phoenician fleet, will enter the fray.

Hegemony has not gotten a lot of advance press, even on sites dedicated to this sort of game. Has it been difficult to get the word of mouth going?

Other than the initial announcement and presentation at the Toronto chapter of the IDGA, we haven’t tried to get any publicity or word of mouth going, and have been pleasantly surprised by the interest that has been expressed.

As it takes time away from development, we’ve been holding off updating screenshots and videos until we’re into full beta-testing.

Has being an independent developer with no history in the strategy arena made it harder to find publishers and distributors?

Although a number of smaller publishers have expressed interest, we haven’t been actively looking for a publisher. We run our own servers, store and credit-card processing, so we’re in a good position to self-publish over the internet. Plus, to facilitate downloads, our new game engine has been designed to be compact and we expect the release download to be in the 80-100meg range.

We’d ultimately like to have a “bricks and mortar” publisher as well, especially for localized versions overseas. This is where proving ourselves first, becomes important to getting the “right” deal for LDA.

To more specifically answer your question, yes, it is much more difficult to find a publisher, and under the circumstances, prior to having a playable, near-finished game to show, we’d likely be wasting our time trying.

Hegemony will be moving into its next beta phase soon. Do you have a release window in mind?

Our release window should be sometime in the fall.


2 Comments so far ↓

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    […] it has released in the last year or so, Longbow Digital Arts showing off Hegemony (Jim McNally even remembered who I was) and EA/Mythic running a horde of attendees through areas of Warhammer: Online. Given how many […]

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    […] I interviewed Longbow Digital Arts’ lead designer Jim McNally four years ago. Last week, I was joking with one of my Toronto based friends that she should storm their office and demand information on why it wasn’t done. […]